Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Hello TFC Toastmasters,
You’re on the road to becoming your company’s Chief Storyteller. Let’s begin with some good news: You’re already better than you might think. You tell stories every day. Here, we’ll explore three capabilities that will take you well on your way to becoming a professional storyteller. Remember the “three R’s” of your early education: reading, writing and ’rithmetic? Now consider the “three I’s” of storytelling: invitation, imagination and impact. Here’s how you can master them:
1 Invitation. Remember Steve Jobs’ famous invitation to Pepsi’s then- CEO John Sculley when he lured him to Apple by asking, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” Engage your listeners by stimulating their curiosity and asking them to share in something exciting with you.
2 Imagination. Enlivening people’s imaginations is easy. What happens before you visit the doctor? Or when you’re waiting for the board’s reaction to your latest strategic plan? Your imagination puts on quite a show. Who needs PowerPoint or technological wizardry?
In 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy recognized the need for a new narrative to galvanize the space race. Before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, he boldly announced that by the end of the decade the country would be dedicated to “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” Despite widespread doubts, and the fact that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had not yet even sent a man into orbit around the Earth, he electrified the collective imagination of the country.
Imagination is the direct access point to our creativity. Simply say “Imagine this …” and people’s creative juices start flowing. They’re transported to a different and vivid new reality without leaving their seats.
3 Impact. We crave impact. We want to be seen and know that what we do has meaning. In baseball terms, it’s called “looking the ball to the bat.” As a storyteller, that means watching your audience closely to see how your content is affecting them.
In 1995, South African President Nelson Mandela knew he had to shore up his government’s tenuous hold on post-apartheid unity. Adopting the strategy of “Don’t address their brains. Address their hearts,” Mandela convinced the Springboks rugby team, until then the country’s symbol of white supremacy, to join him. At the commencement of the Rugby World Cup final being held in South Africa, Mandela and the team symbolically broke all barriers by singing “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” the anthem of the black resistance movement, to a stilldivided nation and a worldwide television audience. The Springboks won the World Cup, and South Africa moved toward reconciliation.
Brilliant ideas without brilliant human connection usually die fast. That connection builds trust and cultivates relationships. When you see how you move others and are moved by them, you grow in stature and authority.
Keep this in mind: What you’re saying isn’t for you. It’s for your team.
Try these techniques at your next team or client meeting and note what happens:
• Be an “investigator” — not a content dumper. Ask, don’t tell.
• Watch carefully how what you’re saying impacts your team.
• Don’t leap to the next point until you see people absorb the previous one. Don’t assume everyone’s with you. Ask questions like “Are you with me?” or “How do you relate to this?”
• Slow down. Don’t race your narrative simply to get to the end. Consider practicing on someone first.
• Create images to get the client engaged in your story: “Imagine this …” or “Picture that …”
• Stop occasionally and observe your effect on everyone in the room.
Remember, your team and your clients are your creative partners. Actress Katherine Hepburn said, “If you give audiences half a chance, they’ll do half your acting for you.”
Health, wealth and unlimited success! That’s what club contests can bring to Toastmasters.
Let’s look at those claims one at a time. A club contest delivers a healthy club. How? Because members feel greater loyalty to a club that has a tradition of strong contests. And when guests visit during a contest, they’re attracted to the energy of your club’s vibrant, well-spoken membership.
How does a club contest promise wealth? When members deliver an important message in a well-crafted 5- to 7-minute speech, the audience is treated to a wealth of inspiration and information.
But there’s only one winner – so how can you claim “unlimited” success? Because success isn’t measured by selecting a winner. Out of thousands of contestants in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest each year, only one walks away as the World Champion. But the true success of the contest system is shown as each speaker commits to write a speech, hones it, gets feedback to improve their content and delivery, practices the speech and finally delivers it.
Every person who delivers a message in a club contest speech has grown as a speaker and a person – and that’s success!
Pushing Through Your Fears
Susan Barrera was a classic terror-stricken speaker when she first joined Toastmasters. After she gave her first four speeches, her club encouraged her to enter an evaluation contest in order to get her more involved. She expected to suffer through the contest and then retreat back into her shell. Instead, she surprised herself by soaking up the experience. “They ‘forced’ me to enter that first contest,” she admits, “and I learned so much that now I tell anybody to ‘just do it,’ whether they feel ready or not.”
When the club winner wasn’t able to advance, Barrera found herself representing the club at the area contest, where she gained more confidence. She now frequently competes in advanced contests and has some district level trophies in her collection.
Mark Brown, the 1995 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, is another former club contestant. And he, too, remembers the importance of participating in that first event. “The club speech contest is a great way to stretch yourself,” says Brown. “Participation almost forces you to be better than you have ever been, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to put into practice the techniques you have learned in the Toastmasters program.
“In one 5-to-7-minute speech, you strive to evoke many emotions, give the audience something to think about, and leave them with a message that can affect their lives. That is the true value of the speech contest.”
To make your club contest a wealthy experience, here are some good investments:
• Participate in every contest your district holds. Besides the International Speech Contest, the contests for humorous speeches, Table Topics and evaluations are all skill builders and help prepare you for the International Speech Contest.
• Ask every club member to participate – if not as a contestant, then in another contest function.
• Set the dates far in advance – six months is not too early – and keep mentioning them on every newsletter and meeting agenda in the months leading up to the contest.
• Appoint the contest chairman when the date is set so he or she can work with club officers to build interest in the contest.
• Don’t be casual about the club contest. It’s a bigger event when taken seriously. Follow all guidelines and formalities so that everybody sees what a contest is like at every level.
• Make it a special event – invite family members, colleagues, prospective members, past members – not just to build the audience, but to let everyone enjoy the excitement of communication in a supportive club environment.
• Make it an educational opportunity. Offer a presentation prior to the event on developing a contest speech. Invite a strong speaker from another club who won’t be competing in your contest.
• Get a mentor. Mentors aren’t only for new members. Every contestant can benefit from having a mentor in the weeks before the event. The more thought put into a contest speech, the better the speaker becomes.
• When somebody gives a good speech during the year, point it out and encourage that speaker to develop it for the next club contest.
• Provide visible rewards, such as a certificate of participation for each contestant and ribbons or trophies for winners.
• Celebrate every participant – emphasize that the most important result of the club contest is not advancing to the area contest but advancing to the next skill level.
• Make certain that every contestant gets feedback – assign an evaluator for each speaker, who will provide helpful suggestions independent of the contest results.
• Issue a press release about your contest. Even if the bigger newspapers overlook it, there are likely some local publications – such as neighborhood “shoppers” – that will be pleased to have information about local activities. If you’re in a corporate club, make sure the press release goes to the company newsletters of everybody who enters.
• Encourage clubwide participation in the area, division and district contests. Club members in attendance at those events will support their winners as they advance to the next level, and club members serving as helpers at those contests become better informed and more competent participants in future events.
Club level contests are an important aspect of your Toastmasters membership. They provide valuable experience, build skills and raise the bar for other presentations. They showcase progress and get members involved in a shared activity. Finally, they help determine your club’s representatives to area contests – and those members will perform better at that level if they’ve shared the experience of speaking in a strong club contest.
Gregory Lay, ATMS, is a member of Challenge and Leadership 23 Toastmasters club in Albuquerque, New Mexico.