Archive for the ‘Public Speaking’ Category

The Worst-Case Scenario

Thursday, April 27th, 2017 | Public Speaking

My speech for the 2017 international speech contest was entitled “The Worst-Case Scenario” and told the story of how things going wrong can so often produce our greatest achievements.

Club contest

I managed to see off some tough competition in the form of Simon and Paul at the club level. People say that the club level is often the most difficult to win. This is often attributed to questionable quality judging, but I think it has more to do with the amazing speakers we have at Leeds City.

Area contest

For the Area 15 final, I decided I had to sort my outfit out. If I was going to speak about running, I needed to be a runner.

As it turned out, the evaluation contest was taking place before the speech contest. So I quickly had to change back into my civvies and then get changed again.

Division contest

At the Division E final in Birmingham, the story ends. I didn’t even place. I’m a pretty bitter loser. It’s frustrating because the only feedback people ever offer is “I loved your speech”.

It robs Toastmasters of it’s most important ingredient: the feedback that allows you to grow. And it also makes you question whether there is much objectivity to what we are doing.

Or maybe it conforms to Robert Pirsig’s definition of quality and is simply incredible. We know a great speech when we see one but we can’t say why. The magic eludes me, but it doesn’t seem to based on sound fundamentals.

Still, that’s the talk of a loser. Onwards and upwards.

And, on the plus side, it did make a nice road trip for Venla.

How to write a good eulogy

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 | Public Speaking

Writing the perfect eulogy is a tough business, especially when you want to do justice to a loved one. These tips will help guide you in the delicate task.

Writing and delivering a eulogy is rarely a pleasant thing to do. However, when you are called upon to do it, chances are you will want to do the best job you can do in honouring the loved one you have lost. You rarely get extended notice, so it is best to be prepared. Here are some tips.

It’s not a biography

The structure of a eulogy will typically talk through a person’s life. This is a good guide for how to lay out your speech. However, it is important to remember that it is not a biography. Everyone at the funeral is likely to have known the person and their life story, so there is no benefit in parroting it back to them. Instead, you should concentrate on distilling the essence of their personality. Pick out a few bits to talk about that really show what kind of person they were.

Unless they were a complete bastard, in which case you should show a mix of their personality. There is no point denying their faults but focus on their good points also.

Use humour

At my public speaking club, I’m noted for adding humour to any situation. In fact, I used to joke that I thought it was always appropriate, though I hadn’t had a eulogy to try it out at yet. That was years ago, and now I have had a eulogy to try it out at, and still stick by my conviction.

Humour is a wonderful tool for keeping people engaged and breaking the tension. it can bring the mood of a room right up. You might think that a funeral is not the place for a eulogy, but I could not disagree more. You need to use humour to lighten the mood not just in spite of it being a funeral, but because of it. You want to leave attendees with a positive memory of the deceased, not a solemn downcast version.

Tell stories

This goes for any speech, ever. Stories have an emotional attachment. People will quickly forget what you said, but how you made them feel will stick around much longer. Humans love stories. So skip the boring details and lay out your speech out hopping from story to story.

If another member of the family has a lovely story about the deceased, invite them up to give it.

Warehouse of Gifts

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 | Public Speaking, Video

Two days after I delivered Speak from the Heart at Leeds City, I delivered a speech called “Warehouse of Gifts” at Asselby Speakers. It was another speech I had written to try and develop my personal stories and improve the emotion in my speeches.

I did not go there with high hopes. The speech was rough, the idea was clich├ęd, and I was doing the whole thing in a Finland hockey jersey. However, it actually went a lot better than the other one did. People liked it.

Asselby Speakers is a great place to take a speech. It is an advanced club, only open to Competent Communicators. The result is that you get unparalleled feedback. Speeches that regular clubs fail to give any suggestions, Asselby will give you an A4 page full, which is what you want at this level.

Speak from the Heart

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016 | Public Speaking, Video

Recently, I’ve been working on including more personal stories and emotion in my speeches. Some have gone better than others. This speech, for example, was a failure. Sort of.

Feedback was very positive. One of our members stopped me in the bathroom to tell me that he had never written a feedback slip before, but had tonight, because my speech was “perfect”. In fact, all the feedback slips were positive, which is frustrating because you can’t improve when nobody call tell you what was wrong. This was extra frustrating, because I failed to win best speaker.

Looking back at the video though, I can see why it wasn’t a winner. It doesn’t have the emotion in that I wanted it to have. I just didn’t express it. In fact, I think my trademark humour, as everyone refers to it, probably detracted from the speech because it took the edge off the emotion, and maybe I shouldn’t have done that.

Advanced Communicator Silver

Saturday, March 5th, 2016 | Public Speaking

advanced-communicator-silver

My recent speech “Morality Explained” was the final project I needed to complete in order to achieve my Advanced Communicator Silver award.

Morality Explained

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 | Public Speaking, Video

My Toastmasters speech for Speaking to Inform project #5 “The Abstract Concept”. In this talk I discuss how morality and altruism can work within the context of natural selection.

The wedding speeches

Friday, January 29th, 2016 | Public Speaking, Video

Our Leeds wedding was a fairly traditional sit-down affair, which included speeches by myself and my best man Norman. My brother-in-law Simon was good enough to capture it all on video.

I’m pretty pleased with my speech so I am now going to arrogantly offer advice to anyone who has such as speech to do. Perhaps it will even be useful for public speaking in general.

