Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shatter Your Writer's Block Pt II: 7 Quick & Dirty Writing Solutions

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 'Speechwriting in Reverse' as a solution to Writer's Block. In a nutshell, it means Speak, Record, Transcribe.

That doesn't work for everyone, though, and we don't always like to have just one solution, so I promised more to come. Here we go:

1. A Funny Thing Happened to Me....Today. Yep, sit down, and think about your day. Anything different happen? Anything funny? Anything awful? Anything boring? Even if it was the same old same old day you always have, there's something to talk about. Write down a blow by blow description of the day, and somewhere, you'll find something to talk about that will lead to something more.

2. Life Biography. If you haven't already gone over your life story, do it. Any significant moment, good or bad. Lessons learned. Heartbreaks. Great joys. Successes and Failures. Accidents, broken bones, getting caught doing whatever. If you've already done this - do it AGAIN. You've probably been around long enough to forget a few things the first time, or the tenth time, around.

3. How-To. What do you know how to do? Cook? Get paint off furniture? Build a birdhouse? Change your own oil? Plant a garden? Do your taxes? Play Poker? I guarantee you know something someone in your audience won't - teach it, and you'll suddenly bring up memories and stories of you learning how to do it, and doing it. Poof - instant speech.

4. Reports & Reviews. What have you been reading lately? Tell us about it. Why you chose it, how you liked it, how it affected you, if you'd recommend it. Works for Music, Movies, TV, or any consumable media - heck, it even works for restaurants. Where have you been eating lately? If its good enough for Instagram, its good enough for a speech.

5. In the News. Be cautious so as to avoid political/religious material, unless that's what you want to do intentionally. There's so much news available, you've got thousands of potential speeches just waiting for you on the web.

6. Finding Forrester Approach. In this movie, Sean Connery played a fictional writer in seclusion who mentored a young writer in the neighborhood. One of his tricks was to give him one of his old articles, have him start re-typing it, and then take it into a different direction after the first few lines. Consider watching some YouTube speeches, bringing out your old speeches (you've saved them all, right? RIGHT?), looking at famous speeches - and doing the same. Just be sure to give credit where credit is due if you don't change things up enough. And the movie, Finding Forrester? Well worth a watch.

7. Table Topics. What was the question the last time you got up in your club? Wish you'd answered it differently? Here's your chance, and with more time to address it, to boot.

I'm not saying you're going to build something brilliant right off the bat. The key is simply to start building, and the above gives you the material to start building with. Once the mind is in motion, it will stay in motion, and your Writer's Block will fall away before you even realize.

Go write your next speech, and then Speak....& Deliver!

Monday, March 30, 2015

March Madness and the World Championship of Public Speaking

I just finished sweeping my Area Contest last Friday night, both Table Topics and International Speech, as I make yet another run at a third District Trophy in Topics, and hopefully, finally, a 1st place trophy at the World Championship of Public Speaking (WCPS).

Similarly (or not), Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Michigan State all won their Elite Eight games to send them into next weekends Final Four in the NCAA Basketball National (USA) Championships, where one of them will end up winning it all, and be considered the best team in the country, out of a couple hundred overall, and 68 who ended up in the tournament, commonly referred to as March Madness.

They say that between 30,000 and 40,000 contestants start at the club level, and average of roughly 2.7 per club (15,543), which is where we get the statistic oft used in marketing the WCPS - best out 35,000 speakers worldwide. Once you get past club, you'll compete in one of 3277 Areas, 712 Divisions, and 97 Districts (thanks George Marshall for running these stats down), meaning at any various level you can say you're in top 10 percent of competitive TM speakers after winning Area, the top 2 percent after Division, the top two hundredths percent (I think that's how one would say it - .00277) after District, and so on....whether you win the Final or not. Not bad, right?

Both March Madness and the WCPS have six rounds, though it can have seven, if, in basketball, you end up in a 'play-in' game, of which there are four, or in the Int'l Contest, if you're in a large district that has a run-off after the Division level. But basically, the best team plays six others teams out of the 68 to claim their title - in a seeded tournament, with the 'best' ranked teams facing off with the worst - one seeds down to sixteen seeds.

