Friday, December 19, 2014

Get More Laughs - Darren LaCroix: Book 34 of 52 in 52

Again - not a book, but let's not pick nits as we approach years end.

Even though I've written my own book on humor, which Darren was kind enough to contribute to in interview form, one should never stand pat on their current skill set. Darren has quite the reputation in Toastmasters and NSA alike as a humorist, has spent countless hours on stage as a stand-up comic, and, oh yeah, is the 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, for those who might not know.

So I figured his program on humor, 'Get More Laughs', might be worth my time!

The program is a recording, DVD and audio, of a seminar given a few years back, and offers a lot of interaction between Darren and his audience, with members getting up and trying out his tips, and getting feedback along the way, giving it a 'coach-in-a-box' feel as you go along.

He offers solid content throughout. Formulas to create humor, exercises for us to go through, examples of his own failures and successes, and a wonderful appearance by his humor mentor, Vinnie Favorito. He's a bit raw, but certainly a good source if you're looking to take your humor to the Comedy Club circuit, where Darren focuses a bit more on humor in platform speaking, defining it for us as 'for a comedian, the humor is the message, for a humorist, humor is the medium for the message'.

I will refrain from sharing too much of Darren's material here, though I have some copious notes in my Evernote folder. Still, you'll want to focus in on his '10 to get 2' concept, his excellent live exercises on the 'power of three', his strategies in working with the audience, both as call back material and in dealing with hecklers, and his 'Triangle of Wow'.

There are moments in this set when he absolutely shines as a coach - being extremely positive with people who sometimes just don't understand what he's trying to get them to do, and encouraging even the most unfunny attempts at using his tactics - knowing it is all about trial and error, and, like all good coaches, being willing to meet his participants where they're at in the process.

He also shows tremendous vulnerability in offering up a non-perfected humorous story of his own, and opening himself to critique by his audience - and he get ripped. It was pretty amazing to hear how critical folks were of his story, which I actually thought had a fair amount of potential. Two things stand out about that session - first, the great diversity of those in our audiences, who will hear what they want to hear, no matter how much we try to direct them, and second, Darren's tough skin, to be able to graciously handle the feedback.

Finally, a couple words of Darren's advice that will stand out to me going forward in speaking with humor:

"Your problem should be humorous, your solution serious"

"The effectiveness of a joke is inversely proportional to the words it takes to tell it"

For those who listen to everything Darren puts out, you will find some repetition as you go through the program. It is well-balanced, however, with new material, humor exercises, personal coaching from stage, and Vinnie's appearance in the program.

Overall, for this humor buff, I found my time well spent listening to the 15-CD set, even the 'Laffirmations' disc, which is a hypnotic-type of approach to teaching the lessons in the course.

4 and a half stars out of 5 - the only caveat being some rough production values on portions of the audio - but well worth your investment.

A quick disclaimer on this review: I only had access to the audio portion of this product, borrowed from a friend. I'm sure I missed some of it's effectiveness in missing the DVDs and the 'Giggle Guide'.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12 Ways to Make the Most of the Seasonal Slowdown in your Business

When I used to be in a sales job, I'd always hear the same excuses this time of year:

'No one is going to answer my calls'
'No one wants to spend money during Christmas'
'It's the dead season, we should just shut down the office and go home'

I hear similar sentiments now from clients and friends in speaking:

'No one is hiring speakers for this time of year'
'No one will see my emails'

...and of course, the one we ALL use...
'I'm just so busy with the holidays - I'll just regroup and start again in January'

I admit, I'm guilty of saying and doing all of these things over the years. But I've also found success in going the other direction. Instead of shutting down your speaking, what if you ramped up? Particularly when so many others ARE ramping down?

12 Ways to Make the Most of the Seasonal Slowdown

1. Say Thank You - a holiday appreciation message to all those you spoke to, to those who referred you, to your coaching clients, to mentors, to anyone this year who has made a difference. It's a great way to stay top of mind to them, and to remind yourself you're not in this business alone.

