Speaking Tips: Remembering the lessons


Have you found times as a speakers where you made a mistake, even though you already knew how to avoid that mistake?  I recently gave a session to about 50 people, and three lessons I didn’t follow have made me realize that I need to make some adjustments before my next presentation.

Last weekend I attended our District’s Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI) training in Kansas City, and I spoke during our “Lunch and Learn” session.  The topic was Team Building. Including the lunch itself, the session was in a 50-minute block. Although I did receive a lot of positive feedback, there were a few things I could (should!) have done better.

First Lesson: Start Strong
Mistake I made
: Starting too soon after the lunch was provided. When it comes to a lunch and learn event, you want to give your audience enough time to get through most of their food. Especially if you are like me and you build a lot of audience interaction into your presentations.
Why I did it: No good reason; I just started a bit too quickly. My excuse was trying to make sure we had the most time possible for the presentation. Looking back, I think that 3-5 fewer minutes with a more effective beginning would have led to a better session.
Effect the mistake had:  People were not very responsive to early questions. This caused the energy in the room to stay lower than I would have liked.
Possible fixes, on-the-fly:
Ask rhetorical questions – I could have said “I know you’re eating so this is rhetorical…does anyone like working for an autocratic leader?” This would allow them to participate in their own heads without feeling bad about not responding with their mouth full.
Switch from an audience-interaction opening to a storytelling opening. Since storytelling has not been my strongest method, this is the one I continue to work on myself.  Note for fellow Toastmasters, I’m starting the Storytelling manual as my next Advanced Manual. Craig Valentine has some great material on the subject.
Fix for next time: Allow a few more minutes to finish the main course.

Second Lesson: Get them back after an exercise (or break)
Mistake I made:
I tried to get their attention after an exercise by simply talking (i.e. ” can I have your attention”). You’ve seen it before, just plowing ahead with my material as they slowly quieted down. It was not very effective…
Why I did it: I’ve seen quite a bit of the “Clap once if you hear my voice” technique, and I thought (poorly) that I wanted to avoid doing it again.
Effect the mistake had: It took folks time to get on board, also those ready to listen couldn’t hear me clearly over the murmuring.
Possible fixes on-the-fly:
Use the “clap once if you hear my voice…clap twice if you hear my voice” method. The nice thing about this method is you can switch to it anytime without materials.
Fix for next time: Lesson I learned from Ed Tate – Use other items to capture attention, like a toy clapper, chimes or other “polite/cute” noisemaker.

Third Lesson: Set expectations for group exercises
Mistake I made:
I ran an exercise for the group. The idea was to get into pairs and ask each other a couple of “get to know each other” questions. I didn’t tell them that I would call on a few of them to share the results.
Why I did it: I initially planned to run the exercise and not include audience response due to time. As we went through, I looked at the clock and saw that I indeed had time to allow a couple of examples from the audience, so I made the change.
Effect the mistake had: Many of the folks simply did the exercise without taking notes.
Possible fixes on-the-fly:
Don’t change the exercise on-the-fly. This would have avoided the issue completely.
Walk up to one or two people during the exercise and ask them to be my “volunteer” when called upon. If I had tried this, I could have had two people with notes ready and my change would have worked more smoothly. 
Fix for next time: Provide a handout with the exercise defined and stick with it. I could always trim down the exercise, but adding to it on-the-fly was a mistake.

Learning lessons from your speaking doesn’t do much good if you don’t make the changes based on those lessons. Worse still if you (like I did) choose to fall back into an old habit (or three) when you’re in front of an audience. Lucky for me, the Toastmasters audience didn’t beat me up too bad. Had I misused those techniques in a paid environment, I may not get asked back.

The trick here is to develop habits that work in your chosen speaking enviornment. Since that includes lunch sessions and group interaction, my speaking checklist needs to include the three “fixes for next time” from above. If you don’t have a checklist, now is the time to get one started.

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