The Art of Speaking  

Giving a dynamic speech

By William Neuman

You just gave your fourth speech and you’re still using notes. Maybe it was a great speech; you might have even received a ribbon for “Most Improved” or “Best Speaker.”

Could it have been better? Absolutely! If you review the instructions in your Toastmasters manuals, they encourage you to deliver your speeches without referring to notes.

Why is that so important? There are several reasons. Eye contact, rhythm, confidence and connection with the audience are all affected when you read your speech. And you’re probably not going to get far in speech contests if you have to rely on written notes.

Is memorization the answer?


It is much harder than you might think to memorize a seven-minute speech. I have given 53 speeches without notes, and only one was memorized — and that was the worst speech I have ever delivered.

I should not have even tried. I delivered it with so many awkward pauses as I fumbled, and tried to recover, that I failed to notice that the red timing light had come on. When the timer began frantically waving the dreaded red card, I knew I was running out of time. I spoke the next two sentences so fast that I confused everyone. And then I abruptly stopped speaking. Disaster.

So how do you do it? Here are some ideas.

  • Decide on a subject.
  • Write down a working title.
  • Jot down the key points of your speech.
  • Reduce each point to one word.
  • Put the words in logical order so that the speech flows with a rhythm that makes sense.

Each word will become a “trigger” that will remind you of each point you want to discuss in your speech.

If you hear a short story you can pretty well repeat that story just about the way you heard it, not word-for-word, but in a way that makes sense.

Just remember six or seven key words, each of which will serve to remind you, collectively, of your speech “story.” If you try to speak about more points than that, your speech will confuse many of your listeners.

Still not convinced that you can speak without notes? Let me issue a challenge. Think of it as an extended version of Table Topics (impromptu speaking). I will come up with a few words that I believe you will immediately be able to tell a five-minute story about.

Here they are: Cinderella and Robin Hood.

Can you do it? Of course, you can, if you know the stories. Even though you haven’t memorized the stories word-for-word, you can summarize each one without difficulty.

Know the stories that make up your next speech, and let the trigger words remind you of the stories. You’ll be able to deliver your speech — without notes — and then collect the Best Speaker ribbon.

William Neuman is a member of Chats Toastmasters club in Scottsdale, Arizona and Talk of the Town Toastmasters in Batavia, Illinois. He has been a Toastmaster since 2013. This article appeared in the June edition of Toastmaster magazine.


Where's your blind spot?

Are you ready to look at yourself through the eyes of others?

By Craig Harrison
Toastmaster magazine

Did you know you have blind spots? It’s OK, we all do.

As a speaker and leader, there are things you cannot see, hear or independently know about yourself.

The good news:

  • once you learn what’s in your blind spot and incorporate this information into your own development, the more likely you are to win contests and elections and garner the trust and confidence of colleagues and club mates.

When you drive a car, despite rear and side view mirrors, there is an area that you, as a driver, physically can’t see, a spot where another car, motorcycle or bicycle may be lurking, yet you are not aware of it.

How do you deal with your blind spots? Only when others reflect back to you what they see do you gain insight into how you’re perceived. And many times it’s not as you intended to be seen or heard. Therein lies the disparity.

Feedback illuminates your blind spots

To compensate for natural blind spots, we rely on tools like mirrors when we’re getting dressed and 360-degree reviews in our employment appraisals.

As speakers and leaders, we don’t know what we don’t know, but key members in Toastmasters clubs can help illuminate our blind spots.

Key members, for example, can include a speech evaluator, an assigned mentor or a guidance committee for your hand-picked High Performance Leadership project. These colleagues can help you see what you cannot, and help you know how you come across to others.

Through their feedback you improve and grow as you harmonize your projections with the perceptions of others, and your intentions with actual results.

Are you ready to look at yourself through the eyes of others? The more you know about how others see you, the more informed your decisions will become.

