Like a Roller Coaster

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Written by: Nando Miranda

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The first time I ever rode a real roller coaster was when I was 8 years old. My parents took my three older siblings and I to Disney World near Kissimmee, Florida, during a road trip from Charleston, South Carolina, to Montgomery, Alabama. We had spent the previous three years at the Panama Canal Zone where my father was stationed. We were oblivious to American television commercials and amusement parks.

Space Mountain was the name of this roller coaster. It still exists to this day. And yes, I was scared out of my shorts, no less. After the anticipation of waiting in line coupled with a great fear of the unknown, my white knuckles gripped the safety bars as the car slowly lurched clackety-clack up the hill, in total darkness!

Space, the Final Frontier.

Countdown!

10-9-8…..

No way to turn back now!

6-5-4…

I’m going to die! I’m going to die!

2-1

BLAST OFF!

Oh my gosh, all I saw was space around me! Stars, galaxies, meteors, comets smothered with a sudden moment of panic as I thought to myself, I can’t see the track!

Not knowing where this coaster was going, I squinted my eyes and focused ahead trying to catch a glimpse of a falling star illuminating any tiny part of the dark track. I tried to figure out how far this first drop was going to last and predict which direction the car would turn next. Not only did the designers of Space Mountain give me the fear of a fast, indoor coaster, but being virtually “blind” during the trip was a cruel, yet welcome, added bonus.

Whenever I prepare a speech for my Toastmasters Club in Helsinki, Finland, called Stadi Talkers, I think about Space Mountain. I have the same chills beforehand, the anticipation, the butterflies in the stomach, the preparation, the self-questioning stage, the point of no return, the out-of-body self-awareness of all eyes on me, including my own. Ridiculous, but true.

I just signed up for speech #7.

10 days out

I have time to prepare.

5 days out

What is my topic? What is my structure?

3 days out

I’m going to die! I’m going to die!

Prepare, practice, then deliver!

Do you know what is the best part of the speech writing process for me? I am the designer. I can map out how I want my audience to experience it. I can also build the introduction and the conclusion to have any effect. But most importantly, I am the creator of twists and turns and drops and hills and varying speeds, of which, the audience has no clue. Of course each audience member may try to figure out what would be said next, some of them perhaps more accurately than others, but they are all essentially — in the dark.

You have to ask yourself.  Which do you enjoy more? Being the roller coaster passenger? Listening to speeches without knowing what is to come? Or do you prefer to create your own roller coaster and let it unfold before the audience as they experience it?

I highly suggest you aim to become an expert in both roles. Learn to be a better listener and practice to become a better public speaker. With both, you’ll need to have your mind and eyes wide open facing your own fears. Regardless of what you try first, you will induce the same feelings of foreboding, anticipation, excitement, butterflies, a sense of relief that it is all over, but above all, you will obtain a sense of accomplishment.

You have survived, you are alive! Now go and build your own Space Mountain!

– Photo of Space Mountain by Nando Miranda. All rights reserved.

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Say it to me, as a friend

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Few days ago, I saw Tom Hooper’s much acclaimed “The Kings’ speech”, the astonishing true story of King George VI who once feared being called George the Stammer wouldn’t he have found his “voice” thanks to the unconventional methods of an Australian “speech therapist” who gradually turned into a friend, Lionel Hogue.  This movie is a must-see not only because of Colin Firth’s (George VI) and Geoffrey Rush’s (Lionel Logue) outstanding interpretations and the uniqueness of their characters’ relationship, but also because it can only touch us in the heart of our communication and leadership aspirations. King George VI’s handicap was of such nature that it indeed required an adapted therapy for curing, but many scenes reminded me of the regular training provided by Toastmasters and the efforts we produce in order to ameliorate the quality of our lives as communication beings.

1) to improve your public speaking skills, listen to yourself

For improving our ability to speak, we have to listen first and listen to the only voice we would generally prefer not to listen to: our own. At times, it is a cruel exercise as it might reveal a person in which we do not recognize ourselves. Acknowledging own strengths and weaknesses is however a first and indispensable step in bettering our way of delivering speeches. “The King’s speech” shows it in the most dramatic way when Lionel Logue suggests the at the time Duke of York to tape his voice and listen to it.

I don’t want to reveal more about the result and subsequent challenges inherent to this exercise because the story is so appealing that you really should see the movie to discover what happened, but it stroke me that taping own voice was an incredibly innovative technology at the time, and that the wide availability and variety of affordable technologies for taping and videotaping  at our disposal nowadays have not equally prompted their use for the purpose of perfecting our persuasiveness and expressiveness (such technologies are supported by e.g. http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ or http://www.youtube.com)… Wouldn’t it be wiser to give it a try at least – and I address here to my fellow Toastmasters particularly?

