What Toastmasters Doesn’t Teach You

Last week I gave my final speech, number ten, in the competent communicator set at my local Toastmasters Club. Following a formula that I’ve found works well, I ripped off a previous blog post and turned it into my CC#10 speech. If you want to read/see it, here are the links:

It’s been good to go to Toastmasters meetings, as it provides excellent practice in developing and presenting a talk. However, I found there were some skills that are required to put together a good speech that aren’t covered in the manuals provided or in the evaluations offered at meetings. Essentially these are the skills related to getting yourself to the point where you can deliver the speech, rather than those related to the actual delivery.

Specifically, Toastmasters doesn’t teach you how to research a speech, prepare a written form of the speech to learn, and then learn the speech off by heart. If anyone else in Toastmasters land is struggling with these (or is just interested), then here’s what I learned that worked pretty well (but no guarantees it will work well for anyone else):

  • Research. I found that the manuals provided guidance on how to select a good topic, but then what? I found that a mind-mapping approach, using the XMind software in conjunction with web searches, worked well in fleshing out the topic, and capturing the topics, sub-topics, and sub-sub-topics in a useful hierarchical fashion. You could easily see where the interesting aspects of the topic were leading, and if there were aspects that you hadn’t yet got much material on. Once the mind-map was sufficiently large (this will be a subjective thing), I knew there was enough material for a speech and I could stop.
  • Preparing a written form. I don’t say “writing the speech”, since I was unable to find enough time to memorise a fully-written speech, hence it was pointless writing one. What I would produce was essentially an outline of the eventual speech, and I would allow myself the freedom to ad-lib a bit when delivering it. To fill a 5-7 minute speech I knew that my outline should have, at the top level, an introduction, three sub-topics, then a conclusion, and each point at the top level should have 2-3 points at the level below.
  • Learning it off by heart. I found it hard to memorise all the words in a fully-written speech, but I also found it hard to remember all of my outline in the heat of the moment when delivering the speech. So, I took an approach that I was shown in a Think on Your Feet course, and created a visual representation of the outline. Each point below the top level would be turned into a simple drawing, or icon. It turns out that my brain finds this much easier to remember. And you don’t need to be able to hold the whole thing in your head during the speech; you just need to remember “what next”, which is just one thing at a time.

One of the consequences of following the above approach is that the speech ends up being highly structured, which is considered a Good Thing at Toastmasters meetings. One of the complications, though, is that it doesn’t help you with remembering particular gestures or when to advance slides. So, it’s not a complete technique.

If you’ve read this far, I hope this helps you.

Fun Facts About: Chocolate

Last week I gave my ninth Toastmasters speech. Since the CC#9 project is Persuade with Power, I thought I’d make it easy for myself by picking an easy topic: persuading people to eat more chocolate.

In doing the research for the speech, I found out some cool things about chocolate. Well, I think they’re cool, and since I’m writing this, I get to decide.

  • Carl Linnaeus, the guy who came up with the system scientists use today to name and classify all living things, decided that the name of the cacao plant was not particularly descriptive, so he gave it the name Theobroma, which means in Latin, “food of the gods”. This continues to be its scientific name today.
  • For most of history, chocolate was a drink. This is what attracted it to a bunch of English Quakers, who promoted it as a healthy alternative to alcoholic drinks. The names of some of those Quakers are still well known today: Fry, Rowntree, Terry and Cadbury. Ironically, chocolate only became available as a chocolate bar in the 19th century, courtesy of the inventions of one of them: Fry.
  • An important chemical in chocolate is theobromine, which is present in chocolate in quantities several times that of caffiene. Unfortunately, it is the chemical that makes chocolate poisonous to animals, but in humans it is known to be a stimulant, a better cough-suppresor than codeine, and helpful to asthmatics.
  • While 90% of the world’s cocoa is produced in small farms, the chocolate industry is dominated by major manufacturers such as Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle. To address this imbalance in bargaining position, the Fair Trade system is also applied to chocolate, and Cadbury has recently committed to source all their chocolate for the Dairy Milk chocolate bar in the UK from Fair Trade sources.

Oh, and the speech went well, by the way. Only one more to go before I’ve completed the basic set of projects. The last one will be a bit trickier – it has to be an inspiring speech. Wish me luck…

First speech of the year

Toastmasters has started up for 2008, and someone has it in for me, because I was in the line-up. I guess I’ve had a little break from it, so it was probably about time.

However, despite practicing it out loud, and it taking 5 minutes, on the actual night it took closer to 8 minutes. No idea what happened.

If you care to read it, it’s about what I’ve gotten out of sport. Frankly it’s a surprise to me that I got much, but it was enough to spin into a speech. The purpose of this, my fifth speech, was to include gestures, body language, movement, etc.

I came, I swore, I gave a speech

Tonight I presented my fourth Toastmasters speech. It was CC#4 “How to Say It”, which means that it was meant to be on the theme of language and words. So, I thought it would be a nice twist on the topic to do a speech about swearing.

Turns out that swearing is a pretty interesting topic. There’s a good article on swearing at Howstuffworks, although I didn’t use it for the speech. Anyway, I wrote the speech last night, and all I had to do was remember it and deliver it alright. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember it clearly, didn’t deliver it in a punchy way, and ended up going seriously over time. The lesson is that if I’d practiced it to the point where I’d memorised it, it would have been fine.

For those who are interested in what I meant to deliver, feel free to read my speech on swearing.

Toastie Speeches

This year I joined up with the international public speaking organisation Toastmasters. Luckily, I’ve found a club that is both friendly and extremely talented. I haven’t got all the nerves under control yet, so it’s helpful that they aren’t too scary.

So far, I’ve gotten through the first two set speeches in the ten speech programme. I think they’ve generally gone alright, and I think I’m improving. Still, eight more to go. In case they can help anyone else, or provide some ideas, I’m putting the original text of the speeches here on the blog. Of course, they weren’t delivered word-perfect, and didn’t quite go as planned, but you can see the vision.