Friday, August 15, 2014

Kill the Virus - Tips to Become a Competent Communicator

The following is a tip session delivered by John Kageche, ACB, CL and current President of Nairobi Toastmasters Club. It focuses on the need to properly prepare and present the 2nd, 3rd and 4th projects in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual towards building strong speech delivery.

2, 3 and 4. That’s where magic lives.
Mr Toastmaster, fellow members, guests in ccs 2, 3 and 4 that’s where speech magic lives

Unfortunately, numbers 2,3 and 4 are numerically lower than 7,8 and 9
And because they are lower many a speaker in this room and beyond tend to gloss over them
And yet if 2,3 and 4 were a virus many a speaker sadly failed to protect themselves from it
And because they failed to protect themselves they missed the magic and got infected
And because they were infected then, these speakers have carried over the infection to 5,6,7 and beyond

For instance,
If your cc 2 did not have a singular organized message in it, you got infected
If your cc 3 did not have a singular organized message in it and specific sentence your infection grew
If your cc 4 did not have a singular message in it, a specific sentence and a stylistic device your infection became fully blown
And sadly many a speaker here and beyond continue to successfully carry this virus with them

This manual is rich in tips
Sadly, like with a TV, phone and car manual many a toastmaster may read but will not internalize it
He or she looks at the title say, 4 how to say it and assumes hmmm, this is easy I know how to say it
And proceeds to say it wrongly

CC2 is entitled organize your speech.
The overall tip is to have a compelling opening, organized body and memorable conclusion
In addition to this a sample structure is given-notice it has a singular message: the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. Critique your speeches. Do they have a singular message?

CC3 is entitled get to the point
In my opinion this is where we totally expose ourselves to the infection
We get focused, yes, but we do not stay focused
We have a general purpose but lack a specific purpose
We have a general purpose but lack a specific sentence
And what is a specific sentence? It is ONE sentence that captures your total speech
The specific sentence in my speech is ccs 2, 3 and 4 is where speech magic lives
If your speech does not have a specific sentence, your viral infection is complete
Critique your speeches. Do they have a specific sentence?

Cc4 is how to say it
Here we have been given plenty stylistic devices which most read and then throw out the window
Triads, repetition, stories, jokes, anecdotes, metaphors, alliteration, similes: this is where the real abracadabra lives
Critique your speeches.
Which stylistic devices have you used?

Cc’s 2, 3 and 4 are where speech magic lives
Yet cc’s 2, 3 and 4 are the most lightly taken projects
And because of this the magic fades as we move up the ladder and is totally lost by the 7th rung
And because the speaker is infected, he infects others he is evaluating and mentoring
And the infection snowballs and becomes pandemic

Cc’s 2, 3 and 4 are where speech magic lives
If you are enjoying this speech maybe it’s because I have so far used eleven tips from cc’s 2-4
Do yourself and those you mentor and evaluate a favour-kill the virus, share the magic

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Planning and It's Cousin Failing (CL Series)

In 1785, Robert Burns penned that famous Scots poem with the penultimate stanza which read:
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane                   / But mouse you are not alone
In proving foresight may be vain:                  /  Planning for future can be in vain
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men   / The best laid plans of mice and men
Gang aft agley,                                         /  Often go awry
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,           / And leave us with nothing grief and pain
For promis'd joy!                                       / For promised joy
Putting down a plan on paper is great. It helps crystallize your goals and gives you a defined target to aspire to. It's just as true though that no project plan can expected to be perfectly executed and "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry"

In every project expect challenges. The most common are the notorious three: scope creep, time constraints, and resource constraints. To ground myself in reality, I will outline all the pitfalls I expect in this journey so that I may also adequately prepare for them.

1. Scope Creep
I am very attune to certain personality flaw of myself: what I call "the Idea Junkie Syndrrome" which I compare the Plant in Belbin's Team Role Theory. Belbin says of the Plant “This is that person who will come up with new solutions midway into implementing an agreed on plan which results in disrupting the implementation process of the plan.”  Scope creep meanwhile means casually adding tasks and roles to an existing plan. While these are being added, they seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things but in reality they end up consuming vast yet scarce resources to complete.

