HubSpot Toastmasters Blog


4 Core Areas to focus when preparing for your speech

Posted by Anand Rajaram

Sep 16, 2013, 4:00 PM

As you progress on your 10-speech journey towards becoming a Competent Communicator, Each speech focuses on a key concept. However, there are certain elements applicable to all speeches. None of these are surprising. In fact they are pretty obvious and kind of boring, Yet, not always followed (sort of like eating your veggies and exercising every day). They tend to make the difference between an average speech and an exceptional.

1. Know thy audience

As illustrated in Six Minutes blog, the best speeches are at the intersection of what you know, what you love and what your audience cares about. This is the most important takeaway (very obvious, yet most commonly ignored). If your audience cannot relate to the topic or doesnt care for it, nothing else matters.

2. Start with an outline

What really helps me is to have a clearly defined outline. Structuring the speech in three key parts (the opening, middle and the end) is a proven approach that gives a clear structure to your speech. I also like to memorize the opening, the end and the key transition phrases between the three parts. I typically spend 40 - 50% of my total preparation time on the outline. A strong outline is key to an engaging speech. Another practical tip, especially if you are a bit nerdy like me: When preparing your outline, opt for a whiteboard or paper. That way you can focus on it (no distracting emails) and you can easily try different approaches without feeling too committed to a single approach early on. 

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

The difference between a good speech and a great speech is practice. Yeah, this is even more obvious than "Know thy Audience" and even less followed. I'd practice in front of a mirror (or a camera) a couple of times before I practice with my mentor (If you havent already signed up for a ToastSpot mentor, you should). I have got great actionable feedback before every one of my speeches and presentations. (Special thanks to Maggie and Sarah who have helped me out on this). Practicing is the best way to weed out crutch words in your speech. If there are specific areas that you are working on, be sure to let your mentor know during the practice. For example, I always feel I dont pause enough, and ask my mentors to specifically look for that in my practice speeches. 

4. Right before the speech

Body language expert Amy says that practicing power poses before your speech could give you a sense of confidence and a "go get 'em" attitude. If you have any pre-speech rituals, go right ahead and follow them. (I tend to take a long walk to the kitchen, fill up some water and take three deliberate sips. No judging!) Make a mental note of how / where you can use the Word of the day in your speech. Look around in the audience and make a mental note of where the familiar faces are sitting. Familiar faces are a great starting point to make eye contact during your speech. 

And here is a bonus point: 

5. After the speech

Congratulations. You just took another strong step towards becoming a great public speaker. Hopefully your speech was very well received by the audience. Be easy on yourself. I often find myself in a position where I focus only on all the things that I forgot to mention or a specific transition that did not come out as I had intended. It is all right. Enjoy the rest of the evening. Be sure to take note of specific areas to work on for the next speech and make the most of the evaluators' feedback. Afterall, Toastmasters is supposed to be (and is) fun. 

What has helped you when preparing for your speech? Practice any rituals? Know any secrets ? Did I miss anything obvious? Let me know in these comments.


Meeting Notes for Mar 7, 2013

Posted by Anand Rajaram

Mar 8, 2013, 10:19 AM

We had an amazing meeting yesterday. After Steve Haase welcomed the 17 attendees and kicked things off as Toastmaster, we had a great Thought for the day by Maggie quoting Voltaire : "Perfect is the enemy of good" . Excellent thought, and sage advice especially for Product Managers like me.

This was followed by the word of the day, by, Peter Scher. Exude : to display abundantly or conspicuously. (which was very well used by the Toastmaster and in the speeches).

We had three great Speeches for the night.

  • Anum Hussain's Icebreaker speech was about How the passions you have as a child translate to the man or woman you end up being. Excellent Icebreaker speech that gave us a peek into Anum's childhood adventures.
  • Lindsay Kirchoff's Second speech about "Awkwardness" had great references to current pop culture and painted contrasting pictures of individuals from the present generation who embraced their awkwardness and those that didn't. And for the record, no, there were no awkward pauses during the speech.
  • Amy Ullman's Fourth speech on "My first wine tasting", transported us to Colorado, where she was rubbing shoulders with the Who's Who of the restaurant industry and experienced her moment of truth about having an intuitive sense for wine and how it tasted. An excellent assortment of words used to describe all the different aspects of the wine (taste, smell, color, body) and it sure piqued my interest in wines.
The Toastpoints were the highlight for me, because it was something truly different. Maggie came up with a creative idea of an Improv inspired toastpoints. 8 of us stood in pairs, and each pair facing each other would have a conversation that follows the "YesAnd" style used in Improvs. Here’s how it works:

At the beginning of the scene, Character #1 will begin by establishing setting and plot.

  • Character #1: Today has been a great day.

Following the “Yes And” method, Character #2 will accept the premise and add onto the situation.

  • Character #2: Yes, and I especially enjoyed Science Fair.
  • Character #1: Yes, And I am proud to be part of the team that built those awesome products..

and so on. the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and couldn't help tweeting it right after. 

Sarah Bedrick gave excellent takeaways for each of the speakers and interestingly, the length of her evaluation correlated with the length of the speeches themselves (thanks to Chris LoDolce, the timer, for that insight). Rouding out the evaluation part (MC-ed by Marc Amigone) were the Ah-um counter (Anna Siradze) and Grammarian (Nick Sal). 


  • We will always have a spot reserved for Speech 1, so if you are starting out, take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Please sign up for only one speech at a time. If you have signed up for multiple, please release some of the slots. Thanks!

I can't wait for the next meeting. What was your favorite part of the meeting?


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