Monday, December 30, 2013

Speak & Deliver Day of Reckoning, 2013

Last year, I tried a new method to list my goals here in Speak & Deliver. Here's a review of what I expected of myself, and my results.

I began with this: My All-Encompassing Goal, that all other goals must honor, the ultimate destination of my 'To Become' list: Strengthen my family's position, emotionally, physically, medically, and financially.

RESULT: Success, overall, though the level of success in each would not necessarily be to the level I desired. But progress is progress, and overall, 2013, in every way, was a dramatic improvement over any of the last 5 years.

I then categorized a few sub-goals:

Speaking Sub-Goals

Reach as many people with my Win Anyway message as possible
RESULT:  I gave this keynote roughly 15 times in my travels to Kansas City, Honolulu, and Toronto, as well as a time or two here in Denver.

Write MY book - the catalyst to my keynote
RESULT: No Progress. Disappointing, to say the least

Speak outside Toastmasters 25 times
RESULT: Outside of Toastmasters = 3x. Outside of my District = 25+

Coaching Sub-Goals

Coach and teach as many people as I'm able, both personally and by product proxy
RESULT: My biggest coaching and product sales year ever - many clients experiencing success, both in the contest world and the real world. Looking forward to an even bigger 2014.

Build Speak & Deliver's presence
RESULT: About the same as last year. My posting rate was similar, and I occasionally missed an entire month.

Write my speaking book
RESULT: No Progress. Disappointing, to say the least. I see so many others coming out with speaking books, it both inspires and discourages me simultaneously.

Physical Sub-Goals (these were personal, but do affect my speaking business, in terms of mobility and personal esteem on stage)

Get to 190 lbs.
RESULT: Not even close. More on this in my personal blog, will link when ready.

Play Basketball again
RESULT: I did shoot some hoops in the summer with my kids, but certainly did not reach the athletic heights I intended.

2013 was a good year for me, as I started this post saying. More clients and more travel than ever before. I created a new product - Secrets of Speak - interviewing my fellow co-stars in SPEAK: The Movie.

Success as an Area Governor, a fun High Performance Leadership project (which I will write about in January) and soon, I will get my DTM certification (goes in the mail tomorrow). 

I got back into competition, and took home trophies in Evaluation and Tall Tales at the highest level. My social media presence grew, and my personal network improved. I've built up some technology to help me video and audio record for 2014. I've absorbed a tremendous amount of information on speaking and marketing - I'll be posting my reading list from 2013 soon.

2014 can be better - in part because, for the first time in years, I feel I'm starting from a stronger place this year than last. Are you prepared to Speak & Deliver in 2014?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How to Speak & Offend Part III of IV: How to Speak & Offend Your Fellow Toastmasters - and Soon the World

In Part I, I gave some tips to avoiding offending your audience inadvertantly. In Part II, I suggested that offending the audience is actually our job as a speaker. A few people mentioned that we should be able to speak about 'offensive' topics - and wondered where they might test their material.

Toastmasters - the worldwide non-profit dedicated to helping people develop public speaking and leadership skills - is the perfect place to be offensive. It's also a great place to learn NOT to be, and, believe it or not, an ideal place to deliberately BE offensive, in preparation to offend the world.

Now, before you go off and join a club with the intent of riling everyone up with your latest Duck Dynasty rant, take a look at the list below.

1. Know Your Club - much like my oft=repeated mantra - Know Your Audience. Every TM club around the world, despite following the same basic educational program at their core, is different. You will find a corporate club - say the one that meets at lunch on the sixth floor in your company tower - to be significantly different in makeup and manner than a local community club meeting at your library.

What those differences are isn't easily predicted - they may actually be MORE able to handle touchy topics than said community club. Some clubs meet at churches or other public venues that might hamper the discussion of certain topics. But the most important aspect isn't the location - it's the people IN the club. Are they open to topics that may push the envelope on taste and appropriateness? Even that statement is up for interpretation. Bringing up the word sex, or discussing liberal vs. conservative ideals in one club might be enough to shake them to their core, or be so passe that you better go further just to be heard above the noise.

Visit a club for a few weeks to get an idea of their personal club standards. Talk to the VP of Education. If you're new - give yourself a speech or two before going for the jugular with your assessment of your current world leader you've deemed to be the anti-Christ.

2. Turn Your Audience Into Actors. One interesting aspect of Toastmasters is that it is specifically designed to be a supportive group for you to improve your skills. One way of taking full advantage of that is by telling your audience who they need to be for your speech. In your introduction, or perhaps as an objective read by your evaluator BEFORE you give your speech, mention that your audience is a group of women looking to enforce their rights to breastfeed in public, or a meeting of the National Meatcutters Association, or a group of freshmen college students attending a meeting on Safe Sex.

This gives the audience a bit of notice, so that you don't totally jar them unnecessarily, and improves your chances for helpful feedback vs. an outraged response. They can listen to you with the ears of your desired target listener, and do a better job evaluating your delivery method without being so bothered by the nature of your content.

3. Expand & Advance - to an Advanced Club. Once you've determined the clubs parameters on subject matter you can decide, at your own risk, whether to try to push a bit in that club environment or go elsewhere. That doesn't mean going outside Toastmasters. Advanced clubs often have a higher tolerance for off-color, controversial, or more-spirited topics. Some actually specialize in it. Ask around, check the website, and make some visits. You'll usually need to stay in your regular club as a membership-requirement for an Advanced Club, but even two clubs a year is peanuts compared to most public speaking training available.

4. Organize a 'No-Holds-Barred' Meeting. Many clubs have a variety of special meetings throughout the year, from Backward Meetings to Holiday themes - why not create a meeting specifically geared to tough topics, publicize it (heck, wouldn't your local paper love to hear about a group of citizens talking about everything from gay marriage to legalized marijuana to suspending kindergartners who kiss their fellow classmates?), and give everyone a chance to be prepared, and, of course, to participate. Be sure to explain it fully at the beginning of the night, in case you have guests. And let people know if they would rather have that night off, it's completely understood.

5. Record & Judge Thyself. Are you really saying what you want to say? Is your stage demeanor what you expected? Are your word choices intentional? Separating yourself from the speech, getting outside of yourself and your passion will help you become more objective as you continue to build your message. Share it with a few trusted friends and/or a presentations coach.

6. Let Your Audience Change You. The previous four methods all focus on gauging and managing your Toastmasters audience, to help them help you help others. Keep in mind, however, that you will run into everyday people in your real-life audiences who will be offended as well, no matter your venue. Bring an eval form for everyone in the room and find out which notes you're hitting well and which are off-key, and ask them to sign their forms so you can evaluate for yourself whether their feedback will work for you. You might find the perfect way to soften a statement or tone, or you might even discover you aren't as controversial as you think you are.

If you've found other strategies, or know of an Advanced Club in your area that can offer an open audience for broader topics - please share in the comments below, or on Speak & Deliver's Facebook Page.

