Tag Archives: Preparation

Are you called?

Typically people are “called”into ministry.  I don’t know if God actually dials their number or if he sends a postcard.  Apparently people wait to get that call to know they are supposed to go into professional religion.

What about the rest of us?

Do fireman get a visit from their heavenly father in a flake retardant suit?

I believe that God gives us all gifts.  Sometimes it’s cool stuff like singing or hitting a baseball and sometimes it’s biting stuff like proofreading and breast feeding.  We don’t ask for these gifts they are just in our DNA.  We see our children and their gifts, but how hard is it to see our own gifts?

The fact is your gift probably isn’t flipping burgers, answering the phone, or digging ditches (if it is, that’s not your only gift), but we all like to eat and sleep indoors.  So for eight plus hours a day we work at non gifted jobs.  I can’t imagine that’s very fulfilling.  I know it’s not enough in my life and I love my job.
Another belief of mine is that the human spirit is “called” to find the body behind the calling voice.  In essence answering the question of what is my thing or what’s my calling?  I think those dreams are what wake us up hard days.  No one oversleep a calling, but we’ll snooze a forklift shift several times.

If you know me, I love to talk.  If you really know me, you know I love to public speak.  If you are inside my brain you know that I believe that’s my calling.  I still don’t know how or when, but one day I’ll be one of those guys on a book cover.

Dream big…You can only jump as high as you set the bar.




Contest Season

Now that football is over with, I can move my sporting interests on to the other big thing in my life…

World Championship of Public Speaking


The 2010 Toastmaster’s International Speech Contest

The road has started to the international convention in August where one person will be crowned as the best for this year. Now this year I will not be competing, so I will be watching this years contest from the coaches seat.

I have the pleasure of working with a good friend that helped me a lot last year as he winds his way through the season. He delivered a very topical, humorous, and touching speech about our addiction to texting, tweeting, and smartphones in general. Now I know that non of you have ever texted in church, updated your Facebook status in the potty, or tweeted while waiting in line at the grocery but the fact is many Americans do and the art of communication is being lost.

Watching the contest from this seat is totally different. In some ways it is better and in some it is MUCH worse. One of the greatest things about being a toastmaster is learning to give effective evaluation of speeches. To my knowledge I feel as though it is the best way for someone to learn how to give feedback on someones presentation and it is a skill that an active attendee of meetings could get a chance to do on a monthly basis.

That evaluation practice is the foundation for coaching. Now, if you google “speech coach” you will find countless websites, blogs, products, videos, and face men for what basically stacks up to being people who are giving evaluations of speeches and oral presentations. I have several friends that are part of this google search and they are very skilled at what they do.

  • They can polish an accomplished speaker
  • They can help ceo’s craft stockholder presentations
  • They can help ministers improve and expand their ability to reach their congregation
  • They can help a virtual novice overcome jitters as they deliver their first proposal
  • They can help a sales manager perfect her ability to demo a product

It is a cool job!

So now I get to play “pretend speech coach” and try to help my friend get as far or farther than I did last year.  So how am I going to do it.

One of the biggest lessons I learned last year is to be myself.  I am not an expert in grammar, staging, speech writing, or visual aids.  What I am is that I am as good as anyone I have ever seen with vocal variety and pretty good with my use of body language.  Now, I have some skill in all the other areas but when it comes down to how I can help him the most is to help refine his already strong natural abilities in my two areas of expertise.

The other thing I learned last year was really how to listen to a speech.  Those that were around me will tell you that I listened to countless speeches.  In the beginning I just put them into the good or bad territory.  Which basically was, do I like it or don’t I.  As the year progressed I became a more critical listener.  Looking for both strength and weakness in every presentation I watched.  As I became more critical I also became more open to the grey area that existed between good and bad and eventually worked to a point where I filed everything I heard in the box of “good and how can I learn from it?”.

I hope the results tonight are in our favor and I can keep learning how to coach someone.  And even if it doesn’t I’ll still go to the contests and still watch as people get better and better.  And maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll pull a Brett Farve and unretire and put my hat back into the contest circle.



Off the cuff

Our terminology in Toastmasters is “Table Topics”.  You may call extemporaneous speaking, off the cuff responses, thinking on your feet, or just plan talking.  In my time with Toastmasters I have come to believe that it is the most critical skill that we can give our new members because we all use it and we use it every day.  It is also a skill that I would consider myself an expert at in the context of Toastmasters and would like to share some of my “how to do its”.

