Tag Archives: Public Speaking

Eye Contact: Why?

Try this experiment. Call your dog. Where does he look? More than likely, your dog will look toward your eyes. Now try one more experiment. Get your dog’s attention and then just stare at him. Don’t say anything and don’t do anything. What happens? Chances are your dog will begin to feel uncomfortable. You’ll see that he will look away from you as if he is in trouble, or maybe he’ll begin to whine like my dog did.

What all of this proves is that eye contact is universal among all creatures. It also proves that eye contact is extremely powerful. So much can be said with just a look. Even your dog understands that just staring at him is an extremely aggressive act.

This is why using eye contact correctly in your presentations is so important. You use your voice, and perhaps some visual aids, to communicate your message, but when you make eye contact with your audience, you are letting them into your emotional world. Eye contact is so ingrained in all living creatures that our subconscious mind interprets the many emotions displayed in a speakers eyes.

Here are two examples.

  1. During an experiment done at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the conductors altered the rabbit on a Trix box so it was looking straight at the adult subjects. When two boxes where shown to the subjects, they were more likely to choose the boxes with the character looking straight at them.
  2. An experiment done by the University of Chicago and University of Maryland, twenty men where shown two identical pictures of an attractive woman. The only difference between the photos was the pupils were artificially enlarged on one. When asked which picture seemed more attractive, the majority of the men picked the one with the enlarged pupils, although the vast majority of those men couldn’t explain why.

Through these and many other experiments, we see that eye contact works on a subconscious level and is extremely powerful when used in the public speaking arena. The audience feels that the speaker is more confident, authoritative, honest and trustworthy when they meet their gaze.

Eye contact also helps the speaker. If you are speaking to a group and not using eye contact, your field of vision will not be concentrated, opening you up to any and all distractions around the room. If you are concentrated on a set of eyes, the likelihood of being distracted is diminished significantly, because your field of vision will be concentrated. You will tend to feel more confident, although this may not be the case for a beginner. When a speaker is not used to speaking to groups, he may feel a little uncomfortable looking into other people’s eyes, but after some practice he will become more comfortable with it and as a result will have a very powerful tool in his public speaking tool box.

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The Division E Humorous speech Contest

The Division E Humorous Speech contest I mentioned in an earlier post was held on Wednesday, October 21st. Unfortunately for me, I did not win that contest.  I came in second to a very good speaker that just happens to be a fellow member of the Susquehanna Advanced Toastmasters club I attend. I don’t feel bad about the loss at all.  Susan apparently worked very hard on her speech and she executed it very well. I’m also happy with my own performance. All of the practice, came shining through, if I do say so myself. The reasons I didn’t win could very well come down to the luck of the draw, since Susan and I had to admit to each other that we didn’t know who won until the announcement was made.

One thing I may have been able to do better is stage presence.  I did use much more of the stage than I have in the past, but I may have been able to be more aggressive in how far I traveled from center stage. In general the more three dimensional your movements are on stage the better. You not only want to move from side to side on the stage in order to engage the entire audience, but you want to move back and forth as well. You move back during less important parts of the speech, so that during the more important parts of the speech you can move toward the audience. This will help to put emphasis on your point.

I don’t think the back and forth was a real problem for me, since there was not a lot of room for that, and what little room I had I believe I used well. My problem could have been the horizontal movements. Generally, unless the speech calls for it, you don’t want to go out to the edges of the stage, but you do want to move out close enough where you can directly engage the audience members on the periphery of the room.  I believe this is where I may have failed.  I did not engage the audience members on the very edges of the room as well as I could have and that may have cost me, since I think Susan did that.

There are a few other things I need to keep in mind as well; however I will not cover them in this post. I will be pondering all of the many lessons I learned during this competition season and do my best to work them into the international season coming up.

The Area 13 Contest

Last night was the Area 13 contest.  Along with Area 13 it was also the Area 18 and 24 contests.  It was an interesting event.  I got to see three-fourths of the Division E Contest take shape.  I have now seen two other speeches I will be facing on April 26th and they have seen mine.  Both of the winning speeches are extra-ordinary.  One was on a simple subject, the wonders of Steve Jobs and Apple and the other was on the scurgges of harroin.  The former was a very funny yet very useful speech about the many things we as Toastmasters can do with the iPhone and the iPad.  The latter was a very emotional speech about how harroine took the life of a dear friend’s son.  Emotionally, my speech sat in the middle.  I have humorous parts and serious parts in my speech.  Besides last nights speeches, there is one more out there.  The wild card speech; the contestant from the area that was not represented last night, Area 28.

Last night’s contest was very special.  Most times when you watch a contest, there is at least one speaker who you have to wonder how they got to this level.  There were seven speakers last night and every single one of them could have been in division level contests, let alone area.

The contestant I competed against, is a returning member of Community Toastmasters and has been returned for not quite a year.  He was excellent.  He spoke first and during his speech on the pitfalls of multi-tasking, I couldn’t help but worry.

I took the stage and things went basically as I planned.  I did stumble at one point, and unfortunately it was noticeable, however, as I looked into the eyes of the audience, I could see I was connecting in a very deep way.  I’m sure many of them had experienced unemployment as well, and they were remembering their own tribulation.

After the contest was over, I realized I had a hug lesson in humility.  Practicing my speech in front of familiar faces is a good way to learn my speech, however, without a measuring stick, I didn’t know how well I was really doing.  Last night my presentation was measured against abnormally good speeches and speaker and, although I don’t think I was found wanting, I’m definitely not as far ahead as I had envisioned.  In fact, at this point, I don’t even know if I’m first.  Over the next three weeks I have a lot of work to do and have to share my speech as much as possible.  I need to rework my speech … again and practice hard, because I know that is what the other two contestants will be doing.  All three speeches will be better come April 26th and I’m going to have to recommit myself to see that mine is the best.

I know what to expect from the two other speaker, but at the moment, I’m most worried about the speaker I have not yet heard.

The Power of Humor

While I was Area 13 Governor, one of my favorite things to do was to run the area humorous and international speech contests.  I got a rush from the planning, filling roles, keeping track of contestants, and pushing to get everything done usually under the wire.  After everything was done, I enjoyed acting as the Toastmaster for the affair.  I probably enjoyed being the center of attention a little too much.

One of the many experiences I had with the contest was communicating, via email, with one of the contestants of the Area 13 International Speech Contest.  This contestant had lost, but was concerned that the winner’s speech seemed like it belonged in the humorous speech contest rather than the International Speech Contest.  The contestant didn’t understand the power of humor in inspiring people to do extraordinary things.  I thought about the question for a few days, then I wrote the text below in a reply.

First of all, may I say congratulations. Many people, after losing a contest, decide not to compete again. I saw nothing in your email that leads me to believe you intend to give up. Between this contest and the humorous speech contest, last fall, we all have seen you have stories to share with the world and I hope you continue to do so.

There are no rules against any specific speeches in the International Speech contest. Think of it this way. The International Speech Contest speeches are Speech 10 from the Competent Communicator Manual, except they’re 5 to 7 minutes instead of 8 to 10 minutes. You both did that, but your specific question is, “Why did her speech seem to belong in the humorous speech contests?” The simple answer is, because most of the winning speeches in the International Speech contest are humorous speeches.

The theory is, you draw the audience in with a good story and humor, and you keep their attention with more humor. While you have their attention, you teach them the lesson you want them to learn. This is a theory that has been tested over the centuries and has been proven to be absolutely correct. Some of the greatest speakers in history have had some of the strangest senses of humor. Why they were so successful in getting their message across was, when their audience was laughing, they let their guard down. They identified with the speaker and, even if it was for a split second, they were his/her friend. This is what happened last Saturday with Linda’s speech. It is not an accident that judges will pick a humorous speech over a more serious speech. It’s simply the way our minds work.

Most people at the club and Area levels, tend to think of inspirational speeches as serious, thoughtful and deep. But at the District and International levels, the competitors know that inspirational speeches are thoughtful and deep, but they don’t have to be serious. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you wouldn’t have known unless you did some heavy duty research. Tips for writing an international contest speech are on line, but they’re not the easiest to find. Most of the information you need to write a good contest speech has to be gleaned from Youtube videos of other contest speeches. Even then, you will most certainly not get all sides of the issue.

