The Art of Speaking  

5 reasons you aren't heard

By Karin Hurt
Toastmaster magazine

Have you ever felt this way? You’ve got great ideas. You care deeply. And you’re frustrated. Why is no one picking up what you’re putting down?

Don’t give up.

Take a careful look at your idea in the context of your other behaviours and interactions with your team.

You’re Under-Invested

If you want your idea to gain traction, start with talking about what you’re doing to help.

  • “Here’s what I’ve already done to get us started.”
  • “Here are five ways I can help.”
  • “Here are some additional resources I can contribute.”

You’ve got a Track Record of Great Ideas … For Everyone Else

You’re all ideas, no action.

No one wants to listen to the guy creating a lot of extra work for them to implement.

Build a strong reputation of contributing to other people’s ideas first.

You’re Apologizing for Your Idea

Sounds crazy, right? And yet it happens all the time. “This is probably a dumb idea …” “I’m sorry but …”

You’re Too Gung Ho

What? Did Karin Hurt the “gung ho” queen just say that? Why, yes I did.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being overly emotional or so passionate people wonder what you put in your oatmeal that morning.

You’ve Under-Invested in Peer Relationships

Boy, did I have to learn this one the hard way. In my early career, I had a few ideas that I knew were just brilliant.

How do I know they were good? A few years later when I’d built strong, trusting relationships I tried something almost identical, and people were lining up to help.

If you want folks to come along, work hard to get along. Invest in ­prioritizing your peers and the next time you look around, there will be more people by your side ready to listen.

Of course, the side benefit is that if the whole gang’s all in, your boss will be much more eager to listen.

Your ideas matter. Positioning them takes practice, but it’s worth it.

Karin Hurt is a keynote speaker, top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. Learn more about her at letsgrowleaders.com.
This article appeared in the December edition of Toastmaster magazine.


Get to the point

By Joel Schwartzberg
Toastmaster magazine

When I got married in 2008, my nine-year-old son stood on his chair and gave a succinct toast that, even putting aside my fatherly pride, was one of the most successful speeches I’d ever heard.

He introduced himself, made the case for why my wife and I were good people who deserved each other, and wished us well.

Three years later, I was sitting in an auditorium listening to a senior vice president deliver one of the least effective speeches I’d ever heard. With nothing more than a jumble of thoughts in his head, he rambled, tossed out ideas as they occurred to him and didn’t know when to stop. It was a tortuous hour for his captive audience.

The critical difference between these two speakers wasn’t age, experience or confidence — typical grounds for distinguishing a strong speaker from a weak one — it was a point.

My son had one; my boss’ boss’ boss did not.

In my 11 years as a public speaking instructor, 15 years as a competitive public speaker, four years as a university speech team coach and five years as a Toastmaster, I’ve seen many people giving speeches, but too few making real points.

Most speakers, in fact, confuse a point for a theme, a topic or a title. But a point is different: A point is a contention you can argue, defend and prove with reasoning or data. For example, the point of a speech about unsafe toys isn’t “unsafe toys.”

It could be: “Parents need to better protect their children from unsafe toys.” Similarly, the point of a speech about animal cruelty isn’t “animal cruelty.” It could be: “We need stronger animal welfare laws to prevent animal cruelty.”

Even your Table Topic (impromptu speaking at Toastmasters) is stronger when you make a real point: “My favourite summer vacation” becomes “My summer vacation taught me the value of taking risks.” Or, “The superpower I most want” becomes “I would use the power of teleportation to make me more efficient.”

So how do you turn a non-point into a point? Start by asking yourself five ­questions, starting with the most important one.

Do you believe it?

Take the “I Believe That” test: Place the words “I believe that” in front of what you think is your point and see if your statement is grammatically correct. If it is indeed a complete thought, you’re well on your way to a real point. If not, rewrite the statement until it would satisfy your middle school English teacher.

These three words force you to commit to a contention and make an argument for it.

The “I Believe That” test is not only helpful for speeches; it’s also useful for emails, job interviews, pitches, performance reviews — any situation in which you’re trying to make an impact.

Don’t just take my word for it. Read these famous “I believes” and consider what makes them so powerful:

  • “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
  • “I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.” —  Robert F. Kennedy
  • “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” — Anne Frank

Once you’ve passed this test, proceed to the following questions.

Is it a truism?

If your point is instantly true (“Ice cream is delicious.”), dig deeper to find a point you can argue. (“Soft-serve ice cream is the most convenient summertime dessert.”) One way to root out a truism is to follow up the point by asking yourself Why? If it’s a truism, there won’t be much of an answer. It answers itself.

Another sign of a strong point is a feasible counterpoint. Can someone reasonably take the opposite point of view? If so, proceed.

Am I jamming too many ideas into my point?

Most of us know “less is more,” but we also need to understand “more is less.” If you have multiple thoughts or adjectives to convey, don’t jam them into a single point like clowns into a Volkswagen.

Pick the most important one, focus on it and bring up the others later, one at a time. It may seem like you add value to your point when you add new words and ideas, but when you throw multiple points at an audience in a single sentence, you actually dilute the impact of each one.

