Tag Archives: toastmasters

Preparing, Delivering for a Toastmasters Speech

Public speaking is a big deal for me. Standing up in front of a crowd. Not sure why, but I’ve always put it down to not having the ability to keep all that in my head at once. Except when reminded, I know that’s not true.

I was reminded, as part of the feedback after I made my 7-minute speech – 7m10s to be exact, though I meant to be exact at between 5 to 7 minutes. I was born at 7:10 am.

While up there, in the middle of the speech, my hands and my voice started trembling. I have no idea why as it was going decently by that time.

Here’s what I did wrong:
1 – I wrote the speech on the day I delivered it, though I had planned to get to it the night before.
2 – I did practice once within the hour. It came in at 9 minutes and a few flourishes that looked decent on paper rang copper when speaking.
3 – I didn’t practice speaking more.
4 – I didn’t work with a buddy, which was an option.

Here’s what I did right:
1 – I didn’t obsess days over days. Not doing it the night before probably helped because I would have stayed up forever.
2 – I wrote the speech down and largely read from it. This isn’t necessarily a good thing because it’s not what you’re supposed to do, but it’s what I needed to do to “survive” this one speech.
3 – I noticed myself naturally including hand gestures and character and inflexion in my voice, all while maintaining a decent amount of contact.
4 – I kept to theme which was announced a week earlier.
5 – Minutes before I went into the room, I wrote: “It’s likely not going to be as good as I want it to be … but it also clearly wasn’t nearly as bad.”

There are other things I did right that I didn’t notice at the time. I only noticed two “ums” in my speech but the “ah counter” noted 10, but lumped them in with other verbal crutches.

The support and feedback after the speech was amazing and really helped. It was meant to be an organized speech, with a beginning, and a conclusion, with supporting reason and examples in the middle. I spoke too low, at times, but most people didn’t mention it. I was told there was no real “nail it” conclusion that brought it all together. The person who said that was my specific speech evaluator. I told him later that, that point might have been due to the fact that I had to end early and didn’t get to read my actual conclusion.

The reminder to practice was to go over it again and again in the car, more than once, practice over and over and get it done and get a feel for what you’re saying. I could feel that working because I know that it worked before. Once on a treadmill, I started telling myself a story and I would recite back the sentences. I think it ended up being about 1,000 words. Memorized enough where I could write it down afterwards.

I meant to record it but after I got up I forgot. Here’s the speech. Parts highlighted were not actually spoken. After the fold. (Below are written comments I was handed afterward, plus more about the evaluation which was good to see.)

Spoken intro to my speech:

“Temple joined Toastmaster’s because he was asked to. Volun-told. Attending these meetings is like bitter medicine – you know it’ll do you some good but you don’t want to take it. It has actually done some good, however. Many people struggle to talk in public and here, just as many people have a solid support system of fellow Vertical Toasters to fall back on.

His speech is titled, “Stop Worrying or How I Invented My Own Bliss.”


I may not have been the only one to think of this but the theme for today could also be used as my personal mantra for my speech today – Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t sweat … the small stuff.

It’s not as pithy as my usual mantra – Keep going. Nor does it lend itself to only one clear meaning.

Traditionally, it’s another way of saying, don’t worry, be happy. Don’t let your thoughts overcome action. Get past the idea that nothing’s easy.

Truly though, the way it depends on how you define Stuff, Small or Sweat. Here’s my attempt.

“Ask yourself the question, will this matter a year from now.”

In thinking about this part, I asked myself, does “sweat” mean “don’t worry” or “don’t pay attention.” I never really came to a conclusion. The best I came up with is, it’s about context and it can be both.

People get writer’s block. For real. It’s legendary. It ruins careers. It ruins lives. But when people examine it, it’s not usually about the act of writing it’s “all that other stuff” with “inaction” being the end result.

Think about this. If you get panicked or worry endlessly about the small things, what the hell are you going to do when the shit really hits the fan and you absolutely cannot be stuck – you have to act. I’m not talking about emergencies, where instinct kicks in. I’m talking about uncluttering your mind to find the right answer.

Don’t …. sweat the small stuff.

Action means pushing past everything you think might get in the way; you shouldn’t have to work or sweat harder to accomplish something – even if what you’re trying to accomplish is “just” trying to be happy. Unclutter your mind by figuring out what truly is important and jettison as much as you can. Only then can you achieve bigger things.

Now, if you still find yourself sweating, those MISSION cooling towels really come in handy. I will buy you one, just tell me what’s going on. Better, yet, people, not just friends, can be your towels to wipe away the sweat, the hard work by sharing the burden, mental or physical.

“Get outside. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel big or tiny? Because there’s something good about feeling both.”

There’s this idea that people should think it’s all small. There’s a grand scheme and anything we do, truly, really should be thought of as small. That’s good and it sounds appealing – but some people aren’t wired that way. People feel both, often in an instant.

EXAMPLES: I read a blog article last week that makes sense: “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By the Sink.” Don’t worry, I just found it somehow, my wife didn’t send it to me. It talked about the underlying reasons people have relationship difficulties. It’s not leaving the dish by the sink. It’s not whatever bad habit is under discussion. On the surface, it all seems like small stuff, and it’s the kind of thing men and women complain to their friends about all the time. But if all you’re doing is complaining to your friends, it’s probably a small thing.

