Speechtweaking: are you using what you’ve learned?


I know many Toastmasters who tell me they struggle to come up with a topic for their next speech. For me, I just use questions I’m asked and the answers I have to dig up/find/glean for them.

One of those questions is on Leadership. Many times when I’m asked to define what Toastmasters is, it’s easy to get people to understand what the communication portion is; everyone knows what public speaking is, at least to some extent. But if I had a nickle for every strange look  I receive when mentioning the leadership skills, well, I could pay someone to write this post for me.

Let’s be honest, leadership can be a pretty ambiguous topic all by itself. A search on Amazon.com (as I sit here in Borders coffee bar…) gives me 62,523 results, just in books. 188 of which are within the last 90 days and 18,205 in the subcategory of business & investing. In contrast, crochet has only 9 new books in the last 90 days.

Anyway, all of these confused looks have caused me to put way too much thought into this problem, which of course led to a “hip-pocket” speech at my Toastmasters club. The nice thing about doing these types of speeches are 1. you can try out material you might have to wait a few weeks to try otherwise, and 2. you can use the feedback to give a better version next time.

And there is the point of this post: taking speeches that are less that they coulda/shoulda/woulda been and taking them to the next level so you can really reach your audience.

Speechtweaking: verb – Taking a speech you’ve given, listening to the feedback you received, and tweaking it to be better next time.

My speech was titled What is Competent Leadership? I gave it as CC Speech #9, Persuade with Power. The goal was to help my audience define leadership in the context of what we can learn in Toastmasters, and specifically with the Competent Leadership manual.

Speech Opening: I told about how I gave the test speech for our district evaluation contest two years ago. In front of that audience of 100, I asked how many folks originally joined Toastmasters for communications skills. If you were there, you saw about 90 hands go up. When I asked how many originally joined for leadership or social reasons, each of those only inspired 3-4 hands to go up. I transitioned to my first point – defining leadership in Toastmasters – by contrasting how well defined communication is for our members, but that leadership is more ambiguous. 

Evaluation: Story was good, transition good. But…No roadmap.

Tweak: I need to provide a direction of where I’m taking the audience. After the story and before the transition I need to mention that I’ll 1. define leadership as it applies to Toastmasters and compare/contrast with leadership in our real lives. 2. Discuss how the Competent Leadership manual helps to build the skills I defined in the first point. 3. Suggest real ways you can use the CL manual to improve the skills you need, and help your fellow members be more successful at the same time.

Main points: Overall these went well. I was able to identify with my (mostly) military audience with the definitions of implied vs. earned authority. Specific examples worked well since I knew the audience members well.

Evaluation: Worked well for the audience I was speaking to. Some of the examples could be problematic for a non-military (i.e. normal) audience.

Tweak: In front of a less familiar audience, I need to be sure I have stories that can relate to specific members of the audience, which may mean some pre-speech work on-site (i.e. meeting folks and swapping stories). Also, for a non-military audience I’ll need to more clearly define implied authority (where the boss is the boss) and earned authority (where you follow someone because you see them as a leader).

Conclusion: I compared the newly defined leadership aspect of Toastmasters with the well defined Communication aspect, and declared victory in helping my audience understand the CL manual and how they could better improve their skills and our club as a whole. Note: I didn’t say victory, that’s just how I felt.

Evaluation: Good wrap up, but no review of the main points. That seems to be a theme for me with this hip-pocket style of speaking. It does seem that I only wrapped up the first main point, with a little homage to the 3rd one.

Tweak: No change needed to the comparison of the communication and leadership aspects. After that, I’ll need to re-tie that definition to the CL manual, and transition to a more definitive call to action for my members to take that CL and start on a specific project.

I expect that I’ll do this speech for at least one more club before I incorporate it into a future event, such as a District Executive Council meeting, or a TLI (Officer Training) event.

If you choose to use speechtweaking yourself, remember these tips:

1. Use a manual speech, this way you’ll get some useful written feedback on top of your verbal evaluation.
Note: This applies to contest speeches as well!

2. Don’t try to fix everything with each iteration. Do what you can and deliver it again. The more you do, the better it will get.
Note: This is what the pros do. Why? Because it works. Oh, remember that tip #1 applies each time!

3. Don’t be afraid to ask your evaluator (or even your whole club) for some specific feedback before you speak. It will put them in the frame of mind to help.

4. Ignore some of the feedback. Not every suggestion needs to be used. 

5. This is fun, so let it be fun! If you make a mistake, just be sure not to make that mistake next time. Don’t beat yourself up, because improving is the whole point.

If you are struggling with that next topic, take a tip from the pros and grab a previous speech. Something that matters to you. Take it, tweak it, and give it better than before. If you use it, speechtweaking can make you a better speaker too.

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