Speech Writing – Foundational Phrase

In my mind, the term Foundational Phrase comes from the Toastmasters 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, Craig Valentine. I discovered Craig’s wealth of wisdom as I entered the Toastmasters 2013 International Speech Contest and competed at the Semi-finals level.

Now, in 2019, I’m revisiting how to craft a Foundational Phrase. Here are the resources I’ve found.

One of Craig Valentine’s famous Foundational Phrases is “Your dream is not for sale.” In his speech, Craig has his wife make this statement via dialog. Importantly, this also makes her the hero – not him.

In Darren LaCroix’s article How Sticky Are Your Stories? he says, “One huge mistake I see in the speaking world is the lack of an original Foundational Phrase. This is a big mistake. If you care about your message and your audience, make the time.”

“Don’t just take the time; make the time!”

In Henk van den Bergen’s article, Foundational Phrase, he asks, “Does your Foundational Phrase clearly promote your point or message”?

Aside: Story Structure by Henk van den Bergen

Should You Memorize Your Toastmasters Speech?

World Champions of Public Speaking all said they do it!

There’s a raging debate in the Toastmasters public speaking community about whether or not you should memorize your 5-7 minute speech. Some commenters are emphatic: “NO MEMORIZING! You’ll look and sound like a robot.” Others memorized the opening and closing of their speeches, and casually rehearsed the main points in the body of their speech.

Many Toastmasters said that in order to keep their speech sounding fresh, they only practiced it a few times. Some practiced their speech 3 times, out loud, while videotaping. Others practiced their speech to themselves – just in their head – 10 times.

This all started when a club member finished presenting her 5th speech in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual. The first 5 speeches are read-from-notes speeches, which is tough enough when you’re starting out. The remaining 5 speeches of the 10-speech manual are to be presented without notes.

“So how, exactly, do I give my speech without notes?” Mindy asked, in desperation and despair. “It’s tough enough doing my speech WITH notes.”

With conflicting answers from the Toastmasters I had asked, I went straight to the World Champions of Public Speaking and ask each of them directly.

I asked 8 previous World Champions of Public Speaking the following question:

“Did you memorize, word-for-word, your World Championship speech?”

The answer is YES. But that’s not where their answers ended…

Jim Key – 2003 World Champion of Public Speaking

Jim Key: Yes, BUT… It is more important to internalize the message of your speech than it is to memorize the text. That way, if anything happens to distract from that word-for-word performance, it won’t derail you. (Something distracted me, and I started off my 2003 WCPS speech differently than I’d written it.)

Me: Thanks so much for pointing out the diff between memorizing and internalizing, Jim. And starting your speech differently shows the power of internalizing.

Jim Key: Perhaps an even better example of the power of internalizing is that during the 2000 [sic] WCPS Finals, I completely forgot where I was at in my speech *during* my speech (About halfway through). I did a quick “start-from-the-beginning, fast-forward-to-that-moment” and my mind, and resume. On the video, it just looks like a really nice pause 🙂

Me: WOW! That’s crazy lol. And right in the middle of it all. I assume 2000’s speech was memorized word-for-word, but 2003’s had the extra internalizing working for you.

Jim Key: I wasn’t in the Finals in 2000. I’ll assume that you mean 2001, and say that what you’ve said is pretty accurate. Though there was a point where I spontaneously decided to make a tweak…to pause after asking the audience to sing the Barney song with me…to allow time for a reaction. And what it got was a pretty significant reaction.

Me: Yes, 2001; sorry. Cool that you spontaneously asked the audience to sing the Barney song. That’s ballzy – and awesome!

Jim Key: Asking them wasn’t the spontaneous part. I had planned to do that, but the idea still scared me such that I decided to ask and then rush right into singing it. Something in my head said ‘lay it out there and wait’. The response was beyond what I could’ve hoped for.

Me: Whoa, so the “lay it out there and wait” part was the spontaneous tweak. And the audience totally came through. That must have felt amazing, that the audience was “with you” on this.

