Good Eye Contact Takes Practice

It’s hard enough maintaining good eye contact while you’re speaking to an audience. It’s 10 times harder after you’ve forgotten what you were going to say next.

Places to practice making good eye contact:

  • Cashiers at grocery stories, department stories, gas stations
  • Baristas
  • Wait-staff at restaurants
  • Bartenders
  • Table Topics section of a Toastmasters club meeting
  • Online video conference (look directly into your camera)

Toastmasters Public Speaking Takeaways for Dec 2019

  • Each speech does not have to be perfect. You can mess up your next speech too. Your speaking path is an arc of fumbles that leads to self-confidence.
  • When it comes to practicing public speaking in front of your Toastmasters club, feeling the feeling of feeling awkward is your goal.
  • Flip the script on your fear of being judged by your audience. Let judgement happen.

Going Off Script Can Have Devastating Results

In a Toastmasters speech contest, you can disqualify yourself by going under-or-over-time! Toastmasters’ International (inspirational/motivational) speech contest allows you to speak for 5-7 minutes – with 30 seconds of leeway. IE: you’re technically good from 4-minutes-and-30-seconds to 7-minutes-and-30-seconds. But if you end your speech at 4:29 or 7:31, you’re disqualified. I’ve seen it happen to my competitors. And it’s devastating!

During last year’s 2016 District 39 Spring Conference in Stockton, CA, Donny Crandell won first place in the International Speech contest (I came in 2nd). He went on to compete and win at the Semifinals round, and was 1 of 10 people, worldwide, that competed on the big 100-foot-wide stage in the Finals round – the World Champion of Public Speaking contest.

This year, Donny and I chatted during the District 39 Spring Conference in Anderson, CA, where we were competitors again. He shared his story of going overtime by 6 seconds when he was competing on the big stage last year. “I blew it,” he said. “I went overtime by 6 seconds.” “Did you ad-lib anything,” I asked. “Yep.” he said. “I went off script and added the Serenity Prayer at the very end of my speech.”

The international speech contest season is from February to August. Seven months. It’s a lot of work, sacrifice, time away from family, extra time before and/or after work. And it’s not a paid gig. You volunteer. So going overtime by 6 seconds can be devastating – especially at the Final round in front of an International audience of 2,500 people. All that hard work, luck, time, and travel…

Going off script CAN work, but it’s such a coin-toss. You have no idea if you’re gonna land on heads or tails.

Patricia Fripp Answers: What To Do If You Freeze On Stage

One of my competitors at the 2017 Toastmasters Division-level International Speech Contest froze for an excruciating 45 seconds in front of everybody. Then they tried to regain their place, managed a few single-word restarts, but continued to sputter for another 15 seconds.

What Would You Do If You Froze On Stage?

Here’s what world-renown speaking coach Patricia Fripp has to say (timestamp: 1h, 33m, 40s):

Public Speaking Practice Tip: Getting Beyond Uncomfortable

“I don’t want to waste everybody’s time.”

This was Joy’s answer when I asked her what was going through her mind when she stopped speaking after only 30 seconds – when she had a full 60 seconds available to her.

“I couldn’t think of anything else to say,” she said. “I felt my face go flush, and I felt like I was wasting everyone’s time. So I just sat back down.” She continued, “I don’t like Table Topics because it’s giving an off-the-cuff answer to a surprise question – and I’m not good at that. I like practicing and being prepared. But I do want to be able to be witty and be able to respond quickly in the moment.”

Uncomfortable is the only path to Badassery Island. You gotta parachute through the clouds, wind, and rain.

I recommended: Do Table Topics again, and when you get to that point where you’re out of things to say – and you feel your face getting hot and you’re beginning to freak out – just keep standing there and smile at your Toastmasters audience. And keep doing that, no matter how uncomfortable you feel. Each week, get to that point of feeling flush, then keep going – no matter what happens. Get that experience of uncomfortableness in your bones. And if something new pops into your head, start speaking.