Deliberate Steps to Mastering Your Speaking Challenges

Practice to Help Your Speech - 13991275 - lady speaker in business suit with podium.

“Is there anything physically you do to ease the anxiety symptoms before a speech?” I was asked this by a fellow member of our club.

He then recommended I throw my arms wide, take up some space and that may help with my approach of the lectern.

It was kind advice from a different perspective. However, his suggestion got me thinking about how I practice my speeches — including taking control of the lectern.

How many minutes or hours do you spend practicing your speech? How many times do you recite your next five-to-seven minute presentation in the comfort of your living room?

Many of us aren’t born with the skills or confidence to take center stage. Public speaking is an art form and, like masters in any field, it takes a lot of practice.

A recent article in Success Magazine entitled “5 Deliberate Steps to Master a Skill”, suggests that “research on the science of peak performance has shown it’s not just talent and hours of practice that lead to expertise. Instead, it’s the type of practice one does.”

In order for to improve our speech delivery, we have to push ourselves outside the comfort zone. We do this by focusing on improving aspects we have found challenging. Meaning, instead of reciting the words of your speech, use those practice sessions to focus on improving an area you have experienced some challenges in such as hand gestures or vocal variety.

To incorporate deliberate practice into your next speech prep here are tips from Success Magazine:

1) Identify the goal
2) Identify the challenge.
3) Purposely work on improving this skill.
4) Seek feedback.
5) Do it again. Over and over.

Let’s take the example of how I approach the lectern. By approaching it with confidence and my shoulders back, it may help my initial confidence and fight off the slumpies (slumped shoulders). How I approached my new deliberate practice:

1) Identify the goal: My goal is to start a speech or any speech from the lectern with more confidence.

2) Identify the challenge: The anxiety that washes over me when my name is called and the applause starts.

3) Purposely work on this skill: Before each time I run through my speech, I take a deep breath. Throw my hands wide. Take up space. I practice walking to the center of the room and imagine shaking hands with the chairperson.

4) Seek feedback: This is a new practice for me. However, it is my intent to ask others for their perspective and suggestions.

5) Do it again: Sign up for another speech and practice it again.

You may not have been born with mad speaking skills, but deliberate practice can make it look like you were!


Ask a Morningstar: Going Off Notes?

“Do you rehearse?”
“How do you memorize your speech?”

I have had a few conversations (and overheard a few others) lately regarding the process in which one stops using notes while delivery their speeches.

In this edition of “Ask a Toastmaster,” I posed the question to the Morningstars Toastmaster to learn their secret awesome sauce for executing a 5 – 7 minute speech without notes!

Here are their responses:

An Unrehearsed Speech is More of a Road Map
It’s said that the best speech is the unrehearsed, the one where we are not confined to memorizing word for word. When you memorize you are a slave to a script. When you have a unrehearsed speech, you have a road map, of points that you want to make. And if something happens on the day, you can come of the road map and speak to it. If the audience needs a lift – you can come of the road map. It doesn’t matter if you forget something.

I have been a stickler for learning speeches word for word, and one of the things I want to get from Toastmasters is doing the unrehearsed speech. I did my first ever unrehearsed speech with my ice breaker. The gain was – that I felt so much more relaxed, and I didn’t have a stressful week leading up to it. The loss was that I didn’t mention everything I wanted to mention. But so what!
Doing an unrehearsed speech means we must know our stuff, we must know the topic inside out, otherwise we will be stumbling in the dark. So an ice breaker is a great one to begin with. Because we know our life story inside out, upside down and around the merry go round. — Vimalasara M.

Memorization is Key for Writer
I am a writer, and I am aspiring to be able to speak about my writing. So I write first. I write the whole thing. I read it aloud and change it several times. And when I think it is ready, then I start memorizing it. Pretty much word-for-word. When I practise it in a speech format, I find that there are words that need some tweaking, so I re-memorize it.

At first I thought that memorizing would be impossible. But I was inspired by watching three women over several months as they were rehearsing for their leading parts in a stage play. I realized that if they could memorize someone else’s writing word-for-word, then I could probably learn to memorize my own writing. When I asked a fellow Toastmaster how it was that he looked so natural when speaking, he suggested that I try telling a story. We know our stories and, therefore, we don’t really need to rely on writing them down first. So for my next speech, I told a story. Of course, I already had the story written so I worked on memorizing it. It was a breakthrough speech for me.

I need a lot of time to memorize a speech. A full week is good. Due to a lack of time, I challenged myself to go off-script for parts of a few recent speeches. I found myself running back to my notes (written speech) to get back on track rather than winging it. It will take a while before I can deliver an un-memorized speech with ease, but I see it as the next stage in my development as a speaker. — Sheila C.

I’ve Used Little Notes Forever
I’m one of those who have used notes forever – sometimes a detailed script; sometimes only a few words on a small slip. When I use the former it invariably becomes a bit stilted. With a few or no notes, I do find myself in the risk of forgetting something but like an extended Table Topics, there is more of ‘me’ in the speech.

I never have been able to memorize so I do rely on my method subject to my shortcomings. I think it’s a matter of listening to examples for what you can adopt but finally finding what works for you until it’s time to try something new and change. That’s when you wade into the alligators and take another risk.

On the day, I do a little zen like relaxation breathing just before being called and then. …. I stole this. …… I “reach around and flick the switch on my back to ON”. — Frank C.

Practice Rehearsal and Imaging
Excellent question. I always write the speech out in full and initially try to memorize it word for word but then crystallize it into bullet notes which I then use to refresh my memory. Certain words or phrases are vital to remembering the next section of a speech. I’ve found that if I don’t have a good grasp of the flow of the speech and have an image in my mind of where the key phrases are, I can’t give the speech naturally and become nervous and therefore uncomfortable. The audience can sense this. Practice, rehearsal and imaging are what I rely on. — William B.

Crafting a Speech
When crafting a speech, the first thing I do is give it to an audience of one (my cat). This is unwritten, unrehearsed. It’s just me walking around the room, saying what comes to mind. I give myself time to rephrase things, back track and try again. If something was good, I make a mental note to put that in the “keep it” file.

When I have the general gist or the logical flow of my speech, I write it down. It also helps with timing. For my 5-7 minute speeches, I keep the word count around 800. If it is a speech with high emotional content or visual aids, I aim for 550 words.

I then print out the speech. I read through it a couple of times, fold the paper in half and put it in my Toastmaster manual. I don’t look at it again. I go back to my audience of one (that darn cat!) and practice my thoughts this time with a timer, trying to get them narrowed down to the 5 to 7 minute range.

Every time I practice the speech, it changes a bit. I’m okay with that. It’s not perfect. I’m okay with that. It’s Weegee. And I’m okay with that. — Weegee S.

Toastmaster Tips: Replacing the "Um" & "Like" in Speeches

“She was like . . . And I was like . . . But we were all . . . Um . . . ” These were the highlights of an overhead conversation between two twenty-somethings on a bus. By the time we reached their stop, the amount of “ums” and “likes” each had uttered was staggering . . . triple digits.

Filler words. They are something I wouldn’t have noticed in other people’s speech prior to Toastmasters. The reason? I am a closet filler user.  Typically, it only comes out when I visit my mom and sister, but every once in a while my dependency on the useless words creep into my speeches.

Why Do We Use Fillers?
Steven D. Cohen, an award-winning speaker who leads career and academic workshops on public speaking at Harvard Extension School, believes we have been conditioned to answer questions immediately from an early age. We feel the urge to speak when spoken to.

Filler words are commonly used when we begin talking and as a transition between ideas. According to Seth Godin, it’s our way to “keep making sounds in order to keep your turn as the speaker.” Or so that the other person won’t jump in the moment you pause. It’s a way of keeping the floor.

At least it explains why I use it comes out with gusto around my talkative family members.

How Do We Replace the “Um” and “Like”?
1) Remind yourself that the person you are talking to (or the audience) isn’t waiting to steal the microphone from you. You have the floor.
2) When practicing your speech, talk as slowly as you need to. When transitioning ideas or verbally considering your next word — PAUSE. THINK. PROCEED.
3) Eventually, your speech will get faster . . . minus the ums.

