Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Interview on Public Speaking

I thought I'd start out my blog with a recent interview on public speaking that my daughter Abby did with me for her speech class at Colorado Christian University. She used me as her "expert" source in the field. I hope you enjoy it.

How long have you been doing toastmasters?

I've been in Toastmasters for 2 years.

What exactly are you the VP of, and could you give a brief description of what that position entails?

I'm the VP of Education for our Club, Simply Speaking Toastmasters
The position includes:
  • Encourage (and sometimes cajole) members to achieve the next level in Toastmasters Communication and Leadership awards.
  • Present communication and leadership awards when members have finished their book(s).
  • Submit award applications to the Toastmasters International web site.
  • Mentor new and returning members.
  • Teach experienced members how to mentor others.
  • Assign mentors to new members.
  • Promote participation in the Toastmaster Education Program.
  • Schedule meetings (although I've delegated this job to someone else).
  • Plan Speech Contests (although I usually delegate to another member).
  • Attend Club Officer meetings to help manage the club.
  • Attend Officer Leadership Training meetings held by our Toastmaster district.
  • Fill in for the President when they can't attend a meeting.
  • Help the President wherever needed.
  • Prepare my successor for office.

How many best speaker/ table topics/ evaluator awards have you gotten?

I've won 3 or 4 times. I would win more, but we have about 10 other speakers in the group who are totally amazing. For example, we have Ian Humphrey in our club, and he just went to the final round of Toastmasters International Speech Contest. If he's on the schedule to speak, I just concede - might as well just hand him the best speaker ribbon before we even start. :-)

What do you do in your speeches?
  • What hook do you use?
  • How/ how long do you prepare?
  • What sorts of topics do you speak on?
  • How many speeches have you done?
What hook do I use? It depends.
At Toastmasters, I try to get the audience's attention at the beginning with vocal variety, having an odd title like "The Elements in Barbecue in Free Verse" , OR wearing a costume related to my talk (e.g., a bathrobe with the Cat-In-The-Hat hat, etc.). I've also used props like duct tape, etc.

At a technical presentation at a conference or user group, I have to reel it back in. But I can still use cool pictures and diagrams.

How do you prepare?
I'm starting a more structured approach:
  • Identify the audience - what are their needs?
  • Identify the purpose.
  • Gather materials.
  • Outline with a mind mapping tool.
  • Write a first draft.
  • Then, I start creating slides (but not before).
  • Refine the writing and the slides.
  • Practice, practice, practice. I memorize key portions of the speech, but other parts are more impromptu. I try to tell a story.
How long do you prepare?
Hmmm ... In the past, not long enough. Now, I spend about 80 hours creating a 90 minute talk.
For the 5 - 7 minute speeches at Toastmasters, I usually spend about 7 - 8 hours preparing.

What sorts of topics do you speak on?
At Toastmasters, I talk about non-technical topics:
  • Past:
  1. BBQ
  2. Duct Tape
  3. Stress in the workplace
  4. Over-dependence on technology
  • Upcoming:
  1. How to mentor a new Toastmaster member
  2. The Toastmaster educational program
  3. How to Mind Map
  4. How to do a slide presentation
At technical conferences, I speak about technical topics:
  • Service-Oriented Architecture
  • Web Services
  • Java development
  • jQuery
  • JBoss (remember my book?)
  • Data Interchange Formats (XML and JSON)
How many speeches have you done?
At Toastmasters, I've done 10 speeches.
At technical user groups, I've done about 10 - 15.
At technical conferences, I've done about 15 - 20.

What is the longest speech you have done?

At Toastmasters, my longest speech was about 10 minutes (but average time is 5 - 7 minutes).
At technical conferences, I'm usually doing 90 minute talks.

In November I'll be presenting at two technical user groups, and each talk will be about 60 minutes.

In April 2011, I'll be at GIDS 2011 in Bangalore India. I'll be doing 4 talks that last 45 minutes, and two more that last 180 minutes each.

I'm hoping to be at the "No Fluff Just Stuff" conferences next year, where I'll be back to the normal 90 minute talks.

I'm also thinking about doing some technical training courses next year for architects and developers. This could either be an evening class that goes for 2 hours OR it could be an all-day course on Saturday.

In the past, I've taught technical training courses where I spoke and taught 8 hours per day for 5 days straight (this including answering lots of questions) - this is very tiring.

Do you use visual aids?

At Toastmasters, I use some props - Duct Tape, toys, cell phone, costumes, etc. For my upcoming talks I'll be using slides that have pictures.

At technical talks at user groups and conferences, I'll also be using slides with pictures.

Did you learn from others, or were you just born great? :)
If so, how did you decide who (what type of speaker) to learn from, what did you pick up?

Very few people are born great, and I'm not one of them.
It's been a long hard process just to become good. Speaking, presenting, and teaching is a LOT of work, but I love it.
I've learned from a lot of people:
  • Scott Davis (my co-author on JBoss at Work) - who is one of the most talented technical presenters I've ever seen. He's smooth and glib. He sounds like he's talking to you personally even in a packed conference room.
  • Matt McCullough - He's re-defining how to do technical presentations. From looking at his talks, I realized that I had to completely, fundamentally change how I present. Matt's slides have very few words. He uses lots of pictures and images, but he can still convey great technical information.
  • Tim Berglund - ditto. He inspires me to try to get into international conferences. Go large or go home.
  • Toastmasters (where do I start?):
  • Ian Humphrey (Toastmasters International Speech Contest Finalist) - His presentations are powerful and inspiring. After all the things he's overcome in life, I'm reminded that NOTHING is impossible, and that "impossible" is nothing.
    1. Elinora Reynolds - She's smooth and glib in any situation.
    2. Betty Funderburke - Joy and inspiration.
    3. Gigi DeGala - She looks so small and innocent, but she is amazing. She is one of the most powerful and inspirational speakers I've ever heard.
    4. Darryle Brown - Totally Dynamic.
  • Church:
  1. Pastor Robert - Smooth, great messages. One of the best preachers I've ever heard.

Where might you improve still?

I need to work on:
  • More practice
  • Consider the needs of my audience for my technical talks
  • Less text on my slides
  • More images on my slides
  • Don't read from my slides

Anything else useful you can think of for how you have become successful in speechifying?

General Tips:
  • Be passionate - speak about something that matters to you.
  • Go to Toastmasters and see others do it.
  • Go through the 1st 10 speeches in Toastmasters Competent Communication manual.
  • Do the speeches in the various Advanced Communication manuals.
  • Read some of the newer texts on communications and speaking (and then put what you've learned into practice):
    1. slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations
    2. Presentation Skills 201: How to Take it to the Next Level as a Confident, Engaging Presenter
    3. Presentation Zen
    4. Business Writing and Communication
    5. the Non-Designer's Presentation Book
  • Great Web Sites:
  1. Toastmasters.org
  2. SpeakingAboutPresenting.com
  3. Six Minutes

Simply Speaking Bloggers: Remember to let your group know you created a blog post.

Simply Speaking Google Group


  1. Awesome interview, Abby! Very complimentary and honest. Great job, Tom. We're so glad you're a part of this club!

  2. Hey Tom, great blog! Good luck in Nov.

  3. Wow! This is not only an interview, but a source of very good information about speaking. Here is to your success in your technical speaking world and Toastmasters.