2. Update Your Social Media Profiles - do you have the same Twitter/Facebook background as you did a year ago? Even six months ago? Do you have your LinkedIn profile updated with your latest accomplishments? Have you set up viewing lists on your YouTube? Take some time to freshen up your public persona, so you don't end up looking like last years present.

3. Create a New Ethical Bribe - have you been offering the same e-book on your webpage for years? The same list of tips? Come up with something new - maybe start a new list based on the new approach. Reward your current list by sending the new item, maybe an audio or video recording, as a holiday bonus.

4. Start Your Next Book - because you probably never got around to it, right? If you did, congratulations! What's next? Start with an outline, and try writing it in a different way than you did last time. Set a deadline, and get going!

5. Rewrite Your Speech - is your Keynote getting worn around the edges? Pull up a copy, or transcribe your last presentation, and start deconstructing it. What stories can you update? Replace? Are there parts of the speech you, or your audience, are getting tired of saying/hearing?

6. Make Your Phone Calls - as much as most of us hate cold calling, it's still an effective way to secure speaking opportunities and solicit clients. Maybe they aren't there, but you can still leave a message and give them a heads up about the email you're about to send them. You'll be surprised, though, by how many of them still go to work and pick up the phone during the holidays.\

7. Show Up at Events - particularly events you'd like to speak at, whether you're targeting service clubs, associations, Meet-Ups, chambers of commerce, even Toastmaster meetings. Meet the people who can book/hire you, and meet people who can introduce you to people who can book/hire you - and get to see your audience in a more casual, laid-back atmosphere than the rest of the year.

8a. Podcasters - Start Booking Your Guests - if that's your format. All those busy people you want to interview are slowing down a bit, and may be more open than before to something new. Build a list of 'dream' people, and go after them. If you don't interview, plan your programming - what will your topics be the first quarter of the year. Worst feeling ever is getting in front of microphone and drawing a blank!

8b. Bloggers - you can go on a writing binge - write 5, 10, 15 posts to start off the new year. Just as I suggest for the Podcasters - plan your programming. Maybe use the blog to write your book. Create a theme each month. Build a series your readers can look forward to each week. Go to and and get a redesign. Lots of options to get ready for 2015.

9. Make a Video or Audio (or 12) - Videos can be as short at 1-2 minutes, and probably shouldn't be longer than 8-10. Set up a backdrop, get out the lights, and turn on the camera while everyone else is at the mall, or, if you really want to have some fun, let them come in and watch, or wander into the frame. Some of the most authentic moments come when you're interrupted by your 2 year old, your cat, or your pet python.  Even if videos seem out of reach, just talk into your computer, and make some audio content to sell or offer on your website. If a video turns out poorly on the visual side, save it as an mp3 and salvage the words - your message is valuable!

10. Launch an End-of-the-Year Special - the New Year often brings new rates - encourage your clients to book you NOW at current rates. Or...create a special holiday-oriented training program that is available for a short time. Have old product in stock? Bundle it, and sell it at a special price.

11a. Read a Book - you're so busy the rest of the year. You've probably bought a bunch of books that have just sat there. Pick one, and read it over the holiday break. If it's industry related, take some notes, and start applying what you learned. Or, if it's a leisure book, like my penchant my Science Fiction, just reward yourself and enjoy the mental break.

11b. Watch a Movie - perhaps in the theatre, perhaps one you missed, perhaps an old favorite. I took my oldest daughter to the third Hobbit today - and it was great Daddy/Daughter time. I'm hoping to hit the Theory of Everything on my own in the next two weeks as well. Movies can inspire as well as entertain, and if you feed your brain with the right inspiration, who knows what kind of ideas you'll come up with?

12. Let It Go - that feeling that the year is almost over and you didn't get enough done, and that you're not where you want to be yet. Instead, take inventory of your victories, however small you think they may be, and see them all together, adding up into what was probably a better year than you thought. Even though you can use some of this time productively, don't forget productivity can come in many forms - and spending this time with your family and friends, or even on vacation, can be extremely valuable.

I'm sure you can think of more things to do, that may be more specific to what you want to accomplish - I'd love it if you shared your ideas in the comments. Just don't let yourself get overwhelmed. You don't have to do all 12 - even if you just do ONE, you'll end up ahead of where you would have been otherwise.

