Archive for the ‘For Toastmasters’ Category

Once you’ve got a handle on what the speaker set out to do you’ve got a good start on your evaluation. Often the first clue to this is the title of the speech.

The title might be clear and straightforward – “Three Ways to Cook Spaghetti”, “How to Write a Resume”. There is a clear and direct correlation between title and speech. As evaluator you listen for the information promised. Either it’s presented in a clear and usable manner or it isn’t.

If the information is not presented clearly, in your opinion, then offer suggestions about how it might have been clearer or more focused.

But often speeches have titles that are not so clearly related to the topic. Then you have to do some work to figure out what the speaker’s intention was. It might not become clear until the speech is almost complete.

Personally I find this difficult. I have to fill in all the details of content and presentation leaving the big picture question unanswered until the last minute. Sometimes, when the full realization of the speaker’s intention is revealed half my comments become irrelevant.

The speaker might include a long anecdote that initially appears to be unrelated to the theme. My notes will say something like “Wandered off track – suggest he keeps to the point.” Then the speaker switches back and reveals at the sixth minute his intention for the speech. Suddenly I can see how the story has fit right in, exactly. Scrub the ‘wandered off track’ notes. Substitute last minute comments on the strength of the anecdote.

Sometimes the objective is even masked by the title. The title might be “Hiking in the Rockies”. Indeed the speech starts off with the scenery and the trees and how much the hiker and her dog enjoyed the fresh air. But as the speech progresses you realize this is not about hiking or the Rockies. At a deeper level it’s all about the close companionship between the hiker and her dog.

Did the speaker intend this much self-revelation, or was her purpose just a speech about hiking? This is where a chat ahead of time can be very revealing. You ask the innocent question “What is your speech about?” Her answer will demonstrate whether it’s all about the hiking or all about the dog.

You approach your evaluation clear about her intention. Now you understand the framework within which she is working you can evaluate how well she met her objective.

Strong evaluators value the chat ahead of time (if it isn’t a contest) to raise their level of understanding about the speech – and the speaker – they are about to evaluate.

Read Full Post »

I like to think of myself as a speech evaluation addict. I’ve evaluated quite a lot of speeches and I offer this as just one person’s opinion about evaluations.

1. Your approach – one of intelligent helpfulness. Saying over and over that a speech was wonderful, awesome and terrific is neither intelligent nor helpful. The speaker needs to know exactly what worked well and why.

2. Your careful listening – that you are focused on the speaker and on the words. You are not distracted in any way.

3. Your ability to understand what the speech was all about – the theme, the message, and what the speaker’s intention and objective was.

4. Your understanding of how the speaker got the message across as a whole and what might have helped it to come across more effectively.

5. Your feeling of how the speech progressed from point to point to conclusion, and the effectiveness of the progression

6. Your ability to see how all the physical aspects of the presentation – the gestures, movement, voice etc. – contributed to getting the message across.

7. Your understanding of the speaker as an individual and where he is in his progression as a speaker. Knowing whether he needs mostly encouragement and a fairly broad suggestion for improvement, or whether he is looking mostly for precise suggestions for improvement.

8.  Your humility – words like “It is my privilege to evaluate….tonight” and that you reinforce the concept that this is just one person’s opinion.

9.  Your research ahead of time – that you’ve read the project requirements, that you’ve contacted the speaker to ask if there is anything special he’d like you to watch out for.

10. Your smile and warmth and your attitude of supportiveness. Allow the speaker to feel that it was a pleasure for you to be able to evaluate his speech; it was not just another role to be filled.

Now I’d like to hear your opinion. What other ‘secrets’ would you add?

Read Full Post »

The best speech in the world is wasted if it isn’t presented well.

What does ‘presented well’ mean? To me it means a speech presented with confidence and conviction in your own unique style.

Look at it this way – if someone asked you to do a speech on the yurts of Outer Mongolia, chances are you won’t feel confidence in your topic and you won’t feel any conviction that this speech is going to be worth your time and that of your audience.

So your speech should be about a topic you know and care about. You feel that you have valuable information, or a unique viewpoint that is worth sharing. Your confidence flows from this assurance. You are giving your audience something of value.