Note that we aren’t “replacing” the fillers with alternate words but adding silence to your dialogue or speech. Oddly the way to move your speech forward is by not saying a word.


Lift Off – A Powerful Graduation Speech

I was in the 7th grade, when Ms. Parker told me,
“Donovan, we can put your excess energy to good use!”
And she introduced me to the sound of my own voice.
She gave me a stage. A platform.
She told me that our stories are ladders
That make it easier for us to touch the stars.
So climb and grab them.
Keep climbing. Grab them.
Spill your emotions in the big dipper and pour out your soul.
Light up the world with your luminous allure.

It’s that time of year when celebrities start rocking the graduation stage, imparting their inspiring dose of wisdom on the departing class.

This year’s most inspiring graduation speech is a spoken word poem delivered by the dynamic Donovan Livingston at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education on May 25, 2016.

The North Carolina native student speaker graduated with a Masters in Education and used his five minutes to address issues black people face in the education system and how a teacher inspired him to find his voice, his story.

At the core, none of us were meant to be common.
We were born to be comets,
Darting across space and time —
Leaving our mark as we crash into everything.

The “powerful, heartfelt” (Harvard Graduate School of Education) speech was meant to illuminate the inequalities in education and how we “often laud education as this thing that is the great equalizer in our society, and it’s really not,” according to Livingston.

The powerhouse speech (poem) delivers a message to empower his fellow students with the thought that they are the key to changing the system.  He found a way to touch, connect and reach others via owning his own way.

He gave the audience something to work towards . . . and inspiration for all Toastmasters. Find your story. Your way of putting your energy to good use. Inspire others in your unique way.

Check out his speech below or read it in its entirety here:

Note: Thanks to Michael W. for bringing the video and the speech to my attention. Feel free to email Weegee blog ideas!

Are You Showing Deception In Your Speeches?

I am one of those writers that harbours a secret fear that someone, somehow will discover what has been recently entered into my search engine. Mostly because, well, it’s a little bit scary.

While researching 911 calls and transcripts for a murder mystery I am crafting, I stumbled upon a website dedicated to statement analysis. In short, statement analysis is determining if a person is lying or telling the truth by analyzing the subject’s use of language in 911 calls, police interrogations, news coverage interviews and courtroom testimony.

I know what you are thinking — pseudoscience. Okay. Okay. I’ll give you that. There’s a huge error of margin in this due to nerves, verbal ticks, shock, habits and cultural or interpersonal differences. You can take it or leave it.

Deception Red Flags in Toastmaster SpeechesAs a Toastmaster, I find it fascinating how our choice of words (including the number three) may have the opposite impact upon our audience as we intended.

As we learned in Project 4 “How to Say It” of our Competent Communication manual, “words are powerful. They convey your message and influence the audience and its perception of you. Word choice and arrangement need just as much attention as a speech organization and purpose.”

According to Mark McClish, a retired Deputy United States Marshal with 26 years of federal law enforcement experience, on his website ( “people’s words will betray them . . . The key is to listen to what people are telling you and to know what to look for in a statement.”

What are the deception red flags? Here are a few things McClish and statement analysts look for when seeking signs of untruthfulness:

The Number Three
According to McClish, “I have found that when deceptive people have to come up with a number they will often use the number three . . . (It) has become known as the “liar’s number.”

Story Breakdown

When a person is describing an incident his story will be comprised of three segments: What the person was doing BEFORE the incident; what they were doing DURING; and what they did AFTER.

Truthful stories will generally follow a pattern of 25/50/25 (before/during/after). However, deceptive stories, according to McClish, have a ratio of 35/50/15. They need to set the stage for their tale while trying to work out the details for the conclusion.

Question with a Question
When someone answers a question with a question (or even repeating the question), this is a stall tactic, as we know from Table Topics.

“Really”/ “Very”
The use of “really” as a descriptor can be deceptive for it is trying to add importance, stretch a particular area. “I hit him really, really hard.” Over emphasis without substance.

“You Know”
According to McClish, deceptive people use this phrase to tell you that “you know this.” They expect you take for granted what they are saying is the truth. However, if the phrase occurs a lot, it is a speech pattern.