The World Champion goes through Club, Area, Division, District, the Semi-Finals, and the Finals. During that run, the Champ will face anywhere from no competition to 5 competitors at the average club and Area contest - so let's be optimistic and say 10 total (your mileage may vary). At Division, I've seen as few as two contestants, as many as 8, so lets be optimistic again and say 5, and most districts have between 4 and 10 competitors, again we'll go with 8 as a high average. The semi's feature 9-10 competitors, the Finals, nine.

OK math majors, that means the World Champion actually faces, in direct competition, around 39 other speakers, with gusts up to 50. We won't even go into the fact that all these speakers are Toastmasters, leaving out the vast world of professional speakers who typically aren't members of TM, much less interested in competing for a trophy they don't 'need'.

Surely, though, these are 50 of the best speakers Toastmasters has to offer, right? Well, it depends. The path for some of the best speakers can end early, if two (or more) top-notch competitors face off too early. I knew a WCPS finalist who lost the next year, at club, to someone else who then went to the Finals for the SECOND time in her career. So the equivalent of two #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament faced off in ROUND ONE! This can happen at any round, and who knows if all the speakers in, say North Carolina are better than all the speakers here in Colorado.

When I compete at Division on the 11th, I'll be facing the fall District Humorous Champion - meaning the two of us hold the last two speaking trophies in District 26, and neither one of us is guaranteed to even PLACE. Will we suddenly fall of the the map as quality speakers?

Additionally, in any given year, a large number of top-notch speakers aren't even competing, as they've taken a year off either in leadership roles, or just to rest awhile.

So, if you can be a World Champion after facing as few as, perhaps, 30-50 other speakers, is there true value in the title?

Elsa/Getty Images

Considering I've been going after this title since 2001, I really have no choice but to say YES. Just as one of the four teams in the NCAA Tourney will eventually be considered the best, even if it's Michigan State, with 11 losses, who gets hot at the right time.

Contestants can only compete with those put before them, after all. They aren't responsible for the format, just as the basketball teams can't always control their seeding in the tournament, or who they will play from round to round. The speech contest is equally unpredictable, thanks to the diversity of judges, and the randomness of speeches created from talented speakers throughout the organization.

And the pressure - oh the pressure. Whether you're facing an audience of 10 at club, or 2000 at the finals, the one loss and you're done nature (in most cases, though some Clubs, Areas, and Divisions send the top two) of the event puts the pressure on.

Craig Valentine, 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking
Winning the championship of public speaking, much like winning any contest, takes a unique combination of talent, performance, and plain old luck. Whether you win on your first try, a la Craig Valentine and Ryan Avery, or after several false starts, like Lance Miller, or several close shaves, such as Jim Key, Mark Hunter, and of course, the King of also-rans, Jock Elliott, who won on his record sixth try in the Finals, you're a champion. You're a great speaker, with a marketable title who has achieved something that, by design, only one person per year can achieve.

Does it mean you're the best? Maybe. Maybe not. It does mean you're a champion - and the truest champions always get better, and usually faster than non-champions. After all, now everyone expects them to be the BEST of the best, not just 'pretty good'. Craig Valentine famously said that the first thing he did after winning the championship in 1999 was to go buy a book on speaking. Good move, I'd say.

Am I trying to run down the credibility of the champs, or the contest? No, not by any means. I still want to win this thing some day before I die. But I am saying that if you don't win, that if you NEVER win, such as John Howard, 5x finalist who died as he went up the leadership ranks, just before he was to take on the Int'l President role, it doesn't mean you aren't a great speaker. If I'm counting right (he says he doesn't remember), J.A. Gamache has gone to the Semi-Finals 8 times, the Finals twice, but hasn't won. He's still a great speaker, right? Rory Vaden? Twice in the Finals, took 2nd in 2007 - seems to be doing fairly well.

It may mean you aren't a CHAMPION, and that you didn't WIN. But as I like to say - WIN ANYWAY. Find your own victories outside of the trophies. Be a champion to your audiences that aren't awarding you little plastic trophies - that's where the victories truly await.

