5 LESSONS I LEARNED FROM COMPETING IN THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP OF PUBLIC SPEAKING

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*I should note if you want a more detailed description of my lessons from the WCPS please watch this video:

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It’s been 4 years since I made the semi-finals and had the honor to compete in the World Championships of Public Speaking (WCPS).  It is one of my more significant accomplishments as a speaker and definitely the greatest accomplishment I have achieved as member of Toastmasters International.   After the contest I decided to focus more on keynoting and seminars but there are 5 key lessons I took away from the process that I think all speakers should know.

1) Commit to the Process. 

Give the speech à Get Feedback à Analyze Feedback à Make adjustments à Give the improved speech (and repeat the process).

That’s the process I used as I geared up for the semi-finals.  For six months I committed to it, testing my material in front of not just Toastmaster clubs but community organizations, work colleagues, and pretty much anybody I could sway into listening to me including a very apathetic cat.  The end result was not only a very polished speech I could use on stage but I learned the value of this process.    I love to write and test out my speeches but there is a big difference between performing in front of a mirror and performing in front of a live crowd who gives you all sorts of feedback.  These days, when I have an idea for a keynote I don’t wait to get a paid speaking engagement to test it out.  I find test audiences to give me the feedback I need to make it better.

2)  Feel the crowd.  The Toastmasters International Speech Contest is a prepared speech contest. Most competitors work tirelessly to get their speech tight and within time limits.  In many ways it reminds me of rehearsal back when I was involved in theatre.  That’s why I surprised myself when with 1 minute of time left I started improving a few lines based on audience reaction.  This included inserting a stronger call to action on the spot.   They were the best parts of the speech and since then I have taken on a more conversational and audience participatory style to many of my talks.  The audience will give you beautiful moments and I was confident enough to take what was in front of me instead of sticking to the script.

3) Be vulnerable.  Telling a story is one thing, opening yourself up to the audience is another.  When you are telling a story on stage you are often reliving it.  Reliving poignant and sometimes emotional moments can be tough.  You never know how an audience is going to react to your struggles or even your triumph.  Being vulnerable on stage is scary but it is necessary.  You have to vulnerable to be authentic and you have to be authentic to connect with the audience.

4) Find a balance. One week before the Semi-finals I gave a talk on membership recruitment to a local Rotary Club.  It had nothing to do with my competition speech.  There were no timers and no fear of making a big mistake.  It was just me and some people talking about membership recruitment.   After that talk I went and grabbed an ice cream and watched the river at a local park.  It was amazing.   Not only was I more relaxed but I found that break from my competition speech actually reignited some of my creativity too.

There comes a time when you have to step away from work and re-center yourself.  As a speaker there are moments where it is beneficial to step away from one project and focus on something else.

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5) Live your message.  My speech was about the importance of the time we spend with family.  For much of the speech I talk about how my professional aspirations robbed me of great moments with my family and friends.  I vowed not to make that mistake again.  I did not make the finals but had the opportunity to watch the top 10 in the world duke it out for title the next day.  I also had the chance to take my wife and 3 month old son to the Cincinnati Zoo.  I could not do both at once.   I went to the zoo and don’t regret it at all.   The memories were priceless and I I discovered the importance of consistently living my message.The World Championships of Public Speaking is one of the best vehicles for improving your speaking craft.  I did not win the grand prize but what I learned in the process was 10x more valuable than any trophy.  It made me a better speaker and more importantly, a better person.

*Paul Artale is a keynote speaker, presentation coach and leadership trainer.  For more information on Paul please visit:

www.paulartale.com

www.unleashyourmessage.net

@PaulArtale

The Mixed Martial Arts Approach to Becoming a Better Public Speaker

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I remember watching the very first Ultimate Fighting Championship Pay-Per-Views as a child.  As a young teenager who was dedicated to studying karate (most days) I loved the idea of a bunch of different fighters going at it.  It was like the movie Bloodsport and the video game Street Fighter II coming to life.  It was definitely entertaining to watch the sumo wrestler take on the karate expert or the grappling specialist take on the boxer.  That being said, it soon became apparent that jiu-jitsu/grappling skills were essential to success in the tournament (thank you Joyce Gracie).  As UFC’s went on more and more fighters began to incorporate ground skills into their repertoire.  Likewise, many grapplers began to infuse a few more deadly strikes into their arsenal as well.   What came out of this process was what we now call Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).   MMA today is a blending of striking and grappling techniques and is considered it’s own martial art (or at least I am saying it is).  The sport and the fighters in it have evolved.  Of course many fighters today are still rooted in a martial art when they begin, but to become competitive and successful they cross-train in other disciplines.   This makes them a better rounded and more formidable fighter.

