by Owen Stafford
Jeffer London may point, but clearly it’s Kirsten Ujvari who runs the show!
The Artful Orators’ Glam Shower of Coaching event was the perfect excuse to get out the glad rags and attend the famous La Fleur en Papier Doré, just outside the exquisite Sablon area of Brussels, for Strictly Come Speaking came to one of the Belgian’s capital most historic and prestigious venues, on Wednesday, 2 November.
Brussels’ advanced Toastmasters presented their own unique version of the legendary UK dance TV show Strictly Come Dancing with two multi-talented, lively and supreme hosts that could give Tess Daly and Bruce Forsyth a run for their money – the dynamic and glamorous Kirsten Ujvari and the dapper and “cool as a breeze” Jeffer London, who entertained us with their sublime charisma all evening.
Martine Reyners and Diane Weller, who better to whisper in your ear!
Graham Vincent and Hilary Peden, do you dare get their advice?
However, the Glam Shower of Coaching was not just about dressing up and strutting one’s stuff, nor was it about dancing like the show on which it modelled itself. It was a fun and entertaining way of addressing the serious business of preparing for the upcoming Toastmasters district contest in Madrid. Along the lines of our favourite dance programme’s format, both contestants and audience were able to receive expert advice on public speaking from the evening’s judges: speech evaluation champion Hilary Peden; stage and TV actress Diane Weller, familiar with viewers of BBC’s Casualty; opera soprano Martine Reyners; and Shakespearean actor Graham Vincent.
And some strong messages were to be emphasised throughout to the evening’s speakers: eye contact, body movement and voice optimisation were just three of the themes that both speakers and audience took away to ponder on from the event.
Sydney getting the Shower of Coaching.
Sydney, a bit upset at what he hears…
The first half of the show was devoted to impromptu speaking. Table Topics master Marzena Gawenda, provided subjects to keep speakers on their toes. Artful Orator Sydney Schreiber, who was all set to compete at the Toastmasters district contest in Madrid, had to choose between A Beauty Sleep or Sleeping Beauty. “We must integrate the conscious and the unconscious – welcome and embrace that sleep and connect with the other side,” he advised. The judges were suitably impressed, but constructive advice on optimisation was the name of the game.
Despite a strong performance, Sydney needed to know the best time to pause, said Hilary – preferably somewhere in the middle of his contribution. Graham advised Sydney to “push the thought rather than follow it.” “Just be yourself and don’t act” was Mr Vincent’s message.
Diane would have preferred less movement on stage, advising him to get the audience’s attention immediately before moving around. “Fill the space with your voice rather than your body – stillness is power, draw people in with this as movement can be a distraction”, Diane stressed. She added that some people try to put too much emphasis on body language, which could be unnecessary. She also complimented him highly on his vocal levels. Strong praise also came from Martine, who appreciated the energy behind Sydney’s performance, and was captivated by his story.
Other speakers in this section included Sandra Lizioli, Paulina Murrath, Jo Anne Broger and Carsten Wendt, for whom valuable advice was forthcoming from the judges. On the topic of Shakespeare or Shake It, Sandra Lizioli was told by judges she dealt very well with a difficult topic and used great body movement to convey her points. However, she was advised not to introduce new content towards the end of a short table topic.
Next up, surprise contestant Carsten Wendt was given the unenviable and broad topic of Salt, but displayed remarkable calmness and positivity, despite being put on the spot, which was the main theme throughout his contribution. The Judges thought his speech was funny, philosophical and well-structured. However, he needs to take his time to suck in the audience more to his message and make more eye contact.
Paulina Murrath was given another difficult topic, to choose between A Cocktail or Foxtail. She painted a picture of having to choose between lying on a sunny beach with a cocktail or dealing with someone who “lies”. She was resolute in her choice of a cocktail. When dealing with a hard topic, Paulina was advised to be herself, not play someone else, as well as not to panic. “Go with one option if you don’t know much about the other”, said Hilary, given her tips on dealing with difficult topics. “Keep it simple and go with what you know”, she advised.
For Joanne Broger, another surprise contestant, she received the cheeky topic of choosing between Tapas or Topless! “Why not have both?” she asked, advocating the formation of a special committee to look into the matter. Following her amusing contribution, judges complimented her on her structure, humour and body language. She was advised to slow down the pace and beware of in-jokes, should the audience consist of non-Toastmasters.
For the second half of proceedings came the main speeches, including from district contestants – no better time and place to present, in front of such judges!