Jim Key: It did. Gauging by the way they reacted to the MC’s briefing, and during the early part of my speech, I had a sense that they’d be with me. I just didn’t know it to that degree. Looking back, I think many (if not all) speeches that stand out take some type of risk or do something differently. In 2001, that was it for me.

Me: Thanks so much for your time and behind-the-scenes.

Lance Miller – 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking

Lance Miller: I knew it word for word – but I did not memorize it – there is a huge difference!

Jock Elliot – 2011 World Champion of Public Speaking

Jock Elliot: Yes. For all my [5-7 min.] competition speeches, I memorize them. In fact, I go further than that, I internalize them so that they as natural and easy as breathing.

For other [longer] presentations, while I write them out as clearly as I can to make sure I get all my points in the right order, I then reduce that to dot points, perhaps using several key phrases but otherwise, just talking naturally and conversationally about the points being made.

Randy Harvey – 2004 World Champion of Public Speaking

Randy Harvey: Of course I did. But only because I wanted to get the message across.

Ryan Avery – 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking

Ryan Avery: Yes sir!

Craig Valentine – 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking

Craig Valentine: I believe so. It was a long time ago but I believe I did. However, I never wrote it down.

Mark Brown – 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking

Mark Brown: I did.

Me: Thanks so much, Mark. Appreciate the help.

Mark Brown: It’s important that they (Toastmasters club members) understand WHY they should memorize.

Me: That’d definitely be helpful. Do you have a recommendation for what I can tell my club to help them understand why it’s important for them to memorize?

Mark Brown: Good writing creates a good speech. Memorizing ensures that good writing isn’t forgotten.

The best and most descriptive language doesn’t necessarily flow from one’s mouth spontaneously. Word, phrase & sentence selection are critical, and even if one thinks of some great ones at any given time, if they aren’t practiced and memorized, they will be forgotten.

Me: That totally makes sense. One of my club members writes great descriptive material and she wants to be able to deliver it without notes. Thanks much. I’ll share this with her and the club.

Darren LaCroix – 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking

Darren LaCroix: Internalize, don’t memorize

Me: Thanks much, Darren. I guess “internalization” is a big step past memorization?

Darren LaCroix: Yes, but also not word for word. See my recent blog post about: TED-fluence on www.darrenlacroix.com

Me: Awesome; thanks for the direction, Darren.

Internalizing

Enough of the World Champs mentioned internalizing their speech for me to take it seriously. They go the extra mile by going beyond the memorization phase: practice > memorize > internalize.

What does internalize mean? As Jim Key put it, “I internalized my speech so that even in the event of a distraction I would not be thrown off.”

Practice is like: You draw a map of directions to your new job and you follow the map until you get there. Or, you punch the address in to your phone and let Siri guide you.

Memorize is like: You drive the same route enough times that you don’t need the map or Siri anymore. You’ve memorized the names of the street signs.

Internalize is like: Forget Siri, forget the map, forget the street signs. You can drive to work blindfolded. It’s second-nature.

There’s a second theme that bubbled to the surface too: WHY memorizing is important.

Mark Brown: Good writing creates a good speech. Memorizing ensures that good writing isn’t forgotten. The best and most descriptive language doesn’t necessarily flow from one’s mouth spontaneously. Word, phrase & sentence selection are critical, and even if one thinks of some great ones at any given time, if they aren’t practiced and memorized, they will be forgotten. More resources:

You Just Won Your Toastmasters District Speech Contest – Now What?

Congratulations on winning your District Toastmasters International Speech contest!

Now what?

  1. Grab a copy of your Toastmasters District speech and upload it to YouTube so you can get it evaluated by previous World Champions, Advanced Toastmasters Clubs, mentors.
  2. Start developing your second speech, for Finals, right now! You will be presenting 2 speeches at the International speech contest: one for Semifinals (typically your District speech), and a completely new speech for Finals.