Here’s another, slightly counter-intuitive example: I drove to my first ever job interview after college. I drove about 5 hours to Eastern Washington where I walked into the tiny offices of the Grand Coulee Star newspaper. Especially tiny considering the huge hydroelectric dam you could see from the windows. Big and small.

I only remember one question from that interview. It was, “If someone called you up and said the mayor was a child molester, how would you report it?”

My first thought was, “Is the mayor a child molester?” I told the newspaper publisher Scott Hunter that I would proceed cautiously, that claims like that can instantly ruin a person’s life that they’ll never get back. But if it was true, I would absolutely report it even as I was sick doing so.”

It was one question among a couple of dozen at least. I got the job. I was a reporter there across several communities, Grand Coulee, Elmer City, Electric City, the Town of Coulee Dam and the Colville Indian Reservation, which itself was home to 11 Indian nations.

They were all small towns. Even the reservation had that feel, even though it’s land mass was large and it’s the 16th biggest reservation in the United States. Named after a white settler.

It was the perfect place to learn the craft of reporting and balancing people’s agendas. It’s places like this where people come to understood one person’s small is another person’s end of the world. And I started to understand the thinking and the lives behind both points of view. Ultimately in reporting, there’s not a lot that everyone can agree is “small.” It’s a tough, amazing existence.

Shortly before I left to work in Gig Harbor, a call came to the paper – someone was saying a teacher was molesting their child. It turned out to be true and there was more than one.

Nothing about this situation or reporting this situation can be considered small. But I was prepared; there had been a lot of tough things happening. I pushed the clutter away, Scott allowed me to push other stuff away so I could focus on this big deal.

A few months after I left, a high school volleyball player I had interviewed often, who I liked, who seemed to be liked, killed her child.

About a year later, in Gig Harbor, I talked to a woman whose five-year-old was dying of cancer. I sat in their home at Christmas. I sat in their home on the day he died. They, the family, were so calm, it frightened me and to this day, I don’t understand what was happening with them. They made his life as amazing as they could and he was most definitely spoiled. But really, of course, he wasn’t.

Clearly that puts things in perspective. But, it’s complex because in both these situations, the people involved – and me, too – had to sweat certain small stuff – details of what happened, exact dosages. But as well, a lot of things that might have worried people every day quickly fell away to be unimportant stuff.

Here’s a final example, head lice. One tiny bug changed our plans last night. We washed everyone’s hair last night in a wild storm of lather, much squirming and tsunamis of water all over the floor. We had to make everyone stand there for 10 minutes and then combed out all the little bug corpses. So, about now you’re probably glad I worried about that small stuff.

“Humans are more complicated than it said in the pamphlet,” “Oh” the alien in Home.

There’s a whole out of stuff out there. People can get caught up worrying about the big stuff – elections, the environment. They worry about work, they worry about kids, or events or keeping up appearances or that glass by the kitchen sink or the type of car they have or not being funny or being too serious or. In the immortal words of Willy Wonka, etc., etc.

Hell, people can drown in worry – or in sweat to provide an even grosser visual. As comedian Greg Proops says on his podcast, “this is where the boring, preachy part comes in.”

So much of this “stuff” just really is not thinking clearly, and using distractions as excuses. Certainly not all of it. People do need clear goals, in life, not just at work, and they need to prioritize them. In reality, so much of sweating about the small stuff, is doing things you don’t actually want to do.

Of course, that’s going to happen – you have to adult every day – but a good way to deal with this is to have less stuff. Do fewer things you do not want to do, even though that’s hard because expectations are often, “stuff.”

First, ask yourself whether these are reasonable expectations. Then ask if your time could be better spent doing something with as much value. In other words, not better spent laying on the couch, but something of equal value.

In putting together this speech I found myself coming up with more “stuff” that worked against the idea of “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Atoms and DNA, they’re small and they’re important, right? The “small stuff” is what makes things interesting, right?

You have to think big so you don’t get stuck in the mire of small. Neil Armstrong is one of the few uniquely qualified to put things in perspective. Others can think beyond their experience but Armstrong can say this:

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, vey small.”

Ultimately what it can be useful to understand is blanket statements never …. ….. ….. …. ….. rarely work. Worry less, yes. Don’t be debilitated and paralyzed by all the stuff. But always be aware of context and whether something is no big deal, kind of a big deal or a life changing event. A lot of people put their concerns and worries into the category of life changing events. But they’re not. Thank you.

Instead find it within yourself to work on things people are meant to remember and don’t worry so much about things that people are not going to remember a year from now … maybe not even by the end of the day.

The funny thing about mantras is a lot of people only think to say them in difficult times. A true mantra should translate into how you live, not just what you say. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The true secret is to develop positive statements and apply them to yourself. In that way they become more than words, they become the uncluttered action that eventually gives you more confidence to think big, not small.


Some written comments from listeners:

“You had a great speech, it was well put together and had a lot of personal example I was enthralled.”

“Love the idea of having speech linked to them of the day. Braking [sic] the speech in 3 defined sections. Great use of stories. Sweat. Small. Stuff.”

“Love that your speech was on theme and included personal stories and experiences to explain the definition of ‘don’t sweat the small stuff.’ I would recommend trying to project your voice a bit more as I had trouble understanding parts of your speech.”

“Fantastic job of incorporating ‘small’ throughout the speech. Try not to use notes so much.”

“Loved your breakdown of Sweat, Small, and Stuff. Was moved by your personal stories. You speak softyl and trial off but your stories made me want to lean in to hear it.”