Offend with Intention. I mentioned this in Part I, but it bears repeating. As a Speak & Deliver reader, I'm confident you truly care about your message and what your audience gets out of it. This makes learning to be 'offensive' in the most optimal manner crucial. Being crass or inappropriate for crassness and inappropriateness' sake will not help you, your audience, or your cause. Even Tony Robbins, often the crassest of the crass, swears and offends with intention - his belief is that if you can't handle the language, you're in the wrong audience, and he's actually trying to get your to leave. For many people I know, he is considered to be a terrible example as a speaker - people often tell me how much they hate him. But, just as often, I hear from people who absolutely love him - and he's built quite a career offending with purpose, whether we agree with his purposes or not.

If your audience hasn't moved toward your message by the time you finish, you've failed. Sometimes it takes a little push, sometimes a big one. Knowing the difference is knowing how to Speak...& Deliver.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to Speak & Offend: Pt. II of IV - It's Our Job to Offend!

It looks like I succeeded in not really offending anyone in Part I - but I certainly got a fair amount of feedback, including many more ways people felt offended by speakers - which I will include in Part IV - How to Speak & Offend EVEN MORE.

Other readers suggested that we shouldn't avoid some of the things mentioned in the post, including Sex, Politics & Religion, but rather learn how to speak about them properly. I will address that to some degree today, and for my many Toastmasters readers, I will offer some specific tips to on how to handle these topics in your club in Part III - How to Speak & Offend Your Fellow Toastmasters, and Soon, The World. (No, really, that's the title.)

Today - let's look at this potentially offensive idea:

As Speakers, it's our JOB to offend!

If we look at 'offending' as putting people in a position where what they are currently doing in life is 'wrong', 'unsuccessful', or, more politically correctly 'open for improvement' - we are essentially putting them in position to be offended. It is simply a matter of degree.

Of course, most of us work to sugarcoat it, and give people 'tools for success' and 'sales secrets' and 'strategies to shift perspective'. We focus on how great they can become. Even Jim Collins hedged his bet with 'Good to Great'. Who wants to be featured in a book called 'Lousy to Great'?

Ultimately, it is our job to offend, or at least, potentially offend, our audiences enough to get them to think differently, change their actions, and reap greater results.

Of course, some speakers fully embrace their responsibility to offend, such as Larry Winget, the self-proclaimed "Irritational Speaker" with his 'Shut Up and Stop Whining' approach, Craig Harper, author of 'Pull Your Finger Out', and newcomer Christopher Rausch, who has his own 'Kick-Ass' brand going for him.

The secret for Larry, Craig, and Christopher, and others like them, is that they are INTENTIONAL and TRANSPARENT. A meeting planner brings them in knowing they are going to be potentially a bit controversial, and they deliver.

Sex, Politics & Religion fall under a similar umbrella. If the audience knows you will talk about these subjects, they'll be ready with open or closed minds as they choose. It's when you make the off-hand sexual joke, or out-of-the-blue political commentary, or assume everyone in the room is celebrating Christmas that you run into trouble.

I have a moment in one of my stories where I talk about a female character growing up in the 50's with the expectation of getting married and being a mom, as opposed to getting a REAL job. This, said without intention, can be incredibly offensive. Said with intention and awareness, and followed up with a smile, hands up and a backward step, and a quick self-deprecating remark that boosts my wife, quickly gets me out of hot water, while still painting the picture of the character appropriately.

Intention is the Key. Too often, speakers can offend by accident, and become useless to their audience. Be fully aware of what you're saying, how the meeting planner and their audience can be prepared to receive it, and how you can best deliver it to be true to yourself. That might mean cutting out some of your potential audiences, and it might also mean giving yourself access to audiences you wouldn't of had before.

As Scott McKain reminded me with Larry Winget's quote in his blog yesterday "You cannot create raving fans unless you are willing to create raving enemies as well".
Personally, I don't want to go as far as the "Pitbull of Public Speaking", or others of his ilk. It's just not my style. In my Win Anyway keynote, however, I wouldn't be surprised if I occasionally offend a few people in my audience, as I talk about winning and losing, about not letting the world define who they are, and challenge them to Live Anyway, Laugh Anyway, Love Anyway, even Dance Anyway - as part of winning anyway.

They might be offended at the mere thought that someone who hasn't 'won' could still 'Win Anyway'. They might get defensive about the fact that they haven't been living a 'Win Anyway' life, and shouldn't have to just because others do. Heck they might be offended just because I choose to have a, for the most part, positive attitude despite living with a multitude of challenges in my family. I've even had people offended that I've had six kids, even while knowing some could end up with Neurofibromatosis, the genetic disorder that runs in my wife's family, and affects her and three of our six kids.

And that's where it gets hairy. You WILL offend people in your audience, no matter what your topic, what you say, how you say it. Some people will be offended by your tie or your high heels. Some people will simply be offended that they have to be there, and there will even be those offended that YOU are on stage instead of THEM.

As a speaker, it's part of the job. Offend with Intention, and accept your consequences - and rewards.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How to Speak & Offend: Part I

I get questions, every now and again. Today I'll tackle a recent favorite:

"How do I avoid offending my audience?"

Aside from the obvious answers, like showering, using deoderent, making sure your zipper is up or your blouse is buttoned to a level of decency, and not being, as a general rule, an insufferable jerk, I have some ideas.

1. Avoid SPR - Sex, Politics & Religion. If your topic isn't speaking about one of these directly, bringing it in as part of a story or a 'humorous' aside, can be risky. I recently spoke in Toronto. Easiest punchline all weekend was their crack-smoking mess of a mayor. For THEM. I went into my 12 day trip up there with the clear intention of not even mentioning it unless it was mentioned to me. When it did come up, I'd smile and nod. When asked a direct question, my stock answer was 'America's just happy there's a politician screwing up somewhere else'.

2. Don't Accuse - We are told as speakers to involve our audience, to watch our I/You ratio - but it can be easy to sound like we're accusing our audience of falling short, being unintelligent, and just plain not as good as us, the magnificent speaker. We don't mean this, of course. Well, hopefully. Asking people to think about what they would do, to imagine themselves in a situation, or if they've ever seen someone act a certain way, is a far better approach. Referring to 'Mr. X' from your own experience, or even making up a character to embody the negative behavior can also be effective. There will be a time to challenge the audience directly, but even then, you should be challenging them to do something positive to reach a result, vs. stopping behavior you don't even know if they are doing.

3. Beware Spontaneous Humor - This is a tricky one, because I am also in strong support of spontaneous humor. It can often create some great laugh lines, when you're on track with the audience. It can also put you in a tough spot with some if you aren't careful. I recently took part in a Q&A with World Champion of Public Speaking Randy Harvey up in Toronto, and, in talking about fluff speeches, mentioned they were 'like Chinese food - always leaving you hungry an hour later'. Innocuous enough, right? And an expression I commonly use. Unfortunately, we had just had Chinese food as the buffet meal that night, and the audience response was one of shock, which would have turned into offense quickly had I not immediately addressed the head of the meeting with my next comment, acknowledging the potential offense I had created. I stayed in a humorous tone, and the moment passed. But I'm sure some were still offended, and for all I know, I also offended a Chinese person or two in attendance. Beware might sound like a strong term - but it's really short for Be Aware - and that's important at all times.

