Toastmasters Speech 3

Before going away for the summer I wanted to go for my third project in the Competent Communicator Manual.  I basically knew that I wanted to talk about a post about dance I wrote for another blog  and I wanted to improve on previous feedback I had gotten from club members.

The three main things I wanted to improve were:

  • Voice projection
  • Vocal variety
  • Having a stronger opening and closing

My main challenges with this project were:

  • Chosing a specific objective
  • Sticking to it

Some quick tips I have learned from previous projects that saved time and were effective:

  • In order to speak for up to 7 minutes my speech has to stay under the 1000 word limit.
  • Writing a quick outline with main points and sub-points
  • Having decided the topic way in advance.

My mentor, Julian D. Martelli, helped me enormously with his accurate feedback and suggested a post by Andrew Dlugan about Speech 3 that was so useful that I have added it to my recommended links.
I was having a very hard time staying focused on the point but then I read this and it helped enormously for the next round of editing (that’ what my Toastmasters mentor and my husband said)

The Harder Part: Stay Focused On the Point

The much harder part — and the part that many speakers struggle badly with — is staying focused on the point.

No speaker intends to stray from their purpose; rather, it happens quite accidentally. Somewhere between getting to the point and writing the first draft, a collection of off topic elements are inserted into the speech.

  • It might be an off-topic opening anecdote which is “too good not to share”.
  • It might be some jaw-dropping statistics that are only remotely related to the topic.

I also read through some of the examples offered here and that helped me realize what I was doing right and what still need work (like my closing).

Anther challenge in preparing this speech was the limited amount of time I had to memorize it. I learned my speech on the 20 minutes it takes me to walk from work to home and then I barely had time to practice it twice and get feedback from my loyal critic. Delivering the speech required a good measure of improvisation and a lot of concentration. Unlike previous speeches, some of the audience members noticed I was speaking faster, pausing less and I looked at the ceiling a couple of times.

Here is the speech.

Learning from Dance

“All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of he great leaders have arisen from a lack of skill at dancing.” –Molière.

M. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and guests, Dance is one of my great passions in life. And while almost everyone agrees that it is great fun I’ve often had to defend that it can be much more than a hobby where you go learn a bunch of dance steps. Dance can actually teach you values and skills that could enhance your professional life in very meaningful ways.
How many of you here have ever taken a dance class? Has anyone tried latin dances, Bollywood, or ballet? I am going to share with you an experience that reminded me of the impact that this art form has had in my professional life.

A few weeks ago I took an aptitude test to select future students for the masters in conference interpreting at the University of La Laguna. The application form said that besides evaluating the candidate’s general knowledge,  memorization skills and language proficiency,they would also be judging their ability to tolerate stress, be a team player and take criticism.

Only 16 candidates were chosen for this master’s and when they called me to tell me I was one of them I immediately started doing my “happy dance” feeling that I indeed owed this result to my dance training.

Why? you might ask.

There are certain core values and skills that dance instills in you from the very beginning and it turns out that they are highly appreciated in the professional world. I took a sample of the skills and abilities mentioned on the websites of 18 different organizations ranging from NASA to Mercadona as the most desirable for potential employees. This is what I found:

Among the most common elements, I found phrases like these:

“You must be a highly motivated individual and a team player.”

“You must have strong communication skills and be able to give constructive criticism.”

“You must be inclusive and respect diversity.”

“Stress management and the ability to accept criticism are highly valued.”

Before I tell you how I learned those skills and behaviours through my dance training, let me come back to Molière’s quote one more time. “All the failures of the great leaders have arisen from a lack of skill at dancing.” So, what are three things we could learn from dance that in Molière’s opinion could make us better leaders or maybe just better people?

Responsibility, Teamwork, and Stress Management.

1. Responsibility

In my first years as a dance student I learned that in order to make a group choreography work I had to be responsible for learning my part because in dance, the principle of “the chain is only as strong as the weakest link” definitely applies. Forgetting a step, or doing it too soon or too late could be catastrophic. Just imagine that you have to cross the stage towards the left while three dancers are running to the right. If you missed your cue and crossed just a little bit late, you could cause a collision. Remember I mentioned NASA earlier?

2. Be a better team player

The main objective in dance unlike sports is not to compete for a price. The main point is to work through the process of creating a work of art. From dancing with other people I learned that moving together creates a very special link. It makes you aware of others, it creates synchronicity. From creating dance pieces I learned that you had to be inclusive and respect diversity.  If you have dancers, musicians and technicians contributing ideas, you must get good at giving feedback and at receiving criticism and you have to be willing to negotiate and compromise. If you are a jerk when you are asking for something, you might lose your dancers. If you take criticism personally, you might find yourself replaced by someone who can take it better. I think the same principles could apply for example to a research team or to a sales force.

3. Stress management

How do you get over your stage fright? When you perform in a theatre you are under a lot of pressure. Our worst nightmare as dancers is failure translated as blanking out or falling on your butt. But Dance has a secret for dealing with stress: divide and you shall conquer, like  Napoleon said. First you work on your skill, that gives you self-reliance. Then you work on your memory and practice synchronizing with other dancers. Then you learn how to take care of peripheral elements such as costumes or lighting. While all these elements improve you remember how to breathe and relax. When the moment arrives and you have to perform in front of an audience, you think about how much you love doing this and remember all the preparation you’ve done. This is exactly the process I went through when I sat that test for the University and it worked.

Dance has been present in all the cultures of the world and through all the eras of human history because it is a primordial form of interaction and because it is great fun. Now that you know how it can help you enhance your sense of responsibility, teamwork or stress management abilities perhaps it is time to reconsider the role that the performing arts such as dance should have in our education.

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