Last year in November, I joined Toastmasters (TM) to build my communication and leadership skills. One part of the TM is the prepared speeches. You have to prepare and deliver a short speech in front of an audience. You also receive feedback from an evaluator.
I delivered my first speech on 13th Feb 2021. (Yeah, I procrastinate a lot.)
The first speech is supposed to be an icebreaker. You are just starting, and thus, you first tell your club members about you. It is supposed to be 4 to 6 minutes long. Assuming the pace to be between 120 to 140 words per minute, it comes around 500 to 800 words.
My first draft had a little under 1000 words. My mentor asked me to remove two paragraphs. Thus the final speech had somewhere over 800 words.
This post is about the speech and my takeaways.
Should I Stay, or Should I Go?
I always loved the very first exercise of my school textbooks. They were effortless. I thought my first speech would be the same. Little did I know, Icebreakers are supposed to be about you, and I am always at a loss for words when asked to describe myself. The only time I wrote a bio was on my Tinder profile. I have a suspicion as to why I never got any matches. :)
A few days before Christmas last year, I was oscillating between technical writing and going for a 6-day cycling trip from Dandeli to South Goa. Both had utterly compelling arguments favouring them. After some procrastination and over-thinking, I finally came to my classic quandary: “Should I stay, or should I go?”
And this has been the theme of my life. Today, I wish to show you how my procrastinating, curious, impatient, autodidactic, confident (likely over-confident), risk-taking, and adventurous personality always brings me back to this question.
I was born in MP and grew up in UP and Delhi. A place called Baghpat in UP is my hometown. That is where I learned cycling. I was 9 or 10 years old. Initially, I was just a third wheel between my cousin and his bicycle. I wanted to ride a bike as well. So, I rented the smallest bicycle for a rupee an hour and learned it on my own in 3 days. After that, I had daily trysts with that rental bike.
With time, I got more confident. One day, I thought of riding my elder brother’s bike. The next day, I got up early morning and thought for a few minutes if I should wait for a few months, or should I go and take the risk? Why would it be risky? Because when on the bike, my toes would not reach the floor. I decided to take the risk.
I was maintaining the balance. As I could only pedal in half circles, momentum was slowly building up. Now of course something bad happened. I suddenly hit a speed breaker. And at that moment, I found myself sitting on the frame instead of the saddle, my toes barely touching the road. I knew if I hit the brakes now, I would fall and hurt myself. At some distance, I saw a bunch of hay on the footpath. I manoeuvred the bike to break my fall on that cushion. There were a few laughs from the bystanders. I also laughed with them.
That is how my childhood was. After 5th grade, my family moved to Delhi. That is where I spent all my teens and early twenties. People call that time the most impressionistic time. It was certainly true for me.
[I liked Biology, and because of that, I wanted to become a Doctor. My dad is a PhD in Stats. He and a few of his friends convinced me to take Computer Science (CS) elective in 11th grade. I started liking CS, but I was sad leaving biology behind.] – dropped to reduce the number of words
My favourite subject, physics, led to me being obsessed with Einstein. I learned German to read some German texts authored by him. Unfortunately, reading was not easy even after learning spoken German. But, hey, I can at least say good day and introduce myself in German. :D
During those days, I developed my taste in instrumental music. Newfound interest and inspiration from Einstein made me curious about the violin. Impulsively, I bought the instrument and started learning it myself. Sadly, my impatience made me give it up after a few months. I still have that violin, and I gently weep whenever I see it.
[My love triangle with Physics and Computer Science made it fun when it was time for college. How do you decide between aspiring to work on nuclear physics or astrophysics and solving complex problems through a computer? Reality prevailed, and I opted for CS.] – dropped to reduce the number of words
I started my Computer Science engineering in 2012. Data Science and Artificial Intelligence were booming. The idea that with simple maths applied to data, you can solve problems in any domain was just fascinating to me. In addition to Data Science, I also found a few CS subfields interesting. Ultimately, the question came to decide between software engineering and data science. Its interdisciplinary nature made me go for a career in Data Science.