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PUBLIC SPEAKING?

The history of MMA can and should be applied to public speaking.  We all learn to speak in front of groups somewhere and somehow.  This is what we are often rooted in.  To grow as speakers, however, most of us have to cross train on some level.

Why?

 Training in other speaking disciplines makes a better rounded speaker by exposing us to techniques and methods we would not normally think of.

My speaking style comes from a blend of my theatre background and Toastmasters.   Toastmasters has a very distinct speaking formula.   Theatre is where I learned to express emotions publically and the improve techniques I learned on stage are invaluable to me as a speaker.   For me, there came a point where I wanted to grow more as a speaker and gain more skills.   I was too comfortable with how I was delivering content and decided to branch out.   I decided to study stand-up comedy to understand how different modes of humors worked.   As an added bonus, film study of several comedians made this cross training very enjoyable.   What will my next step be? Actually performing stand-up comedy….I am still working on my material.

Whatever your speaking level or style is, I urge you all to step out of the comfort zone and cross train in another discipline.  Even if it’s for a short time.

For those who may need a nudge, here are a few styles/disciplines/categories of speaking you may want to look into.  Please note this is not an exhaustive list, it is in no particular order, and that within these styles there are levels of difference.

  • Debate
  • Stand-up comedy
  • Preaching/Evangelism
  • Toastmasters
  • TED/Ignite/Pecha Kucha (any of the more modern disciplines that are based in sharing knowledge in a mixed verbal/visual format)
  • Facilitating discussions/trainings
  • Improv and Theatre
  • The Business Pitch
  • Professional Wrestlers (not sure if it’s a style but there are many great personalities to study. There is also an art and science to the wrestling promo).
  • Political Speeches
  • Academic Speeches/Speeches based on research

Finally, if immersing yourself into a style is not your cup of tea then at the very least pick up a book/ watch a video/find a resource on speaking that is not familiar to you.  No matter how you proceed, you will grow from this practice of cross training.   Gaining even 1 new skill or technique from this process will make you a better rounded and more formidable speaker.

5 Essential Habits for Public Speakers

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I often get asked for advice on becoming a motivational speaker.  I am always more than willing to offer my two cents on the matter.   After all, I have had so many wonderful speaker do the same for me as I was starting out.  Having given people my advice numerous time now, I think there are 5 habits every speaker (motivational or not) needs to adopt if they are a) serious and b) care about crafting stories and talks that have impact.   These tips have nothing to do with the business of speaking (although these habits can help with that) and focus on the art of speaking itself.  These are the habits that work for me and the speakers I admire the most.

  1. Speak all the time. It is wonderful that you may have delivered that dynamite speech once to a group or that people tell you that you are a great speaker.  It really is something you should be proud of BUT a few isolated successes aren’t enough.  As a speaker you need to well…..speak.   Book yourself as much as possible to as many groups that are appropriate for your message.  Don’t have a live audience?  No problem.  You should be practicing on your own too.  How you practice is up to you but you need to be working on new material, refining old material, and at some point rehearsing (just like I did in high school theatre class) to better refine your talks.   In a nutshell what I am saying is that speaking needs to be a daily habit.
  2. Record Yourself. Let me guess: you hate the sound of your voice and how you look on camera.   I get it because I am one of those people too.  It is a painful but necessary step in improving as a speaker.  Playing back your speeches will give you a different perspective on your progress.   From body language to vocal inflections to audience reaction…the proverbial tape doesn’t lie.
  3. Crave Feedback.  To get better you have analyze feedback from the audience and meeting planners.  Self-analysis is great but what the audience thinks of your message is key.  You have to find out if you connected.  You can get feedback in a variety of ways ranging from creating your own feedback form to post meeting follow ups talks with meeting planners.  I personally like to use this feedback form which is one simple question: 

    “What was my message in 10 words or less”

    I often add this to my client testimonial form and it offers a simple temperature check of how the audience perceived my talk.  Have I used more complex forms?  Yes but when in doubt, that one question is all I need.

