Articles and Videos

"5 Steps to Impact" - Simple, Easy Speech Structure

Copyright Craig Senior, Used with Permission.

The myriad of speech structures makes beginning to speak in public a daunting task, what with all the worries that you need to worry about.

The 5-step process in the video below will help you to prepare good speeches very quickly.

2011-05-31 Craig - 5 steps to impact from Message Masters (TI Club 7809) on Vimeo.

You can read detailed instructions here:

Caution: This method is just a first step to good speech writing. It does not explain substructures within a section of the body, or techniques such as call back. It also does not explain sentence structure: the sequence of words in a sentence.  These must wait for a future article...

To your good speaking,
Craig Senior


Summer - Close or Merge Meetings?

During the summer, many clubs stop operating due to their small turn out. Many people go on vacation. Big clubs with 20 or more members can easily handle this drop, but for clubs with less than 15 active members, it could be cause to close. One way to fill this two-month gap is holding social events such as barbecues and parties. Though summer is a good reason to enhance the socializing spirit of the club, it is not a good reason to stop functioning. A club that stops functioning can struggle in September to rekindle the momentum.

Club Interaction and Message Masters found the key to continue learning in the summer time: “merge meetings.” As a result of pioneer, open-minded and sociable members, our club members continue learning throughout the summer.

Before the summer, Message Masters and Club Interaction presidents start exchanging emails and plan for the summer meetings. Club Interaction will host the meetings in the summer time, because their location is sponsored.

The two clubs have different cultures, agendas and even languages; however joint meetings are very effective, organized and fun!! Clubs alternate chairing the meeting, so we alternate our agenda. For example, the first week of summer, Interaction chaired the meeting and we followed their agenda. We helped them to fill roles such as English joke, French joke, and Toast, which we do not have. The second week, Message Masters chaired the meeting and Interaction helped to fill our roles. In our club, we separate the roles of Grammarian and Ah Counter, so two members of Interaction volunteered. Other than different roles, Message Masters have round table feedback, whereas Interaction has “normal” evaluations. We also provide feedback right after the speech, but Interaction has their evaluations at the end of the meeting. One more thing, Interaction is a French-English club and we are just an English club.

These differences did not create problems. They enhanced the learning experience. We increased flexibility and broadened our language skills. As the result, we not only could continue our training program and enhance our skills in front of new people, but also we got inspired from each other. We also decided to help each other in the future in holding contests. We will exchange judges and contest chairs for upcoming contests, so we will continue our cooperation.

In compare ourselves with another club, we both decided to apply some changes:

1 - Message Masters will have themes for their meetings

2 - Interaction will have round table feedback following the speech

3 - Message Masters will change its agenda to indicate the location of meetings and add the Toastmasters logo

4 - Message Masters will create Timer and Grammarian report sheets for the meetings

5 - Cooperation in holding contests in two clubs

6 - Interaction will start recording their meetings and posting unlisted on YouTube

7 - Both VP Educations will increase inter-club cooperation

8 - Both clubs will endeavor to network and meet more Toastmasters

9 - Speaking in front of more than 12 people… is GREAT!

Next summer, we will continue this wonderful practice and turn merge meetings into a tradition.

How about your club? To surf through the summer, will you Close or Merge?

Firoozeh Ghobadi
Message Masters Toastmasters


Willing to Wobble

We all say, “It’s okay to make mistakes.” We say it in Toastmasters. We say it at work. And it’s always okay to make mistakes at home. Well, sometimes! We all say, “It’s okay to make mistakes,” but I wonder how much we really believe it? Do you really believe it?

For members of Toastmasters, when you received a speech evaluation and the evaluator says, “I have a couple of suggestions to improve your speech next time,” how do you feel? Do you exclaim, “Yes! I can’t wait to hear it!” or do you cringe behind your polite smile, dreading the next words, and exhale your relief when you find out it wasn’t so bad? Have you ever felt that? Yeah.