Being a Data Scientist has given me exposure to many domains. In my 5+ years of work experience, I have applied my skills in the supply chain, fraud consulting, banking, and e-commerce industries. Deciding what to try next has not been easy. Staying at the current place has many perks, but going to the next one also has many exciting opportunities.
I have confronted this question of whether to stay or to go umpteen number of times. My observation is that I have rarely regretted my choice. And whenever it has not been favourable, I could always find my way out. But mostly, it has been diverting.
Just two days before the event, I decided to go on that Dandeli to Goa cycling trip, and it was the most exciting new year I have ever spent. I met a lot of strangers, many of whom have become my comrades now.
It took me 6 minutes and 34 seconds to deliver my speech. That is 34 seconds over the allotted time. This time includes extra time because of the following elements:
- Internet outage for a few seconds
- I fumbled a few times because I could not remember the words.
- Few long pauses because I was dehydrated
- A lot of filler words
Following is what I did to give the speech a feel of the stage performance:
- I was standing while delivering the speech. It emulated the environment of speaking on a physical stage.
- I wore formals - a shirt and a pant. The audience only saw the shirt. It felt very unnatural delivering the speech in this attire.
- I had put the camera at eye level. If my camera had been lower, it would look like I am looking down upon the audience. They will also be looking up my nose. Having the camera at eye level makes the audience feel like I am looking at them and connecting with them.
This setup corroborated the feedback that I was confident and comfortable with the virtual stage.
I had a good stage presence because of my prep on the setup. I also came across as feeling natural and confident on the screen. Following are a few observations that I made about my posture:
- My head had a tilt to the side during the first 2-3 minutes. Not sure why I was doing that. The takeaway for me was to practice keeping the posture straight above the shoulders.
- I was not comfortable delivering the speech while standing. I need to practice this further.
- Whenever I could not remember stuff, I looked at the ceiling, avoiding the screen. Of course, I need to remember my content better and practice it many times.
I was smiling throughout the speech. I feel that it was probably because the content was about me. Nevertheless, smiling gave my delivery a feeling of confidence and candidness. The takeaway is to have a personal element in future speeches so that my smile is natural.
Since the speech was about me, I did not feel a lack of confidence about the content. That probably contributed to how confident I was while speaking.
My facial expression changed at many places:
- Weird appearances at places because I was thirsty and could not speak properly. Of course, hydration is a part of it. But I wonder if it could also be my nervousness. I will get to know more about this in future speeches.
- I was trying to gather saliva to make it easy to speak. I produced unnecessary sounds a few times.
- My lips were not level while speaking. It did not happen much, but it coincided with the head tilt. I will need to practice more.
The usual pace of speaking is 120 to 140 words per minute. Mine was within the range. I think I can increase it a bit, but that’s not a deal-breaker. There were a few areas of improvement I noticed:
- I unknowingly paused at random places. Probably because of a lack of fluency in my thoughts.
- I messed up the pronunciations of a few words. Most were because I went through them quickly.
- Suspicion sounded like suspension
- Technical sounded like pechnical (there is no such word)
- Quandary sounded like quantry (there is no such word)
- grew sounded like greeu
- trysts sounded like treests (similar-sounding, but I should have emphasized the word more)
- impressionistic - fumbled on this
- diverting sounded like divertee
Most of the humorous parts got the response I had expected.
The delivery of the Tinder bit was proper. Most of the audience laughed at it.
The third wheel pun was subtle, but a few members got it. Although the delivery was correct, I messed up at the start.
The gently weep at violin bit made very few members smile.I think the delivery could have been better by my expressions or voice. I am not sure how to do it right now.
The part where I discussed the risk of riding my brother’s bike could also have a better delivery. Although, it may also not have been funny.
