Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Practice! Practice! Practice! It's really not that hard.

The Vice President for Education's job is one of the worst in the world. Okay, not as bad as this:

but it's really hard. It's thankless and the pay is very low... oh wait, there is no pay. I can say that because I was once VP Ed. And being the President feels like a vacation after that VP Ed stint. You see, as Vice President for Education, you are in charge of putting together the program. Yes, every program. So, it's a regular 2-week cycle of preparation. And frustration.

Through the years, we have learned a few lessons and have improved our system, which now includes getting speaking commitments two weeks before the meeting. That means, while the current meeting is being held, we are filling in the spots for the next meeting. A pretty good system when things work out well.

But there are those weeks when a few days before the meeting, Captain Murphy and his darn laws march in and mess things up. Slated speakers cancel. (Yes, if this is guilting YOU out, it should.) And the VP for Education scamper for alternatives. Of course, it's totally unfair to suddenly awaken some poor Toastie from his or her relaxed reverie to be pushed to deliver a (not-so) prepared speech. So, we end up with evenings with less than the ideal number of speakers. It's a waste too considering that we had to turn down other speakers in favor of those who reserved first.

Now, this is a long (and bitter) preamble to the real topic of this post. I really just want to share tips on preparing for your upcoming speech. It works around the excuse that you've been busy because the Assistant to the Regional Deputy Manager for Something Something is here in town and there is this gimongous convention and you've got so many reports and stuff and stuff and excuses excuses.

When you commit to speak two weeks from now, the first thing you do when you get home is to read about the speech project manual just before you sleep. Total time requirement: 5 minutes. And then you think of the best topic to match that project. You can do this in bed. You don't have to Google. You don't have to go to the National Library to find a life-changing, earth-shaking topic. Pick from a personal experience: a recent success, a recent loss, a recent problem, a joke that had you snorting bubbles, a conversation you had with your boss, a conversation you didn't have with that officemate you're lusting after, a TV show, anything. And then build up from there. You don't even have to write your speech down yet. But spend your last waking minutes thinking about your topic. Hopefully you dream about it. And pray you wake up with a great idea concerning your speech.

The next day is when you write the speech. You can write it word by word. Or you can make an outline. Take some tips from how Boom does it. But really, you've got to do it as soon after you make the commitment. Before you start feeling scared. Or lazy. Or wishy washy. Or before that email comes announcing the Assistant Regional Deputy Manager for Something Something is coming and you find a convenient excuse. Just do it. And then shoot an email with your speech ideas to your mentor asking him/her for feedback. Do not do this a week before, a night before, or an hour before your speech. You're giving Captain Murphy too much to work with.

Now, it's 12 days to your speech and your speech has shaped up a bit. Don't wait for it to be perfect. Start practicing it. Try out the first few lines in your head. And then when you're alone, or even when you're not, start rehearsing it aloud. In the shower is the best place for this. Good acoustics. And you can imagine the sound of splashing water as the sound of applause. And the Assistant to the Regional Deputy Whatever won't bother you while you're in the shower. That's at least 12 shower practice rounds. Double if you shower twice a day. More if you're a neatfreak. That's a lot of time to perfect the speech. I also do it while driving. Anytime during your daily commute. Who cares about the other people in the bus? They might even find it entertaining.

If you do this, you deliver a natural-sounding but well-rehearsed speech. You get one step closer to your next norm. You don't stress yourself, your mentor, and the VP Ed out. And everyone is happy, including you. Most especially you.

Because the point is if you're thinking you need to clear a couple of hours from your busy schedule to practice, it's not going to happen. You need to find pockets of time to rehearse. So you need to incorporate it into your routine. You need to multi-task. You need to repeat your speech a number of times to make it sound natural. You need to creatively use your existing time, busy or not. It also takes commitment.

I say start the process as soon as you can. Because when you realize 1 week before the meeting that you haven't done anything, that is the time you realize you probably won't be ready for your speech. That is the time when you call/text/YM/email/smoke signal the Vice President for Education that you can't deliver your speech. And the VP Ed can start looking for a replacement.

I hope you, Toasties, know where this is coming from. The officers are all committed to make every meeting a fun, fulfilling learning experience. But it takes everyone's cooperation and commitment to make it fun and not-so-frustrating for the officers as well.

Okay, now I've just got to say this before I end my emotional tirade -- even if the VP Education Post is one of the most challenging posts, it was my favorite TM job. Really. At the end of the term, I felt that I've become more organized, more creative, more patient, more persevering, more connected to the club and to other people outside the club, more prayerful, more fulfilled. Practicing to be a better communicator and leader ceases in this post; it becomes real.

Every speech you deliver is not just an opportunity to tick off a speech project. It's also an opportunity to hone your time management and leadership skills. An opportunity to test your commitment and sense of responsiblity. It's an opportunity to be the best possible communicator you can be.

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