At work, do we rush into the boss’s office and say, “Good morning! How you doin’? I’m having a fantastic day! I made a really big mistake today, a huge mistake!” or do we usually wait a little, silently hoping problems fade away before they are discovered? Yeah.

Something isn’t making sense. A moment ago, we all agreed that it was okay to make mistakes, yet no one really likes to make them.  Would it be truer to say that it’s okay to say that it’s okay to make mistakes, but not really okay to actually make them?


Think back to your childhood when you learned something new, maybe playing a musical instrument, a new language, or for me, learning how to ride my first bicycle.

The very first time I got on a bike, I felt the cool breeze in my hair, the sun warming my face... This smooth rolling world was meant for me. Then I pushed the pedal. Whoa! The wheels wobbled all over the place until I stopped on the pavement. Got up again. I kept wobbling until I got to smooth.

Hm, so what were those wobbles? Where they mistakes, because if they were… What if instead of being mistakes, those wobbles were a natural part of the learning process, not mistakes at all? If we learn from wobbles, then we want to wobble as fast as we can to get to smooth, but many of us stop because of embarrassment or it’s too much work.


In 1994, I wobbled again. I first heard about Toastmasters. Toastmasters = public speaking; public speaking = good. Sign me up. There was only one problem.  Most of you were once nervous about speaking in public. While you were overcoming your fear of speaking in public I was overcoming my fear of speaking. I stuttered, sometimes so bad, I had trouble saying my own name. Answering the phone was terrifying. Fortunately for you, I failed fabulously as a telemarketer. You’ll never get a phone call from me at supper time! When I found out about Toastmasters, I signed up right away.  I didn’t care. It must be done. My Icebreaker speech, I was so nervous, I peed my pants. It was a warming experience… but it didn't dampen my spirit.

I volunteered for absolutely every opportunity to wobble. I entered every speech contest. My first contest, I was so excited, I had overhead slides, handouts, props. It was amazing. It was also 13 minutes. I gave lunch and learns at work, was master of ceremonies for employee events, charity dinners, birthdays, BBQs, bar mitzvahs. I wobbled everywhere! I was a mission on a wobble!

I was turning into a new being, a new creature, I was turning into a Weeble. Just in case you don’t know, a weeble is a small toy with a fat bottom. You’ve heard that “weebles wobble, but they [don’t fall down!]” That’s right!

We need to be weebles. Weeble wobbling is the natural part of the learning process.

Let’s change from saying, “It’s okay to make mistakes,” to saying, “It’s okay to wobble through the natural learning process. Then we will wobble as fast as we can to get to smooth.”

The next time you face a challenge or something new, put your hands on your bicycle handlebars. Do it right now as you read this. Grab onto your handlebars and start to wobble. Achor the feeling inside and power your wobbles to smoothe. That’s it! You’ve got it, now, “Weeee!”

If someone asks what the heck you are doing, just say, “I’m a wild weeble who is weally willing to wobble!”


Hello, my name is C-C-C-Craig

I’d like to take you back, back to your early teen years, maybe 13, 14 or 15 which are, in fact, your early teen years.  Do you remember the first time you fell in love?  When you saw the most beautiful girl or guy walk past you in school.  Music seemed to play from the walls as they walked by in slow motion.  Ah, total bliss.  You want desperately to say, “Hi,” and finally summons the courage to do so.  You walk up bravely, ready to deliver eloquent words of introduction but instead you begin to stammer, stutter and stumble over your words.  Perhaps you dribbled, spit or sprayed on them.  With each failed attempt to communicate, you feel yourself growing smaller and smaller.

If you remember the kind of nervousness you felt with your first romance (and for some of you that was just last week) then you understand what it feels like for those of us who stutter.  Even the simple act of answering the phone can create such fear that when the phone rings I sometimes say, “That must be for you.  You answer it.”  Worst of all is when the phone rings and I’m all alone.  [ring] Alone, [ring] just the phone and me [ring].