The audience is not only forced to split their attention between multiple points, but is left clueless as to which idea is more relevant.

Let’s test this. Which of these statements makes a stronger impact?

“This approach will improve our productivity, increase our efficiency, reduce our carbon footprint and allow us to expand operations,” or “This approach will substantially improve our efficiency, enabling us to put more resources into research and development.”

If you have multiple thoughts or adjectives to convey, don’t jam them into a single point like clowns into a Volkswagen.

The statement with the singular focus clearly packs a stronger and more memorable punch.

Am I using “badjectives”?

Badjectives are adjectives so broad that they convey no value. They’re deceptive because they seem to project a clear impression. Who wouldn’t want to be connected to something “excellent,” “fantastic,” “terrific” or “very good”?

And of course, they’re very useful on Twitter.

But being so general robs your point of substance. What does it really mean to call something “great”? What makes it great? The audience has no idea.

Using badjectives is like when a Little League baseball or softball coach says, “Come on now, Johnnie!” versus “Keep your eye on the ball as it comes to you, Johnnie!” One has no value, but the other makes a substantive point.

Whether you use them in a speech, in an email, in a compliment or even in a Tweet, precise descriptors in your point have a more powerful impact on your audience. So keep digging for words that say what you truly mean

Can I speak about this for more than a minute?

If you can’t make the minimum time for a Table Topic, chances are your response does not have much of a point. Take this very tip, for example. I’m already done in less than a minute.

The bottom line: Your point is the foundation of your speech. Without one, you have nothing to build on, and you’re offering your audience little value. In essence, you’re pointless. But armed with a strong point, you present to your audience an idea they can digest, take home and even benefit from.

So the next time you convey a thought — whether standing on a chair or acting as a chairman — don’t just describe or discuss it. Make your point, put power behind your words and champion your ideas.

Joel Schwartzberg is senior director of strategic and executive communications for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and vice president education for ASPCA Toastmasters club in New York, New York. His book, Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter, was released in October 2017.
This article appeared in the December issue of Toastmaster magazine.

Acing your job interview

A 4-step formula to acing your job interview
How to prepare to impress.

By Jennifer L Blanck
Toastmaster Magazine

You might be pretty good at interviewing for a job. You may have even searched for information on how to make yourself stand above the crowd.

In today’s competitive environment, that’s a good start, but it’s not enough.

The real key to success lies in four steps you can take before your next interview. These steps will help you answer the tough questions better, decrease your nerves and increase your chances of getting the right job for you.

These steps aren’t revolutionary; however, most people skip at least one, if not more. By completing all four, you will be on your way to giving your strongest interview ever.

STEP 1: Know Yourself

Sound simple? It might appear easy, but this first step involves critical reflection and self-awareness. It will help you with every aspect of the job search, not just interview preparation. It’s a step that ideally should be taken long before you ever apply for a job. And it’s probably the step that most people skip.

Knowing yourself starts with understanding your values and priorities. Your values can be lofty (e.g., I want to make a difference) or very practical (e.g., I want a short commute).

They can include an interest in developing specific skills, making more money, being entrepreneurial or working on a particular issue. Once you’ve identified your values, you need to prioritize them. Which ones are the most relevant to your job?

After values and priorities, you’ll want to consider strengths and interests. Jan Fischoeder, career services consultant at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany, says:

“You should consider your own strengths and weaknesses and how to present them. The crucial point in conveying your weaknesses is to present them as challenges or dynamic strengths. For example, if one has a problem delegating work to team members, it’s good to mention that one knows about this problem and has developed an open communication strategy to meet this challenge. This, in turn, makes you come across as open to learning and [having] a thought-through personality.”

Make a list in each category: priorities, values, strengths and interests, and focus on those relevant to your job search and, more specifically, your upcoming interview.

Using your four lists, you will be able to develop questions for your interviewer. Questions demonstrate your knowledge of the organization.

They also show that you’re seriously interested in the position, have taken initiative and understand how you could fit in the organization. As you develop your questions, show your knowledge of the organization or industry, when possible.

This is also a time to prepare concrete examples or anecdotes that demonstrate your relevant strengths, skills and experience.

Paul Binkley, director of student career development at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, says:

“Too many people don’t know their own résumé. This may seem obvious, but many don’t think they need to review what they included in their application. Remembering what you put on your résumé will help you remember different examples to use.”

This preparation is especially helpful for behavioural-based interviews, where the interviewer looks at past performance in similar situations as the most accurate predictor of future performance.

You also want to think about your salary requirements. What do you want, and what do you need? Research the field and learn what is realistic for compensation. By doing this ahead of time, you will be more prepared to handle any surprise salary questions.

Fischoeder notes, “Once you know your values, you are also in a much better position to present your value in terms of salary expectations.” Just remember, you want to avoid discussions related to salary until you have an offer; this is when you have the most negotiating power.