Speaking isn't about Championships, and neither is basketball. They're both about developing skills, promoting emotional (and physical) growth, and sportsmanship. Go Speak & Deliver - and Go Wildcats :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Shatter Your Writer's Block Pt I: Speechwriting in Reverse

I don't know what to write!

You'll have to Google James Caan/Misery to find out what he's actually typing...

A common malady among writers, it is a shared obstacle between writers of prose and writers of oratory. It's a complain I hear from all kinds of speakers, whether they're writing a keynote, a business presentation, or their next Toastmasters speech.

I totally get it. I hated writing down speeches, even though I enjoy writing. I went through many of my early years just speaking off the cuff off of a brief outline, or nothing beyond my own mental notes. And I did ok. I actually did pretty well.

Two problems with that - not everyone CAN have success with this method, and those that do, like me, are easily fooled into thinking that's the way it should be done, and believe it's the way to get the best results.

So often I hear clients tell me they don't have to write it out, that they have the 'gift of gab', and feel more natural when they just go 'off the cuff'. Sure, it might be better for you, but that doesn't mean it's better for your message, or your audience!

It was through the Toastmasters contest process, as I competed year after year for the World Championship of Public Speaking, that I forced myself to wordsmith. I had to both stay within the given time of 5-7 minutes, and enhance the impact of each section, each sentence, even each word. I soon discovered my speaking pace to be about 100 words a minute, taking into account laughter and pauses, and kept track of word count accordingly.

But I still hate writing. So when I have the opportunity, I'll practice a speech from an outline (real or mental), record it, and then go back and transcribe, edit, and prepare it for prime-time. In fact, I did this just last week, at a club contest that I intended on being just a practice for my home club contest.

Recording is a lot easier now than ever. I just used my smartphone - but in the past I've used digital recorders as well. If you're still holding out from the 80's, bring along the cassette recorder!

My club contest (1 of 2 clubs) was last week. I had an idea I'd been thinking about for months. I had a couple of stories. But I hadn't honed it, hadn't quite figured out how to open or close it, or even what I might say beyond the two core stories and the point. I figured I'd just go up and give it my best shot, and see what happened.

Keep in mind, of course, I've been competitively speaking for 15 years, so I can still manage to do 'well enough' to have a cohesive speech, even on the fly. If you're still at the beginning, I would be more cautious about where practice this way. Your regular club meeting is a much safer bet, and since Toastmasters is essentially a learning laboratory, it is more than acceptable to experiment with this technique.

Time: 7:02
Word Count: a bloated 884!


Run-on sentences - One sentence had about 100 words and 7 'ands'. In fact 'and' appeared 44 times!

Lane Changes - Starting a sentence one way, then stopping and going a different direction mid-sentence

Double Clutches - Saying something before I'm ready to continue the sentence, and stuttering to start again

Disconnected Points - Was I talking about love? dreams? anger? rejection? They all showed up, and never got tied up.

Lots of emotion - I could hear the spontaneous passion throughout, which too much of the wrong kind of practice can beat out of a speech.

Audience engagement - with a small audience, I made reference to individuals there, and made the speech personal on the fly.

New ideas - since I made so much of it up on the spot, new ideas, good and bad, got a trial run. I have some great thoughts for humor and emotional phrasing that I may not have gotten by writing it first.

In the end, the total freedom I felt in the situation helped me tremendously, and that's what I want you to take away from this post.

I'm looking forward to turning this raw speech into something that will live a long time. It'll end up 160 words shorter, and have twice the impact.

But if I hadn't gotten it out there, If I'd stayed in front of my computer, my notepad, whatever, and let myself get tied up with the paralysis of perfect prose, it might never have existed.

I have a few other strategies to share in coming posts, and depending on how I fare this season in the contest, I will eventually share a side by side comparison between this speech and the finalized version.

If you can't sit and write, go speak. Even if it's not a speech, but a blog post. A book chapter. A letter. Record it. Transcribe it. Be free from judgment in the moment, then come back and start editing.

Shatter your writer's block so you can Speak....& Deliver!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Levels of Credibility & the Big Lie for Speakers

Credibility - it's a quality every speaker must have.
Credibility can help us believe in ourselves.
Credibility can help other believe in us.
The fear of not having Credibility can stop us from speaking altogether.

