Flashback: What Does It Mean To Be Well-Read?

Way back in the November 1999 issue of The Toastmaster magazine, Susan Richmond provided insights on the topic of being well-read [1].

Among the benefits of reading, she cites the ability to converse on a wide variety of subjects as a key benefit. Importantly, informational media, such as newspapers and advertisements, which we are exposed to constantly, do not challenge us to think and therefore do not provide much value. With limited time and motivation to explore additional reading, it can be difficult to set up a professional development plan.

Richmond offers these tips on getting started:

  • List the books you have read in the past year. Use these to identify your interests and knowledge gaps.
  • Make use of the library, since you can get access to numerous books for free, as well as explore potential books of interest before purchasing.
  • Reserve time for reading. You have to make it part of your schedule to get it done. That may mean spending less time on other activities, such as watching TV.

To support our members, Club Awesome offers these benefits that can help you become well-read:

  • Lending Library: members can draw upon a large collection of works to improve their public speaking and leadership skills
  • Book Club: our members meet periodically to discuss a book that has been selected specifically to support our professional development

[1] Richmond, S. (1999, November). What does it mean to be well-read?. The Toastmaster, 65 (11).

Club Awesome Member Austin Felton in Presenting the Community

Congratulations to Austin Felton for representing Club Awesome in the Presenting the Community project. Austin has been a member and Toastmaster since March 2017 (less than 6 months). He demonstrates the rapid improvement you can achieve as a speaker and makes a convincing argument for why you should come visit us at 7 a.m. on Friday morning.

Presenting the Community invites Toastmasters of all experience levels to share their speaking tips and personal experiences. Visit http://johnmquick.com/hpl and connect with John M. Quick to learn more.

9 Tips for Masterful Stories from the Stage

At Club Awesome Toastmasters, we know that storytelling is one of the most powerful and memorable ways to communicate your message. Telling a good story involves acting it out on stage through your use of body language, word choice, and vocal variety. In the August edition of Toastmaster magazine, Karen Banfield shares 9 tips for presenting stories based on the principles of theater.

  1. Block your speech. That is, think about how you will move to specific places at specific times.
  2. Move with purpose. Avoid pacing and just stand still if you have nowhere meaningful to go.
  3. Learn character voices. Gain attention by changing your voice to match the characters in your story.
  4. Physically separate your characters. When you speak for a different character, make sure to use a different stage position.
  5. Don’t just act, do. When using gestures or props, actually use them, rather than just pretending to use them.
  6. Include details. Add memorable context to the scenes you describe by featuring minute details of interest.
  7. Be tender. Although exaggeration can be noticeable, a targeted attempt to touch the heart can be more powerful.
  8. Focus. Eliminate anything in your speech that doesn’t support your message, no matter how attached you feel to it.
  9. Use your body. Make your audience feel your message by feeling it yourself and delivering it your through your body, not only your head.

For additional details on applying theatrics to tell masterful stories, be sure to see the full article [1].

[1] Banfield, K. (2018, August). How to master the stage: 9 theatrical tips for delivering award-winning stories. Toastmaster, 14. https://www.toastmasters.org/magazine/magazine-issues/2017/august2017/how-to-master-the-stage

Professional Speaker Johnny Campbell and District 47 Leaders Visit Club Awesome

The members of Club Awesome extend our gratitude to professional speaker Johnny “The Transition Man” Campbell and leaders of District 47 Toastmasters for visiting on Friday, July 28.

Johnny Campbell presents at Club Awesome on July 28, 2017

Johnny, a longtime Toastmaster and professional speaker, inspired us with insights on how we can become more self aware, set better goals, and importantly, put in the effort necessary to achieve our dreams. He reminded us that, although the “elevator to success” may be broken, we can always “take the stairs.” Take the first step by being our Awesome guest at next week’s meeting. Meanwhile, current Toastmasters can see more of Johnny as the keynote speaker at the August Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI) events in Broward and Miami.

District 47 Toastmasters Leadership Visits Club Awesome on July 28, 2017

Johnny’s full presentation at Club Awesome is available on YouTube.


Attending a District 47 TLI Event? Join the Presenting the Community Project

Toastmasters of District 47: Are you attending the July 29 TLI this weekend (or an August session)?

You are invited to share your tips and experience in the Presenting the Community project.

