King John and the Magna Carta

On Oct. 23 I completed the Advanced Storytelling Manual by presenting Project 5, a Historical Story. The project objectives were:

  1. To understand the purpose of stories about historical events or people
  2. To use the storytelling skills developed in the preceding projects to tell a story about a historical event or person
  3. 7 to 9 minutes

King John Tomb Effigy

King John Tomb Effigy


I told the Story of King John of England and the Magna Carta. One of the things that attracted me to the story was the opportunity to learn a page of history that I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to explore. In this way preparing for a Toastmasters speech can be a double whammy of learning: you learn from your research on a topic of interest and you learn by striving to meet the objectives of the project.
With that said, here is what I learned:

What I did well:

  • Solidly researched. I consulted multiple few web sources to ensure that my story was historically accurate.
  • I employed a hook opening that was also a pop culture reference, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrel.” This was a movie title staring Steve Martin and Michael Caine.
  • I tried to add descriptive, language that led itself to gestures. For example: John was also a backstabber. When his brother the King was out of the country fighting a crusade, John tried to steal the throne right out from under him.
  • I added 1 modern news reference, “He decided to raise taxes, just like our very own leader Gordon Campbell.”
  • I included 2 other pop culture references: “Oh no, we’re not going to take it…Anymore” (from a Twisted Sister song). And, “Anybody who is the evil arch enemy to the Prince of Thieves likely plays for the dark side.”
  • I experimented with dialogue by characterizing the voices of key characters. Instead of narrating their thoughts I tried to bring them to life and add humorous tone at the same time with some over-the-top accents.
  • I prepared a solid introduction for the chairperson, which established my credibility as a speaker and the objectives of the project.
    I was sufficiently rehearsed and prepared to deliver the project.
  • My delivery was relaxed and energetic and well projected and I was able to successfully improvise and recover when I was off my prepared script. Due to the level of historical detail in this presentation, this was important.
  • I was prepared enough to be able to recite the story while simultaneously monitoring my eye contact and gestures. I was concerned about this since I had not delivered a Toastmaster speech for three months and my stage skills are not as sharp as they were when I attended a weekly club and spoke more frequently than I do now.
  • The audience seemed well engaged and responded to my energy and humor.
    I added 2 non-rhetorical questions to engage the audience that worked well (they were both answered correctly).
  • Afterward, I was able to have the speech evaluated in a round table format that offered significantly more feedback than a conventional evaluation.

What was tricky:

  • The speech was timed at 12 minutes, three minutes over time.
  • I lost my train of thought a few times and improvised add-on material until I was able to return to my prepared script. In one instance, I created a side bar comment where I apologized in advance for not performing a characterization with an appropriate accent. While the audience found this improvisation humorous, it consumed time and was distracting as it diverged from the story itself.
  • The historical detail was challenging since some of the wording was precise and I felt pressure to deliver it exactly as prepared.
  • It was suggested by an audience member that I used strong adjectives to describe King John (Lost-land and Soft-sword) without explicitly explaining the reason for these monikers. Ironically, I had more explicit wording in an original draft but took I took it out since I felt the reasons were obvious and unnecessary.
  • An audience member commented that King John likely did not intend to do a good thing when he sealed the Magna Carta, which might have conflicted with my premise that bad people sometimes do good things. Again, in an earlier draft, I mentioned that bad people do good things in spite of themselves or as a conscious anomaly or as a part of character transformation but I felt this bit was unnecessary and omitted it.
  • Two audience members commented that with the animation and energy of this speech, it might have been too big for the small room venue (“This is a speech that needs a stage”).

Do Differently/Do Again:

  • I will strive to deliver this speech again since the audience reaction indicated to me that it was entertaining and meaningful and I can learn a lot by refining it.
  • Rehearse more to avoid the improvisations and save time.
  • Explicitly tying the epitaphs to specific actions/behaviors of King John.
  • Heir to the thrown is pronounced “air” not hair.
  • Develop a suitable accent for the Pope and not apologize for the accents.
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