Hhhhhhh   hhhhhhh   hhhhh [click] Hello!  Hung up again!  Some people have hang-ups in life but I have real hang-ups.

I'd like to share my story of stuttering as a lifelong challenge and break down some myths about it.  I’d like to help you overcome your fear of listening to stutterers by giving you some ideas to better deal with us.


I can’t remember the first time I stuttered.  I can’t remember what caused it.  As far back as I can remember, it was there.  I suppose I suffered some childhood trauma like losing a pet or worse, a favorite kite.  Perhaps I tried to be perfect and couldn’t deal with failure.

Eventually I forgot my childhood trauma and my fear changed, through habit, into the fear of stuttering.  You see, failure to speak fluently, or stuttering, causes a fear of speaking which, in turn, causes a failure to speak fluently, which causes a fear of speaking which causes stuttering which causes fear which causes stuttering, fear causes stuttering....  The greatest cause of stuttering is the fear of stuttering itself.  We sabotage our own speech.  Stuttering from medical causes is actually quite rare.

So I stuttered and sprayed my way through high school and people thought I was less intelligent because I had trouble expressing myself.


In fact, the most common myth about stutterers is we are less intelligent.  In his book entitled, What to Do About Your Brain-Injured Child, Glenn Doman said, “...when man loses the ability to express himself by speech...The world feels… if he can't say his name…he doesn't know his name.”

Many people think stutterers are less intelligent but stutterers are just as intelligent and maybe even a little more.  A 1996 study into the brain of stutterers demonstrated that stutterers actually experience an overactivity of the creative right brain and a slight underactivity of the auditory portion of the logical left brain.  The stutterer’s right brain is overactive because we search forward in our speech to identify words over which we stumble and automatically substitute safe words.  We process massive amounts of information simultaneously across several mental conversations to resolve one conversation without stuttering.  If we resolve one in time, we speak words.  If we fail, we stutter.

So stutterers are roving Thesauruses with excellent vocabularies.  I play a mean game of Scrabble.
In addition to word substitution, we also try other avoidance techniques.  Stutters use sounds such as “uh” before the word we trip over.  You couldn’t imagine the stress I suffered when I joined Toastmasters and found out I couldn’t say, “Uh!”  Oh, it was unbelievable!  What do you mean you’re going to count my “uhs” and we’ll eliminate them together?  I like them!  That’s like a painter without a paint brush or a writer without a pen.  Stutterers make art with, “Uh!”  Toastmasters took away that brush so, over the three years of my membership, I’ve learned to paint a different picture!

Another myth is stutterers are lazy but we use many tricks to avoid stuttering.  We blink and jerk our heads, we make faces, we exhaust our breath and speak without air.  We wwwwind up.  Lazy?  Are you kidding?  We work hard!  A simple conversation can represent for me a full cardiovascular workout complete with sweat and all the wonderful smells that go along with that.


When people see and hear us going through our gyrations they might easily think of stuttering as a handicap but stuttering has many hidden benefits.

The other guys in school worried not about getting rejected for a date but getting accepted.  Yeah!  They didn’t know what they would do if they got a date.  They worried about whether they would kiss properly but it seemed so simple to me.  As a stutterer I was an expert at kissing.

Stuttering is also a great way to get rid of pesky door-to-door salespeople.  You open the door, they start their schpiel and you go “Aye, oh uh,” and they won’t be there long.  Works like a charm everytime.


Even if you’re not a door-to-door saleperson, listening to a stutterer can be very stressful.  Never mind my stress level in answering that phone a few moments ago.  Remember the poor soul on the other end!  Here are some ideas to help you lower our stress level when I stutter:

  • If I stutter, tell me in your own way, “It’s all right to stutter.”  Lie to me.  Tell me you have a brother in Calgary who stutters and you know all about it so I can relax.  When I relax with you I will stutter a little less and when I stutter a little less, we will communicate a little more and you know, I’m always amazed at the number of people with a brother who stutters in Calgary!
  • Listen to me actively by feeding back what I say in your own words instead of just nodding politely as you think about dinner plans that night.  Let me participate equally in our conversation.
    Never interrupt me.  If you do, you are like that person on the phone who couldn’t be bothered and hung up.  Don’t hang up on me.  Keep the line open.