Even if you aren’t attending a summer TLI event, you are still invited to participate. In fact, Toastmasters of all experience levels from the 160+ clubs in District 47 are encouraged to contribute. Visit http://johnmquick.com/hpl and connect with John M. Quick to learn more.

Achieve Your Goals with Toastmasters

In this video, Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) Lois Margolin shares an original story about achieving your goals as a Toastmaster.

Indeed, this story reflects the experience that many Toastmasters have throughout their self-improvement journey. Learn more about how Toastmasters can help you achieve your goals by visiting the Guests section of our Club Awesome website.

10 Tips for Impromptu Speaking

At Club Awesome Toastmasters, we thoroughly enjoy impromptu speaking opportunities. Table Topics is the Toastmasters format for impromptu speaking, which entails giving a 1 to 2 minute speech immediately after being presented with a topic.

In the July edition of Toastmaster magazine, Christopher Cox shares 10 tips for presenting Table Topics:

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Buy time.
  3. Go with the first idea that comes to mind.
  4. Express an opinion from the start.
  5. Structure your speech into 3 main points.
  6. To develop your argument, ask who, what, why, where, when, and how.
  7. Know when to stop.
  8. Prepare in advance.
  9. Leverage your own experiences.
  10. Be eccentric.

For additional details, and special tip number 11, be sure to see the full article: 10 Tips for Terrific Table Topics [1].

Club Awesome members regularly practice impromptu speaking skills over a meal during our Table Topics Breakfast and Dinner sessions, which occur monthly.

Our next Table Topics Breakfast will take place on July 21, 2017 in Coral Springs, FL, just after our regular meeting. Guests are welcome to join us for the meeting and breakfast. Contact us for more details.

[1] Cox, C. (2017, July). 10 tips for terrific table topics. Toastmaster, 21. https://www.toastmasters.org/magazine/magazine-issues/2017/july2017/tabletopics

What Makes a Story Humorous?

“Don’t Tell the Truth!”

A few months ago, I spoke to the Club Awesome Toastmasters about a technique for adding humor to stories. The speech was titled “Don’t Tell the Truth!” and the basic concept was to take a normal situation and put an unexpected spin on it to make it funny. My evaluator, David Carr, wondered how I came up with this advice. Was it just personal experience or had I referenced an authoritative source on the subject?

In this case, I relied upon what feels like my natural sense of humor and didn’t seek any external validation. However, as someone who enjoys and employs humor, David’s question got me thinking. Indeed, I started crafting this speech with much loftier aims. However, upon realizing how vague and complex the job of dissecting humor is, I decided to share just a small, practical piece. For the bigger picture, perhaps I should seek a deeper understanding of humor’s finer points as analyzed by those who have come before me.

Max Eastman

Surprisingly, this pursuit led me to a book nearly 100 years old. In the 1930s, Max Eastman published an extensive analysis of humor in Enjoyment of Laughter (ISBN: 9781412808446). This work covers humor from many angles. It is filled with examples demonstrating that humor has likely been used effectively in, and been of psychological interest to, America for as long as it has existed.

The foundation of Eastman’s argument is that humor is an emotion which we can only experience when we are in a playful mood. Under these conditions, humor arises when our expectations are defied: we think we are headed towards a specific destination, not only to find that we didn’t arrive there, but better yet, that we arrived in an entirely different place.

For instance, this process takes place when we imagine a well-groomed anchor in a fancy suit sharing an urgent news report. After signing off to the camera, the anchor stands up from behind the desk to reveal nothing but casual shorts are worn below the waist. Further, the camera zooms out to show us that the city skyline in the background is just a small painting. The anchor steps back onto the beach and is handed a coconut with a straw in it.

If you didn’t find that last paragraph humorous, have no fear. Eastman would be the first to tell you that analyzing a joke is a certain way to ensure that all humor will be removed from it. For many more details and analyses, Enjoyment of Laughter (ISBN: 9781412808446) is an excellent historical resource that can make us more aware of the techniques we apply as authors and orators of humor. Think about defying expectations in a playful manner the next time you want to share a humorous story with your audience.

Video Tactics for Toastmasters

At Club Awesome, we use video mostly as a teaching tool. Many members want to be able to see the video of their own performance without it being public – they just want to see what they did right and wrong, so they can do it better next time. However, when a member gives a speech they’re proud of and want to share, we will make it public at their request or sometimes ask their permission to make it public. This can be a real asset when we’re trying to promote ourselves (for example, in the run up to an open house).

Here’s an example of a Facebook post featuring the video of an educational speech one of our members gave on better use of body language:

Facebook promo with an embedded YouTube video
Facebook promo with an embedded YouTube video

A few notes on how we manage this program:

  • When we upload videos into YouTube, we put them into the system as “unlisted” by default (as opposed to public or private). This is an in-between status where the video will not show up in searches or listings on the YouTube website. However, we can send out a list of links to these videos to our email list. If a member wants to share the link with a friend or relative, they can do so. This is not iron-clad security, but it’s good enough for most members.
  • I always include a reminder about our video policy in the email, reassuring members that we will not publish the video to the world without their permission.
  • Members can request we turn the camera off if they prefer not to be video recorded at all.
  • When we do get permission to make a video public, we can share it on Facebook just by pasting the web address from YouTube into the message box. Facebook automatically creates a preview image of the video, and Facebook users can view it either within the Facebook feed or by clicking through to youtube.com.
  • Facebook will only generate a preview for one link. To create the promo shown above I first pasted in the link to the YouTube video, adding it to the body of the post. Once the preview of the video is generated (something Facebook does automatically), you don’t really need the text of the link to be in the body of the post, so I edited it out. I then added the link to our Open House event listing, leaving that one in the body of the post. In this case, I linked to the event page on Facebook, but I could just have easily have linked to our club’s website.
  • Facebook displays videos a little more prominently if you upload your video directly into Facebook, rather than pasting in a YouTube link. But pasting in the YouTube link is less work if you’ve already uploaded the video to YouTube. So weigh the trade-off.

Again, the primary use of video in our club is as a teaching tool. If your evaluator told you not to do some awkward thing with body language, you can go back and see how that looked, or whether you had the vocal variety you were aiming for. Sooner or later, you’ll start going back to the video and being proud of what you see.

Sharing vs. Publicizing

The technique that has worked well for me is to upload videos to YouTube, but tag them as “unlisted” rather than “public.” There is also a “private” status, but it’s more difficult to work with in the mode I’m describing. An unlisted video does not show up in searches and people browsing YouTube will not just stumble across it — you have to have the link.

Setting a YouTube video to "unlisted"
Setting a YouTube video to “unlisted”

I send a listing of the links to all the videos to the club, with an explanation that it’s our policy not to share the videos more widely without permission. I have done something similar for area and district contests, although in that case I use a more formal video release form.

Recording Good Video

The biggest pitfall of recording a speech video is audio, not video — if you have the camera too far away from the speaker, viewers of the video will not be able to hear what the speakers are saying. A speech video without the speech part is not very useful. Unless you are working with a professional camera equipped with a sensitive directional antenna, you will have to arrange to have your camera close to the stage or speaking area.

You do not need an expensive camera. In fact, the camera in your phone will do in a pinch if you can manage to hold the camera steady. Remember to hold the camera horizontally for a TV-like aspect ratio. Smartphone cameras have gotten good enough that you might consider buying a tripod adapter for phones, rather than investing in a video camera. Either way, a tripod makes it much easier to get a steady image.

Here is a tripod adapter I got for less than $8 on Amazon. It’s just a spring-loaded clip that holds onto your phone, with a mount on the bottom that screws into a standard tripod.

Tripod adapter for smart phones.

Pan the camera back and forth just enough to keep the speaker in the frame. I usually leave the camera’s zoom control zoomed to the widest view to minimize the need to pan.

Editing and Uploading Videos

Even when recording video from my phone, I usually copy the video file to a PC and upload it to YouTube (or sometimes directly to Facebook) from there. Check the documentation for your phone or camera, or search the web, for tips on how to do that.

You may or may not need to edit the video before uploading it. You may wind up with a recording that includes content that’s not really part of the speech, such as moments a contestant spent shaking the contest master’s hand and getting in position. Trimming that material will give you a stronger video. There are free video editors available for both Macs and Windows that will let you select a few seconds of video to shave off the beginning and the end of your video clip.

Computer software may also help you upload the speeches more efficiently than if you just went through the web interface on YouTube. YouTube also allows you to specify a speech title and a description. Be sure to provide the context: that this speech is from a Toastmasters speech contest, at what level, and where. In the description, I suggest also including the name of the club, along with the club’s website address.

Video is a great way to show people what Toastmasters is all about. Make the most of it.