Improving Canned Speeches -Episode7

I call them Zombie Speeches.

You know the ones I’m talking about – the 21 speeches that Toastmasters has created to be given to every club – the Successful Club and Better Speaker canned speech series.  They give you an outline, a PowerPoint presentation and expect them to be presented annually.

No offense, Toastmasters International, but these had better be at the top of your re-write-these-things-before-anything-else in the Revitalized Education program to do list.

Because they’re… not good.

It took me a long time to get myself to that – the words “appalling,” “horrible,” and “awful” came first.

Today On the Table – Topics for Toastmasters

How one DTM took the canned Mentoring speech to “Jedis on the Yellow Brick Road.”

Toastmasters' canned speech Mentoring from the Successful Club series.

The Successful Club Series


My home club is pretty small.  Because of that, pretty much every meeting is an officer meeting so we have our club success plan meeting in our regular meeting time.  That means at some point, everyone knows that you need to do to get your education awards – and I’m one of the few who can pull in an Advanced Leadership award before next June.  So I have to do two of the Zombie speeches.

But which two?

I’ve done a few of these speeches over and over.  I can probably do the Meeting Roles and Responsibilities speech in my sleep – as long as I can get to a bakery first.

Yes, a bakery.

See, I can’t give these speeches straight. I just can’t.  I have my pride.

I don’t disagree with the material.  In general, those canned speeches do cover important information that can help a speaker improve and a club grow.  It’s just… so boring.  SOOOO boring.

Humor is one of the best ways to keep an audience involved.  Don’t you pay more attention when you’re getting laughs instead of graphs?  Me too.  We’re not alone.  It’s human nature, combined with the constant reinforcement on the internet and media – to laugh and learn.

So the canned Meeting Roles and Responsibilities speech now has various visual aids, such as comparing a blueberry muffin to the Table Topics leader, or the Toastmaster as a submarine sandwich bun.  I compare the officer roles to a Rolls Royce, among others.  Some are obvious, like the treasurer and an armored car.  Some take a bit more of a stretch – like a library book mobile for the Vice President of Education.

Taking on the Mentor Speech is taking on a speech that’s in need of a lot of work.  It’s very logical and has several good points, but the outline isn’t very compelling.  Now, we do have this right on page 2:

In Your Own Words 

The outline is not a script and should not be read word-for-word, instead, use the document as a guide for presenting the material in your own words and with your own narrative style.  The outline is a structure on which to build your presentation.  Use the points of the outline to develop your speech, but be the author of your own oration.* 

Then the suggestions to study the material, build a speech using your own words, prepare your notes and be expressive on delivery.  Visual aids – such as the provided Powerpoint presentation slides that might be used as a flip chart – are encouraged.

Ok.  [sigh]

I find the mentoring material flat.  With Google, I’ve found a lot of other information that’s far more interesting about mentoring – Forbes Magazine, National Mentoring Month (which is January, by the way) and even a number of decent quotations.

What I like to do is find a good story to start these presentations out.  Something to hook my audience.  I know my audience fairly well, except our new member.  Telling stories to other people about people they don’t know?  Also not very interesting.

I asked my daughter for movie suggestions about mentoring.  Not much luck there.

But she said something that made me think of the Wizard of Oz.  Classic movie.  Everyone knows it.  Then Star Wars.  Yes – a perfect example of mentoring – some of it gone very wrong.

I started pulling pictures from the movies off the net – big mistake.  Write the thing first.  I’ll know what pictures I need when I’m done.

But even with good ideas, this speech was frustratingly hard to write.  I know I have 10-12 minutes to present it, but the lists of mentor qualities and steps just aren’t inspiring me.

What do you do when you’re not inspired but have a speech slot you must fill?  In my case, I put the whole thing away and counted on getting time the next morning to put something together.  When I remembered that it would be the week we have our meeting in the café, I knew I didn’t have continue the image searches, so I could concentrate on the ideas.