So if you do your part to help, perhaps stutterers can find a way to overcome it..The challenge in overcoming stuttering is to change the habit of failure to a habit success.  Stutterers need to forget that they stutter, focus on fluent speech patterns instead of concentrating on trying to avoid stuttering.  It’s like a smoker trying to quit, “I will not smoke.  I will not smoke.”

In my case, I do quite well if I relax, breath more deeply and slow down to allow my mouth to catch up with my mind.  It’s kind of funny that I speak in front of larger groups with greater ease than I do in a one-on-one conversation over coffee.  Maybe it’s the coffee!!!  There are organizations and speech pathologistics available to help.  One opinion to which I subscribe is that many stutterers will receive greater permanency through a self-help than with external programs.

Because of the myths surrounding stuttering and the inability of many people to deal with us, many stutterers lead unfulfilled lives. Some turn a trauma into triumph. Recently, I came across Drew Lynch, whose vocal cords were injured in a softball accident. He is working on becoming a comedian and in 2015 appeared on America's Got Talent. Watch his story and performance:

Al Komaroff said, “If you can't communicate well, you'll never participate fully in society... overall your career and relationships will be below your potential.” and as Dr. Leo Buscaglia said, “The greatest loss in the world is the loss of human potential.”

I wonder what human potential is lost in this world by stutterers afraid to express themselves.  Now that you understand a little more about stutterers, can you help us reach our potential?  Can you take the time to listen?  We have a lot to say and you might find we hold well-considered opinions because more of our time thinking about our ideas and less talking about them.  Be our friend, buy yourself a set of goggles, and we’ll be your friend as we learn to communicate and grow together.

Here's a little more Drew...


How to Prepare for Table Topics

When I first joined Toastmasters and heard about Table Topics, it seemed impossible to prepare for it. People said, “You cannot prepare for Table Topics! You just have to get up and do it!”  I probably spread the same idea to others. The idea is part truth; part fiction.  While you cannot prepare the answer to every question you are given unless you work for a psychic hotline, you CAN prepare. This article gives you a generic structure that works for most questions and gives you some tips for content and delivery.


The most important element of speaking off-the-cuff is structure.  Structure separates a clear message from panic-stricken, adrenalin-induced, stream of consciousness, word-association, meandering presentation.

How do you prepare structure on-the-fly?  That’s simple.  Don’t.  Prepare ahead of time. Have a mental model for answering questions.  A generic model that I use for answering most Table Topics questions is Thesis-Point-Point.

The thesis is the premise, the one sentence that summarizes your point of view. Point 1 and Point 2 are the two points that you will use to support, expand on, and explain your thesis.

Identify the common speech structures and practice using them until they become a part of your subconscious.  Don’t try to think of them as you speak; know them before you speak.  When you consistently identify the structures you use in your prepared speeches, you are more likely to have them available in your subconscious for Table Topics.  Here are many of the common structures:

  • Chronological (Past, present, future)
  • Sequential (First, second, third)
  • Cause and Effect
  • Problem and Solution
  • Geographical (Asia, Canada, USA)
  • Categorical (Sales, Delivery, Finance)
  • Compare and Contrast (Big and little, light and dark)
  • Hierarchical: (Top, middle, bottom)
  • Increasing Detail (General to Specific)
  • Building Requisite Knowledge (Know “A” before “B”)
  • Options (Plan A, Plan B, Plan C)
  • Expanding Radius (Branch, Country, World)
  • Priority (Critical, Important, Optional)

Often the Table Topics question suggests a structure:

“If you could solve any problem, what would it be, and why?” Problem/solution.

