Toastmasters Review: Leader of the Band

So how’d it go?

It actually went pretty well. There were some things working against me.

  • We’ve got a new rule that says the Toastmaster can designate a speaking area, and the Toastmaster designated the stage. I had legitimate reasons not to want to be on the stage— I built a PowerPoint of pictures of my dad, and if you move around on stage at all, you walk in front of the PowerPoint. When you speak from the floor, as I usually do, the PowerPoint is elevated above you, and you don’t run the risk of distracting the audience with the shadows you’re casting. Also, the biggest problem I have with singing is getting enough air to be heard. Pushing me back 15 feet from the audience just makes it worse. Also, I’m telling a pretty personal story. The distance from the audience is not an asset to this speech.
    • Also, I don’t prefer to speak from the stage. Not even a little.

I thought seriously about bucking the rule. It was definitely an option, and I resolved as I walked into the meeting, despite being seriously non-confrontational, that I would tell them I wouldn’t speak from the stage. But because I have not once in my previous dozen speeches even attempted to speak from the stage, and because the whole point of this exercise is to get you out of your comfort zone, I gave in and spoke from the stage. Part of it was that setup for the speech didn’t go smoothly— there was trouble with the wireless remote on my computer and a last minute substitution of another computer (thank God I had a flash drive of the presentation on me). I thought that taking a stand against a clearly articulated policy might throw me off for the speech.

The singing went reasonably well. I was loud enough. I got hit with enough adrenaline from that to disrupt my speech for the first couple of minutes, though, so my delivery early on, while I fought through that, wasn’t great. It was the funniest part of the speech and I didn’t have the best energy behind that. I hit my stride partway through and people felt like my ending was strong.

Of course, in the moment, I forgot some things— the thing about him as a swimmer, just anecdotes here and there, and I ran out of time to tell the story of refinishing the cedar chest with him, but I ended it as I meant to, without getting disqualified for time.

After the speech, I was sitting next to a woman (not a regular club member), who kept offering suggestions— “what if you played the song instead of sang it?” “what if you only sang the line ‘leader of the band’?” I might have mentioned here a couple of dozen times that I don’t love unsolicited advice, and I tried not to let it get to me. I did think carefully about exactly what I sang and what was necessary, and I think I included the smallest possible unit. I call back to “song is in my soul” at the end, so I started with “his blood runs through my instrument/ and his song is in my soul./ My life has been a poor attempt/ to imitate the man, / I am a living legacy to the leader of the band.” My evaluator gave good feedback— the nerves from the song (which I executed well) threw me off, and he thinks that would be reason enough maybe to quote the lyrics but not sing them. I could do better with vocal variety and more movement (though, again, on the stage, I felt like I was a little handcuffed.) And I think he’s right in principle, though I felt strongly about singing it (it’s a fear I’m trying to push past and this was an important step) and I’m not sorry that I did.

I’ll be interested to watch the video, but I won’t have it for a bit— I forgot my SD card, so I’ll have to wait for another person who forgot theirs to return the shared card, so that I can get my presentation. Probably just as well. I might have watched this one too early. The speech left me completely wiped out, just in time to work a full day.

The individual evaluations used the word “brave” a lot. People admired that I sang, despite my obvious nerves. They admired how well I delivered a speech that was obviously on an emotional topic for me. They talked about how hearing about my dad connected them to their experience of their fathers.

And there’s the regular stuff.

They like it when I lean into humor. They like how I use visual aids— to supplement my speech without leaning too heavily on it. I’ve developed a technique where I never look at the slides— I just know what my slides are and I advance them by remote, but I don’t underline their presence. A couple of club members are always impressed by that. (“It’s like you just¬†knew!”¬†Yes, I did know.) Of course, when I do that, I don’t explain the pictures they’re seeing, and they always want to know those stories too. Someone even asked me if I really had six kids, in their remarks to me. I’m not sure if they thought I was my eldest niece and that her cousins in the picture with my parents with their grandchildren were my children, but I certainly didn’t at all imply that I had any children. And much as I love my eldest niece and we look related, I’m not sure we’re doppelgangers. To say nothing of the fact that she’s not old enough to be mother to any but her youngest cousins, and on and on.

I think the constraints of the project somewhat distorted the story I tried to tell. The dictum to tell a story that wasn’t about my personal experience paired with such a personal story— it made it a tightrope that I walked imperfectly. People basically felt like I hit my stride when I talked about my experience of my father, not the parts of the story that weren’t about me. I tried to use those stories to illustrate his impact on me, but it only kind of worked. I think I’ll tell this story again in a different way— maybe focus on the “getting to know my father” angle, or the “ways he shaped my life” angle as distinct things. Someone wanted to know more about how he died. Maybe one day I’ll tell that story, too. But for today, I’m calling it a credible start.

One of the things that stands out is that some long-time members who’ve had some great success told me they voted for me to win the ribbon for best speaker. I didn’t win the ribbon— we had a new member give an icebreaker that would have been really hard to beat— the story of how he went to prison, nearly died, turned his life around— so compelling. I voted for him. I never vote for myself, anyway, on principle, but he was the first speaker and between it being his first speech, delivered really compellingly, and on such a loaded topic, the other speakers and I would really have had to move heaven and earth to win the ribbon. But hearing from the club president (who delivered my most recent evaluation and has found a lot of room for improvement in my expression) and another speaker I admired that they were moved enough to vote for me over the newbie? It meant a lot.




2 thoughts on “Toastmasters Review: Leader of the Band

  1. Hi! Thanks so much for the update! I so respect your bravery and commitment to doing even the most personal of things with excellence. Love, Fawn


    • Many thanks! It was a story I was glad to tell. I’ve stayed pretty quiet about him, so far, in Toastmasters, and I felt like it was time to make clear that it’s not because there’s nothing to say about him and who he was in my life. Afterward, anytime anyone tried to talk to me about it, fat tears ran down my face (I wasn’t crying, per se— overflowing, more like), but I kept it together better than I thought I would.

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