I believed that I sparingly used filler words. I was mistaken. I used MANY filler words. Following are the stats:
|12 times||6 times||4 times||3 times||3 times||3 times||2 times||1 times|
There were many instances where words like so, like, and, but were not fillers. The above counts do not consider those usages. The first goal is to eliminate the use of filler uh.
I did this 2-3 times. I started with a sentence that was not how I had written it. Midway, after remembering the exact words, I abruptly began with the original sentence.
It did not harm the message, but it hampered the fluency of the speech.
The solution is to either remember exact words from the speech or be good enough to continue with the paraphrased sentence. I am going to focus on the former for now.
A Mixture of the Tenses
Whenever I recount an episode from the past, I mix the present tense with the past. I miss this when writing blog posts as well. The lack of consistency has the potential to confuse the listeners. It also takes away the effect of your message. Few places where I noticed this happening was:
- Which was my hometown should have been which is my hometown.
- A speed breaker comes should have been a speed breaker came.
- I am hanging on the frame should have been I was hanging on the frame.
- I am raking my brain → I raked my brains.
Awkward English Usage
There were many instances where I made sentences awkward while delivering. There were also grammar mistakes.
- Utterly compelling things could have been utterly compelling arguments.
- I was on saddle on that bike could have been I got on the saddle of that bike, or I got on the saddle.
- I pronounced there’s like theres instead of there is. I feel the latter would have sounded better.
- Same with I’ll. Say, I will.
- I was taking slowly slowly moving my bike. It could have been: my bike was moving forward slowly. Redundant words do not add any new information to the message.
- I slipped from my saddle my feet slipped from my pedal. There are two corrections. It should have been: pedals. And a better phrasing could have been as follows: I slipped from the saddle. My feet also lost the grip off the pedals.
- Data science and AI was booming should have been: Data Science and AI were booming.
- CS fields, which again has a few good applications → CS fields, which again have a few good applications.
The audience found the topic interesting. The chronology was simple to follow: childhood, teenage, and adulthood. Members also enjoyed the stories woven into the theme. In the anonymous feedback, someone gave me a rating of 3/5.
Engaging and interactive for the first attempt, could reduce the number of fillers in upcoming speeches.
This was a great speech and got to know a lot about you and your interest.
Absolutely loved your speech.. a wonderful story woven around an interesting theme that gave us a sneak peak into your journey so far. Looking forward to your future speeches. All the best!
These comments told me that the content was suitable. An experienced member of the club gave me actionable feedback.
I could connect to your cycle incident and to the violin. Do you have more of those defining moments in your life? You should try and string them together. Rather than treat it as an interview where you have to state facts about you. People want to know you and not your resume. I guess the two stories stood out to me. And they way you kind of started recounting them.
You could potentially work on thinking how you can make the audience not just hear it but experience it. That is, by transporting them to the incident. Create the environment by hinting the audience senses. Talk about what they would have seen, what they would have smelt, heard, felt. Then they are not just hearing it but being a part of the experience. Then they will know you a lot more. And it will be extremely powerful. I think you are very capable of doing this. Just try it out.
Essentially, he meant that I should improve my storytelling skills and immerse the audience in the story. Make them experience it vicariously.
The first speech to be delivered in Toastmasters is an icebreaker speech. I had prepared the stage. My speech content was somewhat engaging. According to the feedback, the delivery felt natural and confident.
I found many positives and areas of improvement in my delivery. I have identified the following actionable points:
- Remember the content well. That will eliminate many language issues.
- Make the stories more immersive for the audience.
- Practice delivering my speech by standing in front of a mirror or a camera.
I have also identified the points which I will keep doing more of:
- Keep smiling. A natural smile comes when the content is personal and relatable to the audience.
- Maintain the current pace of speaking.
- Have humour and deliver it well.
My second speech should be a speech with a purpose. In my icebreaker speech, the theme loosely touched with the stories. So, I have to take parts of it and rewrite them to reflect a purpose.