From pedantry to palatable power: Yay Toastmasters!

Pedantry: n. a stodgy, unimaginative, and often ostentatiously learned presentation

Palatable: adj. easy to swallow

Power: n. the ability to act or produce an effect

Last night I came in second in our Toastmasters Club speech contest. I was actually happier than if I’d won first because it was such a triumph for the woman who won.

We started our club right after Bush won re-election in 2004 with the goal of training progressives (mainly Democrats) like ourselves to become more effective at talking publicly about our progressive values.  We were fed up with Rovian framing and wanted to put George Lakoff’s communication principles into action.

Our messages were often serious, and we practiced pontificating for our causes. You can’t participate regularly in a Toastmasters Club and not become significantly more skillful at expressing yourself, and we’ve all done that.

We’ve also become more skillful at delivering a serious message in a light-hearted manner, which is often more effective because it’s palatable.

Last night’s winner – a master composter and environmental activist – reworked a speech she’d given at least a year earlier. It was about vacationing in Hawaii and finding it hard to relax because she couldn’t compost or recycle the waste her group was generating.

The original speech had funny moments but she couldn’t break herself away from trying to educate and convert us.

Last night she cut out all the preachy stuff and turned it into a battle between her “on-it” environmentalist self and her vacationing ‘”what-the-hell” self.  She had an appropriate hat and posture for each self.

By exaggerating both her goody-two-shoes side and her hedonistic irresponsible side she not only made the speech very funny, but her message became much more powerful. We could all identify with that eternal struggle–wanting to do the right thing, but finding the comfort of doing nothing so much easier.

I had worked with the speaker on the original speech, but at that time she was still too serious to allow the story to take off .  This time, with the benefit of time, distance and more experience, she was able to see the script freshly – axing the excess, adding theatrics and comical images.

She goes on to the Area Contest next Friday and we’ll all be there to root for her.

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2 responses to “From pedantry to palatable power: Yay Toastmasters!

  1. As you know, my husband belongs to a public speaking club – he found this post very interesting and the “two hats” idea has given him inspiration. If he steals the approach, I’ll let you know how he gets on.

    It reminded him of a Monty Python sketch when John Cleese wears antlers to show his secretary when he’s dictating, rather than just talking.

  2. Antlers! How priceless.

    And more power to your husband using the technique. My friend wore a baseball cap “Master Composter” and stood straight up with pursed lips for the goody-2-shoes aspect of herself, and a floppy flowered beach hat and laid-back devil-may-care posture for her wasteful self.