Non-Committal Words
Words or phrases such as: “kind of,” “I think,” “I thought,” “I don’t know,” “about,” “like” and “sort of.” These distant the speaker from the event or his participation. Trying to recall but not really a part of. Not to blame.

In short, use clear, simple, vivid and forceful words that add excitement to your presentation while utilizing good grammar and pronunciation. Use concrete, specific words that communicate what you mean and simple statements that are easy to understand.  Avoid the red flags of deception.

Happy writing!




What Do You Do When You Blank?

What Do You Do When You Blank During SpeechesYou’ve practiced your speech in front of the mirror. In the car. In front of the dog. The dog has it memorized. You know it.

You’re sailing along smoothly. Then, all of a sudden, your mind goes blank. You look at the audience with the “deer-in-the-headlights” stare for what seems like an eternity as your mind frantically gropes for the next phrase.

Has that ever happened to you? What do you do when your blank? Morningstars Toastmasters weighs in:

No One Except You Knows What You Left Out
Over the years I’ve found that the more you attempt to memorize a speech word for word the greater the chances are you’ll forget something. Those instances tend to bring on acute panic. My suggestion is to learn your material well. If you’re doing a speech where every word is crucial use notes and stay behind the lectern. Otherwise if your mind goes blank take a deep breath and resume with what you remember. And always realize that no one except you will know exactly what you’ve left out. — Cathie R.

Use Lectern For a Sense of Grounding
If you are talking about speeches, I still use notes a lot.  They may consist of only a few words but they can re-establish my location of subject if I stumble.


I remember a surprise situation when I was introduced and invited to the stage for some kind of presentation.  After I had left the stage; the chair, in thanking me, compared his 10 pages of notes to the audience with my torn corner of the program on which I had made some hastily penned words but had left behind on the lectern.  That was ‘preparation’ and Table Topics at its best.  Also, it saved me by having some sense of quick organization and security.


I also come from what maybe an ‘old school’ use/reliance on a lectern for a sense of grounding; if and when those moments occur.  Also, I’ve used the simple pause, albeit ‘rather extended’ occasionally, to regain what has escaped my mind.  With or without apology, listeners will stay with you.


A blank mind can be a minor terror but practice and experience, especially in the safe Toastmaster environment, will prepare one for almost every memory falter.  I certainly have experienced it all. — Frank C.

Calmly Walk Back to the Lectern
I’ve seen pros just calmly walk back to the lectern where their script lies waiting for just such a glitch. I don’t think that having notes handy is such a bad thing. The key is “calmly,” I guess. — PJ R.

Use the Time to Pause
When I blank – I begin to desperately try to connect with what I am saying, eyes rolling up or closing to shut out the fact that there is a listener out there. My idea is to use that time to pause, smile warmly at my audience, hold my own hand metaphorically speaking, do-dropping surreptitiously to disconnect emotionally from all the other times it has happened and miraculously say something totally brilliant – much better than what I was trying to remember. — Sandy W.

Shift Topic, Keep Talking
Oh, I would love that kind of opportunity to talk about my philosophical thought on life and getting up(very big deal in my life so far).   So yeah I completely go into what I originally intended and talk as “emergency news!”   Or can talk about other things I like such as what I like to eat, and what combination of food I like to eat, or how much I like to eat.  I used to dream of swimming in a sweet whipcream and drink as much as I want.

In other words I would shift the topic of what I like and keep talking.  Then probably the original topic would come back then its a choice to continue talking about the new side topic or old original topic. — Ben R.

A Matter of Feeling Capable
I have no techniques. My mind goes blank the instant a Table Topics question is posed. It can be a simple question or a deep thinker. Doesn’t matter. I’m blank. Frozen. It’s not so much a matter of forgetting as it is a matter of feeling capable of remembering that I have a lot of knowledge, that I used to have stronger opinions, that my ideas are valid. And believing that I won’t be laughed at, ignored, invalidated, or interrupted. All things to work on. Looking forward to reading about the techniques of others–I could use a few!!! — Sheila C.