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“So, um, that’s it. Thank you”

Does this look like a good way to end a speech? Yet how many times have we heard it, or something very like it?

The ending of your speech shares with the opening the distinction of being A Most Powerful Point. Give it a lot of thought and consideration. Here are nine suggestions for a powerful conclusion to your speech.

  1. Link to the opening. This is a strategy used by many professional speakers. It’s like gift wrapping a package and presenting it proudly. In your opening you made a promise about what your speech was going to deliver. Reflecting this is a way to say “There you are! I’ve delivered what I promised.” It raises the level of satisfaction for your audience.
  2. Reinforce your key message. Very succinctly sum up the core message of your speech. This acts as a reminder, and drives home that strong message.
  3. Look to the future. Quickly outline how rosy the future could be for the listener who implements the ideas you shared in your speech.
  4. Call to action. Strongly suggest, almost demand, that the audience take the initial action on their way to following your inspirational ideas.
  5. Repeat your foundational phrase. That’s the phrase that sums up your message. You should have used it at least twice already. This third time completes that magic triple and makes it more unforgettable.
  6. Leave your audience with strong words of encouragement. If your speech is motivational or inspirational leave your audience motivated or inspired. This sounds obvious but speakers often get so caught up in explaining how to live better in a certain way that they forget that the audience did not come and sit still for the instructions, they came to be motivated or inspired. Your conclusion should make doubly sure you have done that. Make it as strongly inspirational or motivational as you can.
  7. Ask a question. Or more than one question. “So, how about you? Can you take that first step? Can you start to live like…? Are you the one who can take this challenge? By the time you get to the end of your speech you should have built a rapport with your audience. They have been primed to agree with your thoughts and ideas. They are ready to respond with a ‘yes’ to your questions. Throw them the question that reminds them that any change in behaviour is now their responsibility.
  8. Finish with a story or anecdote.  This should encompass and support your message. It is one final example of the way your message plays out in real life. Tell the story with a smile, as if this is a little reward for sitting and listening for so long. Finish your story on an upbeat note, slowing your voice to indicate that you are coming to a close, and using body language to indicate “now it’s over to you”.
  9. Finish with a quotation from someone famous. Select it carefully to exactly support and replicate your message. This provides strong reinforcement to justify all you have been saying.

Spend time and thought on the conclusion of each of your speeches. Experiment with different conclusions. See which ones work best for you.  You never want to fade away as you end a speech. Finish strong to leave your audience feeling satisfied.

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Oh, poor you! You’ve never faced the death of a loved one or suffered through abuse or a major illness. How on earth are you going to compete with widows and cancer survivors in a speech contest? It’s not a level playing field.

Relax! You’re confusing quantity with quality. It’s not the severity of the tragedy that counts, it’s your ability to refine the emotion and communicate the experience inspirationally. After a huge challenge there’s a tendency to go with an ‘all of everything’ approach.

With a lesser challenge it is easier to work on refining the emotional journey and carefully crafting the life lesson.

Challenges require that you adapt afterwards to a new reality, and often it is not a pleasant reality. You face a significant loss or possible loss. The stages of grief might have come into play. We all react to challenges differently, and our reaction can vary from time to time.

Sometimes a lesser change – moving from a house where you’ve been happy, having your kids move out (and the mixed feelings that brings), a friend moving far away – uncovers deeper emotions than you expected. You might still have felt anger or depression. You might have responded in a way that someone told you was unreasonable.

The magnitude of the challenge or someone’s cutting remark don’t matter when it comes to writing your speech. What matters is how you turned it around and adapted to your new reality. Life with ALS. Life without a spouse. Life in a cramped apartment when you’ve been used to a large house.

Your speech need not be about how BIG your adaptation was  but how creative, how significant, how it enriched others besides yourself.

The story of how you ‘got over it’  is a combination of letting go of what might have been, accepting the new reality and then making an omelette from the broken egg.

Then, lest you cast yourself in the role of hero, you encourage your audience to adapt in similar fashion.

Honesty about your feelings and reactions is vital. You can’t skim over them or pretend that none of it bothered you. You can’t tell yourself “It was just my cat that died. They’ll think I’m crazy if I let them see how upset I was over something like that.”

If you did something weird to help you over a loss, be open about it. It will help someone who also did something odd. When my old dog died my grandson gave me a large stuffed dog. That was two years ago and the stuffed dog still lies close beside my chair in the living room. Nothing weird about me.

The emotion in your speech doesn’t come from saying “I was heartbroken.” It comes from honestly felt behaviour, openly shared.

The crux of your ‘how I got over the challenge’ speech is the moment you found the courage to take the first step towards healing and adaptation. It shows others that it is possible to find that strength.