“Tell us about the places you visited during your last two vacations.” Geographical.

Look at my article “Five Steps to Impact” for a better idea of how to quickly prepare good speeches.  Use it consistently so that it is intuitively available to you for Table Topics. In the contest, you have maybe a second or two to select a structure.

With Table Topics, you have only two minutes, so deliver your thoughts clearly and efficiently.  Take about 30 seconds for the introduction, or about 3-4 sentences.  In that 30 seconds, arouse audience interest in the subject and you the speaker (one sentence), deliver the premise (one sentence), and present the road map of your speech (one sentence).

I prefer no more than two major body points.  You do not have to give three points in your speech (that’s another myth).  Two points feels more comfortable to deliver and gives you less to think about.  Each body point takes 45 seconds.  That’s about 100 words, depending on your speed.  That’s about 10 sentences, or just enough time to get your logic across and stop talking. If you feel like you are running out of thoughts, slow down and use pauses.  That’s give the audience time to listen while you dig up more stuff.

Take 10-20 seconds for the conclusion (one or two sentences). 


We’ve got structure.  Now how do we prepare ahead of time to fill it?  You can’t prepare.  Right?  Wrong!  There are a number of ways.  First get in the practice of reading anecdotal short stories.  The “Chicken Soup” series and similar books will keep you busy.  Second, read and write one sentence quotations, snippets of wisdom that come in handy for speeches or when trying to impress your boss.  Also, the anecdotes, stories, and alliterations you wrote for prepared speeches still work for Table Topics.  Doing a Competent Communicator every year should get you 20-30 more stories.  Keep up with current events in the printed and electronic media.  Audiences love when you show your awareness. 


As you listen to the start of Table Topics, anticipate that every question is “your” question.  Get into a positive mental state, ready to launch your enthusiastic delivery the moment you are called.  Table Topics is meant to be fun, lending itself to exaggeration as you engage in the exercise.  Start smiling before you are called.  If someone else is called, the Table Topics Master will just think you’re nuts and that’ll get you both smiling.

Get ready by visualizing the mental model. I imagine it floating just above my forehead - Thesis-PointPoint... ready to fill in the answers.


As soon as you hear the question, think of the thesis (premise) in a few words, pick a structure, select one or two words for each body heading, and formulate the first arousing sentence.   You don't need the details yet, just the points from which the stucture is assembled.  Control your thoughts and limit your thinking to these elements so your mind doesn’t race off and leave your body.  Once you have these first thoughts, the rest is easier.  If possible, create a flash image or movie in your mind. Then the details of your stories just narrate and participate in these images.

As you rise and approach the front of the audience, get pumped up and decide to launch your speech with self-confidence, a full voice, and connecting with the audience.

“I always prided myself on my ability to solve most problems, but there is still one problem I have yet to solve.  M. Table Topics Master, if I could solve any problem, I would [now here’s the moment of truth] rid the world of Elvis Presley souvenirs {uh oh, what to do? what to do?].  It would have a positive effect on the environment and, more importantly, I would get to know my mother-in-law better.”

Then go ahead and explain yourself with those two reasons.  Ensure you transition between the two points: “The second reason I would … is …”

If you feel nervous, use pauses and deeper breaths to help you maintain the look of calm.  Pretend to be a self-assured speaker until that image becomes YOU.  Yes, that’s right, fake it until you make it.  Be sincere, but fake the confidence.  You are the only person who knows you are nervous unless you show it.  Fake self-confidence if you need to, but be authentic in your emotions, vocal production, and gestures.

Ensure you maintain your energy level throughout your delivery.  I see a tendency to start strong and wane half way through.

With practice, you will soon become an effective impromptu speaker.  With enough practice, you will look forward to Table Topics.


Click the link below to watch 45-minute video workshop "A Method to This Madness" on how to prepare for and answer Table Topics:

Craig Senior