Sunday, April 10, 2005

Icebreaker Redux

This was my first speech to this Toastmasters Club (SpeakEasier). It's a second Icebreaker, given about 13 years after earning my CTM (Competent Toast Master). I wanted to 'wow' the audience, enrich them and engage them.

However, the best and first goal for an Icebreaker is to introduce yourself. Simply introduce yourself. Let the listeners know you as a person.

The result? Somewhere amidst the eleven (11!) "ahhs" and "umms", I managed to cram in three speeches. In 7+ minutes. Needless to say, it gave short shrift to introducing me. Whoops.

I tried to accomplish too much in such a short speech. I felt hurried doing it and I should've known. I also worked hard on the opening - memorizing it and refining it - and I pitched overboard, starting completely differently.

At least one of the positive comments I received was that I had managed "to organize and fit so much into such a short speech".

Unfortunately, I think this left most of the content spilling over onto the floor as I overworked the retentive capabilities of my listeners. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Speaking Today - My Ice Breaker

I am speaking today at lunch. I have five to seven minutes to introduce myself as part of my CTM #1 exercise in Toastmasters. The CTM #1 is the first speaking exercise in the Competent Toastmaster Manual of the Toastmasters International training. Its called the "The Ice Breaker" and the purpose is to introduce myself as well as 3 or 4 interesting aspects of me and my life.

I am looking forward to it. I will speak, I will be evaluated - getting valuable feedback on how I can improve. My Evaluator has a rubric to use, noting things such as:
  • What strong points does the speaker already have?
  • How well did the audience get to know the speaker?
  • Did the speech reflect adequate preparation?
  • What are one or two specific suggestions you can make to help the speaker improve?

There are more, but you should get the idea.

I'm going to try to give as well as get during this speech, so I am presenting some listening tips as part of my speech... and then presenting a "quiz" to check their listening. It will be fun. More on the structure and results later.

This (Toastmasters) is the best program around, as I belabored in The Speakers Silver Bullet .

Monday, April 04, 2005

Inventing Answers

You are asked a question, basically given a topic upon which to discourse. Except it's not a question that has a ready answer. The "Turn knob B and push the start button" sort of instruction won't cut it. Think in terms of the "tell me about yourself" or "why do you think we should do X" sort of landmine-ridden question.

What do you do?

Instantly there are perhaps dozens of things to talk about and paralysis sets in as you try to connect these into a coherent whole. In short, what will you say?

As it happens, the study of Rhetoric has developed to answer just that question. One of the canons of rhetoric is "inventio" and it concerns finding something to say. Inventio or "invention" provides tools for picking out what to say. A key guide is the topoi (literally "places to find things") also known as topics of invention. The topics are categories of relationships between ideas which help you discover things to say about a topic.

Grab one of the topics (some of which you should have stored away in memory in case of an "extemporaneous emergency"), and use it to quickly guide you in organizing and creating your ideas on a given topic.

One of the topics is "Antecetedent and Consequence": Given a certain situation (the antecedent), what is likely to follow (the consequence)? This often takes the form of an "if...then" structure.

Given the "why do you think we should do X" sort of question, you can grab onto the antecedent easily and work down, layer by layer with this structure. "If we do X, then Y will happen. If Y happens then our world will be good because of Z. Z is what will cause revenue to increase since..." etc.

The topics are questions you can ask of your topic, to dissect it and reconstruct it as a speech.

Right now, this same invention is at work. Given that I wanted to introduce the inventio, what answers does it provide?

Well, if you do not have a ready answer to a question, then you need some ready tools for discovering an answer. As such, you can rely on the ideas of rhetoricians past to help discover it.

Silva Rhetoricae is an excellent source for rhetorical tools, including the Topoi. If you have never researched the value of Rhetoric in your speaking, give this site a view. Take a look at the topoi and see how they will help the invention of your next speech.