Get insight from previous World Champions

Contact previous World Champions and see how much they charge to evaluate your District-winning speech.

*Darren LaCroix: “I do help people for free once they have won their district speech contest. Why? First, helping people who contact me out of a field of 81 is much more manageable than 35,000. Also, I want to give back as my mentors did, and the [District] winners have earned that opportunity. The speech contest is a self-discovery process. It is powerful as a growth tool, if you have the proper intentions. If your entire goal is to win for ego purposes or to launch your career, please do not contact me or invest in any of my programs.”

Get insight from 2nd- and 3rd-place World Champions

If they’re not competing in this year’s International speech contest, last year’s 2nd-place and 3rd-place World Champions are a great resource. Find them here.

Get insight from Advanced Toastmasters clubs

Contact your District’s Advanced Clubs for feedback and evaluations on your District speech – maybe even mentorship. They’re also the perfect environment to practice your Final speech.

One of my go-to Advanced Toastmasters Clubs in Sacramento, CA is Reveilliers Toastmasters. They really kicked my butt, told me the truth and provided top-notch evaluations. Most Advanced Club members have attended many International conferences and have heard many Semifinal and Final speeches over the years. An Advanced Club will tell you if you’re up-to-par or not – and, generally, how to fix it.

Get insight from your previous District winners

Contact your District’s previous District winners for help, advice, even mentorship.

Study previous World Champion speeches

There’s a huge difference between presenting at your District and the competition you’re going to face at the Semifinal and World Champion levels. Notice their deliberate use of the stage to set up scenes with characters and dialogue.

Watch previous Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking speeches.

How I Prepared for the 2013 Toastmasters International Semifinal Speech Contest

Step 1: Getting feedback from local Advanced Toastmasters clubs

Reality check!

A couple of brutely-honest – and painful to hear – District 39 Advanced Club evaluators were concerned that my District-winning speech wouldn’t hold up to the competition I was going to face 3 months later at Semifinals on Aug 22, 2013 in Cincinnati, OH. Turns out they were right! The 3 months between District and Semifinals, my speech changed by 50%. It was much more work, time and stress than I anticipated. Plus, I had to create a completely new speech to present during the World Champion of Public Speak competition!

Getting educated.

I watched – and re-watched – previous World Champion of Public Speaking winners on YouTube: Jim Key (2003), Randy Harvey (2004), Lance Miller (2005), Jock Elliot (2011) and Ryan Avery (2012). To my surprise, the previous-year’s winning speakers had overly-large gestures, were quite animated and covered the whole stage. Not something you’d ever see in a board meeting or from a politician running for office. But for an inspirational speech delivered in front of 2,000+ attendees you need to act over-the-top because most of the audience can barely see you.

Acting silly!

After reviewing World Champion’s winning speeches, it reminded me of silly, over-the-top, Vaudeville performances. But that’s simply because I had been used to presenting Toastmasters speeches in actual board rooms and small venues (15-150 people). The World Champion of Public Speaking contest is in a convention hall that is literally the size a football field, and filled with almost 2,000 people. You have to look alive and be entertaining!

I also watched everything I could get my hands on from Hall of Fame Speaker, Patricia Fripp, and 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, Craig Valentine! Ryan Avery (2012 WCPS) has also kicked off a teaching Website called How To Be A Speaker.

Step 2: Re-crafting my District-winning speech for the International competition

Right off the bat, I was in trouble! My evaluators presented a long list of good reasons that my District-winning speech was going to get clobbered at the next round of competitions. I made 4 big changes:

  1. Edited my speech to be more International in its appeal. Since I live in California, I needed to delete/replace any local, cultural and colloquial references that an International audience – and International judges – may not easily relate to.
  2. Altered my speech from mostly-narration to a good mix of narration and dialog.
  3. Since my evaluators said I came across as very preachy, I had to figure out a way around this.
  4. Integrated some of Randy Harvey’s S.C.R.E.A.M. speech-writing formula:
    • Simile*
    • Contrast
    • Rhyme
    • Echo
    • Alliteration
    • Metaphor*

*Now I had to figure out the difference between a Simile and a Metaphor. (A simile is a metaphor, but not all metaphors are similes.)