4. Know Your Audience - do a little research by talking with the meeting planner and others in the company/group to find out what is off-limits to your audience. Maybe they've had layoffs recently. Perhaps they've had staff in an accident - for instance, a speaker friend of mine who often uses airplane humor talks about a client whose CEO had just died in a plane crash. Had he not done his homework, he would have put himself in a tough situation. What are your clients taboo topics, and taboo humor?

5. Dress the Part - I jokingly referred to zippers and blouses at the open, but not dressing to the right level of appropriateness can be a real turn-off to your audience. Unless part of your identity is flannel shirts and cowboy boots, and the people who hired you know it, I don't advise showing up in that combination in front of a corporate audience. Inspired by Steve Jobs years ago, I once wore slacks, a black turtleneck, and a nice suit-jacket to give a keynote. Afterwords I had several people take me aside and tell me they were offended I hadn't worn a suit that morning. Clearly I was not Steve Jobs. And I hadn't focused enough on #4 - Knowing My Audience so I'd know what was appropriate. In addition to types of clothes, watch the shoes you wear, the jewelry you choose, the makeup you wear, and any fragrance you may choose for an event.

6. Blue Language - for those of you younger than 40, 'Blue Language' refers to swearing. As socially acceptable as swearing has become, and as tempting as it is to use it for a quick laugh, it can be a connection and credibility killer. Just as with clothing, if it's part of your identity as a speaker, make sure your audience knows it ahead of time. Even then, know your audience, and to what level you can push. In the annals of Toastmasters, there's a story of Tony Robbins giving his Golden Gavel acceptance speech, and, as he is well- know for doing, used a fair amount of 'Blue Language'. It's part of his schtick - to break his audience out of their thought patterns. A good approach, perhaps, for people who have paid you thousands of dollars to attend your personal event, but a cataclysmic approach for many of the older, conservative Toastmasters in attendance.


These may all seem like common-sense tactics, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to lose track of your common sense in the heat of the moment. In other cases, 'You Don't Know What You Don't Know'. And, of course, there's always the thought - 'Well, it'll work for me'. It might. but it might not. Don't say you weren't worned.

As I've alluded to with dress and language, sometimes offending your audience is part of your strategy - and I'll address that in Part II. In the meantime, what offends YOU from the stage? Please share your experiences below - you never know who you'll be helping - to Speak & Deliver!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Toastmasters Friday: Tall Tales 2013 'It's Gotta Be The Shoes'

For Toastmasters around the world, the contest seasons, Spring & Fall, normally consist of Table Topics (an impromptu speaking exercise requiring the speaker to talk on a topic the are unprepared for for 1:00 to 2:30 minutes), Evaluation (where they listen to a target speaker, then one by one offer a 1:30 to 3:30 minute evaluation), Humorous Speech (4:30 to 7:30 min), and the International Speech (also 4:30 to 7:30 min) - which can take the contestant all the way to the title of World Champion of Public Speaking.

However, there is a FIFTH contest that occasionally makes it into the mix - Tall Tales - a 2:30 to 5:30 minute story that offers an opportunity for speakers and judges alike to stretch themselves, since no one seems to agree on exactly what a Tall Tale IS!

For some, it's a lying contest - "I caught a fish THIS big!". For others, it's more of a sharing of a legendary story, ala Paul Bunyan, but since it must be wholly original (well, at least 75%), it isn't a story of legend until the speaker makes it so...

The rulebook describes it as such: 

1. The subject for the Tall Tales speech must be of a highly exaggerated, improbable nature and have a theme or plot.
2.  Humor and props may be used to support or illustrate the speech.

Clears it up well, right? Well, not so much.

For me, I like the storyteller approach - a true story around the campfire type Tall Tale. While I acted out a few actions and gestures, I used a narrative approach. My speech wasn't laugh-out-loud funny - only 1.5 laughs. The previous five speakers all used themselves as the protagonist, and gave 'fish stories' to a point - something crazy happened to them, or they were a wacky character. Accents, props, and costumes abounded. My speech was going to stick out like a sore thumb, for better or worse. As the last speaker of the night, it was either going to end well, or with a magnificent THUD.

What do you think? Please share any comments below.

As it turns out, I ended up taking home first place - but I wouldn't have been shocked to not place at all. Not that I didn't think that it wasn't good, or that I didn't do a decent job presenting it, but it would have been easy for the judges to throw it out when viewed against the other speeches and their approaches that evening.

I wrote 'It's Gotta Be The Shoes' ten years ago - competed with it in another district, up to the Division level. It went through some pretty big changes over the last few months, but the core story has remained the same. I would also trust that a decade later my delivery skills have improved a bit. The tale is one of my favorites - and while it will now be retired as a contest speech, hopefully I'll have plenty of opportunities to share it in the future.

You don't have to wait for your District to have a Tall Tales contest - hold one yourself. Get a few clubs together for a friendly competition or showcase event. Make it an open house. Our just have a Tall Tales night in your own club.

Pure storytelling is a wonderful skill to develop, and will help you in every other facet of your speaking life - whether you're a motivator, a trainer, a preacher, or simply a water-cooler raconteur. Have some fun, and remember to always Speak & Deliver.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

13 Speaking Lessons in 30 Days

The five weeks between Oct 21 and Nov 24 were the busiest speaking weeks I've had since working for the student travel company, Ambassador Programs, a few years back.

I've scaled back my speaking considerably since spending such a high percentage of my time away from my family in that particular job, and focused on coaching emerging speakers to discover, develop, & deliver their keynotes, as well as work with Toastmasters speech contestants. With six kids, three of whom are battling with significant medical challenges, this has been the 'Win Anyway' choice for me.

When several opportunities came up this Winter that I found I could justify taking time for, they reminded me, at least for a little while, what it feels like to be a working speaker again, not just a working coach.

A few lessons learned, re-learned, and/or reinforced:

A. Roll With The Punches. You can't control everything, and often not even what you thought you could control.

Even if you type introductions, even if you talk to your introducer before time. Even if you give specific time instructions. Whenever you put timing, introductions, room setup, microphone and projector tech, back-of-the-room sales, etc., in the hands of someone else, you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes the results are exactly what you want, other times, you just want to tear your hair out.

I had some fantastic results and some not-so-fantastic results over this time - and nothing so bad as to render the presentation a failure occurred. Just remember that everyone is typically looking to help you create your best result, for yourself and for them - so act in good humor and with great patience.

B. Always Dress Like You'll Be At The Head Table. Because the one time you don't, you'll walk into the evening dinner and there your name-tag will be.

C. Don't Forget Your Chargers. Seriously - such a simple mistake, but it cost me a weekend of reviewable videos of myself, and potential testimonials. If possible, have a USB backup. This goes for phones, laptops, cameras - anything that takes power, of course.

D.1 People Want to Hear You. You're there because the organizer wanted their audience to hear your message - your audience is there hoping you're going to give them something worth hearing.

