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The Painful Truth Makes You A Better Public Speaker

The first words out of Tracy Harrison’s mouth: “Well, do you want the truth?”

“Yes,” I said, smiling wide (not having any idea of the honesty that was about to sledgehammer me upside the head).

“I didn’t like your speech just now, and I didn’t like it when you gave it at the Toastmasters District Speech Contest,” Tracy steam rolled. “I wouldn’t have even placed you in the top 3.”

Keep smiling, I repeat to myself. People are watching.

“You just kept pacing back-and-forth on stage. You were very preachy. I felt very put-off. That is NOT going to cut it at the next round of speech contests,” she chastised.

Keep smiling, I repeat to myself. There are 15 people at the table and I’m not sure were this is going. And by the looks on their faces neither do they. Now people are really watching. I really need to bite my tongue and keep my emotions in check. Am I getting picked on or am I about to receive some serious wisdom?

Tracy had the guts to wake me up from my cloud-nine 1st-place speech contest win. She’s attended the International Conference for the past 10 years and has witnessed the professionalism and perfectionism at the next level. Tracy knew what I was in for and she knew that I was gonna get my ass handed to me if I didn’t change everything about my speech.

“Contestants travel from all over the world to compete at the next level,” Tracy explained, “and what you have right now isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to get clobbered.”

Actively seek out the wisdom of good speech evaluators who are both honest and productive.

She gave me great insight on changing my speech from being “preachy” to being “story.” Tracy burst my bubble of thinking I was hot shit. She told me the cold, hard truth and it set me on a 2-month, desperation-lead, learning spree. I watched as many of the World Champion of Public Speaking winning speeches as I could find on YouTube to see what I was up against. And it scared the hell out of me! I also gathered all of the Toastmasters Public Speaking Resources I could find.

2nd-place Semifinalist, 2013 Toastmasters International Speech ContestThat was June 2013. In August, I went on to place in the top 18 speech winners, worldwide, during the 2013 Toastmasters International speech contest in Cincinnati, Ohio.

This year I attended many of the local speech contests, scoping out my competition, as well as hearing and seeing speeches from a new perspective. I see some contestants making the mistakes that Tracy kicked my butt over: more statements than stories. And I see very little use of the stage. Now I know the difference:

  • A statement is preachy
  • A story is dialog
  • The stage is a canvas

The stage is part of your speech. Just watch your favorite TV sitcom. If you close your eyes you can tell me where the kitchen, front door, and couch are. It’s the same in a winning Toastmasters speech. The stage helps to paint different scenes in your audience’s mind.

This is what Tracy was referring to when she said to me, “You’re just pacing back-and-forth across the stage. It’s distracting. Stand still and make your point.”

Thanks Tracy!

Note: Tracy’s feedback was both sledgehammer-honest AND highly productive. It’s the only way to be a better public speaker. Look for both of these qualities in your speech evaluator/speech coach.

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