     

  4. Adjust and Experiment. Full disclosure: I generally don’t like canned speeches.    Memorizing a story or a speech word for word and not shifting the content or the context doesn’t really work for me.  Growing as speaker involves taking risks on new and old material alike.  Speaking daily, film/audio analysis, and getting feedback are useless if you don’t actually apply some of the observations and thoughts.   A speech should be a growing, evolving organism.    My keynote Hit! Hard! Is very different from when I first started even though the shell of the speech looks similar.  Jokes, stories, and audience exercises have been added, deleted, readded and even improvised on stage over the years.   The worst thing that can happen is your change didn’t pan out the way you thought it would…so what!  That’s part of the process too!  Embrace this step and speaking will become 117% more fun.

     

  5. Get a Coach. At some point you will need to get a coach to take you to the next level. Look at this as the speaking equivalent of having a personal trainer.  A good coach will help you see your blindspots as a speaker, show you some new tips and drills, and generally help you become a better presenter.  I am lucky to have worked with some excellent coaches over the years and continue to make this part of my own development plan.  For me it has also led to a love of coaching others (so if you’re interested go on over to https://paulartale.com/program/public-speaker-training/).  Once you feel developed enough in your own abilities you can coach too or as often happens, people approach you for the one-on-one training.

These 5 habits have proved to be crucial in my success as a speaker.  If you are truly interested in being a speaker then you need to speak and incorporate these 5 steps as they lay the foundation for good speaking practice, help keep your creative juices flowing, and most importantly make speaking even more fun than it already is.

The Simple Work-Life Lesson I Discovered in the Delivery Room

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The phone at my office rang at 10:30 AM.  It was my wife Sherri.   Her words were short and filled with emotion.

“The doctor wants me to check into the hospital.  They said we’re going to have this baby tonight.”

The commander in me instantly took over as I made calls to arrange care for my son, take care of my work duties, and generally put my affairs in order before rushing home to collect the hospital bag and ….well….. Sherri.

Two hours later we were given a pretty sweet delivery room complete with a queen sized bed, great internet connection, and a crock pot.   I had no idea what the crock pot was for but I thought: Wow, if this is a long delivery process I can probably slow cook some chili in here.

There was a lot of commotion when we first checked in as various nurses took vitals, assessed Sherri, and did all the great things nurses do.

And then it all stopped.

Silence.

No one bothered us.

We were alone.

We did what most couples who are never alone do….we turned on Netflix and watched an episode of Fuller House.  I really hope DJ and Steve end up together.

Once the episode ended we waited for another interruption as we figured we were due for some medical staff to come in with a question or a form.

Silence again.

What we did next was something that often gets pushed aside in the day-to-day grind of managing our careers, a three year old son, and a household: we spent time together.

The next hour was spent joking around, discussing stuff that had nothing to do with our child, our jobs, or grocery store coupons.   We just talked, enjoyed each other’s company and spent 20 minutes trying to capture a photo of a Hawk that kept circling in the sky outside our window.   In short, we were fully present in that moment.

I love helping people move towards work-life balance via assessments, policy education, and advocacy training.  It’s great stuff.   That being said, we need to never forget the life piece in work-life.   We need to find the time to be fully present with the people and elements of our life that bring us joy.  We need to work to preserve that on a regular basis as much as possible.

All the company policies and arrangements in the world are for nothing if we don’t use them to enjoy the things dearest to us.

It took a small break in what turned out to be a day of chaos for me to discover that simple but powerful lesson.   It’s a lesson I won’t forget.  More importantly, it’s a lesson that I will be constantly reminded of every time I watch an episode of Fuller House, see a Hawk in the sky, and of course, whenever I look at my newborn daughter.

