You’ve watched every episode, eyes riveted on the television. Finally, the real killer is about to be caught by the detective. He is shut behind bars. The camera zooms in on a slanted grin breaking out on his face. The scene cuts to a dusky close up on another figure, and you see him hiding the murder weapon under the doghouse in the backyard. Oh! They’ve captured the wrong person. Then the credits roll. Yikes! What will happen next? You worry and wonder.
This kind of ending is known as a cliff-hanger – leaving us in suspense for what will happen next. If this is the end of episode 11 in a 12-episode show, you will spend the week speculating what will happen, but you are assured you’ll find out in the finale. But what if that was how the finale ended? Likely you’d feel peeved. Bring on season two, you hope.
Audiences enjoy closure because it makes us feel satisfied the story reached where it should reach. The central premise of the show is answered. Did the detective catch the killer? Did she say yes to her first love? Did the family resolve their differences?1 Movies, films and fiction offer diverse kinds of endings: happy, sad, tragic. 2 Some clever authors know how to wrap up the plot, but still end, if not on a cliff-hanger, at least on a question that hints at a sequel.
Endings are so important that fans will ditch a series if they are dissatisfied with it, and many won’t even begin to watch if others have reassured them the ending was terrible.
So, endings matter.
And no less to Toastmasters.
A speech has a different responsibility than the movies, tv series and novels I’ve referred to above. A speaker needs to give the audience closure. There is no cliff-hanger moment for a good speech.
Toastmaster’s Best Speakers Series advice on endings is that they are crucial because they are the last thing the audience remembers about your speech. 3
Suggesting a signal that you are to end, with phrases such as “in conclusion,” or “to sum up,” the manual gives six different options for ending a speech:
Use a quotation that dramatizes your main points
Tell a short story or anecdote related to your main message
Call for action
Ask a rhetorical question
Refer to the beginning of your speech
Summarise your main points.
Now that you understand that a speech can’t trail off into the distance, that it needs to be tied up in a bow, let’s hear Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s adage: “Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of the ending.”
This week’s word of the day has exposed how behind schedule I am with my alleged twice-weekly blog posts. I’d appreciate it if someone would hit the pause button on life, so my yen for blogging can be satisfied.
Do I get an award for three week’s worth of words of the day in two sentences?
This week our grammarian proposed “exposed” as the word of the day, to match the meeting theme, which was about how showing one’s vulnerability is a strength for leaders, in spite of it typically being seen as a weakness.
This idea reminded me of one of my favourite stories about a famous Muslim scholar named Malik ibn Anas, known as Imam Malik. He was born in Medina, now in Saudi Arabia, in 711, and passed away in 795. Imam Malik founded a school of law whose rulings became widespread throughout North Africa, Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), Egypt, and parts of Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and Iraq. The school of law takes his name, Maliki law, and is still in use today.
The story goes like this: Once a man travelled a long distance to ask Imam Malik some questions. More specifically, he asked Imam Malik forty questions. Imam Malik answered four of these questions. And what about the other 36? To these he replied, “I don’t know.”
The man was taken aback, ““What should I tell people about these 36 questions for which you said, ‘I don’t know’?” Imam Malik replied that the man should tell the people that Malik says: “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” “I don’t know.”
I wonder if Imam Malik said that with a straight face. The latent comedy hides the wisdom of not being afraid to be vulnerable, or exposed, in public. The insight is that only an arrogant person, or one lacking self-esteem, will claim to know everything. Not things we seek, nor need, from a leader.
Imam Malik used to say, “It is from the insight of a man of knowledge that he says: ‘I don’t know’.”
How would a Toastmaster feel about answering “I don’t know” to a series of questions posed by the audience? Stupid, embarrassed, undermining my authority or status – these come to mind. But wise?
Considering that a scholar, who lived as long ago as did Imam Malik, was teaching and demonstrating to his followers that it was part of wisdom to say, “I don’t know,” considering his stature as legal thinker, considering his leadership in the Muslim community, we can appreciate that the issue of vulnerability and leadership is connected to a problem endemic to human nature.
Saying “I don’t know,” showing vulnerability, exposing our lack of understanding – this takes courage.
For that, we all yen for, and I wish us all good luck.
How Can We Incorporate Land Acknowledgements into Our Speeches?
Did you hear the one about the Toastmaster who walked up to the podium and…. A new custom emerged recently that challenges speakers in their attention-getting openings: the land acknowledgement.
I am not advocating a land acknowledgement as a must. Not everyone feels that it is important or necessary. Not everyone will feel comfortable with doing one.
For those of us who want to do a land acknowledgement, how do we, without sapping our sensational openings?
I digress briefly to explain what a land acknowledgement is, and why I believe in them. A land acknowledgement is a short statement to recognize that we live on land that was conquered from indigenous peoples or “purchased” in dubious and insincere colonial treaties. People and city governments across Canada, such as the City of Oakville, adopt a land acknowledgement to recognize past injustices, and as part of reconciliation and good relations to move forward.1
Land acknowledgements typically include naming the treaty and/or indigenous peoples on whose land we live and work. They mention the importance of the land, and finish by thanking the indigenous peoples for sharing the land with us.
