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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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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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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.

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