Speaking at Capclave 2015

Two reasons to go to Capclave 2015: 1) it’s the best literary SF convention in the Washington DC metropolitan area, and 2) I’ve been invited to run a “Public Speaking for Authors” workshop there again this year.

[Editorial Note: After discussion with the Capclave Program Coordinators, it looks like I’ll instead be giving my new workshop, “Creating an Adaptive Setting,” formerly known by the title, “The Reactive Net.” For more information, click this link.]

Capclave 2015

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Another Lecture Venue

Speaking at Booz Allen Hamilton

My friend and fellow conference organizer, Gray Herter, just sent me a picture he took of me speaking at the DevIgnition Conference at Booz Allen Hamilton’s Newman Auditorium in McLean, VA. This is another of the 37 plus places that I’ve spoken at, although it was a very, very nice venue. There were roughly 150 attendees present at the event.

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Science Fiction Table Topics

David Keener, Table Topics MaestroToastmasters has a public speaking exercise called Table Topics. A person, designated as the Table Topics Master, gets up in front of an audience and chooses random people to answer questions. Each selected individual has to stand up and respond to the question. The goal is to deliver a one to two minute response (and the exercise IS timed).

It’s a great way to practice ad hoc speaking skills. Personally, I like responding to table topics. But I like being Table Topics Master even more…

Because I am diabolical.

You see, most questions and responses are oh so earnest. What I like to do as Table Topics Master is to force people to stretch themselves, to step outside their comfort zone and do things they might not ordinarily do in a speech.

As a case in point, I devised a set of science fiction scenarios for my turn as Table Topics Master this past Thursday. This is how I introduced the exercise:

“How many of you have experienced one of my Table Topics sessions before?” I asked

Only about a third of the hands in the audience went up.

“Excellent. As those of you who raised your hands already know, I am…diabolical. So, for tonight’s Table Topics, we’re going to do…something different. I need three victims…er…I meant respondents.”

Once I had my three respondents, I told the audience, “I’m going to present each of our volunteers with a written scenario.” Turning to the volunteers, I added, “Each of you is a reporter witnessing some fantastic event that’s unfolding right in front of you.

“But I don’t want you to tell us about the scenario. I want you to push your limits, go places you’ve never gone. Something momentous is happening, and I want you to make us feel it. Dig deep and give us the emotion.

For each volunteer, I gave them a printed copy of their scenario, which they had to quickly digest (which is why key words in the scenario are bolded). I presented the introduction to the audience, and then each respondent had to do their part. The responses were absolutely, hysterically funny.

Here are the scenarios that I handed out:

  1. The War of the Worlds

    Introduction: “You’re a reporter for a local newspaper. During the night, a fiery meteorite struck nearby. Tell us about it.”

    Scenario: During the night, a fiery meteorite landed in the sandpits of Horsell Commons, near the town of Woking in England.

    • It’s now morning.
    • You’re standing just beyond the rim of a deep crater in the sand.
    • There are townspeople standing all around you.
    • You can feel the scorching heat; there’s a smell like brimstone.
    • There’s a massive cylinder in the crater.
    • A grinding sound begins…and the end of the cylinder begins to rotate its way off.
  2. Star Wars

    Introduction: “You’re a reporter, embedded in the rebel headquarters during a major battle of a civil war. Tell us about it.”

    Scenario: You’re a reporter embedded in the headquarters of the Rebel Alliance on the jungle moon, Yavin, which orbits a gas giant planet.

    • The Empire’s Death Star is on the other side of the gas giant from where you are right now.
    • If the Death Star rounds the planet, they’re going to destroy the moon you’re on (and you).
    Rebel fighter ships are desperately trying to destroy the Death Star.
    • All attempts against the Death Star so far have failed.
    • Someone named Luke Skywalker is now on a high-speed firing run trying to destroy the ship.
    • That Skywalker fellow just turned off his auto-pilot and everybody is really worried.
  3. Jurassic Park

    Introduction: “You’re a reporter preparing to cover the opening of a new theme park when everything goes very, very wrong. Tell us about it.”

    Scenario: You’re a reporter getting a behind-the-scenes view of Jurassic Park, which opens in a week. However, something has gone wrong…

    • You’re in the Jurassic Park Control Room by yourself.
    • The power went off for a while, but now it’s back on.
    • Everyone else has left on various rescue or repair missions.
    • There are dozens of screens that let you see what’s going on…the dinosaurs are loose.
    • You can see the big Tyrannosaurus Rex on a screen chasing a jeep.
    • You haven’t seen any of the raptors in a while.
    • There’s a scratching at the door…
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Latest Slideshare Stats

Slideshare Rocks!Many of my friends and readers know that I publish almost all of my presentations online on my “channel” at Slideshare.net. I have twenty presentations online, of which fifteen are technical presentations in the IT field (associated with my day job) and five are on topics more closely related to my creative endeavors. To date, I’ve received 93,146 views.

What’s most interesting to me right now, though, is that my five non-technical presentations, which are among my newest presentations, have together amassed 13,947 views. They are:

They’re ranked by number of views, which also currently corresponds to age. So “Public Speaking for Writers” has been online for only a little over a month. Interestingly, “21st Century Writer” is the fastest mover and will probably top the list within the next year.

Check them out if you get a chance. I’d like to think that I’ve made some pretty decent content available online for free. Please let me know if you find it interesting or useful (or both).

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Public Speaking for Writers – Slides Now Online

Here are the slides for my recent workshop, “Public Speaking for Writers,” which I told a number of people at Capclave 2014 that I would post online.

