Wie man mit einer humorvollen Rede Europameister wird

Vor einem Jahr – im September 2016 hat unser ehemaliges Mitglied Marek Schiffer den Clubwettbewerb „Humorvolle Rede“ gewonnen. Auch die nächsthöheren Ebenen: Area- und Divison-Wettbewerb konnte Marek zu seinen Gunsten entscheiden. Schließlich gewann Marek den District 95 – Contest am 26. November 2016 in Warschau mit seiner Rede „Eine Urangst“.

Die District 95 – Konferenz ist im deutschsprachigen Toastmaster – Raum die höchste Instanz, der Gewinner wird innerhalb von Toastmaster Europameister genannt.

Marek hat nach der District 95 – Konferenz einen Workshop über das Reden schreiben gehalten und im Dezember 2016 ein englisches Statement verfasst, worin er darlegt, wie er es geschafft hat Europameister zu werden. Anbei seine Geschichte:

Dear friends,
I joined Toastmasters one and a half years ago to become a better communicator and especially to become better at storytelling. I am a person with a love for theory. So naturally during the first 10 months, while doing my Competent Communicator (CC) and attending the club meetings, I started to write down little things that I noticed. What worked for me in speech writing, and what did not. In my last general evaluation for Spreeredner, I proposed that we do a workshop on how to write a speech – ideally every 6 months – to remind ourselves and to give a strong starting point for new members. The natural progression of that thought was to combine it with the club contest. The winner would prepare a one–hour workshop divided into two parts: First he would go over the basics of how to write a speech. Second, he would look at and analyze his winning speech explaining precisely why he did every part of it according to the theory provided in the first part. That way the participants would see how much thought goes into a speech, and the presenter would get feedback if it worked out the way he intended. A win–win situation.

I made the proposal and the reception was the usual, “Great idea, but who is going to do that ?”. So, it stayed in the back of my mind. I really wanted to do it, but consistent with my proposal, I first had to win the club contest, and I only had good but not great ideas. They all seemed forced to me, and I didn’t even bother writing anything down. Then by pure coincidence 5 days before the club contest, I went to the swimming pool in Berlin–Wilmersdorf and happened to jump off the 5–meter platform for the first time in my life. Lying in the grass, waiting for the 10–meter platform to open lots of aspects of the speech came into my mind. The story with the little boy jumping had happened exactly one week before. At that moment I knew I had a great speech topic. I’m a firm believer that the topic and the speaker must have a personal connection. Once you know why the topic is important to you, you will know why it is interesting to your audience.

The only part missing was to jump from the 10–meter platform. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) it didn’t open that day but I talked with the lifeguard, who assured me that I could jump the next day – the last day of the season. So I jumped on Sunday (there is no exaggeration in the speech by the way) and signed up with my VPE to enter the club contest. I then wrote the speech on the day of the club contest in about 5–6 hours, delivered it and won. Jalen Rose likes to quote “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. I heard that quote about 2 years ago, but this was the first time I realized how true it is. I had a topic but without the intense preparation of the 10 speeches beforehand I wouldn’t have been able to write the speech in such a short time. So if you ask for my advice in order to write a speech it would be: First chose a topic which is personal to you and then make it interesting for your audience. Second: Practice your speech on the club level. This means write it down as a full text, rehearse it and keep changing it until you get to a version that doesn’t sound like written text anymore. After the speech do a short debrief to see what worked as intended and what didn’t. This will take maybe three evenings of 4 hours every 4–6 weeks.

