Today, I am going to discuss my second Toastmasters speech. The first speech is here.
The second project was to deliver a speech having a purpose. The Icebreaker project (1st speech) gets you started on the path of public speaking. The second project makes you understand the importance of purpose in any communication.
The upcoming section contains my final speech. I expand on the purpose and its importance after that. Then I discuss my takeaways from this project, followed by the conclusion.
Explore or Exploit
Can I see a show of hands if anyone here orders food from Swiggy or Zomato? (wait) Thank Now let me see a show of hands from those who ALWAYS order from the same restaurant. (wait) [No one. That is obvious. Right? You will also try out new restaurants.] This is the last one. Let me see a show of hands from those who ALWAYS try out a new restaurant. (wait) (smile) [That was another crazy question.]
Most of us are the same: we either want to order from our safe zone or try from uncharted territory. Listening to it in this context may sound obvious. After all, you should have both choices available to you. How else are you going to find a new place?
Unfortunately, we often miss this in the context of our life. Maintaining a balance between exploration and exploitation is the message I want to convey today.
I started exploring cycling when I was 9 or 10 years old. I did not plan on being the third wheel between my cousin and his bike. So, I learnt it in a few days and switched into the exploit mode of riding it daily.
After gaining confidence, I decided to ride my elder brother’s bike. The next day, in the early morning, I pondered about taking the risk. Why would it be risky? Because when on the bike, my toes never reached the floor.
You know the urge to do something that people older than you are doing can make a child do anything. I decided to take the risk.
I could maintain the balance. As I could only pedal in half circles, momentum was building up slowly. Now, of course, something bad happened. I suddenly hit one of those nasty speed breakers. The likes of which, along with your speed, also break you. After the impact, I found myself off the saddle and hanging on the frame. My feet were nowhere near the pedals and scrambling for support from the road. Since my toes could barely reach 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.
In retrospect, it was a tiny incident, but for a 10-year-old kid, it was a confidence booster. I remember feeling proud of myself for coming out of it without any injury. And I was glad I decided to explore riding on my brother’s bike.
The explore-exploit equation gets warped at school.
You are required to study a fixed set of subjects. Under the influence of that mandate, I never thought to explore any of my subjects. That thinking changed when a tutor got me into the habit of reading my textbooks. After that, subjects were not something that I had to study. They became different avenues for me to explore.
My favourite subject was physics. I was obsessed with Einstein and Feynman. I loved reading about the theory of relativity. Schrödinger’s cat made atoms and waves exciting. Concepts of thermodynamics made life practical. I even envisioned the future Shivam building a successful nuclear fusion reactor to satisfy all our clean electricity needs.
I was also caught by the outer space bug. Here is a trivia that blew my mind: you witness the past when you see the stars during the night. That is because they are so far that it took light years to reach you.
Then I got to explore, not study, but explore computer science in 11th grade. You could code anything up if you had the creativity and a logical mind. I was immediately hooked. I romanticize those years as a time when I had a love triangle with Physics and Computer Science.
Of course, every good thing comes to an end. When it was time for college, I defaulted to exploitation. The reality, seen through the eyes of peers, teachers, and parents, persuaded me to opt for Computer Engineering.
The thing is, I have never regretted this decision. There were numerous subfields to explore within computer science. My career shaped into what it is today because of those explorations.
I started my Computer Science engineering in the year 2012. Data Science and Artificial Intelligence started booming. Data Science suggests that we can solve problems in any domain when simple maths is applied to data. That was fascinating to me. It also had many concepts of Physics, my first love, mixed in with it.
I explored many interesting subfields in computer science before settling for Data Science. When the question came to decide on a career, I had already covered a lot of ground in Data Science. And its interdisciplinary nature compelled me to exploit it further.
I give full credit to my explorations for Data Science as a career choice. It has given me exposure to different industries and how the world works. And deciding which industry to try next is also always driven by my drive to explore.
I am not talking about Covid here, but I feel we are undergoing a pandemic where people lack the approach to find what they can exploit. And that is because they do not explore enough.
I know many people who have taken this framework to the extremes and are incredibly successful and satisfied.