Treaty Land Number 14 – The Head of the Lake Purchase
Glen Abbey Toastmasters sits on Treaty Land Number 14, the Head of the Lake Purchase. Signed in 1806, the Mississaugas of the Credit were given £1000 of trade goods and fishing rights along some creeks. 2
Parts of Burlington, Oakville, and Mississauga are in Treaty Land Number 14.
None of us were there in 1806, at this signing. But all of us are beneficiaries of this treaty’s provisions, except the Mississaugas of the Credit. This is why I believe a Land Acknowledgement can be an important step in reconciliation between those of us who are born, or arrived, here recently, and the descendants of those who signed.
Which brings us back full circle to the original challenge: including a land acknowledgement as part of a Toastmaster’s speech.
When Is The Right Time?
Should it be done at the beginning, as is the norm? Should it be done at the end? Can it be part of the speech in the middle?
My spotty practice so far is to give a very short land acknowledgment at the beginning of my speech. I recognize the Chair, our fellow toastmasters, and guests. I tell them that “I begin by acknowledging this land on which I live and work.” I complete a short land acknowledgment by recognizing the Indigenous peoples from here and express my gratitude for being able to be on this land.
I pause for a few seconds, and then launch into the speech, as if I am beginning anew – with the hook, the grabber, the question or quotation to bring the audience to me.
“You like potato and I like potahto, You like tomato and I like tomahto,” croons Louis Armstrong in his duet with Ella Fitzgerald.
As an Australian moving to Canada, with its dual British/American heritage, I spent many years learning the cause of confused looks people would give me.
“Here is my jumper,” I say to my friend, who expects to see a dress and sees instead, a sweater.
“The boxes are in the boot,” I say to my friend, who looks at the shoe rack, puzzled.
“What’s the boot?” you ask. The trunk of the car.
These memories seeped in as the grammarian of this week’s toastmaster’s meeting explained how confused she was with the word of the day. “I have been mis-understanding the meaning of this word my whole life,” she grieved. “I thought it meant ‘intentional,’ like the opposite of ‘inadvertent’, which means ‘unintentional.’” But apparently, she continued, the word meant “heedful or giving attention.”
I also thought the word meant “intentional”. My spidey sense was out. Our toastmaster also has a British colonial heritage – was this a potato/potahto example?
I pulled up the American Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the Cambridge Dictionary and the Oxford English dictionary, typed in the word “advertent”, and Bingo!
Both the Cambridge and Oxford English dictionaries give “intentional” as a meaning of the word “advertent”. Merriam-Webster says this is not “entirely off base”. They continue: “We have seen some evidence of this use [of the word as ‘intentional’], but it’s not yet well enough established to be entered in our dictionaries.”
Have you ever come across a piece of advice that seems weird at first, but as time passes, you find it meaningful and useful?
This for me, is the advice to speakers to keep a “success diary.” Write down the times that things went well. I used to connect a “success diary” to vainglory. No-one likes an arrogant boaster. How do you record your good talks without becoming the person who lords it over others?
Naysayers are all around us. Why are you doing that? We know you can’t do it that way. Mr X is already doing that, better than you ever could. Your efforts are not necessary, Ms Y has already done it. Like a ton of bricks, we are crushed before we even stand up.
One of the worst negative voices, chipping away at our self-esteem, is our own selves. From a whisper to a roar, we ask ourselves those same questions. You don’t know how to use humour in a speech, why even try it? You always smile awkwardly in the wrong place in your speech.
Remember that time you dropped your notes walking up to the podium?
Rehearsing all the times things went wrong, as we prepare a speech, can be suppressed in the writing and practicing phase. But as the hour draws near, the little unenthusiastic voice becomes destructive, a movie screen of disasters played on fast motion.
The Success Diary
Enter, the “success diary.” The Wonder Woman of enthusiasm, the Hulk of power, the Iron Man of mastery. The little voice rehearses the successes. Yes, there was that time you forgot where you were, and skipped a whole section, but remember that time you stayed on point and had the whole audience clapping loudly at the end? Yes, you did speak monotonously in front of the VP of Management, but remember that time you spoke to a small group of start-up CEOs who appreciated your business acumen.
We have to write down the good times because writing solidifies thought. The naysayer in your head is loud enough to drown out your little enthusiastic voice – the unarrogant voice of achievement. Consolidate your positive voice of experience in a success diary and empower that voice to have the upper hand as you approach the podium. The act of writing pins it in the memory and you can recall it with each step.
“Madame Chair, Fellow Toastmasters, Have you ever wondered why speakers are advised to keep a success diary?”
Harmony is what musicians, families, peace advocates, and speakers all wish for. For what is harmony? It is the “pleasing arrangement of parts,” as Merriam-Websters puts it.
The flute, oboe, trumpet, and violin, their different mechanics of making sounds, blending together to carry us along a smooth journey of sound – unless it’s a heavy metal concert, with discordant sounds, meant to shake us up.
The parents pleasantly, but firmly guiding their kids; their children happily doing what their told, attending classes, and doing their homework on time. Let’s not mention the heavy metal version of dissonance of family life.
Countries trading with each other fairly, respecting borders, and giving their citizens equal access to societies resources. War, police brutality, elite wealth, what are those?
And what about us? The toastmasters? A speech with a catchy opening, clearly defined introduction, three good points with statistics and evidence when needed, humour, anecdotes, wrapping it up with a punchy conclusion and clear recommendations. Deftly delivered by a resonant, harmonious voice. I’ll let you fill in the non-harmonious version of the speech. We’ve all experienced that, no?
Harmony was a gangly girl with feet too big for her legs, elephant ears and hair that wouldn’t lay flat. She was warm, helpful, and people felt inspired after spending time with her. How harmonious was Harmony then?
The meeting Chair introduces your name and speech title, you unmute, anxiousness rising on your sweaty palms in anticipation. You have practiced, you will be fine, your inner voice soothes. You open with a catchy quote, and then stumble over the last few words, your tongue and lips as heavy as treacle. “Huh?” your inner voice, caught unaware, exclaims.
One of the things we often forget to do just before speaking is warm up. Would a sprinter change into her running clothes, walk out of the locker room into the stadium, and dash down the track? Would a swimmer change into his bathing clothes, walk out of the locker room, dive into the pool, and barrel down to the other end? They would not. They warm up before the real event, stretch, breathe, light movements, and the like.
Think about all the muscles used in speaking – the tongue, lips, cheeks, jaws, vocal cords, neck, shoulders – all these need to be warm, loose, pliable and flexible, ready to enunciate those vowel-consonant combinations that are words. So, for a speaker, the need to warm up the muscles is the same as an athlete.
Youtube is full of speech warm up exercises. Anna, from Verba Vocals, has one of my favourite quick warmups https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hb1Cv7aDXmk]: Mouth and face stretches; lip rolls; tongue routines; chest relaxers; vocal cord warmups; and diaphragm breathing. The finale – tongue twisters: Peter Piper picked a pick of pickled peppers.
If you want your tongue and lips to dance lightly over your words next time you speak, so that the audience is not caught up in deciphering, instead of understanding, the words’ meaning, try warming up before you begin.
Was Glen Abbey Toastmasters rash in holding a regular meeting on Wednesday night? Not at all! It was a deliberate decision made after deliberation. Can you guess what the word of the day was at our meeting? Deliberate carefully before you answer, don’t rush.
If you had to underline different versions of the word of the day, and you underlined “deliberate” and “deliberation,” you would be right! Our grammarian introduced several variations of the word “deliberate,” in its verb, adjectival and adverb forms. Dictionary.com defines the verb “deliberate” in slightly different ways, depending if it is to be used with or without an object.
A. to weigh in the mind; consider (with an object):
to deliberate a question
B. to think carefully or attentively; reflect (used without object):
She deliberated for a long time before giving her decision.
to consult or confer formally:
The jury deliberated for three hours.
As an adjective dictionary.com offers three nuances:
A. carefully weighed or considered; studied; intentional:
a deliberate lie.
B. characterized by deliberation or cautious consideration; careful or slow in deciding:
Moving away from the city and all its advantages required a deliberate decision.
C. leisurely and steady in movement or action; slow and even; unhurried:
moving with a deliberate step.
As an adverb, “deliberately” is connected to the central idea here, which revolves around the idea of doing something slowly, carefully, and on purpose:
A. on purpose; with clear intent:
Is this just bad journalism, or an attempt to deliberately mislead the public?
B. with careful thought or consideration:
The board is committed to moving deliberately on this important initiative.
C. in a calm and unhurried way:
He was careful to move slowly and deliberately so as not to scare them off.
We can see in all these subtle distinctions the connections between being “unhurried” and “intentional.” But unless you knew the meaning of the word in advance, you might be confused by these various uses: What can we see connecting: “She moved the Queen to check the King after deliberating for 15 minutes” to “She walked deliberately into the cold river”?
Unfortunately, there is no method to the madness of English, but if we deliberately memorise the meanings of words, we may deliberate well in our word choices for our speeches.
Did you ever challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone?
We had a great meeting on Sep 29th, 2021, sharing our experience and thoughts about leaving the comfort zone with our Area Director, Ian Horne. Table Topic Master, Nisarg, challenged the audience with thoughtful questions below:
What is your definition of Comfort Zone?
How can someone leave their comfort zone?
Why should someone leave their comfort zone?
Can you give us an example when you had to leave your comfort zone?
Can you give us an example when you decided to not leave your comfort zone?
How do you encourage yourself to take risk(s)?
If you would like to challenge yourself for public speaking, please join our weekly meeting as a guest to hear more.