Are you Credible? Take a look at this list of Levels of Credibility and decide for yourself - because if you don't believe you're credible, it doesn't even matter if others DO.

Levels of Credibility

1. Celebrity Credibility - You've walked the walk. Up Mt. Everest, on the Moon. You've won the trophy, you've held the office, you've earned the money. You're famous, or just infamous. Bottom line - people want to hear you because they just want to be in the same room with you. Your content may or may not be directly related to your credibility, but as long as it is connected in some way, your content is elevated by your Credibility.

2. Survivor Credibility - You've survived cancer, a car accident, a plane crash. You survived the military. You've lived your life with a disability, or acquired one along the way, be it Parkinson's, Neurofibromatosis, or a Super-Deluxe Robot Leg. You survived abuse as a child or an adult. Bottom Line - you survived some extreme, though not necessarily unique, circumstance of life. Both the survival, and your willingness to speak about it, are your Credibility.

3. Process Credibility - You've been where your audience is, and found a better way to go from where they are to where they wish to go. You've figured out how to be a great salesperson, manager, leader. You've been fat, and now you're not, because of the diet and exercise regimen you're teaching. You've found and used the best way to find the best mate, be the best parent, or invest your money wisely. People want to hear you because they want to know how you do what you do. Your content must be directly related to your credibility.

4. Educational Credibility - perhaps the most commonly used, yet ultimately weakest, form of credibility. You're a PhD, MD, MA, or any other of a myriad of educational degrees. Not to say they are meaningless. Academic Credibility has it's place. But that place is rarely in the hearts of your audience, unless it's combined with the one or more of the first three. In other words, I don't want to hear from a doctor about the latest surgical technique for brain surgery, I want to hear from a doctor whose USED the the latest surgical technique for brain surgery.

Many of the above examples are extreme - and it's often the way we think about Credibility. If we haven't climbed Mt. Everest, had our leg blown off in Iraq, or earned our way to Warren Buffet's dinner table, we're not credible enough.

That's the Big Lie. We are ALL credible. We just aren't credible on ALL things. 

We are credible when we have done something the audience has not, something the audience aspires to, or something something the audience hasn't done as well. We are credible when we have knowledge, or a combination of knowledge and experience the audience does not.

Before you pick a speaking topic, do a credibility inventory. How much do you really know? What success have you had in that area? This can be empowering or discouraging, depending on how you approach it. First, don't compare yourself to others. There's always going to be someone with more knowledge, experience, and results than you. That's OK. Second, if you do feel you're falling short, treat it as a guideline for gaining more education, experience, and results.

Unless you're choosing to speak on something that is way off in left field - say, you're a single male who's done nothing but play video games his whole life and you want to go speak about cultivating successful romantic relationships - you're going to discover you do, in fact, have several items on the list that separate and elevate you above your average audience.

Remember too, that your audience will with self-select, so they want your information, or you be selected to speak by someone in authority, meaning they'll often believe they'll need your information.

The only other danger comes when we try to artificially enhance our credibility, and say we've done things we haven't. Like lying on a resume when you're hired as the football coach at Notre Dame. Or say your helicopter got hit by enemy fire in Iraq, when it was actually the helicopter in front of you. Misstating, or mis-remembering, our credibility, which leads to misrepresenting ourselves, will only lead to embarrassment at best, and a complete loss of respect, revenue, and future returns at worst.

You have either have enough authentic credibility or you don't. If you don't, get it, or change your topic. If you THINK you don't have ENOUGH credibility, you probably DO, unless you KNOW you don't have ANY credibility. Live a credibility building life, and in six months, you'll be even more credible than you are now. Take credit where credit is due, and build your assets as you grow your speaking career.

Don't let fear of a lack of credibility silence you. Go SPEAK - and Deliver!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Nobody Cares About You!

Believe it or not, it's true - not single person in your audience gives a whit about you. You and your story. You and your success. You and your obstacles. You and your genius.

Even if your mom, spouse, or children are in the audience - they don't care about you either.

Humans are a egotistical lot. There's an old saying - 'your favorite word is your own name' - even if you don't like your name, when you hear it, you immediately come to attention. Heck, with six kids, if I just hear the word 'Dad' in any space I'm in, I start looking around!

We may like you. We may even want to hear you tell us about your eight years in the oval office, your climb to the top of Mt. Everest, your triumphant rescue of a Fortune 500 Company.

But only if it affects...US. 

It's the first thing I have to work with my clients on when they tell me how passionate they are about their messages, how amazing their experiences are, and how mind-blowing their approach to life is. To THEM.

My response? "So. What? Why do I care?"

Because in the end, your audience needs a reason to care that is in their self-interest - because they only want to hear what you have to say if it benefits THEM.

Those benefits don't have to be major. They may simply come in the entertainment value of your talk. More likely, for the average Non-Celebrity Keynote Speaker, the benefits will come in the form of your process - your solution to their problem, their pain.

Their problem. Their pain. Those are the money words.

Where can they find their pain in what you're sharing? You have to ask yourself that because it's your job to show them their pain in the beginning of your presentation. To give them a reason to care, to listen to you as opposed to playing Candy Crush on their smart phone for the next 45 minutes.

If you ARE a celebrity speaker, their pain may simply be that they don't understand how you got to be you. Envy. So you let them know right away you're going to give them behind-the-scenes access to being you, so THEY can find hope that THEY can be more like you.

For the non-celebrity speaker (that is, most likely, you and me)...
Here are a few popular topics, and some ways to Poke Their Pain:

Marketing - without it, you have no business. Doing it wrong can bankrupt you. Your competition is probably doing it better than you.

Leadership - the hardest thing you'll ever do. Fail in this, and you can't reach your goals. Fail as a leader, and you feel horrible about yourself. Fail in this, and your company will fail with you.

Communication - poor communication destroys companies, slows productivity, and sours relationships of every kind.

Speaking - what if you had an amazing message, and spent your own life sharing it with an audience of one - the one in the mirror?

Quilting - how many hours do you spend hand-stitching? How long can you work until your arthritis acts up, forcing you to stop, and putting you behind on your Christmas gifts to your 26 grandchildren?

It's not that hard to find the pain - most any topic pertains to our financial, physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being to some degree. But if we simply assume they'll know the pain we're talking about, we'll lose most of the audience pretty quick, and miss our opportunity to bring them immediately into our presentation. Point out their pain, and then....

...swoop in with empathy.  You've been there. You understand their predicament. You share a short promise to them that by the end of your presentation, they'll know how THEY can get through it, and by the end of the speech, they be begging to know exactly how YOU got through it. Promise them they'll have solutions for their marketing, their leadership, their communication, their speaking, and even a better idea of how to climb Mt. Everest. Though probably not all in the same speech...

Promise them, and then deliver, PAIN RELIEF. That's right. As a speaker you're basically Aspirin.

Most of us get into speaking because, well, we like to hear ourselves talk. We love our message, and our stories. We often enjoy the attention. Those that successfully STAY in speaking learn to love their audience first, and use the result the audience will get as a filter for everything they say.

Whether you're building a speech or you have a message you've been giving for awhile now, take some time to ask yourself (or find someone who WILL ask you) "So What? Why Do I Care?"

Because until they have a reason to care...a pain that crystallizes their attention...they sure as heck don't want to hear how awesome your life is. As for your mom, spouse, and kids? They're just hoping you give them some credit for how awesome you are.

Because it's all about THEM!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Triumphant Return?

After coming home from the International Conference in August, I haven't done much speaking. In fact, other than a couple of 5-7 minute speeches in my home club toward the end of the year, I've really done NONE.

Over the weekend, I was an educational presenter for my District's TLI - Toastmasters Leadership Institute, and gave a 45 minute session (Unlock Your Keynote) designed to help TMs who want to get their message out to the world in a longer format. Twice, in fact. Once in Denver, then that afternoon in Colorado Springs.

