Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Being a Competent Communicator


As you know, I'm a Toastmaster, and specifically a Competent Communicator. That means I've successfully completed ten speech projects, including vocal variety, research and use of visual aids.

As you may not know, I've been going to a new club for the past three and a half months, at the president's invitation. It's in the next county, but the twice-monthly drive is well worth it. This is a very nice, diverse - and well-organized - bunch of people. And to be sure, my first speech to them was about AS, how it affects others as well as me and how we can deal with it.

Coming out is not for everyone, to be sure. I've decided to do it because I've found that people - with a few unfortunate exceptions - tend to react better to me knowing I'm an Aspie than not knowing.

Today's the first anniversary of my Competent Communicator award. Meanwhile, I think I've found my niche - Table Topics and humorous speaking. Table Topics is impromptu speaking - going up on stage, being told (or shown) for the first time what to speak about and speaking for one to two minutes - right then and there.

I used to make all my speeches - impromptu and prepared - as serious as they could be, and preferred to talk about things like historical events and other interesting facts as opposed to my experiences. Then I found that the speakers who got the best responses injected some humor into their speeches, and focused on their personal experiences (like, say, getting a traffic ticket, learning to dive at the U.S. Naval Academy or becoming a grandmother) and how they reacted to them.

When I get on stage, I don't just talk about being an Aspie. I've also discussed how I react to colors and the lighter side of domestic life. I've also found that the likelihood of winning a contest is directly proportional to the laughs coming from the audience. Last night, I won our club's Best Table Topics contest (which we have every meeting) for the third time since I joined - and I won it at my very first meeting there.

One of the most important things I've gotten there, though, is a firm heads-up when I needed it. For example, last night I gave an evaluation of another speaker. Evaluations are arranged in advance just like speeches are, and they're delivered on stage too. I decided to be innovative, and present my evaluation like a TV reporter "interviewing" various imaginary characters. I got laughs, all right.

And afterwards, a dressing-down from the president, who pointed out that (1) the new members in the audience might not have gotten the actual points I was making about how to be a better speaker and (2) evaluations are supposed to be about the original speaker, not the evaluator, and thus the humorous and dramatic approach is much more appropriate for other genres than for evaluations.

When I got home that night, I sent her an e-card thanking her.

You see, my father used to install alarm systems for people's homes and businesses, for which they paid thousands of dollars; the club president, who even before I joined knew I was an Aspie and kindly agreed to be part of an alarm system for my behavior, gets not one thin dime.

What do you think?


Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Congrats on your one-year award anniversary, Jeff. That's quite an accomplishment for anyone, Aspie or not!

Mama Mara said...

I think you are a natural comedian, and I'm not surprised at all at the recognition it earned you. Congratulations!

How wonderful that you have a human alarm on hand. I hope my sons are willing to seek and learn from this kind of assistance someday.

StatMama said...

Pretty cool stuff, Jeff. The "human alarm" is something many of us could have, if only we were so willing to take constructive criticism. I think most people are not, and they miss out on valuable opportunities to learn from experience. Kudos to you!