First Impressions of Public Speaking

Confessions of a nervous Toastmasters Guest
By Tanya Freedman

“Why would anyone willingly get up and speak in front of dozens of strangers?” you may ask.  Some people love the challenge of
becoming a public speaker just so they can overcome the fear of doing it. Others want to take the proverbial bull by the horns and go into new pastures untried, even if they are scared of fainting or blubbering like an incoherent child in the spotlight at a school recital.

I decided to face my fear of anticipated future speaking engagements and presentations to promote my non-fiction book, due to be published in 2007. Developing self-confidence in order to make people aware of my passion for Art and Business may make all the difference between a mediocre seller and a bestseller.

Years in my own businesses taught me the importance of networking and branding my services and myself. The adage “if you build it they will come” has definitely worked for me, but with shiploads of tenacious courage and perseverance, despite rejection along the way.

Forever the planner, I stretched further out of my comfort zone by visiting a local Toastmasters group. I was hooked and even though my heart was thumping I felt right at home.I was amazed at the similarities between what goes into structuring and delivering a Toastmasters speech and my first love – writing fiction. The foundation and essence of writing – anything – match so well I had to share my first impressions:1) TOASTMASTERS – Opening a speech: Grab your audience with the first opening sentence. If you don’t have a compelling hook, you may never capture their attention.
WRITING – Opening of a novel/or non-fiction introduction: Hook the prospective buyer of your masterpiece from the first opening line, or else your book gets returned to the pile on the bookshelf beside hundreds of other choices.
Months, sometimes years of your work are judged on the first impressions of your opening.

2)   TOASTMASTERS – Prepare and structure a subject and theme of speech: No matter how passionately you feel about your idea, its’ subject has to interest a spectrum of listeners, and to have a fresh take on a classic message. How do you keep them entertained and give them value of having been educated at the same time? Work on a solid foundation covering all aspects of your speech; concentrating on the theme, an enthralling message and a strong and memorable ending.
WRITING: Outline a synopsis that will grab the agent/editor from the first compelling, original concept: Not easily done, considering there are only seven types of archetypal story lines that are reconstructed by the myriad of writers, each bringing their own spin and fresh perspective to their story. It must grab the overworked editor who’s seen it all before, and is ready to reject at the slightest whim of a misplaced comma. They’re searching for an enticing read that hooks the widest audience within your genre and beyond. Write the most passionate original synopsis – and therefore story – you possibly can, infusing it with your own style and unique voice.

3)  TOASTMASTERS – Muddling through the middle: Draw the audience into the middle of your speech and into a seamless closing comment without letting up the emotional roller coaster ride. What’s your particular spin on the topic? If it doesn’t lend itself to humor titillate the listeners’ senses by bringing in the physical aspects; keep eye contact and reiterate special points with repetitions (three is a good rule of thumb throughout). Emphasize your message with all five senses; so that they’ll see, feel and even smell the meaning of your message. Conjure up the intended images with a few choice descriptions like, “sweet smell of freshly mowed grass” or “concrete prison of the soul”. Paint vivid scenes in their minds constantly tugging at the desired emotions with the most impact.
WRITING – The sagging middle/or info dump: The novel has to be seamless throughout the beginning, into the fast and captivating middle and rolling into the end, preventing the reader contemplating skipping any parts. Avoid back-story paragraphs or even pages, known as ‘info-dump’. Weave in small chunks into the story sensitively, continuously moving the story forward.

Use flashback scenes sparingly. Keep them short.

Let the characters and the story propel the reader along. Don’t let her get bored and put the book down. Finish each scene at a high point or a cliffhanger. And keep your promise to deliver till the very last satisfying page; the gripping, emotional, fulfilling end.

4) TOASTMASTERS – End your speech on a high-note:  Lead the listeners to the strong end with a closing statement that encapsulates your speech’s whole tone and intention. Leave them in awe or moved in some way. Highlight your theme and make the last closing words as strong and lasting on the audience as the opening hook. You may challenge, impart a certain uplifting feeling or hammer home your message with the intensity it demands. The last thing they hear is what they take away with them. Leave them wanting to hear you again.

WRITING – Satisfaction to the ‘Happy ever after’ of the last page: Some authors have the knack of flawlessly meshing together all the characters, structure and theme. They know how to keep the reader hanging at the end of their armchair, their cup of tea left forgotten. What makes the reader want to start rereading your book, until your next masterpiece comes out at the bookstore? Or to rave about it to her friends? You’ve kept your promise. You’ve given them the most memorable and satisfying journey and climax.

What stays with the readers well after the story is forgotten is the emotion you evoked in them, and how strongly they identified with your characters.

Just like the personal impact the speaker has on his fellow Toastmasters, make that first and lasting impression with your characters and story, plucking at the perfect heart-strings from your readers and your audience. They’ll come back to drink again and again from your well of wisdom or entertainment.

The ending is just as important as the introductory hook, just like my first impression of the Toastmasters. My first impression of Toastmasters is going to last forever. I’m inspired and excited about my impending journey to self discovery, the potential for immense self-improvement and making a lasting impression on the world – in person as well as though my love of writing.

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