So my message for you today is to explore as much as you can. The moment something enthrals you, go into exploitation mode. But never stop exploring. Exploration is what makes you, you.
Purpose and its Importance
Books have a purpose; this blog post has a purpose; like every communication, a speech also has a purpose. We are instinctively aware of this whenever we say something.
Nevertheless, I was perplexed when I started writing this speech. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to talk about, but I could not articulate it. Response from my mentor also did not help me. The project resources provided by Toastmasters succoured me.
According to the guide, every speech has a generic purpose: inform, persuade, entertain, and inspire. Every generic purpose will also have a specific purpose. It is one sentence that summarizes the objective of your speech. The general purpose of my speech was to inspire. The specific purpose was: the more you explore, the more you build your character.
This framework of defining the purpose enabled me to write clearly. I knew how I wanted the audience to perceive my speech. I wrote all the paragraphs and transitions between them with my purpose in mind. I enjoyed writing this speech.
My posture was good throughout the speech. I had a natural presence and felt confident.
Unlike during the first speech, my neck was straight. Practising in front of the mirror probably helped there. This time around, I observed that my shoulders were not level. It is a tiny thing and may not be noticeable to the audience. I will work on this during my next practice.
I was also tiptoeing during many parts of the speech. My head bobbed up and down a few times. It was unnecessary.
One feedback I got from the evaluator was that I looked away from the camera multiple times. It was not distracting, but it was noticeable. It coincided with the parts where I could not remember the content. It also happened during the last speech. The only solution is to practice more.
The second feedback was a lack of hand gestures. I was more focused on remembering the content that I did not think about gestures. My hands were also not in the camera view. So the audience missed the few natural hand gestures that I had towards the end. So I need to work more on hand gestures.
I wore formals. I stood up to deliver the speech. The evaluator also mentioned that both the light and the camera angle were good. Notwithstanding, I may have to rethink the setup. My natural hand gestures were not visible because of the camera field view. I will need to increase the distance between the camera and me.
I did not have a dry throat this time. Thus, there were no weird expressions. I was blank at some places. Otherwise, I was mostly smiling.
I had the impression that I speak fast. After two speeches, I can say that I have an average pace. The pauses between the sentences and paragraphs are also apt. I do not speak at a snail’s pace, neither is it rushed.
Occasionally, I quickly go through a sentence and mess up. Following are the instances I observed:
- Bystanders sounded like bystandards (or, I may have said bystandards)
- Fixed set of subjects sounded like fix ed of subjects
- Every good thing comes to an end - did not fumble, but it could have been slower.
- I fumbled at regretted while speaking the thing is, I never regretted that decision
- I fumbled at Artificial Intelligence while speaking Data Science and Artificial Intelligence started booming.
- I did not emphasize while ending this sentence: proud of myself after handling this situation without any injuries.
The goal was to take five to seven minutes. Unfortunately, I was way over the time limit. Despite skipping a few sentences, I spoke for nine whopping minutes. It happened because of a lack of insight into my speaking style. If I had timed myself while practising, I would have noticed it. I decided against it because I wanted to practice the delivery and retention of the content.
I wrote the speech assuming a high pace of speaking. It had more than 900 words. I expected to cover all the material in under seven minutes. I could not. Along with the content length, I also missed accounting for pauses between sentences. I will shorten the write up in future speeches. My mentor concurred.
The evaluator suggested starting wrapping up when the yellow timer card comes up. That will push me to cover the relevant parts to finish up on time.
This time around, I used fewer crutch words (28 this time vs 34 last time). The use of uh remained the same, though. :/ I also noticed a new filler: taking a nose breath (as if I had to clear the sinuses).
|12 times||5 times||4 times||4 times||2 times||1 times|
A Mixture of the Tenses
I mixed the tenses only once. Yay.
It looks like I make grammatical mistakes when I am recounting past stories. Practice, practice, practice!!
The opening of any speech should be grand. It can be a question, a joke, or an eyebrow-raising statement. It will make the audience listen to you.
I created that effect.
The evaluator mentioned that my questions were very engaging. They were engaging because of the following two reasons:
- Ordering food online is ubiquitous today. Everyone could respond to the questions.
