Archive for the ‘Speeches’ Category

I’ve been working on a presentation about ways to access memories in a way that make them a strong base for a memorable inspirational speech.

To me there are three useful ways.

1. Fall off a cliff

This is a major negative event that shoved you right off your contented little path. Think sudden dramatic diagnosis, think sudden major loss of a loved one, think a fall into addiction.

Your story shows you bottoming out, then starting the climb back. It might cover your adaptations, strategies that helped, people who helped or gave workable advice, creative ways around possible pitfalls, and most important, the mistakes you made along the way. In the end you climb back to a higher plane than you were on to start with. You have grown.

2. “Mostest” words

OK, I made up the word ‘mostest’. It says what I mean. Any superlative word that you can apply to a life event:

the biggest, the first, the last, the greatest, the best, the worst. And especially the word ‘most’ or the suffix ‘est’ linked to an emotion:

the most scared, the saddest, the most angry, the happiest I ever felt.

These are triggers to generate memories of moments where something dramatic happened in your life that can form the basis of a theme or a story.

3 The 5-second video clip

Think back to people of events in your life and you’ll usually come up with a 5-second video clip. Think of your Grade 12 home room teacher and you’ll get a brief video clip that may be typical or atypical, but it’s just a video clip – maybe she is walking into the room, over to the desk and sitting down. No story, just a mental video clip.

Follow this up with three questions: ‘Why?’ ‘How?’ and ‘What’s next?’ As you ask the ‘why’ question, think like a little kid who can’t stop asking “Why?” Dig deep, especially if you start to feel emotion underlying something that, on the surface, is quite ordinary.

The ‘how?’ question will help you look at it from a different perspective. ‘What’s next?’ will help you find a climax to make your story dynamic.

If you believe that, really, nothing came next, imagine what might have come next. Yes, you say, but it didn’t. I had to make that bit up. Are you sure you made it up? Is your memory really that accurate after 20, 30, 50 years?

Try these three ways of digging around in your memory bank. Dig deep down to bedrock to discover the emotional power of the story. Then you will have a unique and memorable speech to present.

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So you made your speech and you felt that you really communicated to your audience. You made all the points you had intended to make, threw in some good movement and gestures, a couple of  touches  of humour and you ended on a high note with a call to action. You feel pretty sure you communicated your message.

You ARE sure, aren’t you? Here are 10 signs that tell you “YES!!”

1. As you are speaking you see all eyes on you. No-one is checking their phone or fiddlings with papers.

2. You can see people in the audience taking notes

3. People’s body language shows focus and concentration.

4. You see nods of agreement

5. You see the “Ah” of dawning comprehension.

6. You see people reflect the emotion of the story with a smile, a laugh, a frown, sadness. Their faces display the emotion you are expressing.

7. The applause is whole-hearted.

8. Afterwards people say, “I never thought of it like that before” or “Thank you. What you said helped me/made a difference/made me want to know more.”

9. People comment afterwards on one specific point you made or phrase you used. Nothing generic. Not  “wonderful” or “great job” but a specific point or phrase they are taking away.

10. You get another gig on the came or similar topic.

You’ll notice that six of these points are what you see during the speech and four are what you hear afterwards.

The six signs you see during the speech are signals to you, indicating that you are communicating strongly. The fact that you actually notice these signals means that you are not merely giving eye contact. You are mentally asking the question, “Audience! Are you connecting with me?”

When you see these signals you know the communication loop is complete because you are receiving positive, non-verbal feedback. The audience is connecting back to you. It’s a magical feeling.  Getting the verbal feedback later is icing on the cake.


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I’ve written quite a few times about the importance of considering your audience and reaching out to them. What is also important is to get them reaching back to you.

Yes, it’s important to give your audience an unforgettable experience; one that they literally will never forget (or not till next Tuesday, anyway). It’s important to give them the information, the entertainment, the inspiration, the humour and emotion but they are not inert vessels simply accepting and filling up with your wisdom.

Their ears and brains are not only receivers. As part of a complete personality ears and brain are part of a cycle of communication. You, the speaker, need to use them to create the feeling of “I need to remember this, I must pass it on.” Their eyes convey to you, as you are speaking, the depth of the listening. They are reaching back to you.

Maybe they pass along your important points to their family or the people they work with. Congratulations! They have widened the cycle of communication and your circle of influence.

But at least they should be passing back to you their intent listening. As you look around at them can you see they are leaning forward, listening with their whole body, feeding their energy back you.

How does a speaker get that?

You can get it by being a dynamic speaker, one who rules the stage and fills it with a larger-than-life personality. But not all of us can achieve that. I can think of a lot of good and great speakers who are not hugely dynamic. What they offer is their whole, imperfect self. Their information, their conclusions, their wisdom is filtered through their own experience and their vulnerability.

