I listened to an ice breaker this week from a man who just chose his next pathway. His speech explained why he selected this path instead of repeating the speech he did with his first ice breaker. Is repeating speeches bad in Toastmasters?
Why do people complain about repeating speeches and speech projects?
Are we afraid of boring people? Are we bored by the topic? Or do we just hate being told what to talk about? I think we may misunderstand the power of repetition.
There are 4 speeches that appear to be the crux of the problem.
- Ice Breaker: Level 1 Project 1
- Leadership or Communication Style: Level 2 project 1
- Mentoring: Level 2 project 2
- Reflect on Your Path: Level 5
When people look at Level 2 the second time, their heart might sink just a little bit. Because – really? Again? If you’re on another leadership track, Level 2 looks – close to identical. Haven’t you been here before?
If anyone at Toastmasters International is listening, take this as my official notice that this needs some attention.
In the meantime, let’s consider the value of repeating speeches and speech projects.
“Why do I have to do another ice breaker?”
These days, I hear this a lot as people are starting new pathways. I suspect that this is based on the name and a perception that “haven’t I moved on yet?” sigh
Or I’m not a novice speaker and the ice breaker is synonymous with “newbie” or “beginner.”
Is it a pride thing? For some people, probably.
For others, it may be that they don’t value repeating speeches.
Repeating Speeches Improves Speeches
Let me introduce you to the world of high school speech and debate. The National Speech and Debate League of United States high schools might be considered junior Toastmasters, if they didn’t surpass us.
I’m not joking. You go watch some of the finalists in high school speech original oratory contests and there ain’t nobody I’ve seen in Toastmasters who can beat those winners. Sorry, Toastmasters, these high schoolers outshine us and why?
Because they memorize, practice, get regular coaching and evaluations from judges, change up the speech and do it again – next week.
I have coached high school speech students. I know what they go through – and the only people who come close to that level of speech commitment are the contestants for the World Championship of Public Speaking.
There’s an actual distrust of speech memorization in Toastmasters. I’m not sure that’s the TI perspective, so let’s say that some Toastmasters have an issue with memorization. In fact, I put a question on the Official Toastmasters Members Facebook Group asking why a member doesn’t like memorized speeches. I got nearly 200 responses. From that decidedly not scientific research, I got this.
1. Some people say that when a speaker memorizes a speech, they think that the speaker
- loses the authenticity of the speech presentation
- can’t get back on track if they lose their place
- misunderstands the real nature of speech preparation.
2. Some of us don’t think we can memorize our speeches.
Your system may not include memorization and that’s fine for you. I think that we underestimate our ability to memorize. Look, I still remember the lyrics to the 1972 song Crocodile Rock by Elton John. I may not remember where I left my glasses – but I know those lyrics. I’m not going to argue – but I suspect that we have more capability than we have will. However, if you repeat speeches, you do start to remember it – the beginning of memorization, right?
Distinguished Toastmaster Chuck Field (he told me to say that) said:
Chuck Field I dislike the process of learning to memorize and the amount of time it takes. When I do memorize (for me) it tends to sound less sincere.
But that’s just me.
Performance vs. connection
Chuck Field – that’s Distinguished Toastmaster Chuck Field (he told me to say that) – says what many, many Toastmasters say. There’s a claim that when we memorize, we lose the connection with the audience. In the show notes, I’ve got a link to one of my favorite national high school speeches from Andrea Ambam in 2014.
I use this speech in my speech classes as a great example of great speech construction, presentation skills, and personality on stage.
I assure you – that’s a memorized speech.
Now, it’s not a Toastmasters speech. It fits the National Speech and Debate Association format – not our World Championship of Public Speaking rules. But I think it proves the point that memorization isn’t the problem with audience connection or what several people call “authenticity.”
Authenticity and Connection
Repeating speeches and memorization have a bad rap because people feel it’s not authentic. I asked – what is authencity?
Several people defined it as the connection between the speaker and the audience. In particular, it’s about presentation skills. They believe that memorizing decreases presentation skills because the speaker is spending too much energy remembering the text that they don’t have time to do the things that connect with the audience – eye contact, gestures, body language.
Toastmaster Jacqui Hogan said,
“It isn’t enough to just remember the words – you need to know your speech so well that you can change the words according to audience response, so you can bring an original and personal response of your own.
Unfortunately, most people don’t do this.”
Memorization doesn’t have to exclude emotions. If you ask District 10 International Speech contestant Terry Begue – there’s always emotion. Maybe too much – Terry gets very emotional when he talks about his family in his memorized speeches.
If you look at an actor on a stage, they create that same intimacy with their audience in every performance. That’s almost a dirty word to Toastmasters, but it’s the right word. Every speech is a performance.
Speech is as much a performance as a dance or a comedy routine or a song. What we get from the audience does influence our speech – but dancers, comedians, and singers say the same. The relationship between the performer and the audience isn’t ignored if the words are memorized if the speaker does the work.
When we repeat speeches, we improve them. We improve as speakers because it’s more than just practice. It’s about finding our place in the moment with our message and this audience. You don’t get that with a recording.
The feedback of the audience reaction teaches us more than the mirror will.
