Level 3: Essential Speech Skills

Level 3 Essential Speech Skills Toastmasters 101

Level 3 has 2 components, and the biggest part of the project assignments are the essential Speech Skills electives in a level titled Increasing Knowledge.

Essential Speech Skills – finally!

Toastmasters’ reputation was built on public speaking skills.  That’s why many of us long-timers have struggled with Pathways.  Learning speech skills isn’t postponed till after 7 or 8 speeches have been completed.  Personally, I think that it’s a bit late to be introducing the speech skills and then making only 2 of them required is… odd.

As a new members, let me make this recommendation.  Don’t rush this level.  You have 12 or 13 speech projects to pick from.

Nothing could be more devastating to a speaker than failing to learn

  • body language – facial expressions and gestures
  • speechcraft – the techniques of speech writing and rhetoric
  • vocal variety – the use of language.

Stage Fright/Speech Technique

Speech techniques are the ways you make your message interesting and your presentation memorable.  In a world filled with noise and competing messages, yours needs to stand out – and that’s what good stage technique does for you.  You can’t ignore it and what’s more, you will find that as you master more techniques, you’ll find that your stage fright symptoms decrease.  You’ll be using that energy to produce a better presentation and while the butterflies in your tummy and the shakes might not completely disappear – you’ll be less focused on them.

This is why I’m glad that Toastmasters International has a big variety of essential speech skill projects.  I just wish they weren’t delayed so long in Pathways.

Which ones do I recommend?

If you’re new to Toastmasters, then I think – again, my personal opinion –

  • Effective Body Language
  • Understanding Vocal Variety
  • Using Descriptive Language
  • Connect with Storytelling

aren’t optional – they are the key absolutes to understanding how to be a public speaker.

My fear is that someone who is joining Toastmasters because their boss said to is that they’ll go straight for the two obvious career projects – Using Presentation Software and Make Connections through Networking – and skip the essential speech skills that those two projects need as foundational.

The sequence of these four essential speech skills speeches can be set by the Toastmaster.  I think you should first work on the project that most aligns with your worst stage fright skill.  When I think about it, when you master the skill, you’re no longer afraid… so if you have trouble with dry mouth, work on vocal variety first.

Understanding Vocal Variety

What does one need to understand in vocal variety?  We all know the power of a monotone voice- to put us to sleep. But there are some key techniques that should be used and often aren’t, such as the power of pauses or the keys to characterizations.

The power of pauses

Pauses have more power than anyone ever suspects.  Eliminating filler words and replacing them with pauses is a start in using silence.  But there’s a lot more you can do with pauses.

Pauses don’t break momentum – if you don’t let it go too long.  They build up emotions for the big payoff.  But if you stall and leave a long break where it looks like you’re struggling for your next words or sentence, then the audience gets impatient or embarrassed for you.  So take your pauses judiciously and carefully – but use them!

There’s a classic bit from Jack Benny in the heyday of radio where Jack is mugged and told “Your money or your life.”  There’s a long -I mean really long pause until the robber says it again.  Jack Benny responds, “I’m thinkng it over.”

Now, Jack Benny was a known tightwad in the series, so the long pause built on a characterization that the audience understood.  In fact, it’s reported that the audience began to laugh even before Jack uttered the line – they knew him.

Vocal Characterization

When you’re telling a story, especially in a speech, you might want to use voices to characterize each person.  The Jack Benny bit I referred to has the ultimate voice actor in history – Mel Blanc – as the robber.  You probably know Mel Blanc as one of over 400 different character voices in radio, movies, and cartoons.  IMDB reports he’s got over one thousand different screen credits.  How did he do it?

Everyone has some range to their voices.  It’s a matter of testing it out privately and – I say this as a podcaster – recording your voice to listen to it.  Who hasn’t had that moment when their mother’s voice came out of their own mouth?  Or their father’s tones in something as common as a greeting or catchphrase?  You can capitalize on those voices by making them higher or lower, faster or slower, louder or softer?

This is the power of good vocal variety – you’ve got an audience in front of you, but they have the stage of their imaginations in front of you.  You’re going to build characters they can see and relate to just with the sound of your voice.

In this podcast, I can’t go into all of what you need to know about vocal variety – it’s a vast and intricate topic that will take a lifetime to master.

Effective Body Language

We talked about this speech project in a previous podcast.  This project covers the basics:  how to stand to give a speech.  Shoulders back, head up, hands at your side unless you’re moving them to make a point… all good basics.

Body language in a speech conveys your self-confidence and your belief in your message.  Even on-stage comedians have a stage presence built on how they stand, how they hold a microphone, where and how they move during their presentations.

Body language covers what you do on the stage with your hands, your feet and everything in between.

On-Stage Movement

Where you stand for a speech may be limited to a specific location.  Politicians and those who use speech prompters may not be able to move from behind the lectern.  If you’re in TM for long, you’re going to hear an evaluation that encourages the speaker to move out, away from the lectern.  Why?  Because you’re physically separated from the audience.  Granted, you might want that.  Got knocking knees or quivering hands?  A lectern hides a lot from the audience – a positive and a negative.

Props to prop up your speech?

Another key factor in stage management is the use of props.  In this case, not a computer-generated slide presentation, but an actual item in your hand or on the stage with you.  If you’re going to talk about gardening, it may be easier to find a nice picture of a tomato plant, but is it better?

You have to consider the size of the room and the audience first.  There’s a lot of value in using physical props because we, as human beings, are sensory.  We look at a picture and we’re only engaging one sense.  Bring in a tomato.  When people can smell it, they have another sensory experience to relate to your content.  This is very valuable and none of the big tech companies have figured out how to social-media smells or tastes yet.

If the first two speech projects I recommend are about the physical actions of giving a speech, these last two are about the creation of a presentation.  I’m not talking about Powerpoint.  This is the creation of your speech from the blank piece of paper and idea.

Using Descriptive Language

We covereBack in Level 1, we covered the Research and Present project.  This covered speech creation.  In some ways, Using Descriptive Language is the next step as it’s not so much about writing the speech as it is developing your content.  What’s the difference?

Speech creation is the essential action of putting together a presentation.  It covers

  • introduction, body, and conclusion
  • content organization
  • transitions.

Content development takes that work and polishes it up.  It makes the speech shiny and pretty.  How?  By examining the language that you use and the way you convey it.  Content development makes a speech a public relations presentation or a technical brief.  Content development considers the audience and the message together.

This isn’t optional.  If you want to be a great speaker, you have to master the language to tell your story.  Using techniques like figurative language, alliteration, and metaphors bring your speeches up to higher, better levels as you tell your story.

Connect with Storytelling

Without a doubt, being able to tell your story well has to be a goal in public speaking.  Storytelling, when done well, makes a friend of your audience.

We all have stories.  No one has an event-free life.  I might even say no one has an event free day.  When we are able to share those stories, our audiences learn to like and trust us.  Ultimately, that’s what we want so our message will have an impact.

None of these essential speech skills are used alone.  As we watch our fellow Toastmasters, we see them learn and experiment  – putting the techniques together in their style – we will either imitate or perhaps outright copy them.  Or we’ll learn not to do THAT – whatever THAT is.  Toastmasters is a place to try out new ideas and incorporate – literally, make flesh – our stories and our messages.

Essential Speech Skills are Techniques

And that’s what they are:  techniques.

Anyone can get up on a stage and talk.   Is a speech something more?  Yes, it is – when good technique is involved.

Pie crust isn’t an art – it’s simply understanding the proportions and the method of mixing them.  A speech is exactly that – it’s a pie!

You have the crust on top and on the bottom –  your introduction is the top crust – it’s what entices the listener to what to hear your message.  The bottom crust binds with the top – like a good conclusion – and in the middle is your content – that luscious filling… I’m hungry…

Thanks for listening to Toastmasters 101 podcast.  If you like the podcast, you can subscribe using your favorite podcast player or by going to our website subscription page Toastmasters101 dot net slash subscribe.

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"Mariachi Snooze" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/