I think of one of the most influential speakers I know. She is an older lady, weighs maybe 100 lbs, and struggles with imperfect English. She is gentle and not too steady on her feet. A strong wind could blow her over. But she has the exacting mind of a poet. You know her words come from a place of consideration and wisdom. When she is finished you feel compelled to hear more.  Her thoughts, quiet and precise, come from a strength of mind. You want to take her home with you and say “Talk to me some more.”

Contrast this with biker strength. Big, tough, powerful muscles, tattoos and a swagger that proclaims power. You don’t want to be anywhere near this guy in case there’s shooting.

It’s strength of a sort, like the strength of the overly dynamic speaker. These people have forgotten, or don’t realize, how much strength comes from vulnerability. There is power and strength in showing your weakness. In being able to say “It seems to me that…” rather than “You should…”. In asking questions to make people think for themselves rather than spraying information over them.

Next time you speak, could you try to lose that armour of invulnerability that so many speakers hide behind? I know, I’m guilty as charged. But allowing your audience to see the real you behind the facade will bring them closer to you.

It will help to complete the cycle of communication.

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The Hook

When I was a child going on holiday each year to the seaside was a big event. Most of our clothing was sent three days ahead in a big trunk that was picked up in a truck, leaving us wearing old clothes for the rest of the week. We wore our good clothes on holiday, except on sunny days (we lived in England so there were not many of them).

And in my good clothes I would always go fishing. there would be a pier enclosing a small harbour and hopeful fishermen of all ages leaned over this wall, baited their hooks and hoped for a catch. I was usually the only girl in the crowd, elbowing my way through small boys and old men with a hook on a line and something slimy and  disgusting that I had managed to drive the barbed hook into.

Sometimes the barbed hook drove into my finger but mostly I was able to throw slimy object and line safely down into the water and wait. And wait. After a while I would check the bait. Often it would be gone – England is surrounded by very sneaky fish. I never caught a fish that way, despite years of optimism.

I think about baiting the hook, though, when I am writing a speech. I hope my beginnings are not slimy. There are no barbs on my hook (well not often). But I try to form an opening that will attract and intrigue my audience.

There’s always that hoary old opening “Have you ever…?” Which tends to leave me going “Yup” or “Nope” then wandering off mentally to greener pastures. What would be more stimulating? How could a speaker draw his audience so that they almost sit forward to listen? How do you choose a bait for the hook?

The question is – What will this particular audience find tasty and irresistible? If you are a Toastmaster maybe you can share some little-known or unusual information, and this works even with motivational or inspirational speaking. The skill lies in thinking like your audience so you offer not what is tasty to you, but what will be tasty to them. The skill also lies in crafting it so that it isn’t just slightly tasty, it is compelling. There are no greener pastures; the audience will focus entirely on you and your words.

A story can make a strong introduction to your topic.  but it must be personal and unique. Something canned or lifted from the internet will not work nearly as well as your own story, well told. Putting yourself in the story – both in your wards and in your movements – increases the attraction.

Listen to TED talks and TEDx. Discover what appeals to you as an opening; what works and what doesn’t work. Listen to other speakers. Silently mark them out on ten for their opening. Mentally re-work their opening to make it more appealing.

And spend time to bait your own hooks so that you always reel your audience in, right from the opening words of your speech.


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Body Language

No, I’m not talking about gestures and the kind of movements you decide to make as you get into your speech. I’m talking about every movement you make from the time you get up to speak.

When the chairperson announced your name, let’s assume you stood up, stretched tall, rotated your shoulders for a moment to loosen them up and shed tension. You took a couple of deep breaths, smiled, then stepped forward with confidence. You shook hands with the Toastmaster or chairperson. Then you turned to your audience and smiled with warmth, as if you really cared about them.

Because if you don’t really care about them, it shows. If all you can think about is yourself and your nervousness, it shows. If all you’re thinking of is the facts you’re going to spray at them, it shows.

If you are a new speaker nervousness may be part of the package for a while. But some of us seem to cling to our nervousness as if it is attractive clothing that everyone will admire. After a while it can become an excuse for not presenting a strong speech “because I’m so nervous”.

Your audience is hoping for a good experience. “Good” might mean entertaining, funny, inspiring or informational. If they are really lucky they might get two or three of those. You can be pretty sure they did not come out  hoping to hear a nervous speaker. If your nervousness affects your performance you are cheating your audience of the best you could give them.

The other end of the spectrum is the speaker who comes across cocky. If they are a big name speaker, a generous dose of confidence is fair enough. For most of us though, emitting vibes of “You are so lucky to be listening to me!” comes across just as wearying as “I’m so scared of all you people out there.”