One of my evaluators, Tobias Stockler, helped me clarify the analogy for my speech title A Good Harvest. After grilling me for a few minutes I frustratingly replied, “A Good Harvest is like a farmer trying to raise good crops.” “Perfect.” he said, “Now the audience will know how to relate to the idea of A Good Harvest.”

I also added Patricia Fripp’s and Ryan Avery’s “circular technique” (a matching opening & closing). I cut out less-obvious references to my core message, reduced 4 story lines to just 2, reduced closing calls-to-action from five to one, created a more central tagline message (“reach out and mend a broken fence”), and added a “WHY” to the story (“happiness”).

  • Added more dialogue.
  • Added reference to book title in dialogue.
  • Added Patricia Fripp’s “Circular technique” (opening/closing speech with the same sentence, story, stage location).
  • Reduced my calls-to-action at the end from 5 to 1.
  • Reduced the amount of stories.
  • Spread storylines across different parts of the stage.
  • Added simile/metaphor: “Divorce is like a broken fence”
  • Added a call-to-action at end: “Reach out and mend a broken fence”
  • Added definition/analogy of A Good Harvest: “Like a farmer trying to raise good crops, parents trying to raise good kids.”
  • Deleted references to getting arrested and Dad calling every Sunday.
  • Added alliteration: “shorts and a short-sleeve shirt”
  • Added “why” I apologized to my ex-wife: to be happy.
  • Added “why” a good harvest is important: raises value of society.
  • Added alliteration/description of Dad: shorts and short-sleeve shirt.

Be prepared to make last-minute changes to your speech. At International, 2 hours before the contest, our Contest Chair informed us to address her as “Madam Contest Chair.” This “address” was completely different from the standard “Mister/Madam Toastmaster” that I was used to at my club and local speech contests.

A big thanks to the following District 39 members for their evaluations and support: Danny Pastores, Ceci Dunn, Zack Souza, George Jarosik, David Zic, Rick Pierce, Tobias Stockler, Rick & Marcia Sydor, Herb Long, Susan Hawbaker, Cliff Brackett, Tracy Harrison, Brian Hatano, Ruth Maloney.

What really helped me parse all of the feedback I was receiving, and to put it into context, were District 39’s previous winners: Russell Marsan (2012 District 39 Winner), Jeffrey Purtee (2011 District 39 Winner) and Jim Brennan (World Champion runner-up, District 39).

Step 3: Practicing for a much larger stage

Toastmasters outdoor practice space, Midtown Sacramento, CA
Toastmasters outdoor practice space, Midtown Sacramento, CA

Five weeks before the International Semifinals, I found an outdoor practice space in Midtown Sacramento, CA: 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep. And although it was outside in the glaring sun (or pouring rain), it was perfect. And the occasional foot-traffic helped me get used to distractions, as well as a few people that stopped and watched for a moment and asked what in the world I was doing – LOL.

Practicing staging and full-out body language took much more energy than I thought it would. The first time I practiced for an hour-and-a-half, and I was exhausted from the sun, jumping up and down, going through larger-than-life animations and just plain covering a lot of ground. A nice workout for sure:)

Editing my speech after an Advanced club evaluation had to include editing my staging as well. Does a new line of text put me on a different part of the stage? Am I going to end up spending too much time on one side of the stage?

I had to get use to the stage as one of the characters in my speech. I also had to allow for the extra time that walking across the stage takes up. In my 5-7 minute speech, I discovered that moving around on the stage adds approximately 60 seconds to my speech. So I had to cut out 60-seconds-worth of content to accommodate setting scenes/stories at stage-left, center-stage and stage-right.

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.