I love going to free public speaking seminars: if the material isn’t good, I usually walk away with at least a good story. At one such event a few years ago, the leader let me deliver a five minute speech. His feedback was that my introduction had needed more oomph — he told me that I only had six seconds to capture the audience’s attention. I told him that advice was nonsense as people seated will take at times a few minutes to warm up to. Â I know it’s important to have a good opening to your speech and that’s a topic in itself. But this isn’t about speeches, it’s about writing and that’s a different beast.
Speech contests are a huge part of Toastmasters and can be interesting to watch. While I’ve never competed, I’ve had the pleasure of acting as contest master and chief judge (on separate occasions, of course) and have really enjoyed being a part of them. But the big question about speech contests is whether or not it’s worth all the time and effort.
Like anything, it really depends on your goals. I know people that make thousands of dollars for each speaking engagement they do, yet have never participated in a speaking contest. I also know of people who have won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking that haven’t been able to leverage their win to create a successful speaking career. But on the flip side, I know people that haven’t participated in contests that have struggled to make a career out of speaking and people that have won contests and have done well for themselves. And of course, there are thousands of us in between.
If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone and they couldn’t understand you, you know what it feels like to not speak articulately. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re always speaking inarticulately, but we all mumble and fumble our words from time.
I get a lot of questions from people about articulation and how to speak more articulately. It’s actually a lot easier than you think to speak more clearly so that others can better understand you. Here are some of tips about improving your articulation that I teach in my classes.
There is no faster way to scare the living daylights out of someone then telling them that they have to give a speech. For extra points, you can tell them that they’ll be speaking to a large audience — which depending on the person could mean more than 50 or more than 1000 attendees. Why do people associate fear to speaking? What’s the big difference between a speech and a conversation?
In my public speaking classes, one of the first things I teach is that you won’t improve your speaking skills unless you get up in front of an audience and speak. I was sharing this story recently at a networking event and a friend said to me “wait a second, don’t you sell CDs and books about speaking?” When I confirmed that I did, he asked then how do I expect anyone to buy them.
I’m a big fan of false deadlines — milestones that force you to complete part or all of a task before its scheduled completion date. When I have a big project, the first thing I do is set a date to complete it. I then go through the process I teach in my goal setting workshop to create tasks and subtasks. But whenever possible, I’ll give myself a false deadline so that I ensure I stay on target. It can be as simple as sending a draft of a piece of writing to a friend to critique or as complex as testing out a new part of a talk on a safe audience.
Toastmasters is a great place to find good yet inexpensive speakers, especially for nonprofits and organizations on a budget. The nice thing about Toastmasters is you can often find incredible values as this is where many professional speakers go to start out. Many of these budding speakers are looking to just get their name out or get some “paid” (or non-Toastmasters) speeches on to their resumes. So it’s an excellent way to find a good speakers that will speak for free or a small honorarium.
There are a couple of things that you’ll want to do when you look to your local Toastmasters club for a speaker. But something you don’t want to do is just email all the local club Presidents to see if they have anyone willing to speak to your group. This is a common mistake companies and organizations make and usually results in them finding a speaker that’s eager to do the talk, but not necessarily the most qualified. So here are some tips: