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Recently, I gave a short speech at my Toastmasters club about how to structure and prepare to give a speech. I was asked to share the notes. Here they are, cleaned up and organized. This is my process, when I have time to fully practice it. None of it is new. All of this is the typical type of advice you see in any training on speechcraft. However, this is how I have organized it.

Start with Knowing the Purpose of the Speech

Whether you’re giving a speech for Toastmasters speech or giving a keynote to thousands of people: start by understanding what is expected of you. Most of us have experienced speeches that didn’t resonate because they didn’t mesh with the setting/event at which they were given. Another reason is the speech isn’t appropriate for the audience. By knowing what your speech’s purpose, you hopefully avoid both of these issues.

Building Your Speech

  1. Start with an outline to collect your thoughts. This is for the main body of your speech. Worry about the conclusion and the introduction later.
  2. Then write the main body of your speech. What are your points? Also, make sure you have adequate support what you’re trying to say.
  3. With the body done, write the conclusion. Make it strong. Craft it to leave the audience with a clear and strong understanding of what you are trying to communicate.
  4. Finally, write the introduction last. The introduction sets up the rest of the speech. Because of school, many of us were trying to knock out assignments and we just wrote straight from start to finish. If this is your habit, break it. It’s better to write the introduction after you know what you’re saying so you can prepare the audience to hear what you’re main points.

Preparing to Give Your Speech

  • First, practice! Even if you’re used to speaking on short or no notice, take the time to practice when you have the opportunity. It’ll show you what doesn’t work about your speech.
  • Don’t be afraid to use notes to give your speech. However, practice to where you are comfortable with your notes. Don’t let your handling of your notes distract your audience. Therefore, practice handling your notes in exactly the same way you plan on using them when you give your speech.
  • Have someone you trust to give you honest feedback observe your practice. Key things you won’t notice that someone else will:
    • Distracting body language
    • Use of filler words
    • Lack of vocal variety
  • If you find yourself running long, don’t be afraid to cut from your speech. It’s better to leave the audience with fewer memorable points than trying to rush through and causing your audience to struggle to try and follow you.

 

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I’m reading a pre-release copy of Guy Kawasaki’s new book, Wise Guy, for review. There’s a situation where Guy Kawasaki was racially profiled and he talked to his father about it. His father said back to him, “Mathematically, in your neighborhood, she was right, so get over it.” Guy writes that this interaction taught him this:

My father’s response taught me five lessons:

  • Don’t look for problems.
  • Take the high road.
  • See humor where others see insults.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt—that is, maybe race didn’t have anything to do with her question.
  • Don’t let people get to you, whether they are insulting you or not.

Looking back to when I was a kid this is often how my mom, also Japanese, reacted to this type of situation. She wouldn’t let folks waste any more of her time than the interaction. She certainly wouldn’t give them free rent in her mind. This is definitely something I need to continue working on.

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When Positivity is Bad

I’ve run across people who only want to head good news, positive things, and they tend only to face those types of situations. However, this article titled The Cult of Oppressive Positivity discusses some of the issues with positivity is used as a filter on reality. Having a positive attitude is useful. It’s productive. We are able to accomplish more. That’s different than what’s being described in the article. The article is about when a person or a group of people refuses to deal with anything except the positive. They use it as a shield. I think that’s the best way to say it. But it goes beyond just being a shield. After a while it becomes a means of suppression of others. From the article:

Beyond merely thinking positively, these belief systems foment an inability to hold, process, or empathize with what they deem are “negative” feelings and emotions. The result is a culture or atmosphere that becomes toxic and oppressive.

Having experienced this in practice, I have to agree that when folks can’t face anything negative, the atmosphere becomes toxic. I’ve seen this both in social situations and in the workplace. However, by having a blanket attitude of ignoring the negative, by not facing it, we hurt ourselves more than help ourselves. I’ve given a talk called Being the Swiss Army Knife of DB Pros (link goes to slides at SQLSaturday.com). In the talk I mention how disappointments/setbacks ultimately helped me be who I am today. Thinking positively is fine. Shielding ourselves from everything negative is not.

 

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Be Better to Move Forward

A lot of times I hear folks wanting to match what their competition is doing. If their competition is cutting cost expecting that customers will just have to deal with it, that’s what they do. I see it among professionals, too. They see the level their peers are performing at and they match the performance. Then they ask why they don’t get promoted, why others obtain opportunities they don’t get, and the like. Seth Godin offers this bit of wisdom in his post, Your customer service strategy:

The truth about strategy in a competitive environment: If you are doing what everyone else is doing, if you are inside the band of common, then it’s not an approach that will move you forward.

If you’re just meeting the level of your peers or your competition, you won’t stand out. It’s only when you excel, if only by a small amount, that you do. This isn’t a guarantee that opportunities will come your way, but you improve your odds by doing so.

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This follows my previous TED Thursday post.

Sometimes I find myself worried too much about the big stuff: things beyond my complete control. I stress out over situations and scenarios I can’t immediately resolve in a way I’m satisfied. The problem in these situations is my focus is wrong. I’m focusing on something too big and not taking care of the “little things,” the details, which play into the bigger issue or problem.

This is a miniature from Games Workshop and it’s a model of the Warhammer 40,000 game. As you can see from the close-up, there are a lot of details. This particular model had been sitting primed and ready for paint for over a year now. The reason it remained unpainted? Because I kept looking at the big job of getting a decent look to this model. There are a lot of details. For instance, take the gems. There are 4 gemstones on this model. There is the leather wrapping around what we’d typically call a mace (it has a different name in the game which isn’t relevant). There are all these strips of parchment and the wax seals which affix them to the armor. And there are the details of the weapons and armor as well. Taken as a whole, it can be overwhelming. It was overwhelming.

Attacking the Task:

Then I broke it down. First I worked on the armor. It’s primarily black with a couple of grays to highlight the edges. I’m still not great at doing this, and you can see that if you look at the feet, but I’m a lot better than I was. Getting the armor done was one detail. It moved the model closer to the finish. Then I worked on all the parts of the model that used gold trim. If you look back at the finished model, a lot of the surface area was covered by just focusing on these two aspects. As a result, what once looked like an almost insurmountable project was now looking more and more doable. From there I proceeded to complete one set of details after another. I broke down the larger task of painting the model into smaller, more doable chunks. And finally, the model was finished to my current capability of painting.

Using Details to Improve:

I say my current capability because I learned how to do the gemstones correctly with this model. In breaking down into simpler, smaller tasks, I also could hyper focus on a particular skill I wanted to develop better. In this case it was painting gemstones because there are a lot of them on Game Workshop’s models. When you break down a bigger task into those easier chunks, there’s an opportunity to focus in on an area where you want to be better. If you’re so overwhelmed by the larger, complete problem, you won’t consider that you have just such a possibility. This is another reason to break things down.

What If I Can’t Control Everything?

The reality is that there are a lot of things outside of our control. Take, for instance, the weather. We can’t control it. We just deal with it the best we can. We can’t control other drivers when we’re in a motor vehicle. That’s why learning to drive defensively is so important. I can’t control what they do. However, I can improve my own odds by what I do. That’s the key. By focusing on the details we can control, we move things in our favor. If a bigger problem is not fully within our control, then we have to accept that fact. Then we figure out where we can influence the problem as much as possible. That’s typically in the details. Don’t waste time, energy, and sanity on anything you can’t impact. Instead, figure out where you can and hit those hard. We’re not going to have everything go our way, but at least we’re giving ourselves a better shot.

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Have you ever felt like something was too big or too hard to accomplish? Did you feel like too many things are out of your control? Then this TED talk by Stephen Duneier may be helpful. He’s the type of person who can’t focus more than 5-10 minutes at a time. However, by breaking things down into little decisions and smaller chunks of time, he has been able to find success. But not only has he found success, he gives us an example from the world of tennis where what seems to be a marginal increase in decision making led to a gentleman merely making a living at professional tennis to becoming the world #1:

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“Focus on what truly matters, and do not fall for the lies of the comparison thief.” – Joshua Medcalf, Chop Wood Carry Water

I used to compare myself with others and lament how others had all the breaks, how they be given all the benefits in life, and how they were succeeding because of unfair advantages. I was missing my own advantages:

  • I grew up with both parents in the home.
  • I had access to more than sufficient food and health care.
  • I had teachers and mentors who invested in me at every turn.I never worried about sleeping in the cold or having to wear the same clothes over and over again.
  • I was exposed to computers in 3rd grade and continued to get to use them every year thereafter.
  • I had an amazing opportunity to attend and graduate from the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics.
  • I had yet another amazing opportunity to attend and graduate from The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.
  • I went to my first USAF assignment and had the privilege of having prior enlisted officers as my sponsors and mentors.
  • I was trained for ministry by men with a great deal of experience and a proven track record of serving God.
  • I was exposed to the latest technologies in my position with the US Air Force.

The reality is that if most of us sat down and were honest with ourselves, we could list our own competitive advantages. However, too often we focus on what others have or how something seems easier for them than it is for us. This is what Joshua Medcalf terms the comparison thief. We are so busy looking at what we perceive is someone else’s advantageous situation that we don’t focus on what we are given. As a result, we don’t make progress because we’re allowing ourselves to be distracted from our goals and the work in front of us.

Don’t fall into the trap of the comparison thief. It doesn’t matter if someone has an unfair advantage over you. That’s not something you can control. It doesn’t erase your own goals and the work you have to put in. Focus on what is in your power: your own effort and mindset. While you’re busy doing that, you will make progress. Sure, the other person may succeed ahead of you. Then again, they may not. We don’t know what else they are facing. Even if they do, however, that doesn’t change the opportunity for your own personal growth by putting in the work.

Shut the door on the comparison thief. Focus on you and what you can do.

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