I opened with a few jokes. I think it set a good tone for the rest of the speech, which was mostly jokes. You have to go big or go home here. It’s scary yelling out “AH HA!” in front of a room of people who may or may not have seen Alan Partridge but you really have to go for it if you want the effect to work.

In terms of preparation, I started writing the speech as soon as I proposed. This gave me a year to work on it. I did not need all of that time. I wrote most of it mentally in the first few months, and metaphorically put ink to paper a few months before the big day. A month or two is ample time to write it but I recommend getting starting in advance for a number of reasons.

First, it is easier to do when you have plenty of time. Writing a speech to a deadline sucks. You are more likely to get writer’s block when you know you have to write, rather than when you can be relaxed about it. Also, doing it well in advance gives you plenty of time to go over it and nearer the day you will have other fires to fight. You can even write it, forget about it, then do a practice run a few weeks before.

In terms of practice, I didn’t do much. But then I was pretty relaxed about it (until I had to stand up and realised this was it!). Having written it mostly in my mind, I knew the lines pretty well anyway, and I did do some practice beforehand, so it wasn’t totally just freestyle.

I used notes, as you can see from the video. Always have notes to hand. They are a comfort blanket. When I am giving a competition speech, I do not have any notes. But when it is your wedding and you are already feeling the stress, the last thing you want is additional pressure. There is alcohol to factor in too. Best to have the notes there, just in case.

The Finnish bit was read word for word. I originally wrote it in English than had Elina translate it. Then I took that to my Finnish tutor and we worked on the pronunciation together. My script is actually annotated with pronunciation notes to remind myself.

Speaking of Finnish, try not to butcher the names of all your in-laws. It’s something that I, alas, was unable to achieve.

Emotion plays a key part in your delivery too. I choked up when I was telling the story about Elina’s dad. I was not expecting that. Looking back at the video it doesn’t look as bad as it felt, but it felt pretty bad. Worth factoring that in as something to be aware of.

I suspect the best bits are the most personal. Those are the most moving. And sometimes the most funny: the joke about my parents marrying for tax reasons got the biggest laugh of the speech.

Gestures, I still haven’t figured this one out. I need to find something else to do with my hands. However, I’m not sold on the idea of keeping them by myself the whole time. It looks and feels strange to me. This area needs more attention.

With the length, I came in at 22 minutes. This would have been too long had there been a third speech. However, given it was just myself and Norman, and we are both good speakers, I thought I could get away with it. Adding a bit of vocal variety (“20 years Leeds!”) seemed to help add some animation.

I sent my speech to Norman a week or two before the wedding. At which point he realised we were basically saying the same thing and quickly went on the re-write! He kept his notes on his phone which worked quite well. It’s small, like flashcards, so doesn’t get in the way.

Confidence is key. Norman’s strong and bold delivery sets a good base, and his appropriate timing and pauses around the jokes adds to the effect. You could take this even further: breaking out into song for the Tim Minchin lines for example. Not a tactic for the faint-hearted though!

Again, the personal stuff works the best. I loved the references to Stewart Lee, but it didn’t get the same laughs as the rest. Telling personal stories to your friends and family is being able to make an in-joke that everyone is included in.

The Man Who Won The War

Sunday, December 27th, 2015 | Public Speaking

This is my Toastmasters speech for Project #5 of the Storytellig manual ‘Bringing History To Life’. I told the story of Alan Turing.

Hell in High Heels

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 | Public Speaking, Video

This is my speech from the recent Toastmasters 2015 humorous speech contest. I recorded it both at club level and area level, both of which I ended up winning.

If you want to watch one, I recommend the bottom one as the Area one is probably a little more polished. For the Toastmasters geek among you, I will go into detail about both.

Above is the club contest. My first contest in two years having taken a year out to be Area Governor. I was a bit nervous beforehand but felt fine once I got up there.

I did not mean to actually cause so a racquet when I kicked the shoes off, but I when it got such big laughs I would I would roll with it. Then on to the area contest…

Here I had taken out a lot of the history of the heel. This was originally the point of the speech, but it was a bit try for a humorous contest, so I replace it with some material about the number of pairs of shoes we often end up with.

I also kept the accidental ending in (though this time on purpose). At Division level I toned this down as I almost hit an audience member at Area! So I carefully removed the shoes and then pretended to slam them to the ground.

I did not record Divsion, but it was essentially the same as Area. a made a few subtle changes. For example I took out “as all women know, the first step is to buy loads of shoes” because I felt this was a bit sexist. I replaced it with “I studied my wife carefully and worked out the first step was to buy loads of shoes” as this makes the same identifiable joke without offending anyone (except perhaps Elina, who I cleared it with in advance!).

You might notice I am wearing the same outfit in both videos. That is not a coincidence. One of the feedback points I got from my advanced club was that I needed to show off my legs – so a well-fitted t-shirt and skinny jeans it was! They’re horrible, I don’t know how the young people put up with them.

Speaking of advanced clubs, taking the speech to Asselby Speakers was the best preparation I did. None of this being nice nonsense you get at regular clubs, they just gave me proper feedback. I came away with a one and half sides of A4 and it turned an okay speech into a multi-contest winning speech.

Toastmasters Area 15 2015 humorous speech contest

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015 | Public Speaking

area-15-trophy

It’s good to have the trophy back on my shelf. Having won the club contest last month I was feeling more confident and managed to put in a sold performance at Area, enough to get me through to Division anyway.

The standard of the competition was very high. I had forgotten how tough Area 15 can be, having so many talented speakers in it. It is a shame that we can only send one contestant through to Division.