For the Area contest, I basically only rehearsed the speech a little better. After that I started to realise, I could win the Division Contest and therefore do the workshop afterwards. (Not quite as intended but still…). I got a spot for the workshop 5 days after the Division Contest so I started to think about the workshop while rehearsing the speech. From a speech writing point, I only was dissatisfied with one short paragraph and rewrote it. It came out cumbersome, too long and then it got too serious. I wrote in big letters on a piece of paper one condition to change something “Keep the fun!” . I was really struggling with that sentence. Meanwhile I watched, foolishly for the first time, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi’s winning speech ‘I see something’ and was amazed by his relaxing dangling arms. Up until the Area Contest I had never had bad body language but I always kept my hands in front of my belly. After seeing the ‘Dananjaya dangling arms’ I thought, “What a badass!” and dropped my arms for good. Another point I wanted to improve was eye contact on a big stage. My mantra became hold eye contact while finishing a sentence. I specifically remember trying to pierce Raimo Graf, Kristin Kluck and Mahi Sall’s eyes at the Division Contest. One day before the contest, the sentence I had been struggling with compressed from 18 to 6 words and the context was much better! In my mind I won that evening. Sure enough, my vision became reality.

I had to cut down on sleep for the next 4 days afterwards to do the workshop. I was exhausted and luckily had to go to Vienna for a few days anyways, but I kept thinking. In the last three weeks I had spent every free minute on speech writing, either for the contest or the workshop. In sport, dieting and learning you often hear the quote “It’s a marathon not a sprint” . I have to disagree! For me it is more like interval training. While you do your CC it’s like slight jogging. You can’t work as intensely on every speech every month. But once you smell blood you have to bite and try to never let go. That’s some motivational blah–blah isn’t it?

For me it meant working on that one sentence mentioned above twice or three times as long as on the whole speech. Change my body language and improve my eye contact.

I had improved so much between Area and Division. What could I do to improve for the District Conference?

First I had put myself under a lot of pressure for the Division Contest. I did it on 2 hours of sleep and was one 1:07 minutes faster than in my practice sessions. I had to be more relaxed on stage. Second, I could improve my vocal variety. Dirk Brückner pointed this out to me and I knew it was one of my weaker points. Two weeks before the District Conference I locked in again. I made two appointments with Viola Morlinghaus a vocal coach, recommended to me by Schifra Wittkopp. After speaking with Viola Morlinghaus, I realised I had to discover moments in the speech when I could go slower and tone down my voice. In order to get more live experience, I made appointments as a guest speaker at the Toastmaster Clubs Wismasters and Hanseredner Hamburg. Most importantly, I went to the Open Stage Varieté in Berlin called Scheinbar two times. Doing the speech in front of a paying audience between stand–up comedians on a Saturday evening really gave me confidence.

Then another problem came up in Hamburg. I got feedback from a few people, who said the speech seemed over rehearsed. One day later Viola Morlinghaus told me something similar: “That speech is on the verge of becoming boring to you! ” . By that time, I had done the speech way over a 100 times. Still I had the problem that “live” I did the speech in about 6 instead of 7 minutes. On Friday night in Warsaw – after an intense day of recoding the events (That’s another story for another day), I decided I would practice more. I still consider myself a beginner but I could prepare better. From 10p.m to 00:30am I went to the stage in the conference room and rehearsed the speech 7 times. Seven–minute speech, 10 minute breaks. It was there when I finally stopped doing what I had realized before: sometimes my gestures went ahead of my spoken words. On contest day I delivered the speech in a calm 6:40min. Not quite 7 minutes but 40 seconds slower than in all my previous performances. On the video during the final applause you will hear me yell “yes!” That was when I knew that, I had done everything necessary to win. When I left the stage Steffen Grützki, who came in second with a very funny speech, and 5 other contestants came to me, shook my hand and congratulated me. It’s a judges call so you can never be sure – but at that moment I was 90% sure I had won.

As with everything in Toastmasters the more you put in – the more you get out. By doing competitions you can learn a lot in a very very short time. For me, the most important thing is the speech preparation on the club level. That is where you can really learn and improve your communication skills. There is a very good chance that I would have told the same story last year in one sentence “The weekend was great, I jumped of the 10–meter platform” . Therefore I’m really grateful that I joined Toastmasters and hope you all experience the same improvements in your communication, and hence in your life – as I did.

All the best, Marek