2) to improve your public speaking skills, get feedback from your audiences

Listening is also the main task of any audience. George VI’s attempts to tame his tottering in such unusual situations as addressing a full Wembley Stadium during his first oration – broadcasted by radio to the entire British Empire involving thus an audience of several millions auditors – can only fill us with a sense of relief when it comes to our Toastmasters first public speech called the “icebreaker”… Unlike George VI, we are fortunate to have an emphatic and interactive audience at Toastmasters: people who share the same objectives (improving their communication and leadership skills) and who will give us feedback on every aspect of our performance in a structured and easy way (body language, eye contact, voice, tone, rhythm, grammar, structure, etc…).

Geoffrey Rush’s line as Lionel Logue “Say it to me, as friend” encompasses everything about the unique environment Toastmasters creates for us to meliorate this fantastic ability to tell things and have people listen to us!

3) to improve your public speaking skills, relentlessly train

There is no secret: to become a great public speaker, we have to train, and train again because by training we gain confidence from practicing rather than from absorbing all possible self help books on the topic. The result of such training is often perceivable in our renewed ability to catch an audience’s attention with the real us – rather than with a book formatted us. The movie “The King’s Speech” shows it beautifully as the King rehearses his speeches with the support of those who believe in him and he gradually grows into the person he was meant to be: serving his nation as a hero king, being an entertaining father and husband, forcing the admiration of all.

To conclude, I would say this:

1) GO and see the movie “The King’s speech” and if you recognize some areas in your public speaking you would like to improve, then…

2) JOIN a Toastmasters meeting to find a Toastmasters group in your town, use the locator function on www.toastmasters.org (Meetings in Finland are also taken on this blog and on www.toastmasters.fi) . Attending as a guest is free of charge and you will then be in a position to decide if Toastmasters can help you improving in the areas you are planning to improve and especially gain in terms of eloquence.

3) TAPE your training and post it on this blog for feedback: if you are preparing for a speech, tape yourself in the format you feel most comfortable with and ask for feedback on this blog. We will make sure some experienced Toastmasters will give you feedback on how to improve it… how does that sound?

4) Be the first to fully review this text and win a Finnkino movie ticket (valid for one person, one session, in Finnkino cinema’s in Finland until May 2011): as my text proves, I am not a native English speaker but I am always very pleased to receive suggestions for correction. If you are the first to suggest a full set of corrections to the above text (vocabulary,  grammar) in a comment to this post, you will get a ticket to go to the movies (and who knows maybe see “the King’s speech”?)…

Article by Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti

Start the year by joining a Toastmasters meeting!

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The great thing about our times is that, more than ever before, IF WE WANT TO, IT IS POSSIBLE! In the context of the beginning of the year, where we are pressed to produce our New Year’s resolutions list on the pattern of a strategical report we shall commit to all throughout the year, such sentence might sound phony – such resolutions being at best wishful thinking.

a Toastmaster (TM) in action

At Toastmasters it is made very easy to improve our communication and leadership skills, if we only take this first step of acknowledging how essential their improvement are in building of a successful professional career and a fulfilling life – and then act upon it. To those who share this belief, the different Toastmasters groups in Finland (see list at end of this post) are sending them the following invitation: JOIN a toastmasters meeting this year – for free as a guest – and form your own opinion about how this organization and its training in public speaking could support your aspirations. Wouldn’t it be fantastic it helps you to reach your self development goals in communication and leadership as it helped millions of people around the world? Wouldn’t it be fantastic you end up being a “competent communicator” at your own pace? The only think you need to do is try once and decide…

Group of TM members

So, here is a calendar of the Toastmasters sessions organized all throughout Finland in the beginning of this year. If you like the principle, you might consider joining Toastmasters as a member or implementing the scheme within your company or in your city. What is certain, is that you will find people who share the same goals as you and who are ready to help you reach yours!

  • Helsinki

Group 1: Stadi Talkers, 10th January, 24th January, 7th February, 21st February 18:00-19:40 at the Dubliner’s, Mannerheimintie

To register and obtain more details about one of the above Stadi Talkers meetings, please go to: http://district59.eu/profile.php?mode=email&u=4966

Group 2: Helsinki Toastmasters, 20th January, 3rd February, 17th February 17:15-19:00 in Keiluranta

To register and obtain more details about one of the above Helsinki Toastmasters meetings, please go to: http://helsinki.toastmasters.fi/index.php?q=TM_attendance:

  • Hyvinkää

    Annie Peng, Hyvinkää Toastmasters

     

13th January, 17th January, 10th February, 24th February 16:30-18:00 at KoneCranes

To register and obtain more details about one of the above Hyvinkää Toastmasters meetings, please go to: http://district59.eu/profile.php?mode=email&u=8670

  • Tampere

13th January, 17th January, 10th February, 24th February 17:30-19:00 at TAKK – Tampere Vocational Adult Education Centre

To register and obtain more details about one the above Tampere Toastmasters meetings, go to: http://district59.eu/profile.php?mode=email&u=8167

  • Nokia (company group)

TM Tuire

 

If you attend one of these meetings, do not hesitate to comment on this post and share your opinion about the benefits and possible improvements to the Toastmasters meetings!

Article by Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti