Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’

Fake It ‘Till You Feel It

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 | Public Speaking

This is my speech for the 2017 humorous speaking contest at Toastmasters.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016 | Books

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking is a book by Chris Anderson, curator of TED, on how to deliver a great talk. It is aimed to give advice to everyone, not just people speaking at TED, and while all the examples are from TED, there is much to be learned from anyone looking to give a speech.

As with a great TED talk, Anderson starts the book by creating a vision. An idea is a thought pattern in your head, and your challenge is to replicate that thought pattern inside the mind of each of your audience members. He then goes on to explain how to do this, step by step.

Most of the book concentrates on the idea of getting your message correct. This makes sense because it is more important than delivery and you can do in written form. If your body language or voice is not perfect, this matters less than having a great message. Nor can you teach these skills effectively in a book.

There are also discussions of the fine lines you run into when speaking. Sharing personal stories for example. Generally speakers don’t do enough of this. Showing an audience your vulnerabilities and being open about some of the challenges you have faced really helps you connect with an audience. But you can overshare and even make them feel uncomfortable if you go too far.

Similarly, how much should you rehearse. Should you do it word-for-word or just rehearse ideas? Word-for-words means you will know it better and get it right: but it can also sound forced and unnatural. Both approaches can work. However, in general word-for-word is better. Many speakers, usually with high opinions of themselves, will talk about how they just blag it and it comes out brilliantly. For a tiny proportion of speakers this may be true. However, for most they simply do not sound as good as they think they do. In comparison, I am often complement for how natural and unrehearsed I sound. The speeches that people usually make those comments are the ones I have rehearsed to death: my guess is that that style only comes from the confidence of knowing your speech inside out.

I was quite pleased when the book suggested you should use blank slides to bring the audience back to you. I use this in my speeches, but I have never seen or heard anyone else suggest it before, so it was nice to see TED recommends it too.

One interesting point of contention was the pace you should speak at. At Toastmasters, we always tell people to slow down. TED says the opposite. People can digest faster than you can physically say things, so why would you slow down for anything other than the complicated bits that cause a high cognitive load on your audience? I see their point. If your audience can comprehend you speaking at normal conversation speed, why not pack in more information?

I think both these points of view can be reconciled. A Toastmasters, we’re typically teaching nervous speakers to get over their fears. When people are anxious they speak faster. Slowing down is a skill you need to learn and practice because otherwise you will go a million miles per hour. However, once you have learned to go at your own paces, to add pauses in the right places and to speed up and slow down as required, then you can use that skill to speed up as appropriate.

ted-talks

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.

How To Talk To Anyone

Monday, February 22nd, 2016 | Books

How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks For Big Success In Relationships is a 2003 book by Leil Lowndes. I have had it on my iPad for literally years but never got too far with it. Looking for something to read, I found it again and managed to do a little better this time.

I originally bought it as I wanted something to help me improve my small talk. Lowndes’s advice isn’t too helpful. She suggests using what I would call “big talk”. To me, small talk is inoffensive general filler stuff, like the weather, whereas she suggests diving in with that is currently in the news. I try to avoid reading news so I am not too keen to try that one.

She also recommends avoiding complaining during small talk. I complain a lot, but usually in a jokey or upbeat way. Often involving the phrase ‘middle-class problems’. Maybe I should change this.

A lot of the advice is helpful for improving your communication skills. How often do we forget to smile? Or make eye contact with a waiter? I have noticed I do that a lot. I am looking and pointing at the menu, which I think is what most people do, but when you think about it it is rather impersonal.

The also gives this nugget, which I love:

“That joke was designed to get a silent laugh: I’m glad to see it worked!

I will be using that one next time one of my jokes at Toastmasters falls flat on its face.

She also recommends using visualisation. This means imagining yourself a presentation, or a speech, or even introducing yourself. I do this naturally when I am preparing for a speech and highly recommend it. Act your speech out. Don’t just read through it: make your sofa your audience and deliver it as you will when you actually give it.

I couldn’t find the 2003 book cover, so I have had to use a more recent one. My copy probably didn’t have 92 tricks in it…

how-to-talk-to-anyone

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.