September 21, 2007

Blue Ribbon Night

When The Wife suggested I join Toastmasters, I decided that if I'm going to join it, I may as well really do it and give it a good effort. So that's what I've done; I've given three speeches now and been to most of the meetings. For my three speeches, I've won two blue "Best Speaker" ribbons, which is pleasing. The second ribbon came last night for my speech, "I'm The Decider," in which I drew on my experience as a temporary judge to describe five techniques for presenting a case well in small claims court.

For the record, the five techniques are:

1. Know the Issue -- understand what it is that's being disputed so you can focus your case on what matters;
2. Understand Relevance -- figure out what you're going to say and whether it helps, hurts, or does not affect the ultimate issue of the case;
3. Practice "Succinctitude" -- don't offer a lot of irrelevant information and instead keep your focus on the dispute;
4. Answer Questions -- if the person making the decision asks you a question, it's because he wants to know the answer to help decide; so listen to the question and answer the question you've been asked (and not some other question);
5. Have Evidence -- you can't expect to win a "my word against the other guy's" contest; have some other kind of evidence that backs up what you have to say. Oh, and if you have evidence, bring it with you to court, because it doesn't do you any good at home.

I had made an effort to keep my body language and movement around the stage under control, and I guess I did, because the only critical feedback I received was for not being animated. But I know I made effective use of my visual aids, and my timing worked out very well. I was also surprised at how light the speech came out; I got more laughs, and laughs from more people, than the "humorous" speech for the night (which I'd heard before and hadn't got that much funnier with practice because the speaker is both not very funny and doesn't understand the setup-punchline rhythm of a joke). So I felt confident that the speech was going to be a strong one after it was done.

Now, today I'm going to sit in small claims court in Santa Clarita. Hopefully my litigants this morning follow my suggestions themselves.

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