Conviction flows from that sense of value. It says “Listen to me! You’re going to hear something important!”

Perhaps your topic isn’t of world-shaking importance – it’s about flower arranging or table setting. If it is important to YOU, if you know more about it than your audience, then you are giving them information they might not get elsewhere.

(A caveat here – Know your audience. If your audience is full of gun toting sheriffs maybe flower arranging isn’t the best choice of topic.)

If you sill feel nervous – and most speakers do – fake the confidence. Fake it till you make it. Walk on stage as if you are thrilled to be there.

Don’t apologize. New speakers seem to think that an apology for any type of weakness is a ticket to audience tolerance and approval. It isn’t. It just shows you to be new and nervous.

Speak with as much animation as you are comfortable with. The best advice about speaking I ever got was “Relax and have fun up there.” Relax? Fun? Me, on stage?

But it’s true. The more relaxation, the more fun you yourself have, the more your audience will enjoy your speech and think of you as a good speaker.

Read Full Post »

Remember when you did your first speech?

Remember how important it was that everything be as perfect as possible for your Icebreaker?

Did you spend a considerable amount of time selecting just the right aspects of yourself to present?

Did you change the wording a few times to make it sound better?

Did you practice in front of a friend or in front of a mirror?

Did you spend time deciding what to wear – what might be too casual or too dressy?

So, now you are well on your way to your CC or maybe you’re doing advanced speeches, is it still like that?

OK, maybe if you’re a woman you still spend time deciding what to wear. Do you spend time on the other preparation though?

Do you select your topic carefully, your main points carefully and develop your stories fully?

Do you still sweat a little over finding the best opening and conclusion? Do you take a second look at those transitions?

Sometimes as Toastmasters we get a little complacent. “My speech is tonight? Ooops! Oh, well I can wing it!”

Winging it might get your Chairperson or Toastmaster out of their bad spot when you are not ready, but you are cheating your audience, your club and you are cheating yourself. Your audience is entitled to your best performance – they are paying you the compliment of quietly listening to what you have to say, hoping for a take-away nugget. Give them your best speech, your best self.

You are cheating your club by lowering the level of performance overall.

You are cheating yourself because you are letting yourself slip into a bad habit. You have been given stage time and you are wasting it.

Wherever you are on your Toastmaster journey, give your best speech. Give it full value preparation in both content and presentation.

All that energy that went into nervousness for your Icebreaker? Use it now in giving your audience more than they expected. You have that energy in reserve now to make a good speech great.


Read Full Post »

You don’t have to be madly in love with it, or have it be one of your deepest beliefs. It could be an idea that took your fancy yesterday but – for the moment at least  – it’s intriguing to you.

You care enough to research it, discover more, try to get a handle on the idea and what lies behind it. Your interest and enthusiasm will come through to your audience. It will give life to your speech. You might not want to take questions about it, but you will have shared your pleasure in the discovery.

Sharing your pleasure is a gift. People will take away the pleasure and the interest as well as whatever facts you have shared. Which do you think they will remember longest?

But sharing an idea that concerns you deeply comes across in a different way. Suppose you believe it extremely important that more people should donate to cancer research. A deeply felt appeal will reach your audience at an emotional level and might well cause people to move towards doing that.

The danger lies in caring so deeply that you become a bit overwhelming on the subject. If you speak about it every chance you get  your listeners might get bored with it and tune out. Maybe you unintentionally indicate that this is the only useful avenue for donated money and you risk turning off those who donate to, say, world hunger or animal welfare.

Care enough about your deepest beliefs that you exercise some tact and self restraint. Save your passion for a small number of speeches about it, but make them count. Within a few tightly focused speeches collect all the pent up passion and do a first rate job of making others care as much as you do.

Caring for your topic comes in a range of strengths from temporary enthusiasm to heartfelt belief. Play the whole range as you develop your skills as a speaker. See where your strengths lie and build on them.

Read Full Post »

We had a visitor at our club today – a woman from China, not accustomed to speaking in public, nor fluent in English. When she was asked to take part in Table Topics she did not even understand the question.

“Do you believe that a smile is contagious? Why or why not?”

The word  ‘contagious’  stumped her.

“Infectious” clarified the Table Topics master, who is also a new member from China.