So as you approach your speaking spot be aware of what your body language is saying. If your body is showing nervousness or over-confidence your message to the audience is “This is all about ME. MY feelings, MY emotions, MY expectations are top of my thoughts and my priorities.”

Think of a doctor or nurse who has back pain. The patient does not want to hear about it; he wants to have his own concerns addressed. It’s the same with a speaker and the audience. The audience comes first. They are hoping for some connection with the speaker – the smile that says “I’m glad to be sharing this speech  or story or information with you”.

Follow your smile with reaching forward, stepping forward, eye contact – showing that your connection with the audience is not just responding to some vague platitude, it is important to you. Your behaviour, your body language proves it.

It’s hard to fake body language, but in this case ‘fake it till you make it’ is  a reasonable course of action. Work on confident body language, even if it isn’t totally genuine to start with. The genuineness will come if you focus on connection with those people who are listening to what you have to say.

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I’ve watched people spend hours and hours preparing a speech, all the while ignoring the most important aspect – connecting with the audience. The whole mind set is about ‘Me, the speaker’. Will I look good? Will I have a strong enough voice? Should I use this introduction or that one?

Preparing and delivering a speech is all about the audience, not about the  speaker. It’s hard to connect with your audience when you are absorbed in yourself.

“I’m so nervous!”

“What if I have lettuce on my teeth?” “What if I forget what to say next?” “What if they don’t laugh or respond to my questions?”  “What if my toupee falls off?” “What if my bra strap shows?”

All those’ what if’s’ trap you in your own mind. Get out of there.

Here are ten ways to connect better with your audience. (Notice I did not say ‘the’ audience. For the length of time you are speaking they are yours – if you make them yours.)

1. Your title. It shouldn’t be any collection of fairly relevant, throw away words. It should draw the audience to want to know more. It should promise what you plan to deliver – humour, information, inspiration. If the speech is funny, try to reflect that in the title. Get people smiling even before you say your first word.

2. However serious or inspirational your speech include two or three shots of humour. It surprises people, raises their spirits and, best of all, makes them listen better.

3 However funny or informative your speech, find a way to touch the emotions. If an engineer discovers a new process don’t just state that fact. Find a way to convey the excitement of that moment, the feeling almost of disbelief, the growing pleasure as trials showed the discovery to be valid and important. The story with its emotional load will be what your audience remembers most.

4  Get out of your own head. Your thoughts should not be “I’m so nervous. I’m shaking.” Your thoughts should be on giving your audience the best experience you possibly can.

5 Be totally prepared ahead of time. Decide ahead what clothes you will wear and be sure they are clean, pressed, mended. Your shoes polished, Your jewellery not still tangled up in the drawer. Pre-pack every item you will need from a comb to memory stick. Double check that your electronics work – if possible test them on someone else’s equipment. Being totally prepared, even double prepared, gives you confidence – one less thing to be nervous about.

6 Get to the venue early, do any necessary set up and then stand by the door to greet people. If you show interest in them they will be more likely to show interest in you.

7. Do anything you can to minimize the distance between you and your audience as you speak. After you are introduced try to take a step or two forward, towards your audience. In your gesturing lean forward and reach out towards them. If there is a large stage try to keep mostly to the front of it.

8. If there is anything blocking you from the audience – a desk perhaps or a table, ask for it to be moved. If there is a podium try not to stand behind it

9. As you speak try to introduce something that was said in the room before. It might be something one of the audience said as you chatted with them ahead of time. It might be something a previous speaker said. It compliments the person and shows your own listening skills.

10. SMILE. Smile as if you mean it, not all the time but often. Smile as if speaking to these people is a pleasure to you, not a nervous strain. ‘But it IS a nervous strain’, I can hear you saying. Get over it.  You’re not here to whine. You’re here to give these people a really good experience.

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Yes, you. Even if you don’t have kids. Even if you don’t actually like kids. You influence kids. and not just kids but everyone around you. I have a friend who is super-clean. after spending time with her I find I need to tidy my own house a little more. She doesn’t comment on my untidiness, doesn’t run a white-gloved finger over my coffee table. It’s just that somehow I increase my efforts to be tidier.

I’m sure she would be surprised to know she has this influence. She is not a speaker or a Toastmaster. Imagine the influence she could have if she gave speeches about better or easier ways to get through housework.

As a speaker, you have influence over anyone who hears your words. Standing up there in front of an audience gives you authority, whether you feel you deserve it or not. You can entertain or provide information – both are perfectly valid but I’m focusing here on motivational or inspirational speaking.

If you have overcome a challenge, no matter how large or small, you have a personal perspective on that. Your perspective, your own creative way of dealing with it can help others.