D.2 Connect. You don't have to win over your audience - it's not an argument. Just connect with them. Make them laugh in the first 30 to 60 seconds. Better yet, in your introduction. Find common ground, so you're not perceived as thinking you're above them. Look your introducer in the eye if they shake your hand, and do the same with your audience before you start talking - let your emcee sit down as you do so.

E. Standing Ovations Mean Nothing and Everything. You'll know the difference if you know your audience and message. Some standing O's come out of tradition and respect, others come out of emotion and gratitude. Don't tie your success or failure to them - just appreciate the moment, and acknowledge it by not just walking off-stage immediately, or at least stopping midway on your way out to take a quick bow, nod or wave. They want to know you care that they care.

F. Don't Underestimate Their Willingness to Bring You Home With Them. At least your books, etc. I sold out of all my materials in Toronto, and could have easily brought more books, as well as my two audio products with me. I still have a few to send out this week to people who bought on a last-minute voucher system. Despite my years as a salesman, or maybe because of, I hesitate to look like I'm all about hawking my product. But the people who left my table with nothing because I didn't bring enough don't want to hear that.

G. Always Be Ready To Speak. Not just earlier in the program than you thought, but on occasions you might be spontaneously introduced to say a few words because you're at the head table. And not dressed for it...

H. Your Body Won't Always Cooperate. Travel, in general, is exhausting. For me, between my leg, my back, my Sciatica, and my bad eyes, it's a wonder I can even operate in the real world. I woke up several days in Toronto unable to walk in the morning more than a step or two. The show had to go on, though, and it did. For you, it might be an onset of the flu, or laryngitis, a fall on the ice - who knows. We're frail creatures. But unless you're bleeding out, you can typically find your way to the stage, and your message will find its way to its audience.

I.  Power Point is Overrated, but Still Tempting. Of all the presentations I gave, the least successful involved PowerPoint. Maybe it is my own comfort level, my own disdain for the program with my own presentations. (Some of my clients use Power Point, and we get tremendous results.) But for the more motivational style of what I do, it is just typically unnecessary. Then I hear someone talk about learning styles, and I start to wonder about it all over again.

J. I Still Get Nervous. I wrote a post about this in October - specifically with the contest process in Toastmasters - but I still get nervous in the 'real world' too. Not shaky or short of breath - but anxious about my content, my humor, and pretty much everything around the event. I doubt, however, many in my audience would know that. I would like to get my content down to the point that I'm not still reviewing even an outline during dessert...

K. The Most Important Result. For me it's still the one person out of 20, or 200, who comes up and says they needed to hear what I had to say that night. Who tells me I've changed their thinking, encouraged them, or given them a new tool. That one person who says something usually represents a much larger group of those who will never tell you - but even if they don't, and you've touched just that one single person, it's better than if you stayed home and watched Blacklist, right? Right.

Those are some of the best lessons I learned/relearned/reinforced that might help you going forward. There are also a couple of additional tidbits just for me - like the thought that I still really enjoy being on the road and speaking. With my kids getting a bit older, and a little more stability creeping in on the health front (knock on wood), I might need to get out there more.

I also re-learned that I have something of value to give to my audiences, whether I'm training them to Speak Anyway, or sharing a Tall Tale on the District Stage, giving a workshop on Evaluation Skills or how to take your Toastmasters experience to a higher level, or giving my Win Anyway & Lead Anyway Keynotes. When we sit on the sidelines long enough, doubt can creep in.

So don't sit. Get out there and Speak - & Deliver.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Toastmaster Sunday: Do I Still Get Nervous?

Yesterday I competed at my first Division Contest in two and a half years.

The nerves hit the moment I stepped through the doors of the conference area at St. Anthony's Hospital in Lakewood, CO. My stomach cramped up. My breathing sped up. Walking to the preparation area that Evaluation Contestants are led to after the test speaker, I thought I might literally pass out. I couldn't catch my breath until 5 seconds before my name was called - and I was the sixth evaluator out of six, so I had quite a wait.

You'd think I'd be fine after that, but Tall Tales was next, and I was fourth out of five. The breathing troubles started again. I started shaking. I was going over each moment of my speech, trying to map it all out, and pay enough attention to the speakers before me to be both respectful of them and mindful of any overlap in content, or callback opportunity.

Yes, I was nervous. And it felt GREAT!

After competing in the Semi-Finals of the International Contest for Toastmasters back in August of 2011, I took some time off from the competition scene to focus on my family - which was just beginning to discover some major medical issues with our children with Neurofibromatosis, including brain tumors (our oldest daughter, Bailey, started chemo during the 2011 contest run, and completed her first set of rounds in Spring of this year, and remains stable), scoliosis, and degenerative disk disorder, among others.

I didn't abandon Toastmasters - I just focused on the leadership track, and became an Area Governor, which, for me at least, was a lot less time intensive than competing. I didn't need two years off to be an AG, of course, but I deliberately announced before the 2012 contest to DQ myself, just so I wouldn't be tempted to even try again.

For those who don't know, I'm a bit of a competition junkie - particularly with the Int'l - I competed from 2001 to 2009 as well as in 2011, getting as far as the Semi's seven times, and the WCPS twice - so it took a great deal of time away from everything else in life.

Back to yesterday. This Fall my District switched from the Humorous Speech Contest to Tall Tales, and the second contest is my second favorite - Evaluation. After two years away, I was chomping at the bit to compete again.

Evaluation is the easy one to deal with - no prep. But for Tall Tales, I dusted off a story I wrote about 10 years ago for a Tall Tales competition in Utah - and polished it with everything I've learned since then about writing, speaking, performing, humor - and dove right in.

Believe it or not, I was ALMOST as nervous at the club level, and JUST as nervous at the Area level.

Why? Why would a guy whose competed in 100 or so contests, who speaks and coaches professionally, who get invited to Districts to speak at the conferences on a regular basis, still get nervous?

Because, well, I've competed in a 100 or so contests - and each is different. I speak and coach professionally, and get invited to conferences regularly, which means I have to live up to my own reputation. And - because I care - yes, about winning, but also about doing the best I can do - win or lose, and not phoning it in, which becomes fairly easy to do when most of my TM speaking these days, at the club level at least, comes because someone has dropped out at the last minute.

One of the most common statements I hear from people about the fear of public speaking is that it makes them nervous. That nervousness, once you know what to do with it, is your biggest ally. It means you care - that you'll work hard, and that your performance will be better than it would be without the fear.

Embrace it. Rejoice in it.

Meanwhile, for me at least, it's on to District in November in both contests - where I'll be continuing to master my nervousness so I can Speak & Deliver...and the judges give me an opportunity to Win Anyway!

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Speaker's Trust

What if...

What if Zig Ziglar didn't really sell pots and pans door to door?
What if Les Brown wasn't really pigeon-holed as 'educable retarded'?
What if Tony Robbins never sat in his apartment listening to Neil Diamond sing 'I am I said'?

