Category Archives: speaking

When it rains, it pours

Today (Thursday) is the area-level Toastmasters international speech contest. I don’t feel prepared for it at all. Unlike the other contestants, I haven’t spent weeks preparing for it. I still haven’t finalized which anecdotes I’ll tell and in what order. Argh.

Today I also have a chance to watch Take the Lead for free. Well, nearly free. TTC fare round-trip. Whatever. Antonio Banderas! Ballroom dance plus hip-hop moves! Antonio Banderas! Dancing!


Decisions, decisions. I’m the only person who’s even somewhat prepared to represent my club at the speech contest, as no one else volunteered for the thing. If other people are bad (unlikely!), I might even win and go on to the district conference, etc. Even if I don’t win, though, I’ll have a chance to listen to other speakers and learn a
little bit more about style and technique.

From the take-the-first-circus perspective, Toastmasters wins hands down. This particular contest will occur only once. I can always watch the movie when it comes out in the cinema or six months from now during some Graduate House movie night. I’ll probably end up watching it by myself. It’s one of those cheesy feel-good movies that my guy
friends would probably not be caught watching.

But I’m _still_ going to wish the two events were on different days, and I’m still going to hate performing. I’m not excited about this contest. I’ll just to have to grit my teeth and turn up the energy. I’ll go to the contest, give my speech, listen to other people’s speeches, and maybe learn a lot about what I like and don’t like.

The last contest wasn’t that much fun, either. I joined the humorous speech contest six months ago. The first speech relied on scatological humor, which was a bit crass. My speech was so-so, although I got a few laughs. I didn’t really find the last speech funny, but it was more of a speech – used more of the techniques, had more special

I know competitions are nice for forcing myself to grow. I learned so much because of my programming competitions. In terms of speaking, though, I much prefer listening to and interacting with the speakers I meet at conferences. I don’t like competing head-on with people. I’d rather measure myself against a standard, competing against myself to
get better.

I’m just not excited about my upcoming speech. Come to think of it, I’m not that excited about learning from the other speakers, either, not if the speech quality’s like the last contest.

<sigh> Maybe this is a lesson in just doing something. I’ll probably go to the contest and do the best I can, but I’m going to have to fix this sense of unease. The Toastmasters people aren’t bad. They’ve been nice to me, and I’ll probably find enough to keep myself busy and involved. Then I’ll go home, heat up some dinner – whatever’s in the
fridge, probably lasagna – and have myself lots and lots of hot chocolate. Maybe I’ll bug James or Mike for some company so that the place isn’t too quiet.

I wish my family and friends were here (or at least in a closer timezone!) so that I could ask them for advice, or so that they could push the Toastmasters event from being something I have to get through to something I’d enjoy. I’m telling _our_ story, and it’s kinda sad having to cast it as a bloody speech with an introduction, body and conclusion instead of just part of our shared memory. Ay, Clair and the rest of my barkada gathered around that vegan sinigang, my father making jokes… How am I going to tell this story without missing you all terribly?

I don’t want to give a speech. I want to be able to talk to friends. Right. That’s how I should think of it. A roomful of strangers who are paying more attention to the structure of my speech than to its content – I should forget that, and treat them as people to whom I’d like to introduce my other friends, to whom I’d like to tell stories about the warmth I’ve felt. I shouldn’t think about anything else I could be doing. I should live in the moment.

I’m not ready to give this speech. Then again, I’ve never been ready to give any speech. I’ve always just gone out there and done it. I’ve promised not to be intellectually lazy, not to take the easy way out, and that includes this. Watching a movie would be self-indulgent. This is going to be annoying, but it’ll probably help me grow. And if it
doesn’t, well, I’ll have hot chocolate and an unexpectedly productive evening…

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Next slide, please

“Next slide, please.” You know, I really should just buy myself a nice
wireless presenter’s mouse. I’ll be totally popular at conferences and
stuff. I know I hate having to say, “Next slide, please” – but who has
the time (and foresight) to provide someone with a script? I’m
surprised no one brought one to the IBM summit, but it’s a specialty
item, so I guess that makes sense…

If we’re heading out tonight, I’m definitely passing by a computer
store and buying myself a mouse. =)

Random Japanese sentence: 最近の猫はネズミを食べない。 A recent cat does not eat the rat.

An alien experience

I’ve been in Canada for a year, and from time to time I still feel
very alien. Last night, I mispronounced “adolescence”. In moments of
inattention, I often forget how to pronounce words I already know,
because I just “read” them in my mind. Sometimes I try to use a word
I’ve never even heard someone else say. When this is brought to my
attention, I accept and remember the correction—but it’s difficult
for me to squelch that sudden feeling of insecurity, of feeling

My accent grows thicker the longer I stay here—or is it just that I
notice it more? I pause more, gesture more, stumble over words more
than I remember doing. And yes, from time to time, I say things that
people don’t understand until I repeat myself or spell things out. It
distracts them from what I’m trying to say. (Although it does show
that they’re paying attention! =) )

One way to deal with this is to learn the phonetic alphabet and read
the dictionary. Computer-based dictionaries tend to not have
pronunciation guides. Web-based ones don’t let me flip through them
for random words, although I think I should scale back on that a bit
and focus more on great combinations of words. I sound too bookish

The best thing to do, I suppose, is to listen. I need to listen to
more things. I need to listen to people with wide vocabularies and
well-expressed thoughts. I really should format that iPod or do some
other magic so that I can connect it to my laptop and make the most of

I need to be exposed to the sound of other people’s voices. My media
diet is almost entirely print and web. I don’t watch television, and I
hardly listen to the radio. I should fix that at least with audiobooks
and podcasts.

And maybe I can pay more attention to the experience created by
sound… It takes a certain skill to form sentences that sound good. I
should learn that. It’ll be fun. =) Right, there’s something I need to
work on.

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Taking the Terror out of Talk

Does the thought of speaking in public make you anxious? Want some
tips on how to deal with the butterflies in your stomach? Come to the
Toast I.T. Toastmasters Open House on Oct 10, 2006 for a fun,
informative session!

I’m giving one of the Toastmasters International educational modules
called “Taking the Terror out of Talk”. It will be part of the 229th
meeting of Toast I.T. Toastmasters, so you’ll also get to see a little
bit of what Toastmasters is like.

This is free, so come on over!

Toast I.T. Toastmasters
Metro Hall
55 John Street, Toronto, Ontario (map)
Oct 10, 2006 (Tuesday)
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

(And even if you’re a polished public speaker, come anyway to show
support and share tips! ;) )

Photo credit: Cherie, Creative Commons Attribution License, from Flickr.

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Upcoming events

image My proposal was accepted at an IBM conference on best practices! I’m thrilled to have all these opportunities to share what I’m learning and to learn even more from other people. It’s a little mindboggling dealing with all of this as an early-career employee with less than half a year on the job, but I know from personal experience just how wonderful public speaking is when it comes to networking and connecting with people.

I’ll need to work extra hard to balance all these conferences with paying work, and to show the business value of all of that. It’s a bit of a challenge in the consulting world where we’re supposed to maximize our utilization, but maybe it will work out well.

To help keep track of all the conferences, articles, and other significant events on my horizon, I’ve added an upcoming events widget below the calendar on my blog. I used MagpieRSS and PHP to read the XML file from Google Calendar, and I did a little regular expression magic to get just the dates and locations. Maybe you’ll find it useful too!

Business responsibilities come first. If my clients aren’t happy, I may just have to pull out of some of the conferences. I think everything will work out, though, and the conferences will help me bring even more value to my client work!

Notes from "Networking 2.0: Blogging Your Way Out of a Job and Into a Career"; the experience of speaking

[mostly drafted right after I got home]

I just got back from a presentation I gave to the Concordia University Alumni Association on blogging your way out of a job into a career. My voice is a little hoarse and my feet are slowly getting reacquainted with the ground. No, seriously–I must remember not to wear those heels to presentations. But I really enjoyed sharing those stories and tips, and I’m glad that people found the presentation not only informative but also entertaining.

What did I do well?

The combination of blogging, social networking, writing, and self-development in a single talk made this one really pop with passion. I love sharing my experiences and tips on social media because I can’t wait to see what other people will do with it, and if there’s anything I can do to help them get over that rut, that’s awesome! This passion and all the practice I’ve had talking about these topics made it really easy to get up there and focus on making a connection.

I used the rule of three all over the place: passion, skills, and network; "I don’t know what to do, I don’t have the time, I don’t know who’ll read it;" remember, reflect, reach out; start a blog, share regularly, reach out. This fractal structure helped me prepare the presentation (not too long, not too short), remember what I was going to say, and show some semblance of order in the presentation.

I put in some effort and a few dollars into visually fixing up this presentation with stock illustrations from Most of my presentations have been plain text (white on a black background, usually), but I felt like giving graphics a try. The coordinated graphics I use helped make my presentation feel more fun for me. Practice will help me get better and better at communicating visually as well as verbally…

I rehearsed the entire talk while reading my speaker notes, recording it as an MP3. I looped over this recording during my commute today. This helped keep the topics in my mind. I also printed out a few pages of slide handouts (9 slides per page) to visually anchor my talk as I rehearsed it mentally. During the actual presentation, this practice helped me remember the key points I wanted to make for each slide. Giving myself permission to say things differently helped me not only avoid anxiety (which would have made it even harder to remember what I wanted to say!) but also work within that flexible framework to match the interest of the audience.

I built interactivity into the talk, with two networking breaks and a number of shows of hands. One of the things I love about speaking to a small audience is the challenge and experience of listening while I’m talking. I’m not always good at this. My own enthusiasm sometimes makes it hard for me to slow down! But the physical experience of listening to people’s eyes, people’s postures, people’s smiles, feeling that itch in my hands and in my bones as I find myself attuned to their energy… Wow.

What can I do better next time? (Yes, see, I really do this!)

The key thing that will make this even better would be to make sure someone else is in charge of recording. ;) You know, someone who’ll remember to bring fresh batteries instead of dead ones, someone who’ll remember to actually start the voice recorder, someone who’ll get all of that sorted out. When I’m out there, I’m just too caught up in the moment, in the opportunity to connect with people,

I could use some more planning. I’m glad that people felt comfortable asking me questions throughout the presentation. I completely forgot about defining what a blog is in the first place, silly me, and other things like that which I inevitably discover right after the projector’s turned off. Such is life. Next time, I’ll try listening to my recording with my newbie hat firmly on.

And I should probably bring along a fishbowl and collect people’s business cards or e-mail addresses so that I can make it easier to keep in touch after the talk! =)