Picked Up Some Speech Contest Bling

2014 Club Contest Public Speaking Trophies I picked up some bling at the Ashburn Toastmasters Speech Competition yesterday. I won 1st place in the International Speech Contest and 1st place in the Evaluation Contest. I’ve been in Toastmasters for over three years now, so I expect to be competitive. However, both contests featured real competitors, so winning both was both unexpected and gratifying.

For those who don’t know how these competitions work, there are two contests. The International Speech Contest is a 7-rung contest. If you win at the Club level, as I did, then you advance to the Area level, followed by Division, District, Semi-Region, Region and World. If you win at the World level, then 1) you’ve beaten more than 30,000 contestants world-wide, and 2) you get to call yourself the World Champion of Public Speaking for the next year (and you’ll receive tons of both paid and unpaid speaking engagements).

Speeches for the International Speech Contest generally have to be motivational, inspirational and, often, include heart-felt stories in order to be competitive. I took a chance with the Club level, and re-used my “What’s Your Dream?” speech from last week’s taping of the TV show, Mastering Business Communications. It’s a good speech, and had some clear tie-ins that made it particularly meaningful to the members of Ashburn Toastmasters (who were the judges), but I already knew it wasn’t quite ideal for the International Speech Contest. However, I figured it was probably good enough to win at the club level.

My primary competitor was a 17-year veteran of Toastmasters, a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM). Her speech had those inspirational elements that mine didn’t, as well as some shock value (she kicked over a chair during her speech). However, she hadn’t had enough time to memorize her speech, so she used cue cards. On my side, I fumbled my intro slightly, although people told me afterwards that they hadn’t noticed, so I must have covered myself pretty smoothly. My speech was fully memorized, I used the floor effectively, and I’d had time to choreograph my gestures.

I think I would have won via straight-out judging. But it didn’t matter in the end, because my primary opponent went overtime and was disqualified.

The Evaluation Contest is a little different. It only extends up to the District level, which for District 29 is basically the Northern Virginia area outside of the Beltway that encircles Washington DC. In this contest, a model speaker, generally unknown to the contestants, delivers a 5-7 minute speech. Contestants take notes during the speech, then have 5 minutes to organize their thoughts. After that, their notes are taken from them, and they are sequestered in another room.

One by one, the contestants are brought out to give their 2-3 minute evaluation of the speech. They have 30 seconds of leeway on either side. Beyond that, they’ll be disqualified.

So, what do the judges look for? First, the evaluation is a speech, so they’re looking for a well-defined beginning, middle and, most importantly, a coherent summary. Second, they’re looking for completeness. Was the contestant able to identify things that the speaker did well, and things that the speaker could improve? Did the contestant frame the issues in a constructive manner? Third, they’re looking for solutions. It’s one thing to tell a speaker that they have a litany of problems, but it’s much more difficult to give them solutions, tactics that they can use to improve their speeches in the future. This is the hardest part of an evaluation, recommending actionable solutions for the speaker’s problems.

As it turned out, the originally scheduled model speaker didn’t show up. There was a visiting guest who previously exchanged several emails with club officers and wanted to join the club. So, she joined when she got there, assumed the role of model speaker, and gave her first speech all in the same night. The contestants knew nothing of what had gone behind the scenes, and had no idea that the model speaker was a first-time speaker.

This made the evaluations interesting, because her speech was basically a rambling monologue about taking charge of your own life, and various tactics to accomplish this. In my evaluation, I began by telling her that she was brave to come out and speak in front of a group of people she’d never met before, and that, whatever other problems her speech might have, she had the most critical thing…something worth saying.

I started with some basic corrections. Don’t tell us that you didn’t have any time to prepare your speech; if you don’t tell us, we might not notice. Don’t thank the audience at the end of a speech — you’re the one doing the hard work to prepare and deliver the speech, so the audience thanks you (that’s what applause is all about). Finally, I noted that her general speech problems were organizational in nature. I advised her to start with an outline, work on a more concrete intro and conclusion, and slow down to allow her major points to sink in.

I think I won partly because of the completeness of my criticisms, but most because I offered her solid, coherent solutions to transform her speech into something much more effective.

Overall, I was extremely happy with my two performances. I brought my A game and competed in both contests at the highest level of which I was capable. I’d have been happy with my performance even if I had lost (just because someone else gets the trophy, you never lose, in my humble opinion, if you’ve done your absolute best). Nevertheless, I was extremely pleased to come home with both trophies. Incidentally, it was my third time competing in the International Speech Contest, and only my first time competing in the Evaluation Contest.

The only downside after winning is that I’ll need to craft an entirely new, contest-caliber speech by the time I get to the March 22nd Area Contest.

Posted in Speeches, Toastmasters | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

AMC Best Picture Marathon 2014, Day 1

AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014 This is the 8th year of a great tradition from AMC Theaters — the AMC Best Picture Showcase. Beginning in 2007, movie buffs around the country have had the opportunity to see all of the movies nominated for the Best Picture award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for one great price.

I’d heard about this event two years ago from my friend and former boss at General Dynamics, Jessie Link. This is the first year I’ve been able to attend the annual movie marathon, which AMC provided as either a 1-day, 9-movie marathon, or a 2-day, 4-then-5-movie marathon over two weekends. I chose the 2-day option, along with my friends Cheryl Baker and Narayanan Doraswamy.

Day 1 of the marathon was an awesome way to see the Best Picture nominees. My winner for the day was “Philomena” with it’s heart-felt mix of humor, tragedy, anger, and forgiveness. “12 Years a Slave” was riveting, but too brutal for comfortable viewing. “Dallas Buyers Club” was surprisingly uplifting. And “Wolfie” was about a bad boy who never really learned from his mistakes — interesting and crisply directed but not a contender.