Use the Seasonal Slowdown to breathe new LIFE into your business, and start 2015 with momentum and energy, so you'll be able to Speak & Deliver more than ever before!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mastering Your Speech - Lance Miller - Book 32 of 52 in 52

OK - I admit, this isn't a book.

But, part of my original list DID include some audio/DVD programs on Public Speaking, and 'Mastering Your Speech' - a 4 DVD set by 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking Lance Miller was #51 on that list.

I was very interested in this particular product, in part because I haven't been as exposed to Lance's teachings as much as I have some of the other Champions, and because what I have heard, both on YouTube and in person when he appeared at our winter Toastmasters Leadership Institute, has been spot on, in my opinion.

I was excited to finally get some time over the last week to watch/listen to this series. It's professionally filmed in front of a live audience, offers some Q&A, but is primarily a four-hour long training by Lance.

You could tell it was specifically being put on to create this product as he was careful to end exactly on time every hour, interrupting himself and his Q&As and letting them know he was stopping, but would take more questions. I'm not sure if this was all filmed in one day, or over a couple, but I'd bet on the one-day approach, just for the sake of the cost of a multiple camera shoot. It would have been interesting if he'd added a fifth disc with some of the now off-camera Q&A.

The program is primarily focused on preparing a speech for the International Speech Contest, though the concepts and principles discussed are universal, so it works as a public speaking training as well. It's his insights into the contest process, though, that really piqued my interest, mostly because I am, as you probably know, a contest junkie.

Heck, I might've competed against Lance had I not gone overtime by 3 seconds at my Regional that year. But I digress...

He covers a great deal in the four hours he filmed - below are a few highlights:
  • his initial belief upon joining Toastmasters that the contest required him to write 'a speech to change the world', and how he held onto that thought throughout
  • communication isn't what we say, it's what they hear
  • there's a difference between written and spoken - what Lance calls 'your life force'. Admittedly, that's a little new-agey for me, but he is in California, and it makes sense.
  • a good explanation of the difference between acting and speaking
  • an insistence that we take control of our audience's attention
  • a great story about two-time Olympian Mike Schlappi, who was paralyzed after being shot by his friend when they were goofing off as teenagers, and how listening to Mike's speech affected him. (pick up Mike's book, 'Shot Happens' (which I helped edit, btw) on amazon.).
  • some tremendous anecdote leading to his suggestions that we define our life philosophy as we hunt for speech topics, as well as looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary, looking for the lessons in our lives, and writing a speech based on what we're focusing on in the moment, even if it's 'Speaker's Block'
  • he's a big proponent of owning the audience, essentially going out with the attitude of 'this is my message, this is what I believe in, and you're going to listen to it.' 
Lance also offers us a basic speech outline - attention/orientation, open the file, familiar, make the change, drive it home, take it home, which he stresses are more guidelines than a set and fast structure. What is particularly useful is his illustration of the outline with a short speech. 

Of course, he also covers basics such as stage usage, gestures, and eye contact, and offers some strong strategies for drilling yourself on your speech, as well as the use of notes in a longer speech.

Lance & me at the Denver TLI
Where he really gets my attention, contest wise, is in his discussion of the importance of evaluation, and his live breakdown, both personally and via the audience's responses, of 4 iterations of his championship speech - videos of which we get to see along with them, with the exception of the ACTUAL Finals speech, which he didn't own the rights to, and he replaced, on the DVD at least, with an encore, word for word, performance on a regrettably gold curtained set...

I'd rank this at the top of all the different trainings I've seen regarding the contest, specifically. Chock full of great information, with a strong how-to aspect that any aspiring contestant can go by as they begin the competition season.

I strongly recommend all potential contest speakers go out and pick this up, then find themselves a coach to walk themselves through the process. There's no need to go through it all alone, much less face a learning curve so many others have already faced.

5 stars out of 5, whether you compete or not. Great information throughout for speakers looking at improving themselves, their messages, and their delivery.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

International Speech Contest Checklist - It Begins Now....