Now first, let me separate how I deliver a table topics into a couple of categories…





I love to laugh.  It is a lot of work to support a frown and a down attitude.  Many times when we are offered a question that is a little silly, is so far out of your realm of understanding, or is something that requires a comical answer.

“Tell me about a time you were embarrassed.”

“What is the best way to frost a cake?”

“What is the funniest movie you have seen and why?”

The key with a fun response is no different from any other response, you have to think.  The key to delivering an effective response in any situation is to think.  People are scared to death of “the quiet game”.  That is that mythical time between when the question is asked and when you craft your answer.  Awkward silence is very uncomfortable and five seconds feels like five hours to most of us.  It is though, the key to gathering your thoughts and preparing a response.  When you have a “fun” question or you want to craft a “fun” response, your time in the quiet game is not to be spent on structure, organization, transitions, or rousing summary statements.  In your moments of preparation you are simply searching for the ONE story that you can relay that is easy to tell, has characters, and has a definite and natural ending.  The hardest part of this process is taking enough time to find that story and not allowing the uncomfortable silence to cripple you.


These are fun moments and ones that are more like interview questions.  These are topics that you have an opportunity to share a belief, point of view, or message that means something to you and your being or soul.

“Who was the biggest influence on your life?”

“Define a role model.”

“How would you advise the President?”

In an interview the potential employer may ask you about how you handled certain situations or why you are right for this job.  In the same way that you play the quiet game for fun topics and questions, that is that same place you need to start for pointed topics and questions.  In that time you are sitting and thinking you are now searching for an emotion and not just a story.  These responses have to be delivered from the heart and are not simply a matter of retelling a situation.  Adding to the quiet game you must now add emotion.  Even in an interview situation, there is an emotion you need to convey in order to show an employer what is truly inside you.  So now we add find the emotion to think to give a pointed response to a question.


I’m a competitor.  I had a great run last year in the speaking contest but along the way I also finished second in the state in Table Topics.  I’ve actually won our club contest every time I have entered not to mention the several times I have won the best table topic of the day.  It is something I’m pretty good at.  Contest speaking is fun but it is different from a regular table topic.

“What is toastmasters?”

“What does the Superbowl have to say about our culture?”

“Which is more important listening or being heard?”

Theses are all questions that I have had in contests.  Now the process to answer these is still built off the same foundation.

  • Think
  • Emotion

Now we have to add in the last piece…

**********Find a ledge**********

This is my term for looking for the place to put your foot to build your speech.  In that 5-10 seconds where I am preparing for my response I am replaying the question in my head and looking for my ledge, that anchor I will tie my two minutes to.  From that ledge, I then try to find 2 stories that can be told and that I have some emotions for.  I know that seems like a lot to do, but that is where my mind is going.  I’m also trying to find an amazing opening sentence and I’m thinking about how I may be able to tie it all together.  You can do a lot in 7.7 seconds.

So the next time you are asked a question and you have to respond off the hip.  Are you just going to start spewing data and opinions?  Are you going to give a canned answer that is safe and uncreative?  Or are you going stop, think, find a story, deliver some emotion, and find a ledge?  If you do nothing more than stop and think, you are well on your way to not only winning the quiet game and table topics, but to improving your skills in speaking!



It’s the journey right?

I want

I need

I deserve

I earned

I won

All solutions and answers based on the efforts that you have put in.  These are the rewards for studying for a test, preparing for a race, or working on an assignment.  As Americans, though, we really want the prize.

When our neighbor gets a new TV, we are happy but secretly jealous.

When your rival wins the game, you respect it but secretly feel like you gave it away

We want the reward and sometimes we forget about the work that it took to even be considered for the reward.

In the last week I have given three speeches.  I have never given that many different speeches ever.  From everything I have read and everything I have heard, this is how it all starts.  But I want the reward; and I wouldn’t mind having it now.  I want someone to “hire” me rather than “invite” me to do a speech.  But then I stop and think about the speeches and see why I have to walk through the valley in order to reach the summit.