Something else you can do is ask someone who’s been to the District level or beyond. Not to blow my own horn, but I am one of those people. In 2008, I Started out with a speech that was relatively serious. At the area contest, someone who had made it all the way to the international contest in 2003 strongly recommended that I use humor in my speech. What I ended up with was a roller coaster ride of a speech. I had people rolling in the isles at one point and tearing up at another. I won the District 38 contest with that speech.

If you plan to compete next year, and I hope you do, I strongly recommend attending the Division E contest on Thursday and the District 38 contest in Harrisburg.  This will give you a chance to see real competition speeches as they happen and get a feel of the atmosphere. You’ll also have a chance to talk to the competitors and get their perspective on things. It could be a very powerful experience.

I also recommend goggling, “Toastmasters contest speeches,” and check the video results. You should find some videos of some winning contest speeches there. I am also available to answer any of your questions. Call me at any time, I’ll make time for you.

I hope this answers all of your questions and concerns. I hope to see you and the rest of the crew soon.

Achilles Never Had A Chance; Reveled

Last night, during the Reading Toastmasters by-weekly meeting, I gave the speech I plan to use for the upcoming contest season.  Funny enough, as I mentioned in my last post, I wrote this speech back in 2008.  I then wrote it again after losing my job and found a new one.

It’s funny how ideas for speeches can come along.  One day I was listening to the radio and a Led Zeppelin song I hadn’t heard in a while came on.  The galloping drums and bass along with the orchestral guitar work were instantly familiar to me, but I had forgotten the name of the song.  I looked at the screen of my satellite radio and saw, “Achilles Last Stand.”  I thought to myself, “That would be a great title for a speech!”

When I got home, I did a little research on how Achilles was killed.  I looked for a message I could draw out of the story and use in conjunction with a personal story.  After a couple of hours, I realized that Paris, the man who killed Achilles, used patience as a weapon.  Paris lived a cursed life and was never able to do anything right.  He stayed away from Achilles until he saw a small window of opportunity while Achilles walked with his back toward Paris.  It was then Paris took out his bow and arrow and shot Achilles in his heal.

All I needed was a personal story to go along with this legend and I was sure I could make a powerful and memorable message.  I did decide to use a story which turned out to be slightly prophetic.  I used the story of how I started my job at the time and the pitfalls I had to go through to become proficient.  After I lost my job at the end of 2008 and then found a new one in early 2009, I realized I had a much better story to use.

Since 2009 I had revisited the speech several times making changes and polishing it until I had a shining diamond of a speech.  I began sharing it with audiences and had some great evaluations which I considered as I polished the speech even more. Last night was the first time I used the speech in this contest season.  I had a great group evaluation.  They told me the story of Paris and Achilles was blended very smoothly into my personal story and they also found that the legend helped bring my point across much more clearly.

I didn’t expect to have a perfect evaluation, so when a few people had a couple of areas for improvement, I was very appreciative.  Apparently, I need to work on some of my body language in the beginning and there were a couple of times when I spoke too quickly and slurred some words together.  One valuable suggestion was to go through my speech and simplify any long sentences, so they’d be easier to say without jamming up the words.

All in all, I had a very successful night and I believe it was a great start to a great contest year.  The next time I am scheduled to give the speech is on March 19th.  The day of the 2012 Area 13 International Speech Contest.

The Hiatus

After The Region VII contest, I was determined to use my new found experience to get back to the Regional contest and hopefully farther.  I got a speech called, “Achilles Last Stand” to work out pretty well.  As of December of 2008, it still needed a lot of work, but I felt pretty good about it.

Then everything changed.  On December 12, 2008 I lost my job.  I let as many people as I could know in an attempt to use all of my networking options.  The strategy worked … sort of.  I got lots of leads right away, but because of the economy they didn’t pan out.

I stayed close to Toastmasters because I knew the skills I was practicing kept me sharp for interviews and job searches.  It also provided a system for continuous networking.  In fact, the Division E governor called me one day with a very interesting proposition.  He told me he needed to fill the position of Area 13 Governor, my area, and asked if I would step in.  He felt that my exposure as the Area 13 Governor could result in many more networking opportunities.