Three famous stories from three famous and trusted (mostly) high-level speakers. Stories that are theirs - they happened to them, and all add powerful credibility and emotion to their overall messages.

What if...they were lies? Would we still care about these speakers and their messages? Would we discredit them, and dismiss all they've ever said? Would we feel betrayed?

How much of a lie is a lie? Speakers often 'embellish' their stories. Dialogue is polished for maximum efficiency and effect. Times and places may change. Perhaps monetary amounts are fudged a bit. Where do we draw the line, as speakers, and as audiences? When does a 'little white lie' turn into a big fat honking lie that discredits the speaker, and ultimately breaks 'The Speaker's Trust'?


Last week at this time, Toastmasters was holding its annual 'World Championship of Public Speaking'. Speakers from around the world doing there best to reach the audience with touching stories that created laughter and tears. Most were likely first-person accounts of events in their lives - those are typically the most effective in this particular contest.

Nowhere in the rule book for this contest, however, does it mention the stories have to be TRUE. From reports I've heard over the years, there are a few that succeed in advancing, even winning the whole contest, with patently FALSE stories, told as if they were the truth.

2010 Champion David Henderson admitted just hours after the contest that his heart-wrenching first-person account of his childhood friend dying from Sickle Cell Anemia, a speech where he described specific conversations and interactions that had the audience entranced and emotionally invested, was, as he put it, 'Mythologized'. She never existed. The events never happened. You can find this interview by clicking HERE - it starts about halfway through, after the quiz game. (if I had listened to this 3 years ago - this post would have been written 3 years ago...)

He defends it as a way to bring attention to Sickle Cell Anemia. He succeeded at this, to be sure. He also won the entire contest, within the rules. For me, however, he also betrayed 'The Speaker's Trust'.

If you hear a first-person, told as truth story that puts you through an emotional ringer as this speech did, and then find out it's nothing more than a 'Tall Tale' created to make a point, how does that make you feel? Is there no other way to spread awareness? Are there no REAL stories that would work just as well?

Again - David did nothing 'wrong' within the parameters of the contest. It was a fantastic speech. In the context of the event, I thought he was the clear winner. But, what if he had revealed at the close of his speech that his friend never existed? Would the impact been as strong? Would the judges have ruled the same way?


I am not naive enough to believe that every story out of a speaker's mouth is 100% truth. Speakers edit for maximum impact. Speakers tell stories that are metaphors to make a point. Speakers alter timelines, leave out details, and even overly glamorize results.

But when speakers outright manipulate an audience by telling stories as if they really happened to them, particularly emotional tales that will cause the audience to sympathize with the speaker when no sympathy is warranted, I believe it's betrayal. Why should I ever care about anything you say again?

What can we really do about 'The Speaker's Trust'? In the Toastmasters contest, maybe not much. Tough to verify the truth of that many speeches in such a short period of time. For professional speakers like Zig, Les, & Tony, the truth often comes out, and the audience has to decide. (I'm not, by the way, challenging these particular speakers).

'The Speaker's Trust' is a concept we have to honor within ourselves. To be faithful to our audiences, and be willing to draw the line at outright falsehoods. I don't care how good it sounds - if it isn't accurate, you're doing a disservice to your audience, and in the long run, to yourself.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SPEAK the Movie: Where Are They Now?

It's been five years since the contest itself. A little over a year and a half since the movie was released. And now, just a year since 2008 World Champion of Public Speaking, star of SPEAK, passed from complications due to Lupus.

This Thursday and Saturday, the 2013 World Championship of Public Speaking takes place at the Toastmasters Int'l Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio here in the States. The beat goes on.

If you've seen SPEAK, you know that it follows, in large part, several of the Finalists before and during the contest, and LaShunda and I afterward. It's a touching, educational, and somewhat emotional film, which I compare to having open heart surgery in my review.

Like any documentary, it is a finite view into a temporary window of time for the participants - but once the cameras stop moving, their lives keep going. Robert MacKenzie went on to take 2nd in the championships in 2010. Colin, Charlie, and myself have all returned to the semi-finals. And Jock Elliott topped us all, winning the championship in 2011.

This summer, I decided it was time to catch up with everyone - provide the world with an update on the castmembers, and ask some tough questions about what it was like going through the process, and having it on display for the world, for pretty much the rest of time. The conversations were as diverse as the contestants themselves, as we discussed contest theory, real-life vs. Toastmaster speaking, bias against women speakers, and more - including parts of the movie that didn't quite represent the whole truth, vs. the reality show truth.


Not wanting to let myself off the hook, I let Jim Key, 2003 World Champion of Public Speaking, grill me for the better part of an hour as well.

I was also honored by the participation of the film's director, Brian Weidling, and LaShunda's sister, Sonya, who, talks about what is happening with her, LaSunda's son Dennis, and the legacy Sonya is dedicated to keeping in her sister's absence.

The interviews average about 30 minutes each, and are available for immediate download for just $10 - click here, or on the picture below. If you're curious as to 'Whatever Happened To..." or just want the inside scoop on how to become a World Champion of Public Speaking, or even a professional speaker, this series is for you.

To all the contestants in 2013, congratulations and good luck - you are all making your mark in the world, and effectively living the mantra of Speak....and Deliver!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What I Learned From Darren LaCroix Last Night

After all these years, I finally got a picture with the man, the myth, the legend.

I could have been Darren LaCroix.

In 2001, I got lost on the way to my first ever Area Level International Contest, and the winner that day was Del Hargis, who ended up on The Big Stage competing against Darren. If only I'd had GPS, it could have been me up there that day, hoisting the giant trophy and....

OK - probably not, I admit, but it's fun to think about....
I've followed Darren since that point, watched his videos, listened to virtually every product he's put out since, read his blogs and newsletters - yes, I'm a junkie. I've been lucky enough to spend time with him as a coach in 2006 the day before I took third in the world, thanks to a few last minute adjustments after working with him. He came up and encouraged me after the 2008 championships, telling me to, essentially, stop limiting myself to speaking in contests. He let himself be interviewed not once, not twice, but three times due to technical issues for an interview in my book 'Go Ahead & Laugh'.

But last night was really the first time I got to see him in action without the pressure of a World Championship on my mind - even two years ago, watching him at the Toastmasters Convention in Vegas I was in contest mode.

Now I have to admit something. I'm a tough audience. I've heard so much of it before, that I've let myself get a bit jaded when I hear the same stories time after time. That's not THEIR problem, really - it's what speakers do - share their wisdom to new audiences day after day, like each audience is brand new. And yes, I'd heard 99 percent of what Darren had said last night - whether from him or others he's learned from (and always references). Even Darren knew that - at one point, he said 'Rich, here's something I bet even YOU haven't heard me teach before' - you can bet I was listening at that point.

Last night though, I chose to attend with new eyes. Driving 90 minutes through the mountains to get there, I attended with intent - intent to be the student Darren always talks about us needing to be - like the way 2000 Champ Ed Tate sits there and takes pages of notes no matter how often he hears people.

