Prolific

In July 2015 I joined a challenge that pushed me to give 40 Toastmasters speeches in one year (that’s a bit less than one per week). Part of the challenge was that I would make all of them public. It’s half-time now and here I deliver half of the material. In case you’d like to know why I’m doing this, I try to explain it in this post.

Links to all the speeches are below.


Uninspiredness

There was one thing I was always fighting: Uninspiredness. That I was supposed to write a presentation, a speech, a memo, but just didn’t know where to start. In the end I managed, but it took me so much time that I cursed myself for it. I mean – for being so uninventive, for taking so long and for taking the task to create anything in the first place.

I thought this was the way it had to be. Until I came across a chapter in Isaac Asimov’s autobiography.

Isaac_Asimov_on_Throne

Isaac Asimov, By Rowena Morrill, via Wikimedia Commons

The title of the chapter was: “On Prolificity”


The Word

Doesn’t just the word prolific have a magical sound to it? Especially when you support it with some numbers. Wikipedia says: “Asimov was prolific and wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”

As an incorrigible dreamer, I immediately imagined how it would sound in my autobiography some decades later:

Lukas Liebich | Prolific Toastmaster

(yes, it’s OK if you laugh now)

But I had a problem. How could I ever be prolific, if whenever I would set to write anything – a speech, a blog post, even an email – it would take me terribly long to complete it?

What would Mr. Isaac have to say to that? I started actually reading the chapter and distilled 2 pieces of advice:


Number one: Think about writing all the time.

“I don’t write only when I’m writing. Whenever I’m away from my typewriter – eating, falling asleep, performing my ablutions – my mind keeps working. On occasion, I can hear bits of dialogue running trough my thoughts, or passages of exposition.”

First, I thought that it’s impossible to achieve if I’m not a full-time writer. But that’s not true. During my day, working as a project manager in IT, I’m facing myriad interesting situations, surprising interactions and I have conversations with quite many inspiring people. If I would manage to think about all those in a way “What could I learn from this – and share it with the world”, it would actually help me do my job better. So doing this WAS possible.


Number two: Don’t spend too much time on the writing

“The ordinary writer is always revising, always chopping and changing, always trying on different ways of expressing himself and, for all I know, never being entirely satisfied. That is certainly no way to be prolific.

A prolific writer, therefore has to have self-assurance. He can’t sit around doubting the quality of his writing. Rather, he has to love his own writing.”

I could certainly see myself in the description of the ordinary writer. Writing a blog post, I would first write a draft, then edit it, then send it to two or three friends to get their comments, then review the whole thing again. One or two days gone.

With the speeches I had an even bigger problem. I would spend the whole day staring at a blank Evernote screen, looking for the “perfect” topic, feeling that all my ideas suck. I ended up writing the speech last minute anyway, succeeding neither in using my time effectively, nor in delivering quality.


How to make it work

Think about it all the time and don’t spend too much time on it. Simple. But could I actually make it work?

Yes, but… I had to find a way how to make writing all the time and fast a MUST.

I joined the #100 Speech Challenge in MSD Prague Toastmasters club. The idea was simple – in a team of 3 people, we agreed to complete 100 speeches over 12 months: July 2015-June 2016. I committed to do 40. That was about one per week (allowing myself some holidays). That is writing all the time. On top of that, every speech above my 40 would help the team, allowing the others do a bit less.

That meant:

Every opportunity to give a speech I wouldn’t seize would mean missing a chance to help my team.

All clear now. Now I MUST write. All the time. And fast.


Half-time

In the beginning of January, it’s half-time. Part of the challenge was that I would make all the speeches public (a good motivation to avoid giving rubbish speeches, when you imagine anyone can look them up; even though in my opinion I have not succeeded at that completely :)).

In case you’d like to have a look – here’s the first 19, split into six categories.

I hope you’ll find at least one of them helpful. And if you ever feel uninspired: Just force yourself to write way more than you can handle. Trust me. You will find the way.