Unless it started yesterday, or last month, or if you're in Australia, several months ago! 

Legend has it that 5-time World Championship of Public Speaking Finalist John Howard would start writing his next International Speech on the plane ride home. That's not actually a legend - his wife, one of my early mentors, Shirley Howard, told me that herself.

If you haven't started, and you are serious about the contest, then you're already behind. I admit, this might sound a bit dramatic, but hey, it's been 3 1/2 months since Dananjaya Hettiarachchi won the latest crown - what have you been doing!?

OK - enough hyperbole - but now is as good a time as any to start looking at the contest. Below is a checklist you might want to keep handy as you make your way through the competition for the first, or fifteenth, time:

International Speech
Contestant Checklist

The Basics:

- Eligibility - Are you a paid member? Have you given your first six speeches? Has your CLUB paid THEIR dues? Check out both your club status and your own on the website. I've heard many horror stories of people thrown out of the contest for lack of making sure all their ducs were in a row - even a District Winner or two who were DQ'd for the Semi's

- Contest Schedule - When and Where are all the levels of the contest? Are you free to compete on all those days? You can compete regardless, but if you are serious about advancing, clear your calendar, and for the higher levels, start planning your finances to get there and give your best speech.

- Your Message(s) - what do you want to say? Often the hardest part of the process. 2001 World Champion Darren LaCroix talks about finding that one most important message you would share with your child (or in his case at the time, his nephew, I believe). Of course, you need at least TWO messages to win the title, unless you have two disparate speeches with the same point, which might be a bit of a risk. Often, we start our speech writing with stories we want to tell - I go into this a bit more in 'What Came First, The Story or The Point?' My best advice - figure out what you want to say, then focus on how you want to say it.

- Writing the Speech - yes, WRITE THE SPEECH. You might be able to win in your club with an off-the-cuff speech, but don't bet on moving on much further. Write it. Edit it. Edit it some more. Winning speeches are between 600 and 1000 words - my personal rule of thumb is 720 words or less, to account for pauses and laughter. Keep all versions of your speech - you might end up with 20 or more iterations. You never know when something from version 1.0 becomes fresh again two months later.

- Attire - Appearance is on the judging form. Is what you're wearing appropriate the speech, and to the event? Are you going casual because it's 'just' the Area Contest? I 'suit up' at every level past club, and depending on the club I'm competing in, I might wear a suit there too. Ladies, obviously you've got a lot more to worry about than us guys generally do - but a nice dress or pantsuit is going to work for you at most any level. For all genders, consider this: if you're equal to your competition on every other spot on the judging form, your outfit could put you over the top, or under the ground.

- Prepare to Lose, or to Win - essentially, be prepared to Win Anyway. I have won contests I should have lost, and lost contests I should have won, most likely. Of course, you want to go in confident, with the feeling that you're going to give your best speech, and that victory is possible, or even likely. But remember, you don't control all the variables, you only control yourself. Win with grace, lose with grace. As someone who is forever on celluloid seen mouthing a swear word when his name wasn't called, please just trust me on this one.

Beyond the Basics

- Video/Audio - record EVERYTHING. Video preferably, audio if necessary. It doesn't have to be high quality - it just needs to be enough for you to be able to review it - and you MUST review it. I hate watching my videos. It's painful. The rewards of knowing what you look and sound like, however, balance out the pain. (Besides, after you win it all, just think of the product you can make with those old recordings!)

- Practicing at Toastmasters Clubs - a very common practice these days, even by folks who've only won their club level. You want feedback, and that's great. Be careful how you take the feedback, and what you do with the feedback. At the end of the day, you're the one who has to give the speech. I've heard many who've done the 'club tour' say they wouldn't do it again, that it can be overwhelming, and even paralyzing. Personally, I don't practice outside my club during the first four levels - club to district. I want the speech to remain fresh in my mind, the judges mind, and the audiences mind. So consider the pros and cons in your approach, and choose your clubs, and your feedback, wisely.