To truly be a sponge that soaks it in, and be willing to reprocess that which I'd heard before, as well as be on the lookout for any new tidbits. Instead of an attitude of "Oh, this story again" or "Yeah, I know - heard it before, from you from everyone", which was a bit of my attitude when I watched new champ Ryan Avery a couple months back, I firmly put myself into student mode.

Darren deserved that from me, and I deserved to allow myself to experience him that way. Frankly, it opened my eyes - and affirmed, and revealed, quite a few things for me.

7 Lessons I Learned From Darren, Either Again or For the First Time
1. It's OK that I've Heard it Before. Darren described it as 'Listening and Losing' - just because we hear it doesn't mean we use it, and just because we use it a little doesn't mean me we use it enough. Listen again.

2. The Effectiveness of Holograms on Stage - building a scene on stage and leaving it there, honoring it instead of walking all over at the wrong time. Seeing it in person augmented what I'd heard on audio.

3. The marked difference between 'Gestures' and 'Expressive Movements' - and how to get that point across to my, in particular, gesture-crazed Toastmaster clients. Along similar lines, I observed a lot about his coaching style that can help me coach my own clients.

4. The Importance of Reaction - We both teach a lot about dialogue in a speech, which I preach, preach, preach, but the the REACTION to it - facially, body position-wise - and how the use of that silence, can be more effective than any other words we say.

5. Sheer Professionalism - the ability to give the same stories again and again with the energy needed for the audience who IS getting it for the first time to get the impact it needs.

6. Own the Information Darren referenced at least 6 or 7 other speakers/mentors/coaches in his presentation - never acting like he had invented all this himself. Indeed, I think the ancient Greeks had a lot to say about speaking back in the day. He couldn't know the background of each person in the audience, so he taught it from within, from his own experience, so the audience could receive it from his perspective. Two of his points, Craig Valentine's 'Tap & Transport' and Patricia Frippe's 'Sameness is the enemy of the speaker' shown stronger to me last night through his presentation then the many audios I've heard talk about these from the speakers themselves.

7. New & Brilliant Not Required - A hair different from the first point in this string, but maybe this one should be just for me. Yes, I've studied speaking for years. Yes, I've heard and read and watched a ton. Yes, I even have some good ideas on my own. But keeping up walls to relearning and reinforcing, even under the guise of 'always looking for something new and brilliant' doesn't help anyone. After all, yesterday's truly brilliant ideas won't lose their shine, and tomorrow's brilliant ideas probably owe a great deal to yesterday.

Reading this back to myself, I have to admit it sounds more like a self-exploratory journal entry than a teaching post. Maybe I'm the only one who struggles with some of this stuff like ego and disappointment and pride every now and again. But hey, someone's got to take it on the chin, so that you don't have to, right?

Would love your thoughts today, even in the form of psuedo-psychoanalysis. In the meantime, keep learning - from me, from Darren, from Tom Antion, from Doug Stevenson, from Avish Parashar, from whoever you want to, have access to, and, most importantly, are willing to listen and learn from. Again and Again and Again.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bullet Points Are Not Enough

No, bullet points are not enough.
Are you talkin' to me? Or are you talkin' AT me?

It's the big difference between speaking and lecturing.
Between telling and teaching.
Between preaching and inspiring.

But it can be so easy to miss. The Art of Conversation from stage. Just writing that title makes me want to go write a book, but right now you don't have the time to read one, do you? You're here, you want it quick and dirty, and you want it now, right?

See what I did there?
I didn't tell you, I asked you. I tried to get into your head. I looked for agreement. I could have bullet pointed the process - but I would have missed the opportunity to connect with you, to throw in some faint sarcasm, and be real with you.

Same thing goes on stage. It's easy to get wrapped up in all you want to tell your audience. You've got expertise, after all. You're stories are interesting, and you've worked your tail off on them. And they are the ones who brought you in, so they must want you to regale them with knowledge every second, to tell them exactly where they are, how they got there, and why they need to move...right?

Well, sorta.
They do want to hear you, yes. They are praying you're interesting and funny and can give them something new. But they also desperately want you to understand them, to relate to them, even, in some cases, to approve of them, before they are willing to let you actually change them.

Bullet points don't change people, conversations do. Explain. Cajole. Tell stories. Ask questions. Bring up their emotions, their doubts, their fears, their longings, and follow up by reminding them of their victories, their strengths, and their possibilities.

You might be in front of your audience, but your message must be inside your audience. Talk to them. Only then will you truly learn to Speak....& Deliver.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Arrogance vs. Confidence - What Are You Showing From the Stage?

Thinking you can have that many letters, for starters...

There is often a fine line between arrogance and confidence, a line that can be easily crossed without intent, and even without knowledge. This is true in real life, and true, certainly, in speaking.
Speakers actually end up running closer to the line than the average person on a more regular basis. It takes a large amount of confidence just to get up in front of others and espouse our thoughts, ideas, and information to others, much less do it in a memorable, effective way. Confidence that can easily drift into, or be mistaken for, Arrogance.

Arrogance isn't a universal perception, either. I've seen speakers that I consider arrogant that the people next to me, or friends from the audience I've talked to afterwards, simply adored. 'That's just his schtick' was essentially the defense - which also means that speaker has created enough equity either in the past or during the actual presentation for what I perceived as arrogance to be seen as confidence, or style, by others. In fact, I had no real problem with the content of this speaker. It was quite valuable. But for me, the style was aggravating, self-serving, and grandstanding. My perception, colored by my experiences and preferences.

I asked some folks on facebook & twitter what they thought made a speaker Arrogant, and I received a myriad of answers. One of which involved the use of big words like 'myriad'...

36 Ways to Be Arrogant on Stage

1. The speaker is always the hero - Derick Dickens
2. A speaker who preaches: 'You should do this' - Jeffrey Brown, Attie Ringo
3. Berating your audience (something I thought the afore-mentioned speaker did) - VJ Sleight
4. When the personality is bigger than the story (ex: Donald Trump) - David Hollingsworth
5. Being 'holier than thou' - Renee Groom-Romano
6. Talking about what they 'did' instead of what they learned - Leslie Jacobsson Keating, Ann Ang
7. Overuse of first-person pronouns - Richard Daugherty
8. Being spammed with sales both during and after the event - Kevin Doyle
9. Not adapting a speech to the audience - Rich Hopkins (not me - another Rich Hopkins!)
10. Showing off physically while demeaning the audience as lazy - Bronwyn Roberts
11. Speakers who are their own gurus - Heather Adair Hawkins
12. Doesn't show they care for the audience - Colin Emerson
13. Making the audience stand and give a standing ovation, then saying 'now they (the speaker) have to earn it - Michelle Mazur
14. Making jokes at the expense of a group of other people - Natalie Chance Palmer
15. Condescension - 'You don't know this yet, but I will enlighten you' - Tony Cortes
16. Attacking people for technical problems during the speech - Daren Wride
17. Assuming the audience doesn't know the topic well - Peggy Carr
18. Unwilling to fully connect with the audience - Thomas Lindaman
19. Insincerity - Terry Canfield
20. Not respecting the audience's time - David A. Berkowitz
21. Believing their own press - Felicia Slattery
22. Believing their knowledge makes them superior - Lloyd Smith
23. Self-righteous tone of voice - Joyce Feustel
24. Taking themselves too seriously - Cybele Antonow
25. The 'Hard Sell' - Bob Jensen
26. Lack of eye contact - LaMont D. Snarr
27. Ending sentences with 'mmm-kay' or 'right?' to gain agreement - Syrena Glade
28. Physically pacing the stage without purpose - LaMont D. Snarr
29. Sweeping statements - 'Everyone does' or 'Everyone knows' - Dawna Bate
30. Finger pointing in a preaching/shaming manner - Chantal Heurtelou Coutard
31. Using foul language or sexual references - Maureen Zappala
32. Leaning against the lecturn on one elbow - Iain Wayfarer Gorry
33. Assumption of knowledge/not explaining jargon - Jennifer Haston
34. Spread out leg stance with arms crossed - Tracie TK O'Geary
35. Pretending that what worked for them will work for all - @icpchad (on Twitter)
36. And, my personal favorite show of arrogance - laughing at yourself, incessantly, onstage.