It’s like you have a choice. You can tell yourself that it’s just not fair, life has dealt you impossible tasks and you can play ‘Ain’t it awful’ and ruminate over every sad detail for the next 20 years.

Or you can find your own unique way of getting over it and then share that with others.

This is such a huge gift. No, not everyone who hears it will use your way of dealing with challenges. But at the very least you have shown everyone in your audience that getting over challenges is possible. They don’t have to be permanently locked in their disaster.

At the very least you have given them an option they can try. That option might not work for everyone. That’s fine. Just seeing one option gives them hope to look for a different one; one that might work better for them.

That’s what hope is. You have given them hope.

Using your creative self to dig yourself out of a tough spot is not just a mentally healthy thing to do for yourself, it sets what the Victorians used to call “a good example” to others. It models positive behaviour. It gives people the thought “If he/she can do it, then maybe I can do it.”

That creative, generative self helps you find a way over the obstacle then asks (and answers) the question “What can I use this for?” You use it to contribute to humanity, to others who need the inspiration, to the future generation.

The ability to create solutions or come-backs from the inevitable challenges of life is a valuable personal resource. Our kids and other people’s kids need to be shown examples of the value and importance of this. As a speaker you can not only show, but spread the word.

Your speech can guide the future.


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There’s nothing wrong with a good rant, right?

Well, it depends. What exactly is “a good rant”?

All too often “a good rant” can be defined as one that really allows the speaker to get a lot off his chest. As a tension relief it works very well. The speaker feels that finally he has been heard.

I say “he” deliberately. Rants seem to be almost exclusively a masculine occupation.

The problem with rants is that they are all about the speaker and they don’t consider the audience. Yes, they can be quite funny, the audience might have a few laughs but what do they leave with?

As a speaker you are expected to give them something of value in return for them giving you their time and attention. You might give them information, entertainment, inspiration, or motivation.

Rants do none of the above. They are purely an indulgence for the speaker.

If you have an opinion you want to express – no matter how unpopular or esoteric – do your homework. Research the topic, find the background, the history and geography of it. Be open-minded enough to share the opposing point of view.

And remember that speeches, even rants, need a strong opening and conclusion, a logical sequence of points, a couple of anecdotes and a generous helping of humor.

Just because you are revealing how opinionated you can be, it doesn’t excuse you from working on your speech construction.

As Toastmasters we get the opportunity to speak, to spread the word, about our favorite subjects. But just as some clubs prefer not to hear religious or political topics, so some people prefer not to hear unsubstantiated, un-researched rants.

Rants? Use them sparingly. Research the topic, add structure, stories and humor. Work on them as you would on any speech. Then perhaps your audience will pay you the compliment of actually listening.

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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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My grandson hates his school picture. Of course he hates them; he’s a teenager. It would be a big surprise if he came home and said “Wow! Look at this great picture of me. Doesn’t it make me look good? Thank you for buying the set of pictures for me.”

Our expectations of people have to be realistic, otherwise we set ourselves up for disappointment. When you stand up to speak the audience has certain expectations of you. These may be grounded in previous experience – they know your style and how interesting you are likely to be.

If you are to grow as a speaker you should try to at least achieve and maybe exceed these expectations. You have worked on structure so the speech hangs together better and flows better.You’ve beefed up the content and you are putting ore life into your presentation.

And you have added stronger stories:

  • you have found new stories
  • you have added detail or depth to previous stories
  • you have found a new perspective for a story – you tell it from a different viewpoint that uncovers new meaning
  • you dig deeper into he story to discover a new layer of understanding

The audience, or some members of it, may not have heard you speak before. They may not know your reputation, or level as a speaker. For these people you are establishing your benchmark as a speaker. They will establish their expectations of you based on this.

So you always have to do better as a speaker to exceed that benchmark. This is how you grow.

There are people who will say “I don’t care what other people think – I only have to meet my own expectations of myself.”

But what if you are too easy on yourself, or too hard on yourself, or you have somehow managed to rationalize that fact that everyone yawns through your speeches?

Sensitivity to the expectations of the audience gives you additional data from which you can gauge your progress as a speaker. As you tell your new – or newly-adapted – story you can tell from the expressions in front of you whether it worked.

Are you getting smiles, Aha expressions, nods? Or is there more than one ‘I don’t get it’ look?

If you have trouble speaking in English a Toastmaster audience will usually support you as you gradually improve your fluency. They expect that each time you will speak a little more clearly than the time before. Their reward for this is the unique stories you can tell them from a life experience very different from their own.

Stories are easier to express, easier to get into and understand than more abstract ideas. Your stories increase the expectation of you as a more and more fluent speaker. Well-told stories also increase the perception of you as an interesting and increasingly accomplished speaker.

Grow the expectations of you with stronger stories

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