It might show them that your progress wasn’t perfect. That perhaps you slipped back to grieving or your addiction a couple of times.. That maybe you made a few mistakes. People need to know that perfection is not a requirement.

Whatever your challenge, however you managed to get over it – share it to help others along their way.

 

 

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Some people call it the Greeting, or the Protocol, or the Salutation – in a Toastmaster speech it’s that part where you say “Madam Chairperson, Fellow Toastmasters…etc. Me, I’m most used to calling it the greeting.

I used to think that was put there just to knock me off balance just when I most needed to head right into my speech without having to lose focus on an extra bit. I hoped it was unique to my club, but no. It is standard procedure especially in contests. Doing it gracefully earns approval.

It’s easier if you put it right at the beginning, but as you advance and your speech is given at a contest it is more common to put it after your first paragraph. This delayed greeting is the mark of an accomplished speaker.

Even so, sometimes even an experienced speaker clunks the greeting into a speech like a square wheel, interrupting the flow and distracting the audience. Other speakers use them quite cleverly to increase tension in a newly-started story.

A speaker needs to have a strong link between the first paragraph and the paragraph that follows the greeting. If it’s a story, get right into the action  by having the beautiful maiden tied up on the railway line with the coal train bearing down. If that’s too 20th century then put yourself in an untenable position, pause for the greeting then launch into saving yourself for the next seven minutes.

In classic terms you get your call to adventure or self improvement, you do the greeting. then you have the adventure and find your better self. You have your first paragraph as your set-up, aligning the mind of each person in the audience just the way you want it. Then you do the greeting to give them time to absorb your set up, then you’re good to go with the meat of the message.

If you can choose words that layer your message it will pack an even greater punch. Think of it as a two-level bridge over a river, a bridge carrying both a road and a railway. The set-up to your tale is one level. The second level is a word, a phrase, an image that occurs in both the opening paragraph and again right after the greeting. Like this:

“I dreamed of walking barefoot on the sandy beaches of Hawaii….

Greeting….

But it was not me who was barefoot and the sand was not on the beach…”

Do you have ideas for getting over the greeting gracefully or effectively? I’d like to hear them.

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Pro and Con

Let’s say you’re planning a speech that covers two sides of a controversial topic. I’ll choose one that shouldn’t get too many people hot under the collar.

‘Buses are better than trains.’

Of course your topic will be much less blah – you’ll choose it to get your audience aroused and possibly change their opinion. You’d like them to change their opinion so it becomes the same as yours which, naturally, is the right one.

You plan to research this, come up with several points for each side for the body of your speech, then make a rationally thought out concluding statement that buses are better than trains (or vice versa).

But how do you present all this without sounding dull and pedantic and standing stiffly at the podium?

You start with an opening that connects you with your audience – a ‘you’ question such as “When was the last time you rode the bus?” Or an ‘imagine’ question – “Imagine riding a train that was clean and on time”.

As you transition into the body of your speech you remember to present one side of the issue from one side of the stage, and the other side of the issue from the opposite side of the stage. You move between the two sides so the audience has visual clarity as well as auditory clarity. If you make a balanced statement you stand in the middle.

(Remember to illustrate all your points with a story or an anecdote.)

You don’t have to march back and forth, and your audience may not even notice what you’re doing. It’s called subliminal learning.

When you come to wrap up the speech you will make your strong concluding statement at centre stage. “So you can see that in this region, buses are a much better transportation option than trains.” Again it is a ‘you’ statement that connects the issue to the audience.

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As you work through the competent communicator manual, covering all the basics of making a speech, you come to the final two speeches, Project #9 Persuade with Power and Project #10 Inspire Your Audience. Read through all the manual has to say about motivational speaking and inspirational speaking as you start to prepare your international contest speech.

Motivational and inspirational speeches are the ones that win contests. Important components are:

– humor

– emotion

– stories or anecdotes

– a strong personal element – this is your story. It is about you. It’s about how you overcame a tragedy or difficulty

Your speech will have is a message that translates to everyone (well, pretty much everyone) in the audience. It motivates them to think and/or act differently. This message may be implicit or it may be revealed in an overt call to action.

The key lies in your vivid images and your connection with the audience. It’s an unfair world this world of speech making. Some of us have overcome cancer or the death of a beloved. Others of us are stuck with lesser triumphs like losing a lot of weight for having shingles.

It’s all in how you tell the story, how you pull the audience into your struggles and, most importantly, how you translate your learning and growth into a motivational or inspirational challenge to your audience.

Practice telling your story without self-pity or blame. What tiny, telling detail will evoke the raw emotion of the moment? What silly, almost irrelevant, aside will show that your sense of humor still alive and well.