Opening the doors of perception

One speaker sees himself as bold, but audience members perceive him as arrogant. Another speaker sees himself as the ultimate improviser, while others regard him as unprepared.

Perceptions are often in the eyes of beholders; they don’t often match our own sense of how we are perceived. Worse yet, we don’t even realize the disparity.

Why don’t people see us the way we see ourselves? Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen address this question in their 2014 book Thanks for the Feedback.

Universal blind spots: our leaky face and leaky tone

“Some blind spots are common to all people,” explains co-author Stone, the founder of Triad Consulting and a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “Our face when giving a presentation is a literal blind spot. We tend not to be aware of the unintended signals our facial expressions may be conveying.”

Our eyes literally can’t see ourselves when we are speaking. Our audience not only sees, but also interprets our facial expressions which may belie our words. For example, a speaker’s furrowed brow or look of disdain will contradict a verbal message intended to convey ­concern, care or love.

We literally can’t hear our own tone the way others can. We don’t realize how we sound.

“We also have trouble hearing our voice the way others hear it,” writes Stone, explaining the physiological reasons for this.

From the time we are infants, we humans develop an ability to hear through our superior temporal sulcus (STS) located just above our ears. This helps us interpret human sounds and the emotions embedded in them, and helps us decipher tone and meaning.

Yet, when we speak, our own STS turns off 

It’s often a big surprise when our evaluator, mentor or loved one tells us we sound sarcastic, tired or disinterested, distrustful or dismissive. It’s a blind spot we all have.

Stone recommends coaching and videotaping in instances where blind spots exist.

When perception doesn’t match intention

“Many of us have trouble understanding the impact we have on others,” explains Stone. “It’s because we tend to judge our impact based on our intentions, and they are often very different than how others perceive us.”

Some people are naturally more empathetic, and some less so. How aware are you of how you “come across” to others? Sometimes feedback from listeners derived from this gap between a speaker’s intention and the audience member’s perception can range from mild surprise to disbelief.

Seemingly innocuous feedback from a speech evaluator that illuminates a speaker’s blind spot may nevertheless land harshly. While it’s no big deal to the evaluator, “to the receiver, feedback that illuminates a blind spot can (sometimes) be devastating. It impacts a speaker’s sense of who he or she is, and wants to be, in the world,” says Stone.

Stone offers this example: “If I think of myself as generous and kind and learn that others don’t think of me that way, that can take a long time to make sense of.”

The speaker and evaluator should be aware of the power of feedback. It’s all in how it’s received. Many factors may be at play, including one’s upbringing, past traumas or psychological make-up.

If the parties know and trust each other, the degree of feedback and candor can be calibrated to what the speaker is able to handle. Yet the evaluator often doesn’t know the speaker well, and therefore well-intentioned suggestions or critiques can hit a vulnerable speaker hard and deep when shared right after a speech is delivered, despite the evaluator’s best intentions.

Factors affecting feedback

Receiving permission to evaluate, provide feedback or coach a speaker or leader is the first step. Unsolicited feedback may be unwanted, untimely and thus unwise to bestow. Good timing is also essential.

Often speakers are vulnerable right after they finish their speech; they haven’t processed their own performance yet and are ripe for bruising. Toastmasters are trained to temper criticism with praise, and lead and end with praise using the sandwich approach in an official speech evaluation.

Stone points out a common flaw in such an evaluation. Many times the praise given is general while the criticism is specific. Stone advises a more even-handed approach, “Too often we give general positive comments, specific and lengthy negative ones and then finish with more general positive ones. Better to be as specific with the positive as the negative.”

Professional speaker and speech coach Max Dixon of Seattle, Wash., says one key to coaching speakers around perceived blind spots is to go slowly. In his coaching he emphasizes implementing that “one single, simple, doable thing” that eases a client into change. Too often speakers being coached are given too much to think about, or to try to implement at once.

Stone concurs, “A good guideline is that people can take in one thing at a time (if that).”

Professional speakers have blind spots too

Like Toastmasters, professional speakers strive for continuous improvement. They have a vested interest in discovering blind spots that could offend or alienate clients and mitigate repeat business. The most astute professional speakers seek feedback from meeting planners, those who hire them, and speaking bureaus who procure them for clients. 

Professional speakers need to be mindful of such issues as excessive selling from the platform, allowing their religious or political beliefs to filter into their business presentations and being respectful of the diversity in their audiences, to name a few of the many challenges.

Set your sights on insights

“Our perception could either be our path to nirvana or an invisible cage that bottles us up,” states author and technology leader Pawan Mishra.

When you seek to discover your blind spots you create opportunities for growth and self-improvement. Are you ready to open your blinds?

Craig Harrison, of Berkeley, Ca., believes in recycling. As a professional conference speaker and storyteller, Craig retells tales of humour and humanity from his childhood in his keynote presentations and training programs. 

You need more than goals

You Need More Than Goals To Succeed

By Ravi Raman

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein

It is my opinion that to maximize one’s potential, not just to achieve but to contribute, that goals are a vital tool.

Goals enable the mind and body to organize resources in a manner that create a favorable outcome. Goals are the north star by which we can build the habits and systems that lead to a brighter future.

I’d go so far as to say that humans are designed to be goal-seeking animals, with important aspects of our brain and physiology “lighting up” when pursuing a worthy goal.

You might think, by the tone of the past few sentences, that I think goals, and their achievement, are all that matter when it comes to living a full and successful life.

If you believe that, you are incorrect.

When we want to break free from the predictable and achieve something entirely new, we require more than just a worthy target.

We need something beyond a destination that is predetermined. We need fresh ideas and new thoughts that will help us get to where we need to go.

The new thought does not spring from predictability, planning or extrapolation from the past. New thinking comes from a different place.

The Value of Emptiness

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
Henry David Thoreau

New thoughts come from blank space, free time and quiet moments.

They can be triggered by a good book, new conversations, a fantastic movie, or fresh perspectives shared by a new friend. New thoughts can, and often do, come from the sudden embrace of a meandering mind.

Albert Einstein, for example, stumbled upon his special theory of relativity while taking a break from intensive mathematical work to allow his mind to wander and daydream.

Nothing I am saying contradicts the fact that goals are immensely useful and, dare I say, vital. What I am saying is that in addition to a habit of setting goals, be open enough to allow new thoughts into your world.


Cultivate a greater awareness to what you are doing moment by moment. Increase your curiosity, and strike up conversations with the people around you, even if you don’t think they would be of any direct relevance to your current projects or goals.

Most crucially, create blank space in your day, both free time and free mental space and quietude, to allow the fresh thought to emerge.

Anyone Can Do It

Even the busiest among us can create this time and space. Here are three examples:

  • Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn is known to block up to two hours of free time per day on his calendar, divided into four, 30-minute increments. Why? To allow new thought and fresh ideas to emerge.
  • Bill Gate famously retreated from his busy job as leader of Microsoft for a week, twice a year, to think about the future.
  • Yuval Harari, the author of the outstanding book, Sapiens (I recently read it, as did Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg), takes 30–60 days away from his busy teaching, writing and travel schedule to go on meditation retreat each year. Harari does this in addition to a twice-a-day hour-long meditation practice.

My Challenge to You

Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.
Sir Ken Robinson

My challenge to you, particularly the goal-crazy ones among us (I include myself in this cohort), is to create empty time and space in your day to unleash your originality and creativity.

Use this time to be bored, daydream and allow new thoughts to enter your world. Be it 10 minutes or two hours, see what this fallow ground will yield regarding creative ideas and insights.

It’s my belief that through entering this void, you will ultimately gain more progress than even the best SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results focused, timely) goal could create on its own.