Repeating Speeches Improve Skills
I think that repeating speeches actually gives you more chances to work on your presentation skills. If you’re not working to craft the words when you’re on the stage, you have the opportunity to work on refining gestures or eye contact.
In the past 3 months, I’ve given the same speech at least 5 times.
No, not to my club -we’ll talk about that in a minute. I was able to visit several clubs and give the same speech from the Successful Club series. Those speeches don’t exist in Pathways, but they’re full of good information and I can get an Advanced Leadership Bronze award for every two that I give… that’s not important. What’s important is that I’ve given this speech multiple times.
Have I memorized it? Not intentionally, but yes, I have. Now I can stop thinking about what I need to say and pay attention to the audience. When the first question I ask is “Have you seen the movie Field of Dreams?” I had better be prepared for a lot of different answers – that’s being responsive to the audience. It doesn’t change the content of my speech, particularly, but it does give me more to work with the audience when they answer the question.
Memorization has a concept of rigidity. I don’t accept that. I see memorization as a platform. Whether or not you want to use it is up to you.
For the people who get stuck… is that really because of memorization? Would they do better if they hadn’t memorized it?
That’s a valid question. We’ve all seen our fair share of memorized speeches be lost in a long pause…. loooooong pause…
Does not memorizing prevent long pauses? I guess we need to do some tests. Anyone who likes to memorize speeches willing to give a speech without memorizing it and see what happens?
As for the comments that memorization takes too long – can’t argue that. It’s dedicated time. You can’t really multitask when you’re memorizing. That’s probably more work than many people feel they can give to a speech that they’re giving once. But repeating speeches has one more benefit.
Repeating Speeches Improves Feedback
In Level 1 of all Pathways, the Evaluation and Feedback speech – project 2, the speaker is told to give a speech, get it evaluated, and improve it based on the evaluation for another presentation. While I do have issues with how the instructions for that project are written – Podcast #7 covers that – I think this brilliant.
Getting a speech evaluated and getting the chance to improve it – that’s simply the best way to improve faster. That’s our Toastmasters method.
There are some clubs that have a standard policy against repeating speeches. I guess I understand why such a policy exists – it can get boring listening to the same speech repeatedly. But let me tell you about Terry.
Terry the Painter and the 12 Repeated Speeches
Terry earned a slot speaking at a convention in his industry several years ago and had to write a presentation that lasted about 40 minutes. Our club got to hear this speech – 5 to 7 minutes at a time. Some parts we heard several times. It wasn’t boring because Terry was working out the kinks in that section – trying to discover what worked best. And you know, it forced us as evaluators to pay closer attention. We moved away from the very basic evaluation comment and started digging deep.
- We dissected pauses.
- We debated word choices and vocal variety.
- Terry is already a very emotive speaker – how could we help him get past the moments where the emotion started to choke him?
That’s not your average evaluation in a typical community club.
When we saw these speeches frequently and understood Terry’s purpose, then we saw our club’s evaluations improve significantly during this time.
Understanding Speech Prep
Many people say that they prefer to get their ideas clear in their heads and speak from that rather than memorization. Some will memorize the opening and closing. It’s about knowing on a gut level what you want to say and working with the audience response to share their message.
I’d like to talk to some professional speakers about that – because while that may work in a Toastmasters meeting, is that how it works in the professional world of public speaking? Based on the training I do professionally and the friends I have who speak for pay, I don’t think this is how they work. It may be the difference between the Toastmasters podium and the professional stage. Anyone care to add some comments – you can post them on the Toastmasters 101 Facebook page.
Remember I said I’ve given the same speech 5 times this summer?
Different feedback every time – that’s reasonable, as I had 5 different audiences. Each time, I got something new to work on. Is this speech perfect now? hahahha – no!
There’s always the speech you write, the speech you give, and the speech you wished you’d given.
But when you repeat speeches, those get closer and closer.
Repeating Speech Projects
We started this podcast talking about the ice breaker speech. I hear a lot of people dislike repeating this project. This one doesn’t bother me as much as the Leadership Style speech repeat. I can’t figure out what I’d do with it again. I guess I’ll have to wait to be inspired.
Inspiration… that’s what’s going to take when we repeat speech projects. Presumably we’re different – better – speakers the 2nd time we come around to this speech. We’ve had some different experiences we can talk about. New perspectives. New ideas.
I hope I didn’t just talk Toastmasters International into not changing this.
Wrap it up, Kim
Next week, I buy my next pathway. I haven’t made my mind up yet. Any suggestions? Leave your suggestions and your reasons in our Toastmasters 101 Facebook page!
Thanks to all the Toastmasters who contributed to the conversation on the Official Toastmasters International Members Facebook Group, in particular Jacqui Hogan and Distinguished Toastmaster Chuck Field (he told me to say that). Thanks, Chuck, for agreeing to the trumpets behind your name – it was fun!
In the meantime, I’m sure you know someone who would benefit from listening to this podcast. Both of you can subscribe for free to the podcast at our website Toastmasters 101 dot net slash subscribe. Even if one of you uses Apple and the other uses Android – we got you covered!
Our music today is from http://Incompetech.filemusic.io – just like always. Our trumpet sound effect is from the Sound Effects Factory.