Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tennis Tips for Timely Toastmasters


Visual Aids SPEECH

Bag of tricks including pie chart on clipboard (set on table next to lectern), coat of pockets full of balls, cellphone running Toastmaster timer


Once upon a time my friend Mary

A Venus around whom I had orbited for years without hope of a touchdown,

said, you should learn to play tennis!

I thought, oh yeah, she wants me .... to play tennis.

On a hot, sweaty asphalt court, I faced her perfection across the net, gave the ball a little toss, and smashed it with all the hormone-laden power of million years of male evolution.

It rocketed across the court, slammed against the far wall, and rolled back to the net.

I preened.

She said “Long”.


“Randy, it doesn’t matter how hard you hit it. If it goes too long, no score.”

No score. Not then, not later.

Speaking opportunities are like that. You have 5 minutes on a busy agenda, 2 minutes in a public comment period,15 seconds in the elevator with the CEO.  It doesn’t matter how hard you hit, if you miss the timeframe: no score.

Have confidence that you can get your idea across in a short time. Abraham Lincoln was preceded at Gettysburg by the most famous orator of his time, who gave a two-hour speech and is, today, a trivia question. Lincoln’s Address was ten sentences. Toastmasters helps us be like more Abe, speaking not just with force but economy.

I thought of this when I analyzed the times of  40 speeches given recently in this Club
– BLOCK PIECHART FRONT OF LECTERN - 1 in 3 ran long – including two of mine! I asked myself, how can I keep from going long again.

I found three ways
1.    Write Short

If I wrote 7 minutes of material for this 5-7 minute speech, I can’t afford for you to laugh. So don’t! If I wrote a five minute speech, I could let you react, or have time for ad lib callback to a previous speech, or even BLOCK PAUSE a pause to emphasize a particular point that just seems right.

When I write, ideas appear BLOCK PULL OUT BALLS on the bus, in a store, in the bathroom. Clever phrases, little jokes, all good. Pretty soon your arm is full of balls. You can’t play tennis with a handful of balls, you must put most of them back in the bag.

It’s the same with this speech. I had to put most of the ideas back in the bag. There’s nothing wrong with them, but you can only serve one at a time. Those clever ideas are still there for the next speech.

2.    How do you know the length of your speech? Practice with a timer
Tennis courts often have a line on the back wall at the height of the net. Players turn around and hit the ball over and over, just clearing that line so they know they targeting is on. Over and over and over. It’s not just practice, it’s a fun little mini-game in itself.

Speeches move in time, not space, so in place of a line on the wall we need BLOCK SHOW TIMER APP the Toastmasters timer app on your smartphone. Fire up the app once a day, and give your 5-7 minute speech, every day for a week or two. How long will that take you? 5-7 minutes. While you’re drinking your morning coffee. Don’t fret, this is not drudgery – it is a fun little mini-game. Your first tries will be off but the act of practice with feedback will make you hit your line.

3.    How do you end? Practice your killshot. That’s your conclusion.
It is fun to volley, I say something to you, you send back a laugh or a frown, we go back and forth. But at some point I have to hit it in with perfectly practiced conclusion. If you can practice only 2 minutes a day, practice your one minute conclusion twice – because that is your killshot.
Here is a little secret: if you forget half your speech because your mind gets fuzzy (and that happens to all of us) or if you run out of time BLOCK SHOW TIMER you can just jump right to your conclusion with total conviction, half of the audience will jump along with you. The audience does not know that they are missing if you go right to your conclusion like I am now. 

I have not seen Mary for 30 years, but what she taught in that short tennis lesson sticks.

1.    Write short. Leave a few balls in the bag. BLOCK: PUT BALLS IN BAG. There will be other games and other speeches

2.    Practice getting your shot and your speech the right length, using training tools. BLOCK: PUT TIMER IN BAG


You will score – on the court  and at the lectern.