- Who's the Competition? - I'm known for knowing my competition - attending the competitions so that I won't be surprised by any of the speeches I'll be facing. I try to keep a low profile, but I'll also step in as a timer or a vote-counter if they are struggling for volunteers. Of course, just because you see a speech at Area doesn't mean they'll give the same one at Division, so you can't ever try to write your speech 'against' someone else's, and the competition is usually so diverse that that approach would be like chasing rabbits. You don't need to know your competition, and most contestants I've met don't really 'scope out' the competition. Do what makes YOU comfortable.

- Know the Venue, and the Viewers - show up early! Even if you've competed in the exact room before, it may be set up differently. Know what to expect sound-wise. Walk the stage. Give your speech to an empty room if you're the first one there. When people come in, greet them. Don't tell them you're a contestant, just talk to them, take an interest in them. Be real, and connect. It's a lot easier competing in front of an audience of friends than an audience of strangers. (Another reason, by the way, to go to the other competition - to meet more people you don't know that you'll want to know later on.)

- Coaching - it wasn't that long ago I heard debates about whether coaching was even ethical in this competition. That has died down quite a bit over the last decade, and most, if not all, serious competitors have a coach, or even a coaching TEAM.

Finding a coach isn't that hard - there are plenty of people in your District, heck, maybe in your club, that can help you. Past Champions are often available to coach you (prices may vary). Even past competitors, like Dilip Abayasakera and Maureen Zappala coach contestants. Of course, I do as well.

If you choose to pursue a more formal coaching agreement, make sure expectations are set, that personalities mesh, and that the coach has something to offer that you might find yourself a bit concerned about on your own - be it humor, stage presence, or storytelling.

A Final Word

Just like Toastmasters itself, you'll usually get as much out of the contests as you put in, in terms of growth, energy, and joy. If you go in only for the gold (or acrylic) trophy, you'll likely come home with nothing but disappointment in the long run, and even risk becoming bitter and resentful towards an organization that works to uplift and support all involved. I've watched it happen - people blame the judges, the venue, the audience - anything but themselves in this contest. I've done it myself.

Compete for yourself - for growth, for experience, for FUN - and you'll get that regardless of how the judges rank you. Yes, you always want to strive for the best when you Speak & Deliver, but when all is said and done, prepare to Win, and Win Anyway!

Bonus Video - Dananjaya's speech, if you haven't seen it yet.....

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

11 Deadly Presentation Sins - Rob Biesenbach: Book 30 of 52 in 52

Back to reading a bit of material about what I do in life - speaking, and helping others speak...and deliver.

I've had this book for a LONG time - Rob actually sent it to me in hopes I'd review in time for his launch, which I was unable to do. Since I missed that date, I admittedly put it on the back burner. Since I only have it in .pdf form, it was going to take some focused time in front of my computer to get through, despite its brief 125 page format (apparently it's only 90 pages on Kindle). Finally, last night, as I sat outside the church while my daughter went to youth group, I dove in.

11 Deadly Presentation Sins was a lot of fun to read. Conversational, relatable, and occasionally irreverent. Reading the Introduction, 'Stuck in Power Point Hell', it's easy to believe this is a book solely about avoiding Death by Power Point - and slide decks do get their share of attention in the book. But ultimately it just seems to be a bit of a tool to link Hell and Sins and create a cohesive theme.

He also build his own credibility as an actor and a speechwriter, and boldly declares that 'every communication is a performance', which I very much disagree with, and yet totally understand his point, all at the same time.

I'm going to briefly review each chapter, so hang on tight.

Sin #1: Failure to Understand Your Audience - a fairly standard chapter about 'knowing your audience' culminating in an Apple example that he admits doesn't exactly fit (would this be comparing Apples to oranges).

Sin #2: A Flat Opening - includes a nice list of opening options, what to do and what NOT to do. My favorite is the 'Fish Out of Water', ie 'Stranger in a Strange Land' opening. He also gives some good advice on creating an introduction, though he doesn't mention my favorite device in an intro: HUMOR. Only other caveat: when he suggests opening with a startling statistic, his example is that 'studies show that people's number one fear is public speaking'. No, no it's not. Sigh...