Note: I have recorded 20, but only 19 are public, as one of them I’ll need to re-record for public presentation. Reason – whiteboard in our office in the background – that had some stuff written on it 🙂


I. If you like stories

The storytelling manual makes us think differently about structuring our presentations. In my opinion, it should be the manual everyone does right after finishing the Competent Communicator. Especially for longer presentations, being able to tell a story is a key to keep audience’s attention. And it’s a brilliant tool to illustrate a point. Apart from that, making the stories up is a lot of fun.

Speech #14: The King and the Bard

  • My favorite, project “The Moral of the Story”. If you’d had to guess what the moral was, what would you say?

Speech #19: Saturday Night

  • Mixing different life experiences, adding some spice of romance and shaking it all up a bit into a “Touching Story”. Oh, and the protagonist goes “George Clooney” style in the end. Michal Holub from Brno liked that.

Speech #12: Business Lessons from the Little Mermaid

  • I tried to look for business lessons in the Little Mermaid. Delivery imperfect and the timing – well, even imperfecter. But it matches the criteria of the “Folk Tale”. And there are business learnings!

Speech #13: Campaign! (not public – will need to retake)

  • You should have seen my face when I saw the video and realized I won’t be able to share it in public. The story is about my past campaign to be elected as National Representative of Erasmus Student Network Czech Republic. I promise I’ll tell how the story ended in the recorded version of the speech 🙂

II. If you’d like to learn a new skill

Speech #17: Quickwrite!

  • This was fun. If you’d like to take the exercise – have a pen and paper close when watching the speech.

Speech #5: Supercharge Yourself!

  • A tiny bit of NLP and anchoring. Again – a little exercise, this time you’ll need just your thumb and your index finger.

Speech #6: Pause!

  • Why sometimes we can’t stop talking and what to do about it.

III. If you’d just like to get a few new ideas

Speech #1: 5:30am

  • My Icebreaker (the second one). Along the lines of what I talk about when I talk about running.

Speech #4: I hate doing this

  • Do you like Ms Excel? I hated it for quite a long time. Really really hated it.

Speech #10: A Lesson from a Monastery

  • I write a journal, carry it everywhere with me. Started this habit in 2010 during my studies abroad in Italy. In this speech I’m trying to explain why do I do that.

IV. If you’d like to see a non-standard speech

Speech #15: Talk Show Host

  • An interview about movie screenings in Prague.

Speech #20: Prague Business Toastmasters vs the Rest of Prague Downtown Area

  • I tried to use the project “Fact Finding Report” to nudge members of our Prague Business Toastmasters club to more activity. Q&A at the end of the session.

V. If you speak Czech

Speech #11: Objekt zájmu

  • The story about the best networker I met in my life, who made me realize that the key to building connections with people is to make them feel like rockstars.  (in Czech)

Speech #16: První schůzka

  • Structure of my “First meeting” with a person I would be mentoring in Toastmasters. And where I take that person for a coffee. (in Czech)

Speech #18: Jak se stát ženou prezidenta

  • This one is the “Speaking off the cuff” project. So, don’t expect anything very deep. Before I started the speech, a girl from the audience picked one of five topics I offered. I had just a few bullet points for each of them. (in Czech)

VI. If you want to see me suck 🙂

What can I say – despite the fact that I wanted to make sure all the speeches will be quality – those four I am really not happy with. But that’s why we are in Toastmasters, isn’t it? We allow ourselves to fail in order to learn.

Speech #3: How Not to Fall in Love with Toastmasters

  • Convincing the audience to help organizing the District Conference in Prague. The “don’t do this” to make people actually do this did not work perfectly.

Speech #7: Superpower: Reading

  • Trying to illustrate the advantages of reading faster. I lose it somewhere in the middle and the ending is really really weak.

Speech #8: Rock Your Conference!

  • Using slides, I illustrate key concepts from Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Be a Conference Commando”. It’s just I’m not too good with the slides yet, so the final result is… A bit sloppy.

Speech #9: Write!

  • Strong start, weak ending. Lots of theory, too few examples. Don’t do speeches this way! 🙂

Final words

That’s about it. Wish you luck in your writing / or any creative process you are going through.

And let’s see what we can create in 2016!


Media attribution: “Isaac Asimov on Throne” by Rowena Morrill; used under GNU Free Documentation License

Featured Image taken from unsplash.com, used under Creative Commons Zero

 

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