I’m really looking forward to Day 2 of the marathon, which will be next Saturday, March 1st (the day before the Oscar Awards). This will be the first time ever that I’ve had a chance to see all of the Best Picture nominees prior to the Oscar Awards.

Posted in Film | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Attending the 2014 WorldCon in London

The 2014 World Science Fiction Convention It’s official. I will be attending the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention in London this summer, which is shaping up to be the largest WorldCon ever outside of the United States. We’ve moved the family vacation to the summer so I can attend, and are in the process of arranging a dog sitter to stay with our dogs.

I’m really looking forward to it. The last WorldCons I’ve been able to attend were Chicago in 2012 and Denver in 2008.

Posted in Conferences | Tagged | 2 Comments

What’s Your Dream?

This is a picture of me taken yesterday at Comcast Studio in Reston, VA. About 5 seconds after this picture was taken, I delivered a 6-minute, one-take motivational speech called “What’s Your Dream?” for a segment of the television show, Mastering Business Communications.

David Keener at Comcast Studio

And I nailed it.

Totally.

I only found out last Friday that I’d be doing the segment. I’d been listed as the tertiary backup, but both of the people in front of me got cold feet about appearing on television.

Unfortunately, my supremely busy schedule and the short notice made it difficult to find the time to write and then practice the speech. So I burned a vacation day at my day job, and took Wednesday off. I completed writing the speech by 10:00 AM. Then I practiced it 30 or 40 times that day. I got to the studio early, and practiced it twice in the actual studio &mash; once without an audience, and once with a couple of my friends watching me.

When it came time to do it on camera, I was ready.

The new episode of Mastering Business Communications will be televised in VA on both the Comcast and Verizon cable networks. It will appear on TV sometime next week, and is currently available on Vimeo (I’m at the 9:15 mark in the episode).

Posted in A Little Inspiration, Toastmasters, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

I Must Be Doing Something Right…

My Klout Score of 47 Yup. I must be doing something right, at least as far as promoting myself via social media. Klout is an online service that measures your reach on the Internet, passes the data through some sort of proprietary algorithm, and spits out your Klout Score. Mine has just reached a new high of 47.

According to their service, my Klout Score of 47 means that I’m in the Top 30% of people who are active in social media. By comparison, Seanan McGuire, the author of the October Daye series, has a score of 60. Internationally best-selling author Hugh Howey has a score of 70. And George Takei, who played Sulu in the original Star Trek and has gained current notoriety with his sparkling online reviews of odd products, has a score of 92.

Apparently, I still have a ways to go in my social media endeavors.

Posted in Internet | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Performing at the Herndon Fortnightly Library

Herndon Fortnightly Library I’ll be performing my story, “The Match,” live at the Herndon Fortnightly Library on Saturday, February 8th, at 1:00 PM. The story is about a man who engages in an unusual high-stakes wager in order to support his family during the height of the Great Depression. It’s based on a true story.

It’s a historical story, not speculative fiction, but I like it because it’s fun, and dramatic, and lends itself well to being performed in front of an audience. And no, this is not a dramatic reading. I get up in front of the audience and perform the story, sans notes or any kind of props.

The Herndon Fortnightly Library is located at 768 Center Street, Herndon, VA 20170.

Posted in Speeches | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Social Media Changes: Building an Online Platform

Social MediaIf you’re planning to be a professional writer, you need what is euphemistically known as a “platform.” Put simply, a platform is a presence on the Internet that can help attract and, more importantly, retain the type of people who might be interested in your works. Most traditional publishers won’t even consider publishing an author that can’t already demonstrate that they have a platform. Today’s publishers want a ready-made audience so that they can reduce their risks.

For writers engaged in indie-publishing, a platform is even more important. The biggest problem an indie-published writer faces is discoverability. People can’t buy your stories unless they can discover that your story exists and find enough information about it to allow them to decide whether they want to purchase it.

Think of your platform as a way to interact with your potential audience. At a minimum, your platform should feature a web site with some information about you and your stories (with links so people can go purchase them). There are numerous components that can be a part of your platform, from general social media sites to content dissemination sites. A few potential components for your platform are:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Google+
  • Pinterest
  • Goodreads
  • Wattpad
  • Slideshare.net

Except for your core web site, none of these components are essential, but you should probably include at least some of them. Simply choose the ones that make sense for you.

I’m planning to be what’s known as a hybrid writer. I intend to indie-publish my longer works and seek traditional publication in various professional venues for my short stories. I’m also actively trying to build my platform. Naturally, this web site, with its informative blog entries and free content, is an essential piece of that platform.

Some of you may have noticed that this web site has begun morphing subtly from day to day. That’s because I’ve started adding social media engagement features to the site. These features make it easy for users to recommend blog entries on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (and I’ll be adding more later). In the upper part of the right-hand sidebar, I’ve added links to my most used social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been using Twitter for ages in my alternate life as a software developer, so I created @keenersaurus to be my Twitter presence for my “creative” activities.

The next few media buttons in the sidebar may surprise folks. I’ve got a number of videos that I’ve made available online with YouTube, with plans for many more. The next button is for Slideshare.net, which is where I upload my presentations. By the way, I’m in the Top 2% of contributors on Slideshare, so I’ve got some fairly serious content out there for free. Finally, there’s a link to the site’s RSS feed, for people who’d like to have my blog entries delivered to them via a feed.

These are all important aspects for building my own platform. I’d be pleased if you’d help me build my web presence. In return, I promise to continually challenge myself to produce the best content that I’m capable of. Stick around, there’s good stuff coming down the pike.

Posted in Tools for Writers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment