Toastmasters: Don’t overdo it


As the Toastmasters contest season is progressing, I’ve seen some speakers do a few things that may have cost them the win in their club contests. Of course, one or two corrections won’t make you world champ, but if your making some of these mistakes, you won’t even be club champ:

1. Don’t add words. Rich descriptions can make a story more real to the audience, but not every scene needs to be literature.

Better – mix the rich descriptive scenes with short descriptions for extras. For instance, if you have a short dialog with a coworker, tell us their height, type of clothing and maybe one other thing. Don’t give us their college background, family stats and more just for them to deliver one line. Save the (slightly) longer descriptions for main characters and scenes.

Example: “Martin was a typical well-dressed IT guy, about my height. He said, ‘Rob, I have no idea.'”

2. Don’t add body language. Just like above, creating additional opportunities for (or adding) gestures and movement can come off as fake.

Better – be natural. I saw one speaker describe his dream as occurring between the time the sun sets in the west and rises in the east [paraphrased – his version was longer]. As he did this, he brought one hand high to represent the sun and lowered it dramatically, then raised the other hand high to represent the rising sun. Since that isn’t how many people describe sleeping/dreaming, it came off as fake, and so the gestures looked added as well.

Example: “I awoke to realize this had just been a dream” – add a surprised or anxious look as you say “awoke”.  Maybe even have a slight shudder or other action to convey the shock or other feelings.

3. Don’t tell the audience you’re encouraging, inspiring, or challenging us, just do it. I’ve heard a number of great stories, followed by one or two points I should feel challenged to take. Adding your points on at the end seems, well…added.

Better – add the interaction into the story. Don’t wait until you’ve finished the story to ask, “has that ever happened to you?” or tell me “don’t wait until it’s too late…”.

Example: When you’re with your dying Grandmother, step out of the story to ask the audience, “have you ever waited to tell someone what they mean to you?” Then, using it in the conclusion is a callback to the story, not an add-on.

Avoid adding things to your delivery that don’t add to your speech. Simply uncover what’s already there. Include appropriate descriptions, movement and interaction and you’ll connect with your audience. That’s what makes a great speech, and during the contest that’s what the judges are looking for.

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