She stood there, a slight, uncertain figure, trying to gather her thoughts and translate them into English. We were all pulling for her. Hesitantly she began:

“We were at the airport, at the customer…what’s the word?”

“Customer service counter?” suggested the Table Topics master.

“Yes, the customer service counter. We had two sets of luggage. One set needed to go just to Vancouver, one set needed to go to all the way to Beijing. The man behind the counter did not want to do that. He said it could not be done. He frowned a lot, he sounded cross…”

He story continued, how she had begged him to do it. How she had smiled at him as she asked again.

And he did it. He organized the luggage to go, half to Vancouver, the other half  from there on to Beijing.

She had  smiled when she thanked him too.

It was her smile, she said, that made the difference, that allowed the arrangement to take place.

And when she smiled at us, the audience, we understood how her smile could make this difference.

What a lesson from a visitor! She told a story! How many of us struggle through Table Topics stringing ideas and thoughts together to try to fill up the time. New and scared, in an unfamiliar language, our visitor came up with a story. A simple, relevant story.

It worked brilliantly. I sat there, feeling proud for her, wishing I would remember that lesson every time.

Read Full Post »

It’s one thing to enter a club contest and feel terrific when you find you won. Of course you’re happy! You get  congratulations and you feel wonderful.

Then you wake up next morning and the other shoe drops. You remember you have to compete in the Area contest. These are probably strangers, not the nice people from your own club. You’ve heard stories about one of them being almost a professional speaker. Another one has been a Toastmaster for nearly twenty years. What is your little bit of experience compared to that?

This all goes under the heading of ‘negative thinking’. If you go into the contest with a mind set like that you reduce your chances of winning. Turn it around. You’ve beaten the other good speakers in your club. You have freshness on your side. Remember how you felt as you were acing your club speech – you were in the zone, it felt terrific, it was fun.

That’s the mind set you need to re-create for the Area contest. Go for it!

You’d like some tips?

Go on to the stage, head up, looking confident and smiling.

Grab the audience’s attention with a great opening.

Keep your eyes on the audience and give the best eye contact you can.

Wind up with a strong closing.

For Table Topics

Ahead of time, bone up on current events locally

Look as if the question is just perfect for you, and you can’t wait to answer it

Answer the question! This is no time to wander off.

If it’s an ‘either/or’ question try to give the pros and cons of each

Try to put in a dash of humor and a tug to the emotions

For Humorous Speech

Practice in front of at least one friend. If they are uncertain about some part or didn’t quite ‘get’ it, work on it until they are satisfied.

Hone the funny parts till they are much funnier.

Weed out or reduce long explanations that don’t add to the humor.

Try to fit stronger body language to the humorous parts.

Work on your pauses. People need time to laugh. Leave yourself a good margin of ‘laughter time’ so you don’t have to worry about time disqualification.

Good luck!


Read Full Post »

“Yes” she said. “I love your posts on humor. But how do I put humor into a speech?

That’s a tough question. It’s like being asked, “How do I make a joke funny?”

To start with, you have to think that it’s funny yourself. Whether it is a joke, or a humorous speech, you yourself have to see and believe the humor. There’s no point thinking “This isn’t very funny to me, but maybe the rest of the group will like it.”

If you yourself think it’s funny, then  you will present it in a way that says, “I really enjoyed this and I can’t wait to share it with you!” Your enjoyment and enthusiasm comes across to your audience carrying the humor and the laughter with it. That alone will get you to first base.

Humor usually depends on the set up and the punch line. If it is a story it’s possible you might have 6.5 minutes of set up and thirty seconds of totally hilarious punchline at the end. I don’t advocate this unless you can make the set up really, really funny. It would be better if your story built along a series of funny events so there are some laughs along the way and one great burst of laughter at the end.

Humor doesn’t have to look  or sound like punch lines, in fact it’s better if it doesn’t. You build your story in a certain direction with characters carefully presented and then something happens to them. Something innately funny. Your dog shakes mud all over Aunt Priscilla’s pristine living room. You’ve shown Aunt Priscilla as a rigid woman and a fanatical housekeeper. You’ve mentioned her white carpet and cream colored upholstery. You’ve shown your dog, the lovable energetic Labrador puppy. Really, you should have remembered to close the door more quickly.