Sin #3: Lack of Focus - while chapter one focuses on knowing the audience, this one centers around the audience knowing you. That is, connecting with what you say, how you say it, what you want them to do. He discusses shorter formats, finding a way to stand apart from others, and even provides a basic outline of a keynote, along with some examples of how it can be used.

Sin #4: Bad Storytelling - filled with suggestions for both telling stories and FINDING stories, as well as rationale behind why we should use them. The story he includes about Estela and the Candy Factory is worth buying the book all by itself.

Sin #5: No Emotional Pull - well, he certainly got my emotional attention in this chapter, using a Star Trek episode as a primary example throughout. 'Audiences will forgive a multitude of presentation sins for speaker who open themselves up and show their humanity' - a great line which gives the reader a reason to take everything in this chapter to heart. He even takes a bit of a risk and speaks to how emotional may be TOO emotional for women speakers. That takes bravery - hope you aren't wearing a red shirt, Rob.

Sin #6: Dull, Ugly Visuals - here we go - Death by Power Point, clearly a passion. If you don't have time to read Presentation Zen, this chapter hits the high point of that and most other books on the subjects, and includes some great resources for finding usable pictures for your presentations while still adhering to copyright law.

Sin #7: Low-Energy Delivery - oh so important - I was coaching a client on this just yesterday. His acting background shines through in this section, as he provides a few preparation suggestions, and discusses both the strategy and the rationale of 'being present' in your presentation.

Sin #8: No Audience Interaction - covers all types of audience interaction, including some I'm not always open to as an audience member. Still, his tips on Q&A are strong, especially his concept of 'prompting', and make a good quick reference.

Sin #9: Buying into Body Language Myths - ahhhhh, debunking Mehrabian Myth. Good stuff, but hey, where's the link to the interview with the man himself telling us how 93% of communication coming via body language is total malarkey?

Author Rob Biesenbach
Sin #10: Inadequate Rehearsal - 30 hours of rehearsal for a single hours speech? Holy cow. But yeah, if you want to be good, he's right. He offers some practice tips - nothing outlandish - but all sound ideas.

Sin #11: A Weak Finish - just as he offered valuable suggestions for opening your speech, he offers even MORE valuable ideas and architectures for your close. A technique he delves into that I personally use is 'finish an earlier story' - basically bookend the speech with a story you can come back to in your conclusion.

In his closing chapter, he quickly hits a few extra sins, I'm not sure if they're worse or 'not-so-bad' sins - after all, all sins are equal. Or so I'm told in church.

11 Deadly Presentation Sins was a joy to finally read, and a great reminder of many of the best strategies I've learned over the years. It would make a great airplane read, and makes a good primer for the newbie, and refresher for the crusty old expert who doesn't want to read through 10 different books, but wants more of a 'sampler' approach.

4 stars out of 5 - give it a read, and keep it top of mind the next time you need a little speaking strategy reinforcement!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Toastmasters Friday: Taking a Break doesn't mean Breaking Up

Yes, I took a break. Even though I didn't want to.

It's actually a bit of a pattern - I win the International Contest in the Spring, then either lose at the Semi-Finals or the Finals, and come home exhausted, a bit dispirited, and ready to just sit home and lick my wounds. Usually lasts two months or so.

This year, I was determined for that not to happen, and I gave a speech at my club the very next week after returning from Malaysia. Then...Life Happened. Back surgery. Pain. Life in a walker, which, frankly, was less than a confidence building endeavor for me. Combine that with starting a new church which had youth group activities on Thursday nights, and I actually resigned from my club, with the intention of finding another.

What have I been doing in the interim? Lots of PT, for one. Blogging, podcasting, as usual. Thankfully, I have acquired a few clients during the break, which is great, but I haven't been up and speaking at all. And as much as I love (and I mean REALLY LOVE) coaching, I love speaking even that much more.

It only took a few weeks to find out that youth group wasn't going to be an issue anymore - the new church had listed their activities in a very confusing manner, and youth group is actually on Tuesday for Middle Schoolers, and Wednesday for High School, while they have just a regular 'Sunday Service' on Thursday. And this week, my physical therapist told me to put the walker aside and just start walking again, and we'd deal with any muscle pain that went along with that plan. I'll be honest and admit that returning to any club using my walker was not something I wanted to do.

