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Jokes and Tips For the Toastmasters Humorist (steal this)

Posted by Steve Haase

Apr 23, 2014, 10:00 AM

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Need to find a good joke or funny story? If you're filling the humorist role at your next Toastmasters meeting, you might find yourself scrambling. To help you out, here are two of my favorite jokes I've heard (or told) at HubSpot's Toastmasters meetings, plus a tip for discovering your own humorous story.

My very first time presenting at Toastmasters was to deliver the following joke, which I first heard on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, and it went over pretty darn well. It's also a good opportunity to use that Scottish accent I know you've been working on. :)

An American moves to a remote cabin on the Shetland Islands of Scotland. He hasn't seen anyone for three months until one day there's a knock at the door. He opens it to find a burly man with a scratchy sweater and a scratchier beard.

The visitors says, "I've come to invite you to a party."

Intrigued, the man replies, "A party sounds nice, what should I expect?"

"Well, there'll be drinkin'."

"Sounds good to me," replies the man, "I could use a drink."

"Then there'll be a fight. There's always a fight."

"Hmm, well, I boxed when I was in the army. I could hold my own in a fight."

"Then there'll be sex."

"Wow. Given that I haven't seen anyone in three months, sex certainly would be nice. I'm in! What should I wear?"

"Come as you are," says the burly visitor, "It's just going to be you and me."


Joke number two, ideal if you are as big a fan of puns as I am. I heard this from Thariq at our Toastmasters meeting last night.

A man walks into a nearly empty bar and orders a drink. After a few minutes he hears a voice say "Nice shirt." He looks around, sees no one near him, and goes back to his drink.

A short while later he hears the same voice saying, out of nowhere, "I like your hair."

Truly perplexed, he calls the bartender over and asks, "Where is that voice coming from?"

The bartender says, "It's the nuts."

"The nuts?" replies the man.

"Yes," says the bartender. "They're complimentary."


And now my tip for you, the humorist. A few weeks ago I was tasked with this role and decided that I would tell a funny story from my own life. After ruminating on it for a bit, I remembered the time when my family went to Las Vegas for a vacation. I know, it's funny already, but the actual story had even more comic potential than just that setup.

And so I told it, highlighting the points that truly were hilarious, speaking about the quirks, surprises, and lucky circumstances of my family on vacation in Vegas. It went over very well and also gave people an insight into my life and what has shaped me into the person I am today—a real win-win.

After telling my parents about their starring role in that evening's Toastmaster's meeting, they brought up other comical situations we've been in as a family over the years. Mind you, we're no comedians, and my life is not that different from many others. But when you've done things together, and you've suffered through less than ideal circumstances with people you love, you often find that, 5-10 years later, those stories are pretty much hilarious.

So take a quick inventory of your past. Any big mistakes or big adventures that would lend themselves to the soft humor of hindsight? Share those in your meeting for an even bigger, more satisfying laugh.

What are some of your favorite jokes or funny stories? Share them in the comments below!

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How to Command a Room With Your Voice

Posted by Steve Haase

Feb 3, 2014, 10:30 AM

hi-res-2616450-soprano-renee-fleming-sings-the-national-anthem-prior-to_crop_exactWhat's the worst thing you could do when presenting to a group of people?

Lose their attention. 

Think about it, if you've lost people's attention, you've lost their interest. The purpose of public speaking is to move the conversation forward on a one-to-many basis. And without interest, the conversation cannot progress. Your presentation fails.

So how do you capture and retain your audience's interest? For starters, the 10 assignments in Toastmaster's "Competent Communicator" handbook will help you with many critical elements of this task. Techniques such as body language, vocal variety, research, and organization are powerful tools for engaging a group of people with your speech or presentation.

But because my formal background is in music, I would like to focus on the most auditory and musical aspect of these techniques: vocal variety. In music we would call this dynamics and/or expressiveness. I would also argue that it is one of the most effective speaking techniques for retaining an audience's attention.

Beginner: Avoid the Monotone

Think of a time when you've listened to someone drone on in a monotone; now think about what you remembered from them. Probably not much. This is because an unengaging or even off-putting vocal presentation creates a barrier between the audience and the speaker. It clouds the meaning of the speech. 