STEP 2: Know the Organization and the Job

It’s time to learn more about where you’re potentially going. Of course, you should have conducted extensive research into the job and organization before you submitted an application. Now, it’s time to revisit that research.

Even if you examined it before, study the organization’s website. In addition to the obvious sections, review press releases, executive summaries, what other jobs are offered and even obscure pages. Leave no link unchecked.

Know the organization’s mission, vision, history, accomplishments and current projects. Review all of the organization’s social media channels to see what it’s promoting and how it’s positioning itself. Follow the organization to stay informed of the latest announcements.

Examine the online presence of the supervisor and team members — including social media, blogs, profiles and interviews — to learn about their background and search for common interests.

This is also the time to double check that your online footprint is professional. Make sure you have a LinkedIn profile that is consistent with your résumé. Remove any unprofessional or embarrassing text or pictures from any of your online sites.

Employers conduct searches to see how you’re presenting yourself, and some can access password-protected platforms.

Review any other information you can find about the organization. Study similar organizations, including competitors. Talk to people in the organization or field. The more you know, the better answers and questions you will have at the interview.

Next, revisit the job description. Know exactly which job you’re interviewing for. But don’t just read the announcement, study it.

Katharine S. Brooks, Evans Family Executive Director of the Career Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, recommends: 

“When you read the job description, note the characteristics or skills the employer is seeking and then match yourself to them. Be ready to tell stories that illustrate your skills—don’t just tell an employer that, ‘yes, I am a hard worker.’ Instead, explain how you’re a hard worker, as in, ‘I noticed that your job description mentioned the hard work involved in this position. You might be interested to know that last year I worked on three projects simultaneously while also …’ or any story that illustrates how/why you have the skills or knowledge the employer is seeking.”

Have two or three anecdotes for each skill or experience sought.

At this point, you should develop additional questions. Beyond the regular interviewing questions you have, what do you want or need to know about this position or organization? Write the questions down, and take them to the interview.

An interview can be stressful, so don’t assume you’ll remember all the questions you have.

In the corner of the page in small print, make a concise list of the key items about yourself that you want to mention. You can refer to this throughout the interview to ensure you’ve covered all you have to offer.

STEP 3: Practice

Now, it’s time to practice. Answer typical interview questions, including the ones offered in the sidebar to this article, and anticipate questions related to the job description. Just like Table Topics, make sure you answer thoroughly but concisely. Focus on any questions that challenge you.

Research and try the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) or CCAR (Challenge, Context, Action, Result) techniques, especially for behavioural-based questions. Practising with questions from different interview systems can help you add more clarity and depth to your answers.

As you practice, always answer in the most relevant way. (Of course, do this in the real interview too.) Don’t share a fact, such as where you grew up, unless it matters.

Brooks notes:

 “It’s great to know your strengths generally, but you need to articulate them in a manner that speaks to the position and the organization. Bringing up strengths that aren’t needed for the position will indicate you haven’t done the research and don’t understand the position.”

If you can, demonstrate knowledge of the organization by paralleling what you’ve done and inserting examples of projects, approaches or techniques similar to what the organization is doing. Be concrete, positive and naturally enthusiastic. Take a moment to think about your answers.

And don’t forget to smile.

It’s also important to practice out loud.

Catherine Stace, career education advisor at McGill University in Montreal, says:

“If you’re a student, visit your career centre for a mock interview. If you’re not a student, there are many community organizations that offer interview skills workshops and practice sessions. If all else fails, ask a friend to find someone you don’t know to conduct a mock interview.”

Of course, your Toastmasters club meeting is also a perfect place to practice. Arrange a Table Topics session dedicated to interview questions or videotape yourself practicing with fellow Toastmasters.

If you are interviewing via a web-based video platform, such as Skype or Google Talk, practice with it.

This will ensure you can use the system properly and understand what will appear onscreen so you can prepare the most professional presentation not only by what you say but also by what is visible to the camera.

Regardless of how you practice, it’s important to vocalize your answers. Don’t memorize answers word for word. Instead, work to reach a comfort level. You might be asked a tough question—one you never anticipated—but your research and practice will make it easier to handle.

STEP 4: Make the Right Impression

Unless you are told differently, dress in standard business attire. Most often, this means a suit. Look completely polished. Take a briefcase, professional bag or portfolio. Bring extra copies of your résumé, and consider bringing references or samples of past work. And don’t forget your sheet of questions, with the list of items you want to share about yourself.

Arrive 10-15 minutes before your interview. Any earlier will be an imposition. You can arrive earlier to the general area, as long as you don’t go into the office. Arriving extra early can help you regain composure if you’ve had a stressful day or travel experience.

Visit a nearby restroom to put that final polish on your appearance and recheck your portfolio items.

For video interviews, log on at least 10-15 minutes beforehand to ensure you won’t be surprised by a last-minute software update or technology glitch.

Now, you’re ready. Take the time to go through each of these four steps and you will find yourself giving your best interview ever.

Jennifer L Blanck, DTM is a member of the Conestoga Toastmasters club in Lancaster, Penn. This article appeared in the October issue of Toastmaster Magazine.


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.

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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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