Ravi Raman is an executive career coach and long-time veteran of Microsoft. raviraman.com. This article appeared on his blog and in Toastmaster magazine.


6 little white lies

By Maurice DeCastro 

We live in the age of information, where people hardly have time to think clearly, let alone absorb the plethora of instant communication they are bombarded with.

That presents a significant challenge for most employees when they are asked to impress their colleagues with that all-important presentation.

Avoid these six “white lies” we often tell ourselves in our haste to impress:

State-of-the-art software will make me a better presenter

Someone once said to me, “The truth is like the centre of town; it doesn’t matter which road you take to get there, the centre of town is the centre of town.”

When it comes to presenting, the truth is that your presentation isn’t about the software — it’s about you.

When I first started to play tennis, I had this brilliant idea that buying the lightest, most expensive racquet would improve my game exponentially. It didn’t.

I’ve seen some fabulous presentations by speakers using Keynote and Prezi, and I’ve seen some horrendous ones too. The same goes for PowerPoint and just about every other software I’ve seen speakers use.

It’s not about what you have to show, it’s about what you have to say. No visual aid will ever replace the use of a clear, powerful and beautifully told story designed to inspire change.

TIP: Never start with the software. Craft a compelling message and story first, and then decide whether you need any tools to help bring them to life.

My audience expects me to be perfect

The problem with perfection is that in the world of presenting and public speaking, your audience rarely gets to see the real you. What they get is a highly polished and slick speaker who isn’t really interested in them, because the speaker’s prime interest is in looking good.

TIP: Credibility will always trump perfection, so help your audience get to know you better and understand why you’re so passionate about your message. Your job is to give them something to help them, not you, look and feel good.

I don’t need to prepare, I’ll just speak from my heart

It’s a nice sentiment, but how is this working for you? Speaking from the heart with belief, energy and passion is a prerequisite to the task at hand, but fail to prepare at your own peril.

When it comes to engaging your audience, there are no shortcuts.

TIP: Don’t look for what’s easy; look for what’s right. Research and understand your audience thoroughly, hone your message like a finely tuned piano, craft your story and then practise, practise, practise.

My content is really the only thing that counts

Really? The key to a successful presentation is congruence — all aspects of the speech have to fit together. You have to deliver your content in a way that resonates with your audience so they can see that you mean, feel and believe every word you say.

We’ve all endured presentations that sounded content-rich, but were delivered in a way that left us totally uninspired.

TIP: Focus on content, delivery and impact. Everything you say, show and do and the way you say, show and do it should be aligned to how you want your audience to feel, from start to finish.

I have to have as few slides as possible

This is exactly that premise that leads so many presenters into hot water. They believe they should cram as much information as they can onto each slide.

Consequently, the presenter ends up reading the content out loud while the audience members try to read it to themselves — not a good mix.

TIP: If you use slides at all, they should be used simply to add color, life and impact to your message.

They are like billboards: designed to help you visually get a message across quickly, and you can use as many as you need to as long as each one is clear and adds significant value. Think like a designer.

Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em … tell ’em … then, tell ’em what you told ’em

In my experience, most audiences are composed of intelligent and discerning people, so you really don’t have to repeat yourself as if audience members didn’t get the message the first time.

While there is some logic to the “tell ’em” strategy, it removes the speaker’s responsibility to build a clear and powerful message in the first place — a message that you only have to share once.

TIP: Here’s a better rule: Tell ’em. Tell ’em like you mean it. Tell ’em so they get it the first time.

Maurice DeCastro is a former corporate executive. He left the boardroom to create a London-based business that helps leaders connect with people. Learn more at www.mindfulpresenter.com. This article appeared in Toastmasters magazine.

More The Art of Speaking articles

About the Author

The mission of a Toastmaster Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment that offers every member the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.

There are eight Toastmasters clubs in the Central Okanagan.

For more information and/or to find a club near you, check http://www.toastmasters.org.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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