- The relationship between the questions and the theme was not apparent. That compelled the audience to listen to the next part of my speech.
Here is a little truth about that opening: it was not my first choice.
Initially, I had written a technical opening connecting the Recommendation Systems with the topic. I thought it would grab their attention. Unfortunately, my mentor disagreed and suggested changing it.
Then I wrote a dialogue between me and my friend about how exploration and exploitation emerge while ordering food online. According to my mentor, it would work if I was an experienced speaker. As I am a beginner and I will likely butcher the dialogue delivery. Consequently, I settled on asking questions from the audience.
My mentor hinted that I should think of the opening as a grand event. I will write and present it with more effort if I consider it paramount.
Here is the paraphrased version of feedback from my mentor: Initially, I was not sure why I was doing it. Then I gained the confidence and delivered it confidently.
It was my second speech. The environment was very different from the first speech. So I was shaky in the beginning. The audience also surprised me. The replies to my questions were unexpected. I had to make a few changes on the fly.
My mentor says that surprises are inevitable. I should make impromptu changes from the reactions of the audience.
The evaluator commended me on delivering it naturally. It looked like I was comfortable on the virtual stage. My smiling face helped. The more crucial factor was how my speech came across. To my evaluator, we were talking during my speech. Rather than being a performance, it came across as a conversation with the audience. It points in the direction that I connected with my audience. That too on a virtual stage.
My mentor advised maintaining my conversational delivery. At the same time, I should make it impactful. The impact will come if I put more power in my voice. And consistently maintain it. A guiding principle is to make my voice reach the people in the (imaginary) last row.
The evaluator liked my stories. They particularly enjoyed the flow of topics with the theme: food, cycling, school subjects, science, computer science, and data science. The audience found the analogies pleasing. They found the sprinkled humour diverting (special mention for the love triangle bit). The evaluator also mentioned how technical things mixed with the stories made the speech interesting for non-science people. It was surprising to see myself excelling at telling stories because I consider myself mediocre at it.
Lastly, one audience member remarked that she was motivated to explore more. It made me feel that my speech successfully inspired at least one person.
The speech was about exploring stuff. Exploiting the right ones and further exploring them in depth. So the speech title should have been Explore and Exploit instead of Explore or Exploit.
Speaking vs Writing
My mentor gave me an interesting outlook when I asked him about improving the language of my content and delivering it better.
There is a difference between our writing and speaking patterns. Exceptional speakers have consistent in the way they speak and write. Novice speakers like me write in a manner that will be miles away from my speech.
Written content has finesse because we spend more time on it. My blog posts go through multiple rounds of reviews before I hit publish. So, the first step towards having a quality language is to bring my speaking level up to my writing level. Right now, I go off script quite a lot. I have to do that sensibly and not because I forgot what I wrote.
The next frontier is to improve how I write. My mentor encouraged me to discover my ideal writing. It will give me a sense of the effect I want to achieve with each sentence.
The pertinent question here is, how do we find this impactful writing ideal? I have to expose myself to a variety of authors and written content. It is not limited to books. It can be book reviews or other literary articles. For example, I have subscribed to Literary Hub to get ideas about quality sentence formations. Gradually, I will build a repository of these ideas. Employing them in my writing will take me towards my ideal.
I delivered my second speech. This time my speech was supposed to have a clear purpose. My speech was about the theme of exploration and exploitation in life.
I reproduced all the positive things from last time: camera angle, attire, and expressions. I came across as natural. My pace was right. Pauses between the sentences were natural. I used fewer fillers than the last time. There were a few grammatical mistakes, but nothing major.
My opening was engaging and relatable to the audience. The flow of the speech kept the audience interested. Stories and humour were also well received. I found out that I am good at storytelling. My mentor helped me understand how I can improve the quality of my writing and speeches.
Key improvement areas for me are:
- Time management. I need to finish my content within the stipulated time.
- Practice a lot more
- Bring power in my voice and maintain it throughout the speech.
- Bring speaking level closer to writing level.
My third speech is about vocal variety and body language in my delivery. I am looking forward to more discoveries.