Bwah-ha-ha-ha! ROFL! - oh wait, I'm laughing at my own blog...

Wow. That's a lot of actions and attitudes to avoid. And many of them are perception-based - what one person views as arrogance another might view as fear (lack of eye contact) or 'part of the job' (the 'hardsell' and 'spammy follow-ups). Some may be culturally based (finger pointing, stance) or simply preferentially based (swearing, a preaching style). Others are character-based, such as how you react in a negative situation (tech failure).

Most seem to be steeped in one simple concept - caring more about yourself and your message than your audience. That's really the heart of arrogance, isn't it?

Arrogance is a danger we all face as speakers, and we won't be able to avoid members of our audience occasionally feeling that we are arrogant, even if we are extremely humble and authentic as a general rule. And those are, by the way, good general rules to follow.

The speaker I felt was arrogant may not be an arrogant human being, it may have been my perception. I have certainly been considered arrogant on occasion, and with due cause every now and again. Have you ever crossed the line, ever so slightly? Were you called on the carpet for it?

The lessons here seem clear - keep your heart with the audience at all times in every way. Even if you have a schtick, like a Larry Winget, who is often outright rude to his audiences, EARN the right by overtly caring first. While you can't control what each audience member thinks, or understand and tailor yourself to the experiences and, perhaps, their insecurities coloring the reception of your message and delivery, you CAN control your intention, your content, and your delivery style.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt - "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care". And if you don't care, you shouldn't be on stage.
When have you experienced an arrogant speaker? Share your stories below!

And the go and be confident while you Speak...& Deliver!

Friday, July 19, 2013

How To Win the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking: A Book Review

The first time I became aware of Jeremy Donovan's new book, How to Win the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking (non-affiliate link), it was via email, from a fellow veteran of the 'Big Stage', as they asked me 'Have you seen this?' and 'Do you know this guy?' Both valid questions, both of which I answered 'no!'

The second time I became aware of the book wasn't exactly ideal, either. An email came to me through my Toastmasters leadership address, as the author let me know about his book and suggested I forward his request to give out a free copy to our district's International Speech Contestant. Generous, in one sense, but, in my mindset, and the mindset of many other district leaders around the world, it came across as 'SPAM', and a misuse of internal emails, made doubly egregious by the fact that he, in fact, was a Toastmaster himself.

You'd think things couldn't get worse from there. But they did. In my typical, type first, ask questions later manner, I facebooked about this situation, without naming the book or the author, giving the book three strikes. It was meant to be a throwaway comment, but it created a bit of a firestorm, especially when Mr. Donovan actually joined the thread to defend his actions, and his title, which I had criticized as offering a 'bloviated claim'. After all, the author hadn't stepped foot on the 'Big Stage' himself, certainly hadn't won it, and it's truly impossible to tell someone exactly how to win a contest of any sort, be it the the World Championship of Public Speaking (WCPS), the Super Bowl, or the World Series of Poker.

All that is said to put this review in it's proper perspective. Despite it all, I was intrigued, and went ahead and spent the $2.99 for the Kindle version, intent to put everything aside and see if this book had any merit at all. I wasn't hopeful.

but...I was pleasantly surprised.

Ed Hearn
2006 World Champion
The book features the text of all nine speakers in the 2012 Championship, something we haven't seen in a book before. Ed Hearn, Douglas Wilson and I put our nine speeches (from District, Region, and the Championship, back when you needed three speeches, instead of two, to win the contest) into our book 'Win, Place & Show', back in 2006, and I was able to get all the finalists to write a chapter each about their own experience in the contest in 2008, in our book 'The Finalists' (available for free on my website), but Mr. Donovan truly pulls a coup by getting all nine speeches into his book.

With those points scored, he then focuses on nine aspects of giving a 'World Championship' speech, through both analysis of the speeches themselves, and an extended study of winning speeches going back to 1986. The author clearly loves research, data, and statistics, as the book is full of them, from how many laughs per minute to percentage of winners from different positions in the speaking order to what percentage of winners ran off the stage vs. shaking the hand of the contest chair vs. waving as they left. (My personal, if painful, favorite, was LaShunda Rundles 'flying' off the stage in our contest in 2008.)

He breaks down the elements of a winning speech as follows:

Taking the Stage - how do you begin, essentially
Topic Selection - always a subject of debate among students and participants of the contest
Storytelling - including story construction, selection, and pattern
Humor and Emotional Range - laughter, tears, and everything in-between
Language - big vs. small words, sentence structure, title selection
Verbal Delivery - volume, speed, pauses
Non-Verbal Delivery - use of the stage, gestures
Mindset - what do you focus on, how do you approach practicing - the most 'motivational' chapter
Leaving the Stage - pausing, how you plan your 'exit strategy'

He concludes with an interesting chapter about his own thoughts on who he thought would win, and why, and then has to admit he didn't actually pick the right winner. Honesty is good - who wins these contests is often a crapshoot.

Therein lies my only remaining complaint about the book. A 'How-To' book, in my mind, should give me a specific, reliable result if I follow the steps. Building a table, fixing a flat tire, building a marketing list, etc. No one, not even a champion, can give you all the steps, with certainty, that will allow you to win this contest. If nothing else, the contest is a zero-sum game, so if two contestants all do everything perfect and identically to the other, only one of them can actually win.

The contest relies on fallible human judges, who may or may not like your speech based not on the judging criteria, but by their own life experience, or even, subconsciously, if they like your tie or choice of dress vs. pantsuit.

LaShunda Rundles, 2008 World Champion

In addition, while he does cover mindset, a key missing component is 'Heart'. Most likely because it is an intangible, immeasurable component in speaking and competing, which one can't distill into a statistic. One cannot watch LaShunda Rundles speech without seeing her whole essence brought to the stage.

Most importantly of all, Lady Luck truly plays a part as well. Just as a football game is occasionally won or lost based on the odd bounce of the pigskin, a speech contest can be won or lost based on a microphone malfunction, the fact that two other people in your bracket spoke on the same subject, or a better speaker got lost getting to the contest that day.

