Two weeks ago I spent the weekend in Malmö at Toastmasters Division G Conference, that is the Nordic Championship in public speaking. Malmö Toastmasters had made phenomenal work with the program and all of the arrangements. The weekend was full of excellent program and people who share the same passion for good communication and leadership skills.
The definite highlights of the program were the keynote speech and workshop from Olivia Schofield, 2011 Women’s World Champion in public speaking. It is not often you get to meet such accomplished speakers. Here are some of the learnings that I took away from the two sessions Olivia gave.
1. It takes a whole lot of preparation and incremental development
Olivia told that a high level competition speech often takes 5-6 months of preparation. Well, it is not like they would be preparing the speech in a cabinet for half year and then just come on stage with it, but to make it to the finals, the speech needs to evolve constantly. The Toastmasters competition format also sets the demand for incremental development for two reasons 1. At each stage of the competition some of the judges may already have heard the speech, so you need to provide them something fresh and new 2. At each stage (area -> division -> district -> world) the audience is a bit different and therefore you need to adapt the speech to suit the specific audience. At the final stage of the competition the speech may be whole different than what it was half year back.
What can business presenters take away from this: Understand that creating powerful messages takes time and incremental development. The powerful pitch is not a microwave meal and it’s never ready.
2. We´re in the movie business
Olivia´s own keynote speech, which was partly the same as her speech in Las Vegas in 2011, was a lot like watching a movie. The storyline of her speech had all of the elements of a classical drama
- The introduction of the protagonist – Olivia in childhood
- Rising tension – Her adversities in childhood due to her speech impediment and her character
- The conflict – An incident at a musical audition that made her abandon dancing, so far the one love of her life
- The escape to periphery – Olivia switching schools and jobs in trying to find her own voice
- The resolution – Olivia finally finding her own voice and courage at Toastmasters
- The climax – Olivia at Las Vegas in World Championship
- Denouement – Her being disqualified due to 15 secs overtime, but finding at the same time that she had already gained so much during the trip
In addition to this classical drama storyline Olivia had an incredible ability to feel the audience, slow the pace of the speech at times and get everyone’s attention on what is being said – you could have heard a pin hit the floor at those moments. After which she charged ahead again and took the audience to another round of a rollercoaster ride. In speaking or presenting, as in movies, the variation of pace creates contrasts and keeps the audience interested.
What can business presenters take away from this: A clear storyline helps in absorbing the message, a movie-like storyline keeps the audience interested throughout the speech or presentation. Combine this with the ability to feel the audience and to animate the story with vocal variety and body langugage , you have dynamite presentation!
3. When competing with the best, it’s the small things that make the difference
Olivia’s workshop shed light on some of the things that make the difference between a good speech and a great speech. One such thing is what Olivia called the musicality of the speech. It involves such things as the pitch and volume of the voice, but it concerns the selection of words as well and especially how words work in combination. For example, ”intelligent as Einstein” or ”smart as Einstein”. Although ”intelligent” could be the word that better describes the intellectual qualities of Einstein it may not sound as good in speaking as the short word-long word combination ”smart as Einstein”. Another example was from her own speech in Las Vegas: ”speech defect” or ”speech impediment”. Again the short word-long word combination and with the word ”impediment” having a rolling ending in speaking was the more musical choice.
Olivia told that she took the pursuit for musicality to such extent that she could be editing one sentence for hours. And at the end that very sentence was excluded from the speech! But you could hear from her keynote speech that the effort had paid off, I noted some word choices that really resonated with me such as ”Feelings of failure fested in me” and ”you can let failure define you and confine you, or you can let go and leave it behind you”
What can business presenters take away from this: Small things matter. Does the word selection sound good in speaking? Does your presentation have musical and memorable tag lines? If not, reconsider your word selections.
It was also nice to notice how down to earth Olivia is. She had allotted the time for this conference, gave very thorough feedback to all of the competition speakers, and had time to for everyone. All this, despite the fact she is circulating Europe and North America all the time for profession.
There were many other great presentations at Malmö such as Elizabeth Nostedt’s workshop on persuasive presentations, and, of course, the competition speeches! No wonder I came home exhausted and with bunch of notes from all of the great sessions. Thanks Malmö Toastmasters!