Laetitia, working her magic…
…and hearing what the wizards say!
Speaking in French, Laetitia Mampaka, discussed the issue of discovering different cultures in Belgium. The visiting member of the Shape Toastmasters club had even those not fluent in French hanging on her every word. Especially the judges, who all complimented her delivery and natural speaking ability. Nonetheless, constructive advice was on hand.
Martine loved Laetitia’s content and her stance on stage. However, she urged her to use the full range of her voice, which she stated was full of power and charisma, but was not doing it justice.
For Diane, a major issue she consistently repeated throughout the evening was the need for more eye contact: it would help better relate to the audience, she advised Laetitia, adding that she needed to slow down her pace so the audience could understand her better.
Graham was seemingly captivated by Laetitia’s performance, whereby her voice invited him into her space and aura. “You want to love everything, even if you can’t understand everything: it’s a rare skill to have an audience in your hands to that extent”, he enthused. Likewise, Hilary complimented Laetitia on her clear message and structure and including the topic’s title in both the beginning and end. “It was a classical organisation but wasn’t overdone”, she said.
Bruno swoops into action…
…and lands some important feedback.
The next speaker was Bruno Trounday from the Armada Toastmasters club, who spoke in Spanish about The Truth of Dr Bruce Banner, the shy, socially withdrawn physicist who in times of stress turned into comic superhero the incredible Hulk. This was as a result of Dr Banner being exposed to Gamma radiation – which Bruno stated was “ridiculous”. He was a Toastmaster whose superpower came from doing improvisations, he added. The message, illustrated by the example of a tomato changing from green to red, was that everything, while not perfect at first, does change for the better.
Hilary complimented Bruno’s structure and visualisation. She suggested that he bring in the nub of the story – that not everything is perfect the first time – earlier on.
Graham, however, advised that when giving a well-rehearsed speech, it has to sound as if it was “made up on the spur of the moment.” It needs to be delivered with spontaneity, freshness and sparkle. He said that body movement could detract from a story, adding if needed it should become a part of the story.
Diane concurred on the importance of body movement. While he had the perfect energy, she said that his moving around on stage did not help. However, she lauded him for his eye contact as well as his musical and colourful voice.
Martine was surprised about the “emotional potential” in his voice. However, there was not enough connection with the body. She advised him not to be “too forward” with the public. “Invite the public to come to you”, she suggested.
Alexander appeals to the judges…
…and the judges make their appeal.
Next up from the Toastmasters Fonske Leuven club was Alexander Pattyn, who asked the audience what makes a great speaker: someone who can convince people to agree with them, turn bankruptcy to success and insult an audience in style, to such a degree they agree even further. That person, according to Alexander, was none other than Donald Trump! “Communicating with power, arrogance and no message at all.” He advised the audience to copy Trump’s movements to be a successful speaker.
Despite loving the speech itself, Graham was not certain about the subject matter, which he felt sailed close to wind as regards topics that should not be discussed by Toastmasters, such as religion, sex and politics.
Diane again rammed home the need for eye contact. “Take a time to look at the people; you’re having a conversation with every person in the room”. The longer the eye contact the more power you have, she assured. She also stressed that there should be less movement for more impact. In order for words to be crisper, she advised speakers to do tongue exercises.
Martine, however, disagreed on the question of eye contact, saying that people could be uncomfortable if it lasted a long time and the speaker could risk losing control of the speech. She would prefer a speaker to look in a general direction rather than directly at someone. She also loved the speech and didn’t find it too “insulting”, although he could pause more. However, Diane then reiterated that eye contact was essential for public speaking, emphasising that getting over this fear was absolutely necessary.
Meanwhile, Hilary focused on the conclusion, stating that Alexander switched the message too quickly at the end, when he said that Trump had no valuable content in his speeches. She strongly advised him to stay on message throughout and not to confuse the audience.
Once the speeches were over, more advice, feedback and constructive criticism followed when speakers individually spoke with judges and fellow members on how to optimise their performances ahead of their moment in the spotlight.
It was a night for fun, glam and entertainment, but also with more serious undertones and consequences for us all. It was not just the speakers receiving an education that night. All of us in our daily work lives, especially those of us who need to give speeches and address audiences, be it for the public or our colleagues, can benefit hugely from events like these. So many thanks for the advice and feedback are merited – even more so as we received all this in the format of everyone’s favourite dance show, while dressed up in our best outfits. What more could you ask for?