You may be thinking, "I don't have a monotone delivery," which may be true. But the fact is, most of us have our comfortable range of expressiveness and tone of voice which, honestly, can be pretty repetitve at times. To make absolutely sure your speeches break out of your vocal comfort zone, you need to put on your "stage makeup."

Remember that you are now the center of attention, perhaps even in a fairly large room. This means you need to project. Put forth more energy, more charm, and more expressiveness than you might think is necessary. Imagine that there is a person way in the back of a 1,000-person hall, and try to reach them and move them with your speech. If people can't hear you, or if they have to struggle to make out what you're saying, they will tune you out.

You might think that turning up the volume in this way feels forced or inauthentic; but we're often the least objective judges of how we come across. Plus you'll never know if you don't try. Your Toastmasters group should be a place to experiment with this and any other techniques, and your evaluator will provide feedback, so don't worry about any of that. Just give it a try!

Intermediate: Match Your Dynamics With the Mood

You speak to convey an idea. That idea has a mood, depending on your audience, yourself, and how everyone relates to the idea. A masterful performer, whether in speaking or music, will have a vast range of dynamics available to help him or her make a point. If what you're saying is best said with a forceful tone, maybe bordering on a yell, you'll be hampered if the best you can do is sort of speak up a bit.

Likewise, if you're trying to lighten the mood with a joke but your voice is always matter of fact, the joke will fail. And how effective will you be at bringing the audience in closer by telling a secret, if your only volume level is that of a casual conversation? Imagine you're speaking to a group of non-English speakers and your only method for making your point is your tone of voice. That alone will help you broaden your spectrum of expressiveness.

Advanced: What Is Your Point?

In a way, this is the most basic component of improving your dynamic range and holding people's attention; but as is the case so often with the basics, it is also the most challenging. If you forget everything else and only focus on the purpose of your talk—the idea you want to convey and the effect you want to have on your audience—your vocal variety will take care of itself. 

This is the essence of improvisation of all kinds: you follow the thread of your intention and the means of getting there surprise everyone, sometimes including yourself.

There are few things as satisfying as being so authentic to your purpose that the necessary vocal inflections, humor, and stories emerge almost of their own accord. You are the creator yet at the same time aren't self-conscious of creating anything—you just want your point to be heard. That's when the distinction between performer and audience, between speaker and the room, disappears. And there's nothing more attention-worthy than that. 

What are your experiences with commanding a room? Share them in the comments below.

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4 Public Speaking Tips I Learned from Music

Posted by Steve Haase

Sep 24, 2013, 10:00 AM

Steve Haase Trumpet

Photo by Tara Jones Photography

I started playing piano at age 5 and first picked up the trumpet at age 10. I fell in love with the instrument, pursued it, and eventually played professionally for about a decade

Being a musician has informed my public speaking in many ways. The four most powerful public speaking lessons I learned from making music are:

  • Have something to say
  • Use space to your advantage
  • Develop and leverage your technique
  • Practice. Practice. Practice.

Let's unpack them:

1. Have something to say

Public speaking and music both happen in the moment, live, between you and audience. Even when it's recorded, a performance or a speech is being experienced by the listener in real time.

Therefore, your job as a speaker, just like being a musician, is to move the audience. Make them laugh, make them think, get them riled up! Whatever you're doing, you must connect with your listener and have an impact. 

Think of your favorite performer and how they own the stage. Whether it's an outrageous rock and roller or a poised classical musician, a great performer exudes confidence and charisma. And guess what, that might not be how they feel inside! Stage fright and nerves happen to everyone. However, if you have something to say that you are passionate about, that will carry you through any patches of dread you may experience.

And there's nothing more compelling and attractive than seeing someone put their whole selves into what they're doing. You will take the audience on a journey if you're simply speaking about what you care about.

2. Use space to your advantage

One of my favorite musicians is Miles Davis, who was a master of space—listening to one of his solos is a study in exactly why "less is more." Music happens between the notes, and speaking happens between the words. If you don't pause to breathe, you will overwhelm your audience and eventually lose them. 

You will also miss out on one of your most powerful tools for making a point go deeper: the pause.

