Toastmasters: Memory in your Hand

image1.jpegOne of the members of one of my Toastmasters clubs is impressed by my ability to give speeches from memory.  I think that they think that I memorize five to eight pages of text easily, and give a speech from that.

That’s wrong.

I tend to do something quite different.  I plan my outline on my fingers — and, after planning a number of these speeches this way, I rarely have to write my speech on my hand this way any more. I wrote this one out for fun and as a demonstration, but I don’t have to.

Essentially, I work my way around my hand counter-clockwise, starting with my thumb.  I work inward from the pad of the thumb; the details are written on the inside of each of the knuckles.  Then the index finger, again working from the pad toward the palm.  Then the middle finger — THE finger — and then the ring finger, and then the pinky. Each big idea is at the tip of the fingers, and the details move in toward the palm of the hand.  The final thought, the big idea I want to stick the landing on, is in the palm of my hand.

Ideally, that’s where I have my audience when I land, too.  In the palm of my hand.

Construct this speech

What follows is not the speech I would give every single time, of course. I’m working off of a model of a hand, a speech that I wrote on my fingertips.  I won’t give exactly the same speech every time, word for word. But this is a framework that remains useful again and again.

The big theme of this speech is Evaluation.

In every Toastmasters club, we do a section of evaluations near the end, where everyone who gave a prepared speech is given a chance to hear some feedback on what they did well, what they could improve, and how the rest of the audience could gain some confidence and skill from what they just saw.  Evaluation is at the heart of Toastmasters — everyone wants to get better at certain skills, and the only way that we DO get better is if we get both positive and negative feedback — positive feedback that helps us refine our performances, and negative feedback that reminds us of our bad habits and things to avoid.

At the base of my thumb, you’ll notice the word “How?” I’m about to transition from my thumb to my index finger.

The first method of Toastmasters evaluation is called the Sandwich. Say something good, say something not so good, say something good.  Pack the not-so-good bits in between some praise. It’s easier to hear criticism when it’s framed by the positive — and there’s always positives.  You can also add in a little bit of a condiment on top of the bad news — a tip about how what the speaker did is worthy of emulation by the audience.

The second method, one I tend not to do but is worth trying, is the Big Four —

  1. what did you SEE the speaker doing and saying? How did their body language affect their speech?
  2. What did you HEAR? That is, how did their speech affect their audience?  — were they loud, soft, fast, slow? How did grammar, metaphor, language choice affect what they said?
  3. What was the MESSAGE? Did their speech have a clear purpose, whether of information, entertainment, persuasion or description?  How did that message land on the audience? Was the message well-received or poorly?
  4. What to TRY is down here at the base of my middle finger.  Here’s the chunk about what they didn’t do so well … but notice I’m not telling them what they did badly, I’m suggesting a positive change they could experiment with.

The Ring finger (where you wear the ring that joins you to your ‘better half’ in marriage, remember that?)  is a reminder of what to do when you’re evaluating someone that you think is a much better speaker than you.  Don’t evaluate them.  Call out of their speeches three or four things that all of the members of the audience could do that’s worthy of emulation! Take note during their speech of 2-3 specifics — how they use notes, how they move around the stage, how they use their hands, how they make eye contact with the audience.  Find two or three things that are specific and deliberate in the speaker, and then do those same things in your evaluation. Make them into caricatures. Overemphasize them, do them bigger than the audience needs them to be, and be almost absurdist about how big you make them.  Say, right up front, that you’re making these things big and absurdist, so that your audience will notice them.

In some ways, this is what’s known in Toastmasters as a “Whitewash”.  You haven’t provided any constructive feedback to the person giving the speech. They don’t know what they’re doing wrong, and they’ll likely make the same mistake again. At the same time, though, you’re telling the audience something about how YOU yourself understand a speaker’s message, and you’re also declaring certain things aloud that you need to practice as a speaker yourself.

Finally, remember that practice makes perfect.  By giving a few speeches this way, with your notes actually written on your hand, you’ll discover that five fingers and a palm is almost exactly enough to hold an outline of a speech in a memorable way. Key words will fit on your knuckles, and you have time for five, maybe six big ideas.   And you can end up with a big thump of one hand into the other, ending with the point you want to drive home.


You can even try this when you give evaluations, too — as the speaker presents their material, write your big responses on the four fingers and the middle finger of your hand, leaving out the thumb.  Then, when you speak as the evaluator, begin by counting on your thumb — “First off, I liked this speech.  Here’s what made it good.” Because you always want to start with some praise; you never want to begin an evaluation with criticism.  Then proceed through your big points: your index finger, ring-finger, and pinky, are your big ideas… and that middle finger can just about, almost, hold one ugly truth about something the speaker needs to fix…

And you can end by reminding them how much you look forward to their next speech. How much you want them to try again, to practice, because that’s how you — or me, or anyone else — gets better.

I promise, you’ll have your audience in the palm of your hand.

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