Now it might have been, in truth, that your dog shook that mud all over your own living room that is no big whoop for cleanliness. Story building puts it in Aunt Priscilla’s living room, even if you have no Aunt Priscilla. It’s just funnier. Imagine the expression on her face, imagine yourself trying to minimize the damage and making it worse. Imagine the dog, jumping up on Aunt Priscilla to invite her to play in the mess.  Imagine…

Well, that’s the point, imagine. Think of similar incidents you’ve experienced that are quite funny. How can you bring them in, build them, focus them to make them fit here and be very funny? How can you build in sideline humor – say two or three examples of Aunt Priscilla’s cleanliness.  (She’s the one who sanitizes her outside mail box because you never know who’s handled the mail.)

Your aim with your humorous speech is to draw people in with your own enjoyment, keep the laughs coming through a series of anecdotes within a main story, building to a big final laugh in your conclusion. Sidelights – similes, metaphors, sharp observations of human foibles keep the humor coming moment after moment in your speech.

How do you know if your speech is funny? Having your audience laugh time and time again is a really good clue.

Read Full Post »

Your speech is only funny if the audience, including the judges, think it’s funny. It doesn’t count if only your mom and your geeky friends/hunting buddies/bffs think it’s funny. It has to appeal to a wider audience.


– Prepare your opening and closing with great care – they are what the audience remembers most

– Practice your speech, noting the time.  Allow extra time for your audience’s laughter.

– Walk up on stage confidently. Sweep the audience with eye contact, letting your posture and smile promise that something really good is coming up

– Start strong, to get your audience warmed up to you and your topic. Wow them with something funny, unexpected or off-the-wall, then go right into your greeting and the body of the speech

– Omit any phrase or joke could possibly offend someone. This is no time to take a chance on it.

– Watch the time. It’s better to miss even your best story or joke than to be disqualified for going over time. Missing your brightest gem still leaves you with a chance of winning. Go overtime and you’re toast.

– Be original. Other people also watch YouTube, surf the net, read books, watch TV.

– Enjoy your speech. Your own pleasure will draw your audience into it.


– Stand still. Use your whole body to intensify the humor.

– Forget that this is a speech. It needs to have a structure like any other speech.

I came up short on the ‘dont’s’ and the two I listed could have been re-written for the ‘do’ column, but I needed a couple of don’ts so the headline didn’t lie. It’s all about being positive, and working at your speech intelligently as well as humorously.

Good luck with your speech. You may or may not win, but you’ll certainly learn and gain confidence as a speaker.

Let me know what you learn.

Read Full Post »

Almost everyone looks forward to the Humorous Speech contest, and most of us at least consider the idea of entering. If we’ve done a few speeches before, and made people laugh, then why not?

So you agree to enter and then comes the moment: What shall I speak about?

And suddenly, nothing seems all that funny. Funny enough, but not speech contest funny.

So here are some ideas of places to start:

1. A basically funny situation. Ever tried giving liquid medication to a cat?

2. A difficult situation made funny. One of the funniest speeches I’ve heard was given by a man who had tried to rent a car in a foreign country, only to find his drivers license was out of date. It could have ruined his holiday. How he found a solution made me laugh till tears ran down my cheeks (Thanks, Alan!)

3. A twist on the usual – a rant, for instance, on the disadvantages of leadership

4. Any topic that you can pack with one liners. Practice delivering them – timing is the essence of success.

5. A story that goes from bad to worse. It’s best if it’s a personal story. You set off to do something that’s not particularly hard, but one thing after another goes wrong and your situation gets increasingly (and funnily) difficult until it becomes impossible. Your solution should be funny too.

6. A story that is basically funny but is presented with so much vocal inflection, so much action and energy, such wildly appropriate gestures that it becomes hilarious. Again, practice to get each movement – even the raising of your eyebrows – timed and presented just perfectly.

7. A story based on your personal weaknesses, and some of the predicaments these have led to. Personal stories always go across well and self-deprecation works well too.

Do you know of any more ideas for finding humorous speech ideas? If you comment, we can add them to the list.

Enjoy your humorous speech!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »