Why I Almost Vowed to Never Enter a Tall Tales Contest

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From Toastmasters to Real World

I would have never done my speech like that in the real world. Toastmasters’ is safe.”

That was the first thing I heard when I joined the conversation. A fellow Toastmaster had given a speech, received feedback and I thought nothing more of it until I heard that line later in the meeting.

The idea that speeches in Toastmasters are different from the real world is an understandable concept. Toastmasters is undoubtedly safe, and it’s that security that gives me the courage to push my own personal speech boundaries. Using props and costumes? I’ve tried that. Running around on stage? Yup. Breaking out into (horrible) song? Two weeks ago I was finally brave enough, and jumped in with my eyes closed.

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Letting Go, The Only Way

I’m standing on a platform high in the air, at the edge of a forested valley; the tops of the trees are (by my estimate) several hundred feet below me. As I’m trying to erase that frightful picture from my head, a voice behind me pipes up:

“Alright, I want you to let go of the safety bar and just hang there.”

Like hell I will.

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Trusting in the Relatable

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

In my previous life as a Science major, that quote stuck with me. Our forefathers (and mothers) made major discoveries and obtained knowledge that we take for granted today. Often we use that gained knowledge to form our own experiments, make our own discoveries, write our own papers, etc.

Except I always had the thought of “everything that can be written about, has already been written about, how on earth can I come up with something original?”

I had the same approach when I first tried writing speeches for Toastmasters. In amongst trying to get a handle on my nerves, I was trying to find a topic I could “teach” to the audience. I was (and still am) considered young in comparison to the average age of a Toastmaster, everything I have experienced in my short life, my audience has already experienced, many times over. Continue reading

Two Words for Humour

A few months ago at a club meeting, one Toastmaster asked another member the following question:

“In two words, how would you describe how you incorporate humour?”

The question spawned my own internal challenge. If I could describe my own take on incorporating humour in two words, which two would I choose?

After months of deliberation, I finally came up with my answer.

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Lessons from New Members

This week I found myself at my home club fulfilling the role of Table Topics Master. It was a role I had done many times before: think of questions (preferably related to the theme), and remember to confirm with timers and evaluators. However on this day one of our newest members, Ming, approached me at the break. Continue reading

Trusting Myself Again

I am standing at the top, looking over the side. Pouring rain and strong winds made the water and snow pellets hit my face so hard I thought this was Mother Nature’s cruel way of giving me a free facial. Visibility had dropped to the point where I could barely make out what the terrain was like at my feet.

I remember what it was like last time.
I can’t do this. Continue reading


We are the sum total of our choices.- Woody Allen

That was a quote a Toastmaster read as part of his inspiration,  a quote that his mentor had passed along to him. This individual went a step further and added the phrase “although we may not always like those choices…”

How fitting, I thought. Unwittingly I started compiling a list of all memorable choices in my life.
– Choices that I had regretted.
– Choices that I still regret.
– Choices in which I had no choice, but after I had made said “choice” I was promptly informed it had been my choice all along.

I started to wonder what it would be like to go back and change all those choices. But then I thought about what kind of a person would I be if I had taken another road. Would I be nicer, meaner? Would I be more naive, or wiser? Would I be more positive or more jaded? If I “succeeded” and had made the choice I had wanted…would I view it as such?

Not so easy to re-envision, is it?

In the end, I have to sit back and accept the fact there will always be choices in my life I wish I could go back and change, or wish I had done differently. But for better or for worse, I am who I am through the choices I have made.

The Speed of Spit

A common occurrence for new speakers (yours truly was no exception) is the double whammy: speakers often speak too fast, and don’t make effective use of the pause.

The problem is understandable. You may have prepared a solid speech, but there may be one thing going through your mind when you stand in front of an audience: you want to finish your speech and sit down as fast as possible.

Throughout high school I participated in a number of school plays (disclaimer: I was anything BUT a great actress). My parents attended each performance and even videotaped some. What an eye opener! I thought I was speaking slowly enough but in reality I was a rambling chipmunk. Here are some tips I have discovered and used over the years.

Tip #1: Talk Too Slow
A great tip from my Theatre teacher: when giving a speech, try to be aware of how fast you are talking. Ideally you want to talk at about 75-80% of (what you think is your) normal speaking pace. If you feel you are talking just a bit too slow, you’re at the right pace. It is highly recommended you videotape your speech (or at least record your voice) to let you know if the rule (and what percentage) is effective for you.

Tip #2: Remember the speed of sound
One of the best pieces of advice I ever came across is to remember the speed of sound. While light travels extremely fast (299 792 458 m/s; thank you Google), the speed of sound is much slower at around 340 m/s (and if you were my Physics lab partner, the number we got came out to roughly 260 m/s).

Translated, it takes time for the words you have said to reach the audience’s ears. It will take additional time for them to listen, process, and understand what you have just said. My advice is to always look at your speech notes and determine where are the points you want to get across? When you are practicing your speech and get to that point, pause, and then continue on.

But how long should you pause? For years I used the very general rule of “pause until you feel it start to get awkward.” However, fellow Toastmaster Craig Hadden has written an article about the “1, 2, 3” rule. Personally I think it a much better guide in knowing how long you should pause.

Tip #3: Embrace the awkwardness
I can almost guarantee when you first start out and try speaking slower with more pauses, it will feel awkward. It will be awkward because it is counter-intuitive in getting you to end your speech sooner; we all know that thought dominates most new speakers. It will feel awkward because it won’t be something you are used to, nor will it be something that comes naturally to most of us: when we are in front of an audience and there is silence, your first instinct is to find something (anything!) to fill that silence. If you keep working on the speech pace and pause length you will be able to get a natural “feel” for what pace is right for you.

Take Your Time

“You have all the time you need. All the time in the world.”
– Allan Quatermain, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Shane West as Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer.

Shane West as Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer.

That quote is a line from the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Allan (Sean Connery) is reminding Tom Sawyer (Shane West) about shooting. Never mind the target is the villain running for his life. Never mind he is already miles away. In that moment (pictured above), Tom Sawyer aims, takes a moment, fires, and hits his mark. He is finally an expert marksman.

I feel a bit old (the movie came out in 2003) but remembering that scene reminds me of a piece of advice I want to share (especially) with newer speakers. It is advice I have only recently begun putting into practice. Continue reading