So...with no more excuses, after a two and half month break, I returned to my club last night.

Going back last night to a club that had embraced its new leadership, created new systems, added many new members, was refreshing. And getting up to do a relatively impromptu Educational Minute and later Table Topics, was invigorating after being dormant for so long. I felt hopeful and positive about Toastmasters again, and was ready to embrace the changes in style and personality. And ready to help again - their VP of Ed dropped out last week, so I'm coming back into the role - and learning all the new ways they have of doing it.

While I didn't want to take a break this time around - it was forced upon me to some degree - I believe it was a good break to take. After months of going to 5-10 clubs a week practicing, after years of being an officer, and being the 'goto' guy as Club VP of Ed, Club President, and Area Governor, I was more tired than I thought. I had grown a bit negative, and was dangerously close to becoming a 'Crusty Old Toastmaster' - stuck in the old ways, unwilling to accept change, and sitting in the back corner of the room slowly shaking his head at the future.

Taking a break, however, doesn't mean breaking up. Heck, I'm still officially a member, thanks to the grace period.

I'm going to make sure this 'refreshing, open-minded feeling' extends beyond the club - to District activities, to adapting to the upcoming changes in the education program, to how I balance my Toastmaster life with my professional life. Toastmasters is just too valuable, and too important for me to ever stay away from it for long, but a 'sabbatical', planned or otherwise, can be perspective changing. Even if only to shake off the 'crustiness'!

If you've been in TM more than a couple of years, if you've immersed yourself in the program, and are starting to feel a bit overwhelmed, or even starting to feel the crustiness set in, consider taking a sabbatical on your own terms vs. the being forced into one via the 'I'm exhausted' or the 'Major Surgery' scenario. Plan your time away, and the date of your return (this is important - respectful for your club, and helps prevent you from permanently filling that time slot with something else).

When you return, you might just find yourself a better person and ready to become a better Toastmaster. Ready, as I like to say, to Speak...and Deliver!

If you've had similar experiences, please tell me about them by commenting below, or replying via whatever Social Media brought you here!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Another Visit to Speak & Deliver's Story Graveyard

In October, 2011, I wrote what has become one of the most popular posts on this site - Speak and Deliver's Story Graveyard - filled with stories that I felt needed to be buried, and removed from our use as speakers. These included the Harvard/Yale Goals Study, The Stuck Semi Story, The Starfish Story, and several others.

But there are SO MANY MORE. So today, on Halloween, let's take another stroll into the dismal, dusty land of over-told, possibly never true, cliche-filled motivational stories.

Scorpion and the Frog Story (suggested by Abel Goddard)
A scorpion comes to a river that is too wide and swift for him to cross. As he goes upriver, he comes across a frog, and asks if he can ride the frog's back to get to the other side. The frog is very concerned the scorpion will sting him, but the scorpion assures him that, no, that would kill them both. The frog agrees, and they begin their journey. Halfway across, the scorpion stings him. The frog asks why, as they are now both going to die. The scorpion answers - 'I'm sorry, it's just my nature.'

While we're on the subject of Frogs....

Boiling a Frog
Everyone knows if you toss a frog into a boiling pot, it'll immediately jump out. Put a frog in warm water, and he'll feel like he's getting a comfortable bath. Slowly raise the heat, and the frog never knows what happens to him. Moral: Don't get comfortable, you might end up in a situation you can't get out of..

....and for good measure...

by T.C. Hamlet

Two frogs fell into a can of cream,
Or so I’ve heard it told;
The sides of the can were shiny & steep,
The cream was deep & cold.
"O, what’s the use?" croaked Number One,
"’Tis fate; no help’s around.
Goodbye, my friends! Goodbye, sad world!"
And weeping still, he drowned.
But Number Two, of sterner stuff,
Dog-paddled in surprise.
The while he wiped his creamy face
And dried his creamy eyes.
"I’ll swim awhile, at least," he said-
Or so I’ve heard he said;
"It really wouldn’t help the world
If one more frog were dead."
An hour or two he kicked & swam,
Not once he stopped to mutter,
But kicked & kicked & swam & kicked,
then hopped out...
via butter!

