May 24:  Toastmasters Day

On this day in 1905, the very first Toastmasters meeting was held in Bloomington, Illinois.  The idea for the club was hatched by Ralph C. Smedley, an education director with the YMCA, who wanted to teach speaking skills to the young men in his community.  

Toastmasters 2011.pngToday, Toastmasters clubs span the globe in 142 countries, providing men and women opportunities to practice their public speaking.  The major focus of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit agency, is to develop leaders through the teaching of effective communication skills.  At weekly Toastmasters meetings, members present a range of different talks, gaining valuable speaking experiences.

As stated at the Toastmaster International website, the collaborative nature of the clubs are an essential ingredient in their success:

By regularly giving speeches, gaining feedback, leading teams and guiding others to achieve their goals in a supportive atmosphere, leaders emerge from the Toastmasters program. Every Toastmasters journey begins with a single speech. During their journey, they learn to tell their stories. They listen and answer. They plan and lead. They give feedback—and accept it. Through our community of learners, they find their path to leadership.

Don’t let speaking drive you nuts.  Use PECAN

One way to improve your public speaking skills is to identify the specific elements that lead to a successful presentation.  PECAN is a mnemonic device that will help you remember five key elements of a successful presentation:

Pace, Eye Contact, Control, Articulation, and Non-verbal Communication

PACE: Think Goldilocks

The timing and pace of any speech is an essential element. Remember, your audience hears your speech only once, so practice your speech with an ear to your rhythm and your pace.  As you practice, try not to go too fast or too slow; instead, aim to make it just right. When people get nervous, they tend to speed up, so practice with a stopwatch until you get your time down within a 10-second window of your predicted time.  Always mark your speech to remind you to vary your speed, pacing, and pauses. Use pauses at appropriate times and avoid any pauses that don’t compliment your message. Watch out for verbal ticks (um, like, ya know); again, practice will help you eliminate these so that they don’t distract from your message.

EYE CONTACT:  Engage Your Audience and Get Feedback

Make eye contact with your audience and smile a little at the very beginning of any speech.  Eye contact is essential to make human contact with your audience. Look at your audience so that each person in the room feels involved.  You cannot connect with the audience without eye contact, and if you don’t connect with the audience, you can’t get your message across to them.  Eye contact will also give you instant feedback about your performance.

Don’t try to memorize your speech, but practice it so that you know it so well that you can say it, not read it.  Make marks on your speech to remind yourself to look up; at the very minimum, you should be able to do this at the end of every sentence. As you gain experience and confidence with eye contact, practice moving your head to look at each person in the room.  Strive to make as much eye contact as possible and try to spend more time looking at the audience than looking at your speech.

CONTROL:  Keep Calm and Carry On  

Public speaking is not easy and having fear and anxiety before and during your speech is natural.  The key is to harness the nervous energy and use it to motivate your preparation and practice. The goal is to appear calm and confident so that the audience can focus on the content of your speech and to avoid being distracted by anything that is not relevant to your message.  

Use the tree as your metaphor for control.  Trees are natural, and they have a solid base below – a trunk.  A tree also has branches that move naturally in the wind. Like the tree, keep your feet planted, stand up straight, and balance your weight evenly.  Use your upper body – your arms, hands, and head – to compliment your message, moving them naturally like the limbs of the tree in the wind. Everyone has idiosyncrasies of speech and behavior, the problem is that these get exaggerated when we get nervous.  This is why you must practice. Be aware of shuffling, fidgeting, wiggling or nervous gestures that might distract from your speech. As you gain experience you will become more aware of your weaknesses and will become more confident with strategies to eliminate them.

Another key element of control is staying focused and ignoring distracts.  Don’t allow anyone in the audience to distract you. Maintain the tone that is appropriate for your speech.  If you lose focus or burst out in inappropriate laughter, it is your fault. You are responsible for being in control of your speech from beginning to end.

ARTICULATION:  Your Audience Hears Your Speech Just Once

To articulate means to express yourself as fluently, as coherently, and as eloquently as possible.  Part of articulation is the volume of your voice. You do not need to yell, but you do need to speak loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear you.  If you naturally speak at a low volume, practice raising it a bit. Also, make sure to enunciate your words so that they are as clear as possible. If you speak too softly, mumble, or blur words together, your audience will not be able to understand your speech.  

Another key element of articulation is the variety of your voice.  Mark your speech to ensure that you include vocal variety. Consider where you will pause and where you will emphasise certain words and phrases.  You must build-in vocal variety to avoid just reading your speech in a monotone manner. You must try to make your written words sound as natural as possible.  To do this vary your sentence lengths and types, and practice your speech out loud. The other thing you must do is to practice your speech enough so that it doesn’t sound scripted.

The final key element of articulation is the tone of your voice. Putting together a clearly organized speech with cogent reasoning is vital, but the best speeches combine reason (logos) with emotion and passion (pathos).  With passion, you will be able to animate your message and transfer it to your audience. If you care and believe what you are saying, there is a more likely chance that your audience will accept what you are saying. Consider the tones of your speech, and as you practice make those tones come alive with your voice.  If you just read your speech with no passion, emotion, or feeling, it will sound as if you don’t care about what you’re saying. If you don’t care, your audience won’t either. And remember, one of the major purposes of any speech is to move your audience to think and to feel.

NONVERBAL CUES: Match Your Movements to Your Message

The advantage of spoken language over written language is that you can include nonverbal gestures to enhance the understanding of your message.  The key is to use body language, gestures, and facial expressions that enhance your message instead of distracting from it. As you practice, think about what you will do with your hands.  Placing them on the podium is better than fidgeting. Again, everything you do should serve your speech and your audience, so any gestures that distract should be eliminated. This is why you must practice so that you include gestures that work and eliminate gestures that don’t.  

Wear appropriate clothing for your presentation.  Just like gestures and body language, what you wear should complement your speech.   

Today’s Challenge:  PECAN Pie

What are the most important elements of effective public speaking?  Watch a Ted Talk or other public presentation, and use the elements of PECAN to evaluate the effectiveness of the presentations.  Use the metaphor of a pecan pie, and identify each of the five elements as a slice of the presentation. Draw a circle and make specific notes on the speaker’s Pace, Eye Contact, Control, Articulation, and Non-Verbal Cues (Common Core Speaking and Listening)

Quotation of the Day:  Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue . . . -William Shakespeare