Giving a speech is an art. That’s my firm belief. It’s art like singing or dancing – it’s the creation of a moment that has an impact on those who present and those who partake. When we’re faced with the most important speech we have to give – we need to have that same grace that only comes from lots of preparation and acute understanding of how to build on the basics.
Today on Toastmasters, we’re going to talk about the most important speech you have to give – and what I think it is in the Toastmasters Pathways education program.
Do you need to give an important speech? Whether it’s a keynote, a commemoration, or a quick bridal toast, Toastmasters can help you. In an hour a week, we can teach you the skills you need to create a memorable presentation to achieve your goals. This is Toastmasters 101 and I’m your host, Kim Krajci
Your Important Speech
I don’t want to say it’s a stereotype. But we’ve learned to recognize that look. It’s a man, at a certain age, who comes to Toastmasters because… his daughter is getting married. He knows he needs to give a toast at the wedding reception and he knows he needs to do it well.
It may not be the most important speech of his career, but to him, this is the most important speech of his life.
His daughter certainly thinks so.
Here’s another – we don’t want to call it a stereotype, but we see this: a young professional who wants to move up in their career. They see the upcoming work presentation as a make or break critical point before their bosses and peers.
It may not be the most important speech of their lives, but right now, nothing comes close.
Here’s another – a successful mid-life person who has a lot to share but can’t seem to make the words work for them, or they’re afraid of that stage but the need to get their message out into the world is so compelling. The most important speech to them may look like the TED stage, or a keynote to their fellows in their field.
What’s your important speech?
Because speech is like singing or dance; it’s a performance and you want to do it right. Do it well. Do it perfectly.
Perfecting Your Important Speech?
If there’s one thing any speaker, Toastmaster or not, can tell you is:
There is no perfect speech. Every speech actually has three iterations:
- The speech you prepared.
- The speech you gave.
- The speech you wished you’d given.
Regardless of how often you practice, something will happen and you’ll either stumble in some small way – or you’ll be in the middle of the speech and something will click – the audience’s chuckle or nodding agreement and you’ll find that key that you wished you’d thought of three weeks ago when you started writing this presentation.
Always happens. Put money on it.
When you’re giving a speech, when you want to do it well, you need to prepare. Preparation must include understanding rhetoric, good content, and a clear goal for the speech before you even begin practicing.
Speech Preparation: AKA Rhetoric
Let’s talk about each of those.
I’m sure that all cultures have some great teaching come down through history that explains what we call rhetoric – the art of public speaking.
Technically, rhetoric is the art of persuasive speaking. but I’m going to say that pretty much all public speaking is persuasive to some degree. I mean, why are you saying anything if it’s not to convey a message and ask for your listener to agree with you – or at least, respond in some way that develops your message?
Rhetoric is the backbone of our communication. There are some ways that these techniques have not changed over thousands of years.
Take repetition. I’m not sure why someone landed on three as the best number of times to repeat your message, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Take a look at the historic speeches that we still have recorded and you’ll see that repetition is a key component. From Socrates, to Jesus, to Shakespeare, to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr – each of their great speeches uses repetition to make their points. Not to hammer down their audiences, but the drill down their message into their listeners’ minds.
Humans respond to repetition.
Repetition comes in many ways – some of them subtle, some not. Jesus said “Blessed are” nine times in a row. Martin Luther King said “I have a dream” nine times in a row. But there are other ways to repeat yourself, such as President John Kennedy’s inaugural speech
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.
“Ask” opens his sentences, but see how he flips around what he tells us to do?
Working with words – to make them effective and poetic, that capture our listeners’ ears – takes time.
It’s not the work of the night before.
I was listening to Speak Up Storytelling – a podcast by Matthew Dicks. I’ve mentioned him before on this podcast – he’s an award-winning storyteller whose book, Storyworthy, I’ve recommended on this podcast. He mentioned on a recent podcast that he also is a wedding music DJ – in the US, that’s the person who serves as a type of master of ceremonies and provides music for the party after a wedding. He said he often has to coach the best man through the bridal toast and he has 3 simple suggestions. Tell a story about the groom to make the audience laugh, tell a story about the bride that makes the audience say “aw”, and tell a story about them together. Voila – instant bridal toast.
And you know – I think that’s brilliant advice. But it’s actually too late if the advice is being given fifteen minutes before the toast.
Content may be king, but preparation is queen. Or emperor.
See, there’s not enough time to develop content in 15 minutes. There’s time to recall and tell a story – but will it be a good story? Will it be what you need? Will you accomplish your goal in 15 minutes?
For your most important speech, if you really think it’s that critical – you’re not going to spend 15 minutes. You’ll spend 15 hours. You’ll use whatever it takes to craft it so it’s right for your audience.
In podcasting, we have a general rule of thumb that every minute of time on the final broadcast has taken 4 to 10 minutes of preparation, editing, and production work. I find that to be accurate. I know that the speeches and podcasts I want to be best are going to take time to prepare and practice.
Your Most Important Speech
When you’re looking at your most important speech, we talked about preparation – using rhetoric like repetition. We can also talk about the modes that we use –
- the ethics or character of ourself as a speaker or the character of the audience
- the logical reasons for our message and how they impact us
- our emotional engagement – how we feel, how our audience feels and how they will feel in the future.
Don’t skip these classics. Even if you have a deep, complicated, data-driven presentation, using each of these appropriately will make your most important speech the best one your audience has heard.
This is why I think the most important speech project in Toastmasters is the Persuasive Speaking Project in the Presentation Mastery Path.
This speech project only appears once in the Toastmasters Pathways program. Which, if anyone over at Toastmasters International is listening, I think is a mistake. This should be a required speech for every member. It’s certainly one that we need to do again and again – these skills are the key components to successful public speaking content development.
We don’t talk enough about content development in Toastmasters. I think, in an effort to avoid offense and in respect to the speaker, presuming that they know what they’re talking about, that we don’t spend time on it after the Level 1 Researching and Presenting Your Topic. The basic research skills create a basic speech. When you want to go deeper, you need more than basics.
When you are giving your most important speech, basic shouldn’t be your goal. You need to aim higher. You may be presenting a data-filled speech, but your goal isn’t just to inform – it’s to persuade the audience that you’re credible, that your information is correct, and the emotional story behind these numbers and charts and statistics is valuable. The Persuasive Speaking project training does cover this well. I went back today and reviewed this project we receive and was again full of respect for the information and how it was provided to us in this training.
Popular vs Best?
I don’t think it’s a secret that Presentation Mastery is the most commonly recommended path to members. Toastmasters International’s CEO Daniel Rex has said so in a speech – at the same time, he acknowledged it’s not the most popular. But this speech project should be available to everyone in Toastmasters.
I’m part of a rather vocal group that wants to see some changes in Pathways. I would like some basic speeches to be done once and then never again. This is not one of those speeches. This should be a part of every path. Just my opinion – but when you’re giving your most important speech, you want the training for the most important speech that Toastmasters covers. This is it.
If you’ve got an important speech coming up – whatever it is – consider joining Toastmasters. You can find a club at Toastmasters.org. Click on the link to find a club near you, or a club that meets at a time that’s convenient to you.
Wrap it up, Kim
May I ask you a question?
How has Toastmasters changed your life? Would you be willing to share that with me and with others? What has happened to you because you’re a Toastmaster?
I can say one thing for sure: I wouldn’t be hosting a podcast!
If you’re willing to share your story, would you reach out to me? You can drop me a line on the Facebook Toastmasters 101 podcast page or leave a message here on the Toastmasters101.net slash 84 in the comments.