Speech 1

I was asked to speak in honor of my high school band director.  He was more than a teacher to me and was really a father figure and a huge influence on my life.  I was honored to be invited and even more honored to be asked to speak.  I had never been asked to do something like this and it was hard.  Talking about someone you really care about challenges your abilities as a speaker to maintain control but still show the emotions you feel.  The first few drafts of the speech were soaked in tears, I just couldn’t deliver it.  I asked some advice from another speaker and he helped me tremendously.  In the end, the speech went off well.  I was a little too loud on my top end volume but it was funny, people enjoyed it, and it honored my friend.

Speech 2

This was a toastmasters club speech.  This is also the first speech I have given in 2009 that wasn’t in preparation for a contest.  I had to dig deep to even find a manual I could work from.  Because I had spent time working on speech 1, I was late in preparing for speech 2.  I found myself stuck between speeches that were too difficult to prepare for and projects I really didn’t want to do (I thought about just delivering speech 1, but I wanted a challenge).  I eventually ended up working from the entertaining speaker manual and doing project 3 “Make them laugh”.  Most of my speeches have elements of humor in them, but when being forced to be funny it is quite a challenge.  I ended up crafting a speech about the church I grew up in and some of the silly things that I saw as a child.  It required me to be very vivid in my descriptions without running through all the details too fast.  It also required me to take some risks of being a little edgy without offending anyone.  The end result was funny.  It really felt good to achieve my task and at the end of the speech I made sure to leave them with something to chew on other than just jokes.

Speech 3

I have been asked to participate in a speakers group to promote the school district that my son is in and the district that I grew up in.  Yet again another great honor.  We will get to be out in the community and give highlights of our childhood and let people know about the good things that are going on in the community.  For this week, the districts PR director wanted to see what we were going to say.  I really didn’t prepare much for this at all.  I had made some notes and thought about some stories I wanted to share, but I had gone through it only a couple of times a few weeks prior.  My fellow speakers were very prepared and had typewritten and well organized presentations.  I had a story about my son saying the “F” word and playing off that one incident.  One thing I have found over the last three years is that all my speeches have a lot of emotion.  This was no different.  In an audience of three I could see the tears developing and the smiles immediately after.  I again walked the edge with some of my content, but I’m learning that is my style.  I have to challenge your thinking and maybe even make you worry about where I’m going before I give you the reward.  It was also good to be able to speak to people that had never heard me speak and still be able to connect with them.

So of course I hope that I have an email in my inbox right now asking me to come speak at someone’s conference and asking what my fee is.  But I didn’t join toastmasters and I don’t like speaking just because one day I may make a living at it.  I like that process of putting together a speech.  I like practicing it in my living room in front of my dogs.  I like the fact that my son comes around the corner to see what I’m talking about.  I like looking into people’s eyes and knowing that they understand.  It is all those things and more.  At some point I’ll get paid (or at least I hope so) but that won’t add or subtract from the joy that I feel in doing the one thing that I do best.





Moving on

I am now in all out speech preparation.  I have a speech, I have places to give the speech, and I have my eyes and ears 0pen for ways to make the speech better.  This is the fun part of the process.

After I won the last contest, I decompressed for a week and then I laid out a schedule to get ready for the next speech.

First two weeks:  Brainstorm speech ideas

Second two weeks: Settle on an idea and start putting it together

Third two weeks:  Give it, give it, give and learn

Final week: Tweak but don’t over analyze

Day before contest:  View the room/audience and make mental notes

Contest day:  Enjoy it, because it may be the only time I get to do it

That’s the road map I cooked up in my head after my last victory.  What I really didn’t calculate into the process was how difficult it would be to write another really good speech.   I knew I would have to create another speech if I won, but I figured I would just be able to tighten up an old one and make it work.  I was totally wrong.

There is no how-to book or manual on competing in a toastmasters contest.  There are a lot of opinions on blogs and websites from past participants but really no blow by blow account of how someone did it.  So I had to take bits and pieces from many different sources.  One of the most amazing things I have learned in the process is how gracious TM members are.  I have reached out to former world champions, busy professional speakers, and high ranking club officers and almost always gotten some sort of response.  These are super busy people that don’t know me from a hole in the wall, but take time out of their day to give me advice, criticism, and hope.

I have said several times that “I don’t know enough to know what I don’t know” in this process.  I have seen so many contest speeches and early on in the process I caught myself trying to copy ones that I thought were great.   And I could probably have put together a pretty good speech that was “somebody elses”, but its just not me.  At the end of the day I want to go into the contest with a speech that I am in love with.  That was the key to the first one, I loved it; it took on a life of itself; and rather than giving a speech the speech was a part of me.