I knew he was right, but the request brought me to a very difficult decision.  I loved competing, and I was well on my way to preparing for the upcoming contest season.  If I were to take the area governorship I wouldn’t be able to compete, but I would improve my chances of finding a new job.

After a day of though, I decided to be the Area Governor and I took the position in January 2009, half way through the Toastmasters’ year.  Over the next six months I found the District Leadership role was indispensable for the learning of speaking skills. As Area Governor, I got a close up look at what really goes on behind the scenes of a contest and what it takes to put one on.  I got a better feel of what the judges are looking for and how they are affected by different ideas.  Besides the contest experiances I got more speaking opportunities than I realized I could handle.  I was giving several speeches per month and gaining more experience than I knew what to do with.

The first six months I spent as the Area 13 Governor was extremely rewarding, so when June came around, and I was asked to stay on for the 2009-10 year, I wasted no time in accepting.  Although I was having such a great time in the district leadership during those 18 months, I never stopped dreaming about competing.  I conceived a plan in which I would compete in and win the 2012 Toastmasters International Championship of Public Speaking.  Every few months since the 2008 contest season I worked on improving and experimenting with two speeches; the already proven “Wings and Chains” and a speech which I wrote before I got laid off, but then rewrote after finding another job, “Achilles Last Stand.”

I chose not to compete in the 2011 International Speech Contest and continue to prepare for the 2012 competition as I envisioned.  For me, the 2012 International Competition has been four years in the making.  The speech has changed quite a bit since its original form in 2008 and I’m sure it will continue to change as I learn more about it and how it makes my audiences feel.  Over the last four years, “Achilles Last Stand” changed from being a speech about believing in yourself to a speech about the bedrock of persistence and success; Patience.  In the past few months the name of the speech itself, changed since I realized that Achilles never really did have a “last stand.”  Instead I realized that he never stood a chance in the first place.  Therefore I changed the name to “Achilles Never Stood A Chance.”

I’ve already practiced this speech in front of several groups and had great evaluations.  Tomorrow, February 20, I will take the first step toward the fruition of a four year dream by giving my speech to my home club, Reading Toastmasters.  It won’t be a club contest, since no one else is competing, but it’s extremely important none-the-less.  Tomorrow’s speech and reactions will set the pace and mood for the rest of the contest season; a contest season which I plan to end in Orlando Florida on August 18 by accepting the first place trophy for the International Championship of Public Speaking.

The 2008 Region VII Contest

My relatively disappointing preparation for the Region VII contest was followed up by pulling the worst possible position in the speaking order you can get at a high level Toastmasters Speech Competition; speaker number 1.  You can get away with the number one spot in many of the lower levels because there are usually less contestants and the difference in the talent of each speaker is a little more pronounced.  At the international and regional levels, and to a point the district level, the competition is a lot tighter.  The contestant who speaks first tends to give what ends up being the model speech for the whole competition.  The judges consciously or subconsciously compare all of the other speeches to the first one and by the end, whether it’s fair or not, the judges tend to find a better speech.

Another thing the first speaker has to work with is an audience that hasn’t been warmed up yet.  Many times the business before the contest leaves the audience a little flat.  As the first speaker, I had to warm the audience up and find a way to get them excited enough to convince the judges that I was the best speaker and I had to do that with a speech I wasn’t very confident in.

The whole atmosphere of the contest was one that I found very powerful.  These where some of the best speakers on the east coast I had an opportunity to listen to and, whether it was justified or not, I was very honored to be counted among them.   The trip from Reading, PA to Washington D.C. was definitely worth-while just to see the contest.  It almost didn’t matter that when the night was over, I received the very unsurprising news that I had not placed in the contest.  In fact, by my own calculations, I believe I came in dead last.

Anyway, as soon as the 2008 Region VII conference was over, thoughts of the next year filled my head.  I had a couple of ideas for speeches and, of course, my region contest speech was already written.  Little did I know that the disasters in my life where not quite finished yet and things would not quite work out the way I expected them to.