Try it sometime and you'll see, pausing at the right moment transmits confidence and presence. Besides, the stage is yours while you are on it, so you might as well experiment with strategic silence. 

3. Develop and leverage your technique

The more technical prowess you possess, the more impact your message will have (provided you follow steps 1 and 2 above). The three techniques that apply equally to speaking and music are repetition, dynamics, and metaphor. 

Repetition – Repeating something makes it stand out in your listener's mind. Repeating something lets people know that what you just said is important. Repeating something also gives you a place to start if you're not totally sure what to say next, and often results in a brilliant and possibly unexpected flourish. 

Dynamics – Just like speaking without pausing is hard on the ears, speaking or playing at only one volume makes for a dull listening experience. Let your intended emotional impact lead your choice of dynamics. If you want to convey anger or surprise, raise your voice. When letting people in on a secret, make them lean in for it and listen closely. 

Metaphor – When it comes to effective speaking tools and techniques, metaphor is your 800-pound gorilla. Analyzing the greatest speeches in history you will find metaphor used throughout. In music, an equivalent to metaphor is the quote, when you use something your audience already knows (a familiar melody, beat pattern, harmonic progression, etc) to connect what you're saying to the pre-existing meaning from the quote. The effect of this kind of cross-polination is similar in music and speaking: you bypass people's defenses by appealing to something they already know, making it more likely that you will move them.

4. Practice. Practice. Practice. 

One of my musical heroes was Adolph "Bud" Herseth, principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony for over 50 years. I was fortunate enough to have had several lessons with him when I was in high school, and after the first one I asked him to autograph my part to Mahler's 5th symphony (it has a very prominent role for the trumpet, and his recordings of this piece were the gold standard). He graciously obliged and added the advice I offer you here, "Practice practice practice." If you want to be great, you must try, and fail, and learn, and refine, and grow, and do it some more. Being a great musician or a great public speaker both require time, dedication, imagination, and creativity. And the results are worth every bit of effort you put in.

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My First Taste of ToastSpot

Posted by Steve Haase

May 7, 2013, 10:01 AM

Loree_McDonaldThanks to Loree McDonald for the following guest post.

As with any new job, there are always challenges—what to wear, how to meet people, where’s the bathroom, etc. I’ve been working at HubSpot for about a month, and thankfully, as far as meeting people goes, the transition into HubSpot is made simpler by the sheer volume of things to do and ways to be involved. For me, one of the ways I sought to connect with others was by pursuing an interest in ToastSpot.


I attended my first meeting in mid-April, just two weeks into my time at HubSpot. I had heard Nick Salvatoriello speak about ToastSpot during one of our training presentations and was immediately intrigued by the organization. I’ve always valued public speaking as an asset and have been inspired by leaders and the way they're able to motivate teams with their delivery of a message. Although I consider public speaking a strength of mine, this was the perfect opportunity to sharpen my skills.

I sat in the back during the meeting (a fly-on-the-wall approach) and watched as the evening’s Toastmaster, Sarah Bedrick, led the group through the planned speeches, improv-Table Topics, feedback evaluations, and other meeting segments. Topics and experience varied between all participants, but every speech I heard was insightful and well-crafted.

It was very well organized, and I was impressed by the genuine interest and engagement each member showed for one another. Speakers valued the feedback given and encouraged those with less tenure to continue and improve—I wanted to step up, and I felt empowered to participate in the next meeting.

I look forward to coming to ToastSpot meetings throughout my time at HubSpot. I would love to learn how to motivate others through speech and how to respond eloquently when in a debate (one of my greatest struggles is conveying points during an energetic exchange).

A Request

To those members already #Toastspotting, I’d love to hear about your experience to help influence my Toastmasters journey. I’d love to know things like:

  • How has being part of Toastmasters contributed to success in your professional life?
  • What has been your most memorable speech or toast points moment?
  • What doors have been opened by your participation in ToastSpot?

Looking forward to the next meeting and to getting to know the organization!

Sprockets,
Loree McDonald
www.loreemcdonald.com

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About the ToastSpot Blog

Welcome to the ToastSpot blog!

Here you can find articles on:

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