The new speech is titled “Move On”.  It grew out of another speech which was me trying to make a winner rather than me trying to tell a story.  That’s what I am good at.  I tell stories with sweeping changes in emotion, volume, and position.  I move people, I don’t motivate.  My appeal is more to the heart than it is to the brain.  And that’s what I am going with.  In my mind its a winner and that’s really all that I care about.  If the judges like it, great but I am not going to put this together with the only way to measure success is with a victory.  I won the first time I delivered it at my club and new that I had found something that reflected me.  I won when I see how it lands on peoples hearts and makes them think.  The trophy would be great but the story is my reward in this process.


P.S.  I really do want to win though 😉

Coming of age

In preparation for the upcoming Region 8 Toastmasters speech contest I went back through my basic manual and reviewed all the speeches I did on the way through.  I originally looked there for speech ideas but found myself getting so much more insight into my maturation as a speaker.  From the earliest speeches in my manual I could see the beginnings of a future competitor.  

I had comments like:

Smooth delivery-Good pacing-Natural humor-Nice body language

I had no idea what I was doing, but apparently some critical pieces to my speaking puzzle came naturally to me.

There are a lot of people in this world that have natural skills and abilities in one area or another.  The playgrounds are littered with people that had college or professional basketball talent come natural but something never quite worked out.  

As a toastmaster most of us strive to improve our skills as a communicator.  The words of evaluation are meant to help expedite that improvement.  I see many toastmasters that don’t do anything with the evaluation information.  They hear it, read it, and then repeat the same mistakes in their next speech.  From my earliest days in the club, I made a point of addressing the areas for improvement on the very next speech.  My speech preparation may not have been top level, but I made a point of working on what I was instructed to work on.  

That was the beginning of the process.  Now as I work through crafting contest speeches, I am delivering them to different clubs and different groups and getting evaluations and feedback from so many sources.  Now obviously I cannot take every comment and make a change to my speech but I am mindful of the things that I hear repeatedly.  These are things I need to adjust.  My district speech was good but I heard from several sources that my ending needed work.  I eventually got an ending I liked at 2:15 am the day of the contest.  

There is no substitution for stage time.  That is where you truly improve your craft as a speaker.  A close second to stage time is evaluation.  The only way we can truly get better is if we listen to the people that are trying to help us get better. 



Let’s talk about practice!

Michael Jordon shot hundreds of free-throws after practice

Joe Montana worked on his footwork day after day

J.K. Rowling spent countless hours rewriting the Harry Potter series

What are we talking about?  Practice!

There is no shortcut to success.  Even those supremely gifted people on the planet still have to work to maximize their potential.  I love public speaking and throughout this contest process I am now learning how to PRACTICE public speaking.  

My practice methods for regular toastmasters speeches is very loose.  Usually I find my speech material in the shower.  Rather than singing in the shower like  many people do I usually just talk.  I  perform speeches to the shower head and come up with some rather creative ideas.  I really need to get a recorder in there somehow.  Once I actually wrap my head around a topic, I prepare an outline and then just start practicing to the air and my dogs (they are a great audience).  

For this contest I have had to evolve.  

I actually have a written version of the speech.  I actually have seven written versions of the speech.  Each draft has gotten progressively better and tighter.  I have noticed from actually writing my speeches that I like to ramble and get “wordy”.  With any speech and contest speeches particularly you must mind the time and you must be efficient with your words.  Writing does not come natural to me but it is so helpful to actually put my ideas down on paper and continue to work toward having good copy before I go o stage with the speech.  

Prior to the next contest on April 25 I will have given the speech formally to four toastmasters clubs and informally to several other audiences.  I will have also practiced the speech hundreds of times in the shower, to the dogs, in the car, and lying in bed.  I have gotten feedback from people that have competed at high levels in toastmasters and one of the keys is always to practice and be so comfortable with the speech that I can be in the moment when I am delivering it and be able to connect with the audience.  

I don’t think there is a perfect way to practice but what I do know that not practicing almost guarantees your failure.  Natural talent and ability is great but the world is littered with super talented people that flamed out before they reached their potential.  Don’t flame out!

What are we talking about?