Your role as a motivational or inspirational speaker is to show the audience the way. It’s your opportunity to offer them a small glimmer of light for their path. It might not mean a great deal to each person today, but it a seed planted in their mind, ready there should they need it.

Winning a contest is good. I wish you all success with that. But crafting a speech that translates your experience into lightening the load for someone else is even better. That is true success

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It happened again on Tuesday. The speaker was talking about an interesting experience – this one was a ride in a hot air balloon – and he was fully halfway through his allotted speech time before he actually mentioned getting into the balloon.

The flight was delayed, the flight location was moved and the truck they rode in to the new take-off point looked like this. The balloon was unpacked and inflated. Finally they had a quick balloon ride and they landed. End of speech.

It reminded me of an earlier speech by Toastmaster who had visited a remote indigenous village. It had been a moving, emotional experience for him. He had told us a bit about it ahead of time and we were all eager to hear the details. What had caused him to react so strongly?

We never did find out because all 7 minutes and 30 seconds was taken up getting to the village. The timer started clapping him down just as he described the van parking on the muddy main street.

When you’re speaking about an event, start with the event. We don’t care what you had for breakfast or that your girlfriend was late. If it’s a balloon ride we want to get as close as we can to the balloon ride.

The speech starts as the balloon inflates or as it rises into the air. Then you have about six minutes to bring the meat of the event to life and share the experience itself before you land and wrap up.

Similarly, the indigenous village experience starts with the village street. You spend no speech time getting there.

The basic problem is a lack of planning.  Start by making a list of what you feel is important to share about your experience. Use the five senses – what you saw, heard, tasted, felt, smelled. Think of the sequence of events. List your reactions to different points in the narrative. Were there any interesting or humorous or significant events that you want to be sure to include?

Then go through those lists and select what is most important to share with the group. Arrange your facts and details in a logical sequence and add opening and closing statements.

Now you’ve got a well planned speech that helps your audience understand what you’re trying to convey. Give them all the excitement, the fun the significance of your experience – not seven and a half minutes of getting there.

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You can improve almost any speech by adding a touch of humor. If you’re setting off to present a funny speech, then the more humor the better. But even quite a serious speech can benefit from a quick poke to the funny bone.

For one thing this humor is unexpected and therefore funnier because of the element of surprise. Also it helps keep people awake and paying attention. Who knows when the speaker might give us a break from all that useful information and give us the sudden pleasure of a laugh or a smile. Wouldn’t want to miss that!

Comedians have a whole list of techniques for humor – making the ordinary funny. One of these is exaggeration. A couple of suggestions:

  • really exaggerate. Big time, not just a little bit
  • find a standard of comparison, the more bizarre the better.

So, let’s take a couple of ordinary statements and ramp them up;

– When I go to the grocery store I often buy more than I intended

– Traffic is very heavy between my house and my mother’s house

– My aunt carries a large purse and it is always full of stuff.

I went to the grocery store today for bread and milk. I came home with bread, milk, a case of mac & cheese, a 10 pound bag of pecans, a gallon can of tomato juice, and enough burger patties to feed an army. Did I mention that I live alone?

Now the live alone part may or may not be true – it just adds the finishing touch.

Traffic is so heavy between my house and my mother’s – it’s about five miles, but I pack a lunch to eat in the car.

My aunt’s purse is the size of Texas. I tried to pick it up one day, dislocated my shoulder and dropped it. Out felt all the usual stuff plus a leash for her dog (she doesn’t have a dog), gardening clippers, a Christmas tree ornament, seasickness pills (she lives in Ohio) and some old-fashioned heavy binoculars. When I asked her, she just said,

“Well, you never know…”

To add that light touch to your next speech try a few unexpected exaggerations. It’s a technique many comedians use.

 

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1.    Start by honoring the speaker. “It is my privilege/honor tonight to evaluate John Smith’s speech titled ‘Gadgets for the Homeowner’.

2.    Remember the greeting: “Mr/Madam Toastmaster, Fellow Toastmasters, Welcome Guests

3.    Try to use the third person – “The speaker gave us a lot of information” not “John gave us a lot of information”

4.    Evaluate the content and structure of the speech, not just the presentation.

5.    Remember that the evaluation is not about you. It’s about the speaker and perhaps how the club can learn from what you have observed.

6.    Try to look beyond the obvious, especially as you point out the strong points of the speech. If everyone knows that this person is a great researcher or has a powerful voice, if it has been mentioned many times before, find other things he does well. Comment on those.

7.    Work on making your tips for improvement sound like just that – tips for improvement, not criticisms

8.    Find something for yourself. Learn not just from the speech but also from the speaker. If this speaker moves confidently around the speaking space notice how he fits his movements to his words. Learn from this so you can do it better yourself.

9.    Make your evaluation upbeat and positive, maybe even humorous (but not at the expense of the speaker). Become the evaluator that everyone looks forward to hearing.

10.     Smile as if you are giving a gift. If you’ve put your best effort into it you  ARE giving a gift to both the speaker and your club

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Evaluation – contest

Strong evaluators look forward to the Evaluation contest as a way to demonstrate their skill and to showcase what an evaluation can look like.  You bring your best game. You dig deep into your experience and your sense of what a good speech is all about.

You look at what the other evaluators in your club are doing well and you see how you could incorporate that skill into your own repertoire and fit it to your own style.  Just like each speaker has their own style and favorite focus, evaluators have their own style too. One evaluator might always give weight to the theme, another can be counted on to comment on the way the speaker used the stage or podium space.  Ask yourself how thoroughly you look at theme or use of space. Could you become more perceptive in these areas?

You look at what other evaluators are not doing well and you devise ways to improve on that. You see some traps to avoid. (I won’t just re-hash the topic. I won’t follow some red herring thought of my own and lose track of what I’m supposed to be doing.) You see that most evaluators are using notes and you ask yourself “Could I manage to do it without notes?”

Then you listen to the test speaker – someone that you, presumably. don’t know, or at least don’t know well. You have a blank slate here. You have no past history with this speaker – you don’t know his style, whether this is a strong speech for him, whether he likes to be humorous or teach a lesson. You’re going in cold.

Can you feel a connection with this speaker? In what way? How is the speaker helping you make that connection? Has he chosen a topic that has universal appeal or is this a topic that only a mother could love? If it’s an off-beat topic, did he pull you into it anyway?

Your evaluation needs to reflect the speaker and the tone of the speech. If this is clearly an accomplished speaker your evaluation should be polished, crisp and professional. If it is someone who is clearly nervous and somewhat overwhelmed by the role of test speaker your tone can be more easy-going, encouraging, upbeat and perhaps a little more informal.

If it is a technical, detailed speech, reflect that. If it is a no-nonsense direct instructional speech make your evaluation sound much the same way. Match the tone.

Resist the temptation to show off all the things you found wrong with the speech. Increasing the number of tips does not necessarily increase the value of the evaluation.  Pick one or two that are important in your way of thinking and deliver them with humor and a smile. Hard hitting is not attractive and does not build points with the judges.

Have a summation that starts clearly with words such as “…and in conclusion”, ‘..all in all” – words that clearly signal that this is your summary. Make it positive, strong and memorable.

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The evaluator’s first questions here are – Motivated to do what? Inspired in what way?

The motivational speech needs as its theme – that the audience will be happier or more productive  or better parents if they followed this path. The problem situation before the action needs to be clear, the steps to a better or wealthier life need to be clear and the possible happy-ever-after result should be attainable and desirable.

The speaker might start with a picture of someone going deeper into debt each month, show ways to conserve money consistently and end with the happy conclusion that the person will be out of debt in two years if they follow these simple steps. It’s part information but it’s wrapped in a thick blanket of “You can do it”. It’s encouraging, it’s hopeful, it shows the way to a happier life.

The inspirational speech is usually not quite so focused on how to get to a specific desirable result. Often it is the story of how someone overcame severe difficulties and obstacles. Often it is a personal story and the audience sees before them the inspiring end result. The speaker has selected one or more desirable traits – persistence, courage, a positive outlook – and told how he used them to overcome his issues. He is encouraging the audience to try similar strategies to improve their life.

The evaluator is first clarifying the message, then analyzing how well it was presented. As always – Was the message clear? How could it have been made clearer? What techniques were used to present the message? Could other techniques have conveyed the message more strongly?

These speeches rely on stories, usually personal stories to put the message across. The speaker should have been open in presenting his struggles, his failures in trying to overcome the problem. Did you feel that he was honest and open or did he paint a picture that was a bit more attractive then the cold hard truth?

These speeches also rely on touches of humor and of emotion. Listening to all that hardship is hard on an audience – they need to relax with a laugh once in a while. If it comes unexpectedly all the better. The touch of humor serves to emphasize the message and strengthen it. Look for those touches of humor and appreciate them.

The emotion is often implicit in the inspirational speech. How well was it handled by the speaker? Did he gloss over it? Did he wallow in it too deeply? In what way did the emotion of the speech touch you? How did you feel? Now it’s your turn to open up to the audience.

This type of speech looks to change the audience. How were you changed? How will you be different after hearing it?

 

Visit www.toastmasterspeeches.com

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