Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Wizard of Ah's

I’ve been thinking a lot about Rick’s flawless interview for The Mark News that he shared with us last week. It reminded me of my very first phone-in radio interview.

My publicist at Berkley asked if I’d like to replace an author who had dropped out at the last minute. I was grateful for the free publicity and was given the usual instructions, namely to call a specific number at EXACTLY 8.34 am and wait until I heard my name being introduced to the gazillions of listeners tuned in on their merry way to work. I had no time to prepare but perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered as the interview lasted all of three minutes and about half of that time was spent with me mumbling “ah,” “um,” and “you know.”

The experience haunted me until award winning Toastmaster maven, Susan Mayberry, came to speak at Sisters in Crime and not only shared some tips, but put things into perspective. According to Susan, listeners only pay attention to 5% of the actual words spoken, 38% to the tone of the voice and the remaining 55% to the presentation. The key is to be energetic and make eye contact with your audience—difficult when the interview is on the phone.

I was so excited by the sound of Toastmasters that I decided to go to a meeting. It was a lot of fun, not remotely daunting and the cost of membership will not break the bank. Each week there are assignments that you can take part in or just observe until you feel confident to take the podium. Generally, there are prepared speeches between five and seven minutes and a “table-top” topic (a spontaneous off the cuff presentation) running around two to three minutes that is open to the floor.

Members are also encouraged to volunteer for various roles. The Wizard of Ah's must pay attention to the number of ah’s, um’s and word repetitions uttered by all speakers; the Grammarian is responsible for grammar and sentence construction; the Timer holds up various colored coded cards to ensure speeches are kept to the correct length and the Master of Chuckles provides the perfect opportunity to drag out your favorite knock-knock-who’s-there joke. Evaluation is offered in a way that I found surprisingly nurturing and supportive.

Since we can’t all be wonderful rock stars like Rick—BTW I loved the scrapbook—and if you are feeling nervous about speaking in public, I really recommend giving Toastmasters a try.


Rick Blechta said...

Two things: I have a son with a PR diploma and good skills who has gone to numerous presentations I've done, then read me the riot act afterwards about my transgressions, and my "flawless" job in the interview on The Mark website was in the most part due to an excellent editor.

However, you're on the right track with Toastmasters. They know what they're doing.

The one thing I've done myself to improve is to practice: interview yourself and tape it. It's remarkably easy to improve. You too can make ums, ahs and you-knows a thing of the past!

Hannah Dennison said...

That's a good idea about interviewing myself -- I have a presentation coming up and I am really nervous (despite Toastmasters) - for some reason I have developed a bad habit of being aware of what I'm saying ... as I say it ... and then I lose the plot. I wonder if I'm afflicted in some way?