With my Idea Junkie Syndrome, I find myself continuously excited by new, ever more ambitious, ever more elaborate ideas despite the first idea I started out with being quite adequate. For example, I will decide to undertake the CL in 10 months; then I will realize that I can do the same with my ACB, shortly thereafter I will read about banner raids and determine it’s a great way to encourage commitment and attendance; then I will think we have two few meetings and propose weekly meetings, then I will notice that we need to improve on our evaluations so I will start conducting Successful Club Series sessions every week, then I will…

Idea Junkie Syndrome is real, and while each idea on its own might deserve merit – continuously adding them to your plan results in targets not being met, burnout and frustration. Cognizant of this flaw, I committed to involving my mentor in my toastmasters’ decisions. This meant that I needed to justify every step and I had wise counsel to temper my over-exuberance. This would help me focus on my CL goals which remained my central and most important objective as per my plan.

2. Time Constraints

To complete both the CL and the ACB I had to complete 29 roles: 21 for the CL and 8 speeches for the ACB. This translated to preparing for and attending at least 29 meetings with the majority being regular toastmaster meetings. The first challenge was how much time each role required to prepare. If I was to do it properly, I would need 147 hours as calculated below, which translated to about 15 hours a month. Assuming I had a maximum of 2 hours a day to allocate to Toastmasters, this meant a whole week of preparation for my roles. In addition, I had the ACB speeches which would need an extra 5 hours each per month for preparation.

CL Roles
Preparatory Hours
Speech Evaluator


Critical Thinking
Speech Evaluator

General Evaluator
Giving Feedback
Speech Evaluator


General Evaluator
Time Management

Planning and Implementation

General Evaluator

Organization & Delegation
Help Organize a Club Speech Contest

Befriend a guest

General Evaluator

Chair of Membership Contest
Guidance Committee of High Performance Leadership
Team Building
Chair a Club Special Event

The second challenge was getting the opportunity to undertake 29 roles or 25 if you count only the meeting roles. We remain with a maximum 21 meetings until the close of the Toastmasters year, and it would be hardly sufficient or fair to expect to perform these roles at those meetings.

The solution would therefore need to be two fold. Allocate predicable and sufficient time towards Toastmasters preparations in my calendar and utilize the opportunity to take up roles in the other clubs in Kenya as well as doing speeches outside the club setting.

I resolved to prepare for both my speech and my roles at least three weeks in advance where possible and book for slots in other clubs with similar notice period. To book for meeting roles in other clubs I would ask my Vice President of Education (VPE) for assistance. I would carefully read and re-read the objectives of every role in my Competent Leadership manual and reflect on it with regard to my own work environment that it may make more meaning to me. This would also help me apply the lessons I would learn more immediately for practical benefit. Such preparation in advance would avoid a last minute rush which would inevitably be inefficient use of my time.

3. Resource Constraints
Sure Toastmasters doesn’t cost much but one still needs to be ready to invest to reap the rewards. My first challenge was that I didn’t have a CL manual. I had made the order from World Headquarters but the manuals were yet to arrive. So far I had made do with borrowing someone’s manuals to read the objectives and prepare but this wouldn’t work for long. With my first role confirmed for 19th of August, I  would need to get my manual so that I could carry it and have it evaluated.

Attending a minimum of four meetings a month would also be a requirement if I had to achieve the goals I had set out for myself.

"An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!" 

Planning is great, but too much planning to accomplish one's goals might have the opposite effect and leave us burnt out and frustrated. Consider then how we should emulate the "living for the moment" mouse which is the inspiration of the poem in Burns' final stanza

"Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!  / Still you (mouse) are blessed compared to me
The present only toucheth thee           / Only the present affects you
But och! I backward cast my e'e       / But alas, I cast my eye in the past
On prospects drear                          / On drear prospects
An' forward, tho' I canna see           / And to the future though I cannot see
I guess an' fear."                              / I foretell bad things and fear it.

As much as I need to plan for days ahead and keep in mind what has brought me to this stage so far, I must enjoy the present. Have fun in the present and be unburdened by worry that my plans might not come to fruition.