Returning to the stage was extremely satisfying for me. I was glad, for one, that I was ABLE to stand for 45 minutes and deliver, without falling down. For those newcomers to the blog, I had back surgery back in September, which led in large part to my absence from the stage. I was certainly sore by the end of the day, but I rebounded pretty quickly the next day.

My speaking chops weren't terribly rusty, though as I run the experience through my head, there are a lot of things I would do differently, both content and delivery-wise. Isn't that always the way? I had a tremendous amount of positive, appreciative feedback, but I'm always self-critical. Heck, just looking at that picture, my first thought is 'wow, I can tell I'm up 20 lbs since Malaysia'.

One of my challenges, in Toastmasters, at least, is selling from the stage. I didn't bring any books, didn't even ask for information - though I did finally use a handout with some contact info. It's so wrong, I know. It goes against everything I teach my clients to do.

There's an old saying about never being a prophet in your home town - perhaps I've mentally turned that word into 'profit' in my mind. I've never liked asking 'family' for money, and my local Toastmasters feel like close family to me. It's easier when a district (still family, but more like, say, second cousins) flies me out to speak - I know they WANT me to sell, typically, and that these folks don't get to see me all the time.

It's the local folk that I get a bit shy in front of. As a result, I think I actually told folks NOT to hire me as a coach, though my intent was to say there were lots of coaches out there, and I'd happily find them one that would match their style and personality, if I could.

Overall, it was nice to be back, and I'm looking forward to getting out in public a lot more in 2015. Time to actually make those phone calls to Rotary, etc., and get some bookings.

What will year look like? Do you have a plan to speak a certain number of times? Do you have places targeted to speak? Do you know who to talk to? Hmm. Maybe I'll talk more on that in my next post...

For now, I'm just happy to have had the chance to once again give to an audience. To Speak & Deliver!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Toastmasters Saturday: The New Year That Almost Wasn't

As I drove up to the auto dealership our club meets at last night, it was eerily quiet...and locked.

Down the way, were a few of my club members huddled around their cars in the cold, already wondering if and where we were going to hold our meeting - a meeting/party we had boldly scheduled at our normal 7:00 pm time, despite the holiday.

Smart phones out, we started looking for alternate venues. Whole Foods? Soon to close for the night? The local diner? Pretty loud and we couldn't bring in the food we had brought. Same for McDonalds, even though it had a private meeting room (the only one I've ever seen in a McDs, actually). One of our member just leased a meeting facility for weddings and events - but the heater was on the fritz.

It looked bleak, until our newest member volunteered his home, which was just about a mile away. His wife was with him (she's been a guest at all the meetings he, and their son, our second newest member, have attended), so he had immediate buy-in from the boss!

The only guest we expected had already been contacted with the change in plans, and while we started late, we got the meeting in - two speeches, topics, and all, followed by the party - all in the comfort of a wonderfully still-decorated holiday household.

Still - we got LUCKY. This was the New Year that almost WASN'T.

I've had similar situations in the past, and often they seem unavoidable. Building closings, problems with the heat, double-bookings, the person with the keys is detained or just doesn't show.

Is your club prepared for your next 'location crisis'?

Four items to consider at your next Officer Meeting:

1. Be Proactive, not Reactive. We should have verified building access for a holiday. Our SAA is new, but that's no excuse - I've been in 15 years, and I didn't even think about the potential issue - none of us did.

2. Have a Back-Up. Do you have a default second location? Find one close - and if it's a restaurant, maybe even have a meeting there once a quarter to keep it 'in the rotation'. A little variation in routine can be healthy, and having the goodwill of the owner always helps.

3. Have a Communication Plan. How will you let members know to re-route? Do you have a call list on your phone? An easily accessible email/text list? Will you leave a note behind for guests, or an actual person who can be late for the changed meeting time/place in said emergency?

4. Create a Flexible Culture. You never know what's going to happen. Not that long ago, the dealership pulled up all the carpet in the facility, and closed our room down, without notice. We survived that for a couple of weeks, but only because our folks are willing to go with the flow vs. throwing their hands up and cancelling. Flexibility starts at the top - you know, where leaders are made!

Our crisis had a happy ending. What are YOUR venue horror stories, and how have you solved them - or not?


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