Be Like Water, my final Toastmasters speech for 2007

This was my final Toastmasters speech for the year and my 10th, which I passed. It is also the final speech in the first level: Competent Communicator:

Madam Toastmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen…

For the longest time I did not understand the difference between motivation and inspiration. However, as I kept studying and learning I believe the key difference is that motivation is when some external force is required to move you forward, while in inspiration, there is an inner force that directs you. And so if you consider for a moment how much of your ambitions, dreams or goals never materialise its likely due to the fact that you lost motivation or lost steam along the way. This is the opposite of what I want to share with you tonight.

Tonight I will share 3 principles with you by which I live my life:

Principle 1: Empty Your Mind

Now I’m sure you have all heard the old clich?d question: Is your glass half full or half empty? This is a common expression, used rhetorically to indicate that a particular situation could be a cause for optimism (half full), pessimism (half empty) or as a general litmus test to simply determine if an individual is an optimist or a pessimist.

A Zen master received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. The Master served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” the Master said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

How is this relevant to Toastmasters? It’s simply: If you do not empty your mind before coming to a Toastmasters meeting you will not learn anything. What is clear to me is that most people attending Toastmasters meeting indeed follow this way of thinking.

Principle 2: Letting Go (Accept Things As They Are)

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Fake it till you make it when speaking in Durban

There is a very popular saying in the seduction community that you should fake it till you make it with women. What they mean is that you should pretend you have confidence until you develop real inner confidence. And the same goes for confident body language, etc.

This last week I’ve been giving talks on MXit and Blogging in Durban. This is one of the most beautiful cities in South Africa and especially the North Coast where I was staying in guest house, On the Beach.

Anyway this morning I presented a Blogging seminar for a paid audience organised by, a specialist e-business and web design company. The venue was excellent, the room was packed, the mic was there, and the projector was set-up. Just after I started my presentation we completely lost all electricity in the area. This took me by surprise for a brief moment. There has been so many power outages in South Africa for the last year or so it was not a complete shock to the audience.

I immediately continued to share some stories with the audience. Someone opened the windows so we could get some sun light. And so I proceeded, be it a bit shaken by the loss of my presentation. My instincts kicked in and I proceeded to talk. I know one thing that happened was that I spoke faster. And I ended the presentation with an hour instead of the agreed 1.5 hours. We took questions and there a good response from most the audience. The feedback I received afterwards was generally positive. In my own mind I tried my best to remain calm. There is something about fake till you make it that came into play here. Because I was really ensure how to proceed without my presentation. I think we in business have developed a unnatural reliance on visual presentations. So even though it can enhance the message being delivered, it should never be the primary source of stimulation for your audience.

The best comment I received was my Toastmasters club would be proud with how I handled the loss of electricity and smoothly moved on and continued to delivery my presentation on Blogging. So the last word here is to take it till you make it. Just continue talking as if nothing happened and your audience will follow your lead. Remember you set the tone of the engagement. And most people are going to look to you fo reassurance of some kind.


Really bad Powerpoint is worse with really bad Speaking

I am by no means an expert public speaker but I am on my way to becoming one. Why do I say make this statement that sounds slightly arrogant? In fact it’s not arrogant at all it is me brimming with self-confidence because I know that I am learning and practising the basics. The fundamentals in any discipline ends up being the foundation in which your success is built on. So when it comes to public speaking and delivering presentations at conferences there are right ways of doing things and wrong ways of doing things.

The first is really being prepared. From my Toastmasters club I have learned this lesson over and over to the point where I have rather cancelled a speech than force myself to go ahead. No yes you can have courage to do something unprepared and with a little luck you may survive. The masters teach competence over courage. You will always have a slight edge to you if you are competent with a little fear than courages and ignorant about the reality of situations.

Anyway for the two days I sat through one of the worse conferences I have ever attended. I don’t really care so much about the fact that it was not well attended but more so for the fact that the speakers was really, really bad. And you have to remember that these were professionals, mostly men, with many years of business experience. And the sad fact is that most of them desperately need to be sent on presentation skills AND public speaking courses. Without naming names I will present some of the common mistakes made and some remedies for you to consider…

1. Reading off your presentation

You may as well stop right here. If you are going to read from your presentation you have already lost the audience. Why? They can read faster than you! You must know your subject so well that you only need a few keywords. And Guy Kawasaki describes the optimal font size as 30 pts in his 10/20/30 rule on Powerpoint presentations. The fact that speakers have to read off there presentation says two things: first you are not prepared and second you don’t know how to create effective slides

2. Really bad Powerpoint

This is also the name of a free ebook by Marketing legend Seth Godin. Some of the speakers had such a plethora of colours, animation and text going on it was virtually impossible to read these slides. Yes they end up looking very nice, very fancy but it serves absolutely no purpose. These slides probably take much longer to prepare as well. You must keep it short and simple. From an excellent website called Presentation Zen I recently discovered the Takahashi Method which uses ONLY REALLY BIG TEXT in his presentations.

3. So what factor?

I would blame this partially on the organisers and partially on the speakers. In marketing or communicating a message to an audience you have to tune into radio WIIFM as my friend Tony Roocroft always used to say. For those of you who don’t know WIIFM stands for “What’s In It For Me!” and this is one of the most important questions you must ask yourself, placing yourself in the shoes of the audience, before speaking. I really could care less about most of the presentations. There was no flow, nothing to connect them together.

4. Focus

Focussing on one topic, a central theme, is really important to convey your message. While many of the speakers were all over the show a few them had a really good focus. What happens with narrow focus is becomes much easier to captivate the audience’s attention. You are also able to spend more time with stories and therefore get your message across by way of analogy. Our brains are not programmed to absorb large amounts of raw date, like numbers and statistics in large amounts. In general you are better served by stories that create visual images or when speakers use word pictures.

5. Bad body language

Most of the speakers were either looking at their laptops or looking at the projector screen. Therefore they were not making any eye contact with the audience. And even though it was not a sell-out crowd there were people there who were hungry for attention. Again part of the blame must be assigned to the organisers who did not take the time to evaluate the presentations or speakers. Just because somebody is some kind of corporate executive it does not mean they are a good communicator.

In summary I am very fortunate to have been exposed to presentation skills while working at Deloitte in 1999. During a team building weekend in the Drakensberg my team won the best presentation and being the team leader who delivered the presentation brings back some awesome memories. This path that I have chosen of public speaking is part of my core genius or unique ability.