1/16/2012- Today’s Word of the Day: REWARD!

Article originally published for the June 2012, Toastmasters District 62 newsletter “The Hub.”

Toastmasters have many unique customs. We clap and shake hands a heck of a lot, count ahs and uhms, and have a word of the day to get members to expand their vocabulary.

One thing I have never understood is charging a fine for not using the word of the day. From an educational perspective, it is absurd.

Someone who may not be comfortable speaking publicly and has worked hard on their speech must now try to use a random word or risk being fined. My take is to let them focus on speaking without any sort of negative repercussion.

Toastmasters does a great job of preparing people to speak in the real world, but in my keynote addresses and professional presentations, I have yet to have someone pull me aside before going on stage and say: ‘Paul, please put the word polygamy in your speech, or we’ll cut your fee by 5%.’

Here are two alternatives to fines I think make for a better solution:

1. Don’t fine – REWARD. If someone uses the word, give them a raffle ticket, or put their name in a hat for a weekly or monthly prize. We are a non-profit group, and local businesses love to give away free swag or coupons. If people win enough cool stuff, I’m sure you will see an increase in using the world of the day.

2. Give the word out a week in advance. Speakers now have a chance to incorporate the word into their talk. Having members purposefully  integrate a word properly in a speech increases the chances they will actually retain that word in their vocabulary.

These alternatives will strengthen speech development if the purpose of the word of the day is to build a club members vocabulary- and building vocabulary IS the point to having a word of the day.

*Original article title and conclusion added to website posting.

03/02/2012- Information overload: Sorting Through Feedback for Speech Competitors
Article originally published for the February 2012, Toastmasters District 62 newsletter “The Hub.”

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 (like me) 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:

  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.

01/16/2012- The Benefits of (Speech) Competition
Article originally published for the January 2012, Toastmasters District 62 newsletter “The Hub.”

It’s been several months since I stepped onto the stage to compete in the International Speech Contest.  As a competitive person I jumped at the chance to hone my skills against some of the best speakers on this side of the ol’ Red Cedar.   I went in seeking victory and left having gained so much more.  I think every Toastmaster should compete at least once in one of the four contests during their lifetime.  Here are three good reasons:

  1. Competition makes everyone better: including you.   It’s simple: the more competitors there are the harder people will work to be the best.  Increased participation leads to an increase in innovation and originality.  Think about it: how hard would you try if you had to beat one person versus five, ten, or twenty?
  2. You get to meet fantastic new people.  The Toastmaster universe definitely expands as a result of competition.  I can’t tell you all the wonderful people I have met through the contest.  I was pleasantly surprised how supportive Toastmasters were to all contestants.  They really wanted everyone to succeed and do their best.
  3. Makes you a more concise and precise speaker.  You have a clock, a speech, and one chance to make it all fit perfectly.  It’s a great deal of pressure but the effort put into word choice, movement, pausing for audience laughter (and tears) teaches you how precious time is.  In a meeting if you go over/under time it’s no big deal.  In competition, it could mean disqualification.

The Spring contest season is near.  Get that speech ready or work on those evaluation skills.  The entire process will improve you as a speaker and a person.  That alone is reason to enter.  Who knows?  You might even win!