Obi-wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker became the image of the mentor protégé model.  I suspect there may be other movie mentoring that I could have called on, but let’s face it – who hasn’t seen Star Wars?  (I’ve since found out that my youngest daughter doesn’t think she has.  Yes, inconceivable.)  But that’s not the model of mentoring my club needs – unless the only DTM in the club is going to mentor all of them – and I’m the only DTM in the club right now…

No, we need mentoring peer to peer.  Luke, Leia and Han?  No.  A different movie with different images:  Dorothy and the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion.  The four of them skipping down the Yellow Brick Road, arm in arm.  That’s the image I want to give my club.

From the PDF of the Mentoring Successful Club – there are 11 things that mentors should do.

Does anyone know of a single Toastmaster book that tells us to present 11 points in a speech?  We could go all Buzzfeed and call the article:  11 Ways to Mentor a Toastmaster and You’ll Scream When You See Number 9!  Not my style!  I pulled 5 of them out and created a little acronym SLAPS – this is what happens when you leave everything to the last minute.  Maybe I could have rephrased things for a better acronym.  But I pulled out Sensitivty, Listening, Available, Patient and Supportive and focused on those.  If I could have found a way to put R for Respectful in there, I would have, but I tried to convey “respect” under sensitivity.

I don’t write my intro until I’m done because I don’t always know what I’m trying to say until I’ve written it.  In this case, I wish I’d written my intro first because when I finally got around to writing it  – 15 minutes before I had to leave – I realized that what I needed to concentrate on was the purpose and power of mentoring.

So… goodbye to my opening paragraphs about my brother and his skills that I could learn from about money and the stock market.  Goodbye to the story about my family reunions.  Good-bye to my conclusion about maybe I should listen to my younger brother.

Instead, I quickly put together a conclusion that tied in the movies.  And a title?

Jedis on the Yellow Brick Road.


No more zombie canned speeches!  We have to present these speeches to our clubs for the DTM – two for the Advanced Leadership Bronze and two for the Advanced Communication Silver.  But we don’t have to compromise our own sense of speaking style.  We can use all those skills we’ve been developing and bring our own spin to adapt the speeches to the needs of the audience.

  • Pick the speech that your club needs to hear.
  • Find stories that fit the topic, images that convey the message, and ideas that inspire your listeners to pay attention.
  • Craft a speech that you can deliver, not recite.

I am reliably informed by my daughter that the movie she hears the most quotations from is Mean Girls.  I have never seen this movie.  I may make a trade – she’ll watch Star Wars with me and I’ll try to watch Mean Girls with her.  After all, I have to mentor her into seeing the great classic movies… right?

Thanks today to Toastmasters District 10 and the great mentors I’ve met because we’ve got leaders who have emphasized mentorship.

To my mentors  – Debbie and Marsha and Jenilee – OH MY!  Thanks for skipping with me down the yellow brick road!

Here in District 10, Lt. Gov. Marketing Eric Jackson has a Marketing Institute coming up in December that is open to club presidents and the vice presidents of membership and public relations.  It’s going to be a great day’s worth of learning how to build up your club and keep it up to full strength.  If you are interested, see the District website for more details.

It’s getting toward the holiday time in the US, so you know that means one thing – TLI is coming up right after the New Year.  Lt. Governor Jenilee Grabenhorst Taylor tells me this is going to be an AMAZING TLI and I always believe her when she says that.  This Training Leaders Institute is open to all Toastmasters – if you’re considering taking on a leadership role in your club next year, you are welcome to come too.  If your club wants the coveted Distinguished by January 31 title given by our district governor, Tony Green, get your four officers to this Training session or maybe another make-up session – I know the Southern Division is offering it during January.  Check the District 10 dot org calendar to find out when your division is hosting the make-up training.

Our music today is “Guiton Sketch” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0


“One-eyed Maestro” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0







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