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Posts Tagged ‘speaker’

I’m always interested in listening to other speakers and noticing how they use stories to emphasize the points they want to make.

There’s a lot to be learned from experts but you can learn from everyone – even the newest speakers. Once in a while someone will tell a story that reaches out and grabs you, won’t let you go, sticks in your memory.

As soon as  this story reaches out and grabs you, ask (silently) ‘Why?’ What did the speaker say or do to intensify your focus? It’s hard to analyze when your imagination has been grabbed by the throat but try it as soon as your thoughts are free to roam again.

  • Transition. How did the speaker transition into the story? How did he make that smooth and compelling?
  • Word Choice. What were the words that linked to your own experience and pulled you in? did some words have an emotional pull for you – mother, traffic, baby, friend.  Words like these will take hold of almost everyone in the room.
  • Character. Who is the story about, and what has the speaker said to make you identify with this person. If you were presenting this story to this audience, would you have added anything or changed anything?
  • Tension Did you feel tension as the person in the story faced difficulties? How did the speaker create that tension? You noticed how he started with small difficulties and progressed to bigger, almost impossible ones. He showed you strengths and weaknesses that came into play.
  • Conclusion At the end of the story did you feel that tension relax. What words did the speaker use to make you feel the satisfaction of “Phew! Thank goodness everything turned out all right.”?
  • Story Objective  How did the speaker move on to fold the story into the theme and purpose of his speech? Analyze that transition and see what made it smooth, how the speaker brought your train of thought back to the main track.

If you analyze these points for an inexperienced speaker you will realize how you might have done it better. Great! You’ve studied the point and you’ve learned something. You’ll have that learning to incorporate in your next speeches.

If you’re listening to a very experienced speaker you might find it harder to pick the elements apart and analyze them. At least notice the transitions. How does he get himself smoothly into and out of the story? What elements of the story reinforce the point he is making?

To become a better story teller, listen to other people tell stories.

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Change it Up!

This week I had the privilege of interviewing Carol Carter, who is one of the top 18 speakers world-wide within Toastmasters International.

She was just back home after competing at the International convention in Florida. I asked her what advice she would give to people who wanted to improve their public speaking.

Her advice could be summarized in the phrase “Change it Up!” Often speakers speak in front of the same people in the same place almost all the time. They get comfortable there. They know the audience and the audience is comfortable with them. And especially with good speakers, they start to overlook any weak points.

Even if you are a beginning speaker, try to speak in different venues. A speech can come across very differently in a board room, on a  stage, in the rec. center or the library. It isn’t just a matter of projecting your voice more, or having more or less room to move around.  It’s that the place feels different. The lighting will be different, the audience distributed differently, there may or may not be a podium or a table.

These  differences throw you  a little, even if you get there ahead of time to check them out. (And you will get there ahead of time to check them out, right?) Good speakers are used to a wide variety of venues.

Good speakers also realize that the audience makes a difference. What resonates with one audience will fall flat with another. What makes your home audience smile may produce long laughter from a different group. You need to speak in front of different audiences to get a sense of what is universal versus what is part of your home group.

Humor, emotion, an outlook or approach that might be offensive to some people changes from group to group. A good speaker has a handle on that.

The suggestions you get, or speech evaluations will vary with different groups. What one group sees as delightfully animated might seem overdone to another group. Neither is necessarily ‘right’ but you need to take all the feedback into consideration.

Use your experience with different groups to help you adapt and improve your speeches. If you have a speech with three main points and three good anecdotes, change the anecdotes to different stories. How does  that work out? What if you change the sequence of the main points? Or if you change the focus of the points slightly?

All the experiments above will help enrich you as a speaker and develop skills and nuances you didn’t know you had. And they will give you confidence – confidence in the strength of your speech and confidence in your ability to face any group in any venue.

That’s what makes speakers professional.

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Yesterday I heard one of the best speeches I’ve ever experienced.

I use the word ‘experienced’ because it grabbed me at so many levels that I did more than listen or hear.

The title was a little off-putting – “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”. That’s the kind of title that only an experienced speaker, with wisdom and depth, can do justice to.

It was a long speech , almost 40 minutes. Again, only an experienced speaker can carry a speech of this length without losing the attention of the audience.  This speaker – Alan Warburton – had the maturity and wisdom to carry it off.

What made it, in my opinion, a great speech?

1. Choice of topic.

We all would like to live our lives better so we all bought into the topic. Also it was a topic that the speaker felt was important; he was presenting something that mattered deeply to him. This led to

2. Thoughtful structuring of the speech. The five points were linked by the opening and conclusion, by the theme itself and even by the stories. It was a simple, direct, easy-to-grasp format. Each point was simply and clearly stated.

3 Serious practice time. I saw no stumbling, no pauses for thought, no awkward jumps between ideas. The speaker had practiced not just to remember the words and the sequence but to internalize the speech. (I asked myself afterwards, ‘When was the last time I internalized a speech?’) Internalizing a speech does not come without a lot of quality time spent on it.

4. Stories. Each point was illustrated with a vivid story. How vivid? So vivid I can probably repeat them now, 24 hours later. More importantly, so vivid that I remember each of the points. He chose stories mostly from his own family and we felt we got to know these people in all their brilliance, their foibles and a couple of their weaknesses.

He selected detail that revealed character and moved his story forward to the conclusion he was aiming at. He used humor and touches of emotion, but never so much that we lost sight of the theme as we enjoyed the stories.

5. A confident, unhurried presentation. Some good long pauses – for thought, not for effect. Movement that reflected meaning, without being a weak gesture. A voice that held sincerity.

When you hear a truly first class speech – not part of a contest or any important event – you start to get clarity about what you yourself are aiming at. You begin to understand what “communicating better” actually means to you. You get a glimpse of everything you must do well to become the speaker you would like to be.

It helped that this speaker is a terrific story-teller – that is his special talent. But, like all the other aspects of his speech, if we were to work on it, we too would get better at it. Better at choosing and telling stories, better at pausing, better at… It all takes hard work and focus.

Hard work and focus. Not the easiest choices. But the end result is so worthwhile.

(NOTE: The speech was based on the book ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware)

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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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Whether you’re reading an article or listening to a speaker you’ll find that many of the most polished communicators use personal stories to illustrate the points they want to make. There are reasons for this:

– It brings you, the writer or speaker, closer to your reader or listener because you have now shared an experience

– It makes you writer appear more open and honest

– It shows you to be very human – someone who has made his share of errors and mis-steps, and not some remote, clever individual who is disconnected from the reader. You have kids, a dog, a mortgage just like your readers.

– It increases the reader’s understanding of your background and point of view.

– It develops a sense of trust. Further along in the article or speech you may need to address tougher issues and this higher level of trust will help your audience to accept them.

– It reveals you (Scary, this!) and shows you are not afraid to lay bare aspects of your life, including your errors and weaknesses.

– It helps decrease any resistance to your message, and to any unknowns, changes, or negative points it may contain.

BUT…Don’t use personal stories as an opportunity to brag (“As I was driving my Jaguar to work…”) or to infer that all your life experiences have been positive and all your decisions correct. Keep it real.

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