Public speaking | Zach Everson

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Chatting about making a living as a writer with Marshall University graduate students

A Google Hangout with Dr. Rachel Peckham's graduate creative writing sounds at Marshall University

I had a fun Google Hangout last night with Dr. Rachel Peckham’s graduate class, Professional Topics in C.W.: The Creative Writing Market, at Marshall University. Our 45-minute chat centered on how to make a living as a writer, focusing mostly on using the Internet to connect with editors, pay, and balancing fun assignments with the need to make a living.

Helping sportsmen with sincere mustaches reach hipsters with ironic ones

MAFWAI often wonder what, if any, impact my articles have. Sure, they’re (usually) fun to write and (hopefully) enjoyable to read, but do they lead anyone to action? Beyond reader comments after the article, social media posts, and a few nice words (sometimes) from my parents, it’s hard to gauge.

Last month I spoke with the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (MAFWA) communications officials. They were discussing ways to recruit and retain hunters. On the heels of my feature for Louisville Magazine, “The Deerslayer,” they asked me to discuss “leveraging media to a non-traditional audience.” Basically these people with sincere mustaches want to figure out how to reach folks with ironic mustaches.

So for about an hour, we talked about how they could engage foodies, locavores, hipsters and the like. Hopefully our conversation left them with insight into reaching an audience that includes a lot of non-hunters who might be interested in filling up their freezer with fresh, organic, local game meat.

Thanks to Brian Blank at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources for the invite.

Photo: Courtesy MAFWA

The thrilling conclusion to the Toastmasters’ humorous speech contest

Saturday was the final round of the Toastmasters’ Humorous Speech Contest. While I was pleased with my performance–I was told it was my best rendition of my speech, “Zach Everson’s entry in the humorous speech contest”—I didn’t place. As in the previous round, I had a few jitters beforehand, but felt calm when it was my turn.

I went first, which is a handicap. As in Olympic events like figure skating and gymnastics (and the comparison of Toastmasters with the Olympics ends here), judges often are reluctant to give early competitors high marks so they can leave room to score possible great performances from subsequent contestants. Also every other participant had been a Toastmasters member for at least six years; I’ve only been participating for seven months. All of the other speeches, however, were fantastic. They were both funny and well delivered.

Nevertheless, I didn’t join Toastmasters to compete, but rather to hone my public-speaking skills. And Saturday night I did just that, speaking on a stage and with a microphone, both for the first time, in front of 200 people. I am glad the contest is finished, however; I’ve been practicing this speech since August and am bored of it.

Tomorrow night I am giving another speech at my club. Standing before an audience of just 15 people is a lot easier now.

I advanced to the next level in Toastmasters humorous speech contest

Well, I joined Toastmasters to improve my public speaking by getting experience talking in front of an audience. And while I’ve tried to give a speech at every meeting I’ve attended, the Humorous Speech Contest is helping me achieve my goal.

A week from last Friday I won the district contest, meaning I will compete again—this time at the division level (pictures from the competition, including one of me looking like I’m about to get a hook in my mouth, are on my club’s site). There were about 50 people at the district contest; the audience at the next level is expected to be than 200.

As for the contest, I went fifth out of the six contestants. When it was my turn I knew that my speech was funnier than the ones I heard. My concern, however, was my delivery. Some of the other contestants were Toastmasters veterans with a polished stage presence. My other problem was that I came close to running over the 7:30 time limit and had to cut off the ending.

There’s a month before the next competition, however, so I have ample time to hone my delivery.

District-level Toastmasters humorous speech contest time, date, and location announced

I have no idea why Toastmasters officials don’t provide the time, date, and location of the next round of the Humorous Speech Contest at the previous competition, but the district contest will be 6:30 p.m. October 6 at 810 Vermont Ave., Washington, DC. Yes, I’m spending the Friday night of a long weekend at Toastmasters. Perhaps I shouldn’t just compete in the humorous speech contest, but also should enter the dork off.

It’s unfortunate that contests are on weekends, as many people will not be able to compete: a friend of mine won the first two rounds of the humorous speech contest in Louisville, KY, with a hilarious spiel about the plight of redheads, but had to forfeit because the next round is on a Saturday morning and he’ll be out of town.

Anyway, I need to get back to rehearsing: members of my club gave me some great suggestions for improving my speech (add another imitation, don’t use the podium, and project myself more), and I need to incorporate them.

I advanced to the district-level in Toastmasters humorous speech contest

Despite some hilarious speeches, Thursday night I won my Toastmasters’ area-level Humorous Speech Contest. My speech was the same one I gave in my club’s contest: titled “Zach Everson’s entry in the humorous speech contest,” it’s about a competition my girlfriend and I have been having for the past year to see whose father is the biggest, well, dork.

Even before I heard the results, I was pleased with my performance. While I was anxious waiting for my turn to speak, I was calm when at the podium. I improvised, adding an anecdote that I’d remembered just a few minutes beforehand; did a better job making eye contact than I’d done in the past; and incorporated more physical movements. I still need to work on speaking slower, however.

And, as expected, the Table Topics competition was impressive to watch. The question was “You were elected mayor of Washington, DC, today; what will be your three biggest initiatives?” The impromptu answers ranged from firing the woman who’s the voice of the Metro and firing all of Washington’s teachers to banning automobiles and installing a light rail.

The district level of humorous speech contest will be October 6 (the time and location will be announced later).

Area-level Toastmasters’ humorous speech contest time, date, and location announced

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m competing in the area level of the Toastmasters’ humorous speech contest.

The contest will occur from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. September 14 at 1850 I St. NW, Room 1-200, Washington, DC. Feel free to attend. (I need to begin rehearsing my speech; I haven’t given it any thought since the club-level contest a month ago and I never wrote down any of it.)

In addition to the humorous speeches, there also will be a Table Topics contest, where each competitor has to give an impromptu one- to two-minute talk about a subject just given to him or her.

I try to give a prepared speech at every Toastmasters meeting, so I don’t have much experience with the Table Topics, but being able to speak about a topic you’ve just been given is an impressive skill. After I earn my Competent Communicator certification, I probably will focus on Table Topics.

Improving the spoken word

A client recently asked me if I critiqued people’s English when they spoke. While that’s the case with everything I read (which is probably why I get all of my news from The Economist and The New Yorker—they are well written and rarely have a distracting grammatical mistake), when listening I tend to only pick-up horrific gaffes.

Maybe my ears aren’t as critical as my eyes is because my speaking skills lag behind my writing and editing abilities.

I often talk like I write: I start a sentence, think of a better beginning mid-stream, and then start the sentence over. Hence listeners sometimes hear 1.5 sentences—and a confused look.

To rectify this problem, I joined the Global Links chapter of Toastmasters. It meets semi-monthly at the World Bank headquarters. My first speech is at the next meeting (a four to six minute bio sketch), although last week I gave the “word of the day” (one of my favorites, behoove).

The club is a mix of new and old members, some of who are not native English speakers–it’s impressive to hear them deliver a speech. Many of the members work in the development field as well, but there is a good mix of careers.

If you’re looking to hone your speaking skills, I’d suggest joining a club in your area.

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