If I hear these one more time, I just might croak.
(editor's note: PETA - no frogs were harmed in the telling of these stories...)

Donkey in a Well Story
A farmer discovers his donkey has fallen into a well, and can't figure out a way to rescue him. Deciding he's old and near the end of his usefulness anyway, he decides to bury him in the well, and starts shoveling dirt on him. The donkey shakes off each spadeful of soil, and eventually the dirt reaches a high enough level for him to jump out. Moral: Life is going to throw dirt your way and attempt to bury you. However, no one ever gets out of life’s wells by giving up! Shake the dirt off and take a step up!

Basketball Free Throws
A favorite for the 'visualization crowd' - this study tells of two groups of basketball players who need to improve their free-throw shooting. One group is told to shoot a certain number of free throws everyday. Another is told NOT to shoot at all, but to simply sit and VISUALIZE themselves shooting the same number of free throws, successfully. At the end of the study, depending on who's telling it, both groups shoot equally well, or the visualizers shoot better.

Much like the 'Harvard/Yale Goals Study', this is often attributed to a doctor at the University of Chicago - but there is no hard proof this has ever been done, or since replicated.

I don't care if it's true or not, it's so over-used, it was a layup when considering it's burial here today.

Ham/Roast Pan (suggested by Terry Canfield)
On Christmas Day, you watch your mom take a giant piece of meat, and cut off both ends of it before putting it into the roasting pan. Perplexed, you ask her why she does this, and she replies that her mom used to do it. Now curious herself, she calls Grandma, who laughs and says 'Oh dear, I did that because my pan was always too small, and I couldn't afford a bigger one!' Moral: Don't just do something because it's always been done that way...

Rocks in a Big Jar Story (suggested by Lisa Braithwaite)
I've seen this done many ways - the first time was in a Wayne Dyer video, then Stephen Covey, then, well, it was everywhere. Big jar, speaker fills it with rocks. Is it full? "Yes." answers the crowd. Speaker tosses pebbles in. Now is it full? "Yes." answers the crowd. Speaker pours in sand. Now is it full? "Yes?" answers the crowd, now a bit uncertain. Speaker then pours liquid in (my favorite is the one who puts in chocolate milk). "Now," he declares, "it is full". Moral: the jar is YOU. Rocks are the most important things in life, pebbles are important, but you can live without them, sand represents activities that take away from the bigger things in life. The liquid is, depending on who tells it, what holds it all together, or 'the lubrication of entertainment and leisure', or, my favorite, the fact that there's always room for chocolate!
If you're going to use this, please, please, please, fill the jar with something more interesting, or us a giant flower pot, or SOMETHING original. Better yet, leave it six feet under rocks, pebbles, sand, and occasionally, rain and snow...

The Ship and the Lighthouse (suggested by Chris Witt)
A ship's captain, on a literally dark and stormy night, sees another ship's light through the fog, directly in their path. He radios them, demanding they change course. The reply comes back that they are unable to do so. The two go back and forth, with the captain becoming more demanding and arrogant, talking about his authority, while the man on the other line stays calm, eventually revealing that he cannot move, because he is not actually a ship, but a lighthouse. Moral: I'm not really sure. Perspective? Values? Stephen Covey claims it's a real story, and has some rather profound conclusions from it, in his article in the University of the Cumberlands publication 'Morning in America'. 

True or not, I've heard this so many times I'm now rooting for the ship to plow right into the lighthouse.

I'm sure these and those buried there 3 years ago are just the tip of the iceberg (there's a story there too, isn't there - about most of the ice being underneath, unseen!) - please, share more that you've heard far too many times, or that just plain aren't true, like "Public Speaking being the #1 Fear" or the Mehrabian Study, and we'll come back and have ceremonies for them as well.

In the meantime - don't let yourself get lazy and dig these old stories up. Find new, original examples from your own life. Use updated examples of successful people and companies. While the concepts we talk about are timeless, how we talk about them should not be - your audience deserves more from you than recycled corpses of motivational stories past.



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