So far, I’ve conducted the full workshop at Capclave 2014, and an abbreviated version of the workshop for Ashburn Toastmasters. I anticipate running the full version again here in Northern Virginia at one of Loudoun Country’s libraries, probably in early 2015.

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Eight Years of Public Speaking: It All Adds Up…

Public SpeakingWell, I’m an IT professional in my day job, so I tend to keep track of things, including my public speaking engagements. Apparently, since 2007, I have spoken in public 102 times, including speeches, lectures and 4 different workshops. I have spoken in 37 different venues, including auditoriums, studios, hotel ball rooms and restaurants. I have spoken on TV 2 times. In addition, I have organized 16 conferences and more than 100 smaller events of different types. Somehow, it all adds up over time.

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Workshop Attendees at Capclave 2014

Some of the attendees from my workshop, “Public Speaking for Writers,” hard at work on, of all things, a writing assignment (a brief story pitch, which they than had to present to the class). The man in the middle on the far side of the table is Tom Doyle, best-selling writer of American Craftsmen.

You can just FEEL the concentration…

Workshop Attendees: Public Speaking for Writers

The workshop was held at Capclave 2014 in Gaithersburg, MD, in a room aptly called “The Boardroom.”

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Going to Capclave 2014!

Capclave 2014, Gaithersburg, MD

I’ll be going to Capclave again this year. It’s a small literary SF convention serving the Washington DC metropolitan region, probably around 450 – 500 people. We’re expecting attendance to be down from last year’s numbers, which were around 900 or so thanks to the “George Factor” — the Guest of Honor was George R. R. Martin, the author of the Game of Thrones series and the inspiration behind HBO’s hit TV series.

It’s October 10 – 12, so it’s only about a week away. As with last year’s event, it’s being hosted in Gaithersburg, MD. So, be there if you can. It’s money well spent, whether you’re a reader or a writer.

Speaking of writers, Capclave has also got an excellent Writer’s Track, which I’m proud to be part of this year. I’ll be conducting my workshop, “Public Speaking for Writers,” on Sunday, October 12th. This is a talk that is clearly on the business side of being a professional speaker, and which also leverages my extensive Toastmasters experience.

That same day, I’ll also be on a science panel with Guest of Honor Paolo Bacigalupi (I’ve learned how to say his name just so I can manage to not embarrass myself on the a panel — batch-i-ga-loopy), the award-winning writer of The Windup Girl. The panel is entitled “Writing About Climate Change.” Authors James Maxey and Max Gladstone will also be on the panel with me, along with D. Douglas Fratz, a writer and climate scientist (in his day job). It’s my first panel at an SF convention, so I’m really looking forward to it.

One more week, and then it’s off to Capclave!

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Presenting at Capclave 2014

Capclave 2014, Washington DC's regional SF conferenceOK, you can officially label me as surprised. I just unexpectedly landed a speaking gig at Capclave 2014, the regional SF/Fantasy convention for the Washington DC metropolitan area. Here’s how it happened…

I was attending a WSFA (Washington Science Fiction Association) meeting in early June. If you’re not familiar with WSFA, they’re the organization of volunteers that runs Capclave, as well as administering their annual Small Press Award for new writers, and publishing a few books each year by well-known writers. During the evening, I ended up talking to Cathy Green, the Head of Programming for the convention.

I asked Cathy what it took to qualify as a presenter at Capclave.

Now, I know from the conferences that I attend in my daytime IT career, as well as from the the technical conferences that I run, that you generally start planning your speaking engagements a year or so in advance. At least, you start planning for the ones that you intend to pursue; you don’t necessarily get picked for every conference or convention for which you apply (unless you’re a draw like Neil Gaiman or George R. R. Martin). So, I was really asking so that I could ensure that I’d be ready when I went to pursue a speaking opportunity for 2015.

Yes, that’s right. 2015.

However, Cathy knew some things about me already from previous, unrelated conversations. She knew that I attended two writing groups, that I had extensively researched all things related to indie publishing, and that I had experience running technical conferences in my daytime career (the one that pays the bills). She essentially took me more seriously than I had expected.

Without explicitly saying so, it became clear during our conversation that she was considering me for the 2014 Program. What probably helped was that I wasn’t the slightest bit pushy. I was inquiring about opportunities to present, I wasn’t aggressive, and I was perfectly fine if there wasn’t an opening. Trust me, just being “easy to work with” can go a long way sometimes.

I pitched a couple of ideas for her, including my “Pitfalls of Medieval Fiction Writing” presentation that I’ve been putting together. She didn’t bite on any of the ideas. Not that they were bad, but she had other panels that already covered similar topics.

During our conversation, I mentioned that I was in Toastmasters, which is a non-profit organization that helps people learn public speaking and leadership skills. I added that I had spoken at lots of technical conferences, which is something I’ve been doing since 2007. I figured that if she wasn’t interested in one of my panel ideas, maybe I could be a sort of backup speaker, capable of filling in on panels wherever she had an opening.

Then she asked, “How long have you been in Toastmasters?”

I said, “Four years. I’m closing in on my Distinguished Toastmaster accreditation.”

“Really? Could you give a workshop, say, maybe a 2-hour workshop, on public speaking for writers?”

Needless to say, I was surprised. But what I said was, “Yes. Of course I could do a workshop like that. It would be fun, too.”

So that’s how I landed speaking engagement at Capclave 2014. One of the things the convention organizers pride themselves on is having an excellent track for writers. It turns out that Cathy had a hole in the schedule for the writer’s track, and I had the legitimate skills and experience to craft a workshop that would fill the hole.

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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.

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