Tag Archives: public speaking

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.

PowerPoint prowess pays off

PowerPoint: n. a presentation program that is part of Microsoft Office, which can be used to put an audience to sleep — or can inform and inspire.

Prowess: n. extraordinary ability

Pay off: v. to reward for hard work

I recently taught a two-hour feng shui class for a group of feng shui novices, and if I say so myself, it was RAD!

I had used slides in PowerPoint once before to illustrate a feng shui talk, so I knew how effective pictures could be. However I was still struggling with an A/V inferiority complex that developed in high school watching geeky male classmates run the Rube Goldberg contraption known as a movie projector.

Furthermore, I hadn’t yet read Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen, which is an absolute MUST resource for any would-be presenters.

First, out went any slides with bullet points. Then out went slides with more than a few words, unless it was a succinct quotation. That left me with….

Almost nothing.

I started over. This was my process (h/t to Garr Reynolds):

  • Get a stack of Post-It sticky notes and a big white board.
  • List all the points you want to get across – one per sticky note, and then  figure out what visual images would convey them even more effectively than words.
  • Gather lots and lots and lots of pictures – from your own camera, scanned from magazines, found on Google Images and Flickr. Note each one on a sticky.
  • Look also for images that are extreme examples (what not to do, before & after, stumbling blocks, etc.) to emphasize your point or defuse fears.
  • Shuffle the notes on the white board till they make some sense.
  • Import the pictures into PowerPoint using the totally blank slide as your template, so the pictures are full-screen (means your pix must be in landscape format).
  • Shuffle them around in the Slide Sorter View until they tell the story in a way that flows most naturally.
  • Now you can add some text floating in front of some of the pictures or on transition slides.

Here are a few examples of images I found:

To illustrate what a feng shui consultant does when she/he comes to your house – conveying both the fresh eyes which can see your home more clearly AND addressing the fear many potential clients have that she’ll be some sort of critical witch:

eyeballs1

Or these three slides, which illustrate the dilemma of clutter. First the extreme possibility that you could be buried alive by it:

cluttercartoon

Then, the inertia we feel when viewing the clutter-clearing task ahead:

boulder1

My audience laughed hysterically at this boulder – recognizing themselves.

And then I encouraged them with the concept of momentum… what happens once you get started tossing crap:

domino-effect

I’d say it took a solid 40 hours to put together 150 slides for a two-hour talk, and a lot of creative thought while I was half-asleep. But it was totally worth it.

The “pragmatic particle” – public speaking nemesis?

Pragmatic: adj. practical, as opposed to artistic, theoretical or idealistic

Particle: n. a unit of speech expressing some general aspect of meaning or some connective   relation and including the articles, most prepositions and conjunctions, and some interjections and adverbs.

Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s only surviving child, tentatively tossed her hat into the political ring when Hillary Clinton left her NY senatorial seat open to become Secretary of State. Unfortunately, Caroline inherited the fabled name, but not the Kennedy silver tongue.

Among the albatrosses around her neck as a candidate was her inability to express herself clearly and succinctly. Her specialty is the phrase “you know,” which in two recent interviews she used 138 times and 200+ times.

You know, that’s hard to do!

In Toastmasters, you know, we have a person whose role at the meeting is to keep track of every speaker’s verbal stutters – um, uh, er, like, you know – and other elocution no-nos. By merely becoming aware of these verbal distractions, you know, it’s possible to reduce or eliminate them.

I thought they were just verbal tics, but “you know” is a special case about which someone actually wrote a doctoral thesis in 1980.

Linguists call “you know” a pragmatic particle, and it has its linguistic counterparts in many other cultures around the world.

“You know” typically occurs in face-to-face interactions, and can indicate discomfort. However, it can be used (usually unconsciously) as a mediator of social relations.  “You know” implies an attempt to maintain an already close relationship with the person being addressed, to simulate shared views – or to establish such a relationship.

In the case of a political candidate, who wants to be seen as at the same level as The People or be persuasive about an issue, “you know” brings the listener in closer.

I still think the repetitious use of  “you know” is annoying, sloppy, and unprofessional.

Before Caroline returns to the public eye she needs to detour through a year at a Toastmasters club. A club is easy to find (enter your zip code here) because most communities have at least one club – and some have dozens.