Speech 7, Research Your Topic.

The Toastmasters International Competent Communication Manual states the following objectives  for project 7:

Your speech will be more effective if you can support your main points with statistics, testimony, stories, anecdotes, examples, visual aids and facts.You can find this material on the Internet, at the library and in other places.

Use information collected from numerous sources and carefully support points with specific facts, examples and illustrations, rather than with just your own opinions.


  • Collect information about your topic from numerous sources.
  • Carefully support your points and opinions with specific facts, examples and illustrations gathered through research.

Time: Five to seven minutes

In  my personal opinion, the biggest challenge for this speech is not so much to research and get lots of support but to make the right choice of the things you can say in 5-7 minutes.

When I first started preparing for this speech, I decided to researcha  topic that fascinated me but didn’t know much about. However as time went by, I saw myself with a collection of fascinating information that would allow me to speak for at least an hour.

When the deadline was coming up I decided that this approach was not getting me anywhere and I took a radical turn. Instead of talking about something I didn’t know much about (although by now, I sure did!) I decided to talk about something that I do know a lot about (I’ve even made a speech in Spanish about it before).

The result was mostly positive. I felt very comfortable with the information and since I had saved my sources I just had to go back and re-work with existing material. This in turn allowed me add an extra objective to my speech, which was how to add lightness and humor to a topic that can be difficult to talk about. During the meeting I felt very much at ease, my memory worked better than usual, and according to my evaluator, I fulfilled the objectives.

However, there was one very important lesson I learned that I could have done better. According to my evaluator and to several feedback forms, I gave too much information for the audience to retain. This reminded my that really, when you are preparing a speech, you have to think of your audience, and on how your message will carry to them. This is a point I will definitely keep in mind for next time.


Día de los Muertos

SkullOnce upon a time there was a little green skull that was lost. It was trying to find a Day of the Dead altar, but it didn’t know what that was. It was so scared and confused with all the mummies and witches and vampires that it started to feel that perhaps this altar was part of a Halloween party, Mexican style, with mariachis and tequila. So the little guy wandered about and about until it stopped and asked the question:

What is the Day of the Dead?

Dear Toastmaster, fellow TM and friends, the Day of the Dead is not Halloween Mexican-style. In fact in 2003 it was proclaimed Master Piece of UNESCO’s  list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Why? Because this heritage is alive today, it is very widespread among indigenous communities; it is one of the oldest cultural manifestations in Mexico. And people gather regularly to express this tradition through literature, music, dance, rituals, and art crafts.

The little green skull was now curious about the history of this festivity. After all it had  to be very, very old like itself  (or it wouldn’t be a skull). This festivity already existed before the Spanish Conquest. Back then the ritual calendar dedicated two months out of every year to the cult of the dead (yes, two entire months!). One month was devoted to children and the other month to adults that had passed away. Later on with the arrival of Catholicism, these two months of celebration were condensed in two days, November 1st and 2nd, coinciding with All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

From a philosophical point of view, the Day of the Dead a point of encounter between the inhabitants of this earth and their ancestors, but it is also a meeting space for families or even entire communities both rural and urban. And it has a very relevant role: it is a party that marks the transition between scarcity and abundance.  The first harvest of corn and squash happens precisely at the end of October and beginning of November, and those two were some of the main food crops of those civilizations. So it is therefore perfect time to remember the ancestors and thank them for having helped to get a plentiful harvest.

A key element of this festivity is precisely the famous altar, which is what the little green skull was looking for. It is common to find altars at home but also in public spaces. For an altar to be complete, it has to include 10 elements.

1)      A picture of the deceased. This can be a photo or a painting of the person you are paying homage to.

2)      You need candles. They are a religious symbol as well as a representation of the element of fire.

3)      Flowers. There is a type of yellow-orange marigold that grows in Mexico this time of the year called “cempazuchitl”. It is believed that the smell and the color of these flowers help guide the souls so they can find their former home and get to the altar.

4)      Salt. Salt represents purification.

5)      Incense or copal. Copal is a resin that has been used in ceremonies and rituals  in Mexico since very ancient times because it is a symbol of prayer.

6)      The sixth element is called papel picado. You take some brightly colored tissue paper and cut it out in geometrical and artistic shapes. These paper banners represent the element of AIR, because they are so light, that they can wave with the wind.

7)      Next on the list we have fruit. Fruit is important because it represents EARTH, and next to earth water has to be represented. You can simply place a glass of water on your altar and thus you would have the four elements.

8)      Moving down the list, we have the traditional “Calaveras” or skulls, so that’s where you come in my little green friend. Normally, they are made out of sugar or chocolate and it has a person’s name on the forehead. People give it to each other as a sweet reminder that we are all going to end up the same way. It is considered a nice gift and not a bad omen by any means.

9)      Food and drink. Normally people prepare the favorite dishes of their loved ones because it is believed that this food will give the soul the strength it needs to reach the altar and to make its way back to “the other side”.

10)   The last item present on an altar is usually a religious object, such as a crucifix, a rosary or the image of a virgin or saint.

If you want to see a Day of the Dead altar in Madrid you can visit the Museo de América, the Mexican Embassy or in some Mexican restaurants like the one on Calle Libertad or on Calle Fuencarral. For now I’m taking my little green skull to my personal altar at home.





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