Information Overload! How to Sort Through Speech Feedback for Toastmasters Speech Competitions

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Speech competitions are the best developmental experiences for a speaker.  The “stuff” you go through in preparing, delivering, and refining your talks will vastly improve your confidence and abilities.  If you are a serious competitor then you are constantly seeking feedback.  I remember being invited to speak at several clubs when I was progressing in the Tall Tales Contest.  The feedback I got was useful except for one thing:  I had trouble sorting through it all.  One group said I moved around too much, another said I did not move around enough, a third said that I should tone down my energy (good luck on that one).  I was extremely confused!  So for those who are competing here are some tips that helped me sort through feedback.  If you are not competing, then items 1,3, 4 and 5 still apply to any speaking enthusiast:

  1. Be true to your style.  If a speech suggestion goes against the very core of your style then don’t use it.  You won’t be comfortable and it will show on stage.
  2. Read the judging criteria.  Grab a copy of the judges scorecard for competitions and make sure your speech aligns with them.  Although this should be done regardless of feedback from colleagues, it can be used as an additional filter.
  3. You don’t have to change everything. We only have so much time in the day and some suggestions may be more important than others.  Prioritize which suggestions are the ones that need to be made first.
  4. Make one change at a time.  There will be several pieces of advice that could strengthen your speech.  Don’t try and implement everything at once.  Make one (maybe two) small changes and rehearse with those modifications until they feel natural.  When you feel good about it, try infusing another one if you have time.
  5. Justify your choices. At the end of the day you know what works (or doesn’t) work for your speaking style.   No matter what, have a reason beyond “I like to do it this way” when making a choice.   Find the logic and purpose behind the wording, movement, or placement of a story/joke/anecdote etc.

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Etsy’s Parental Leave Policy and the 5 Principles that Make it Awesome

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When you think of Etsy you mind will probably conjure up the image of a marketplace for crafty people to sell their goods and earn some cash. That’s what I thought about the company until last week when they revealed their new parental leave policy. I stopped reading Juliet Gorman’s blog revealing the new policy about half way through so that I could shout “that is freakin’ awesome” across my house.  The rest of the blog was equally as awesome by the way.   Why all my excitement? Well…here’s an outline Etsy’s parental leave policy and you will see why:

 

  • Employees are given 26 weeks of paid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child (that’s six months)
  •  At least 8 of those weeks must be taken consecutively within the first 6 months of the child’s arrival.
  • The remaining 18 weeks can be used flexibly over a two year period.

 

Although 26 paid weeks of leave is incredible given the culture in the U.S. workplace, there are some deeper lessons we can learn from Etsy’s new practice.  The awesomeness doesn’t just come from the number of paid weeks employees are given.   For me it comes from 5 principles that seem to be behind this decision.

 

  1. Great Work-Life Policies Retain Talent. Etsy’s decision was done in part as a talent-retention strategy. The tech industry has been more progressive in the work-life realm and Etsy realized that they needed to be competitive or ahead of the pack in order to retain talent. Retaining talent also saves money.
  2. Family Situations Are Different Today. Etsy’s decision was also rooted in addressing employee needs given the changing family dynamic that is the reality of our current society. We all know the one income household is a rare beast in today’s society. Family structures are different than they were decades ago and the new policy allows employees enough flexibility to create the best arrangement for their family. This last point is important when you consider that an employee’s partner may not be working at a company with flexible policies or even sufficient benefits to cover income that may be lost as a result of going on parental leave. This paid time off can help bridge gaps in schedules and minimize the financial dilemma many new parents face as a result of unpaid or partially paid parental leaves.  
  3. Research Matters. The decision was rooted in research…..or at least they mention it to explain their decision.   Whether it was about the benefits of bonding with a new child or teaching managers about how to battle workplace biases against employees taking leave, Etsy clearly did some homework on this one. The emerging researcher in me appreciates this.
  4. Walking the Talk. Etsy’s leadership team backs the decision, including their CEO who took the full 5 week paid leave under their old policy when he adopted his son. Having a policy is one thing, but having management support and utilize the policy sends a very positive message to everybody else in the company.
  5. See No Gender. Etsy’s policy is gender-blind. The father in me appreciates that. The smart alleck in me asks “Really? Do some companies still not offer equal parental leave to the parent who did not physically give birth?” Something else for me to research, right?

FINAL THOUGHT….

It is one thing for a company to talk about having a work-life friendly environment or being an employer of choice but it is another thing to step up and create not just policies, but a values-based culture that supports those claims.   Etsy’s actions are an awesome step in an awesome direction and I hope more companies learn from their example.