The real promise in this book, the one it fulfills, is telling you how others have won the contest, how some have come close, how some have fallen short. It offers signposts to greater success and warnings against certain failure. It offers 'best practices' and is, at least for this serial contestant (seven time semifinalist, two time finalist), a fascinating read, whetting my appetite for the competition in 2014.

In the end, I enjoyed the book. If you're a Toastmaster, and particularly a contestant, spend the three bucks and give it read. The author has done a tremendous amount of work in compiling his data, interviewing the participants and many past champions. It is the most complete analysis of championship speeches I have seen to date. If you're not a Toastmaster, you might get lost in some of the idiosyncrasies of the contest, but can still glean some great tips about speaking in general.

They say never judge a book by it's cover. I judged it quickly by it's title, and by assuming the worst motives from it's author. That was a mistake on my part. Regardless of what I think of the title, or the email marketing approach, the content of the book, the creation of content from the author, earns it a high rating - 4 out 5 stars.

Pick it up. Jeremy writes...& delivers.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Foundational Phrases: Are They All They're Cracked Up To Be?

One of the basic tenets of speaking is the Aphorism - a uniquely worded, concise point made in a memorable way. These can also be termed as Maxims, or, in a worst case scenario, a Cliche.

"A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned"
"There is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself"

"If if Doesn't Fit, You Must Acquit"

These three phrases are among the most well known in the last 200 years thanks to Benjamin Franklin, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and, more infamously, Johnny Cochran, O.J. Simpson's lawyer.

If you're a student of speaking, you might recognize these particular nuggets:

"Your Attitude, Not Your Aptitude, Will Determine Your Altitude" ~ Zig Ziglar
"Formal Education Will Make You a Living, Self-Education Will Make You a Fortune" ~ Jim Rohn
"Don't Get Ready, Stay Ready" ~ Craig Valentine

As speakers, they are, essentially, the foundation upon which we build our speeches. It's Craig Valentine, 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, who crystallized this concept for me over the last decade, referring to this concept as the 'Foundational Phrase' - a phrase on which your story and/or speech is built upon. For my Toastmaster friends waiting for it, there it is - credit where credit is due.

You can create a foundational phrase as an umbrella sound bite for your entire speech, or embed them with each point in the speech, or both.

Anatomy of a Foundational Phrase:

1. It's Short - 10 words or less, if possible. Rohn's quote above is the only one longer. Short phrases are easier to remember, and the precision of a few words will help you and your audience focus.

2. It Contrasts. Usually between 'then' and 'now' or 'bad' and 'good' or 'present' and 'future'. It can also contrast between two choices, as in 'get ready' vs. 'stay ready'. In my 2006 speech at the World Championship of Public Speaking, my phrase was 'What if we knew now, what we knew then?' - a question to get the audience thinking about an old concept in a new way.

3. It Simplifies. The phrase doesn't always have to take you from point A to point B - it can also simply be a repeated theme throughout your speech. 'Win Anyway' is my primary phrase, which allows for a fair amount of variation, such as 'Lead Anyway', 'Dream Anyway', or 'Love Anyway'. It can also be built upon, such as in the phrase 'Life is Tough, Win Anyway'.

4. It Rhymes - sometimes. A rhyme is naturally easier to remember. But forcing a rhyme can become a burden, and potentially weaken your phrase.

5. It Uses Alliteration - the sibling of Rhyme. Attitude, Aptitude, Altitude - all ending with the same sound, is a great example of alliteration. Words that feature a repeating sound will stick in the audiences mind. Comes with the same danger of being forced, so apply with caution.

6. It Guides - both the audience and the speaker. Coming up with the phrase before you write the speech offers you a chance to edit your speech as you go, making sure everything you put into it lends itself to your final point. Coming up with one AFTER the speech works too, if you're willing to go back and edit after the fact.

7. It Crystallizes - synthesizing the whole of your message into a simple sound byte. Johnny Cochran's 'If it doesn't fit, you must acquit' became THE phrase he hung his defense case upon - it all came down to that simple fact. John F. Kennedy's phrase 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country' was easily a tentpole concept for his short tenure as President. The right phrase will anchor your idea into the mind of your audience, so your greater message will be triggered by just a few carefully crafted words.

Foundational phrases can be wonderfully effective, or devastatingly destructive. 

On the plus side, they are memorable, they reinforce your message in the minds of the audience, and they help you keep the content of your speech on track, if you keep in mind that anything that doesn't support the phrase doesn't support your message.

On the negative side, if speaking in clever phrases just isn't your style, they can sound forced. Too many of them can make your speech sound corny. Poorly developed phrases can be overly silly, confusing, and off-putting to the audience. Using time-worn phrases, such as 'If You can Dream It, You Can Do It', as I did in the 2008 WCPS Finals, even for the sake of irony, are likely to come off badly, and cost you credibility.

Are Foundational phrases all they're cracked up to be? Yes, and No. They contain great power. Here are three to sum up today's column.

'Foundational Phrases aren't required, but often desired.' ~ Me
'When in Doubt, Leave it Out' ~ Darren LaCroix
'With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility' ~ Spider-Man's' Uncle Ben.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Real Magic by Nana Danso - A Book Review

As I've said before - every speaker should have a book.

Nana Danso is an up and coming speaker who has made a huge mark in Toastmasters as a four-time semi-finalist in the World Championship of Public Speaking, and, as seen in his TEDx presentation, has a bright future ahead of him.

'Real Magic' (non-affiliate link) is Nana's first book, expanding and crystallizing his approach for the reader as to how to create a successful life through M.A.G.I.C. - Motivation, Aspiration, Gifts, Innovation, and Confidence.

A true storyteller, Nana takes us on a wonderful ride through his own life, from a great honeymoon story where the magic wasn't quite where you might expect it to be, to his upbringing, to his experiences with education and the workplace. It is in these stories this book truly sparkles, as we see into his life and mind, and have the opportunity to reflect on our own lives.

It also, for better or worse, offers a treasure trove of traditional motivational examples, right where you'd expect them to be - IF you are a motivational junkie like this reviewer. While I found myself skipping through the stories, other readers with real lives may not. Cliches become cliches because they are true, and time-worn motivational parables become time-worn because people like to hear them, and because not all people have.

Nana offers a refreshing view of 'self-help' - giving us a perspective of someone in the midst of living a successful life, without coming across as an arrogant 'look at me' motivational author, like so many others. He has a self-awareness about himself and what he's offering, and chooses to be authentic and self-deprecating while still firm in his approach and his results. When he's in his zone talking about his own life, the book reads more like a conversation over coffee than a traditional motivational sermon.

The book is highly organized, relying on each prong of M.A.G.I.C. for it's structure. He offers short summaries at the end of each chapter, complete with action items, plus a funny/poignant story, each which stands on it's own. The book ends with a recap of the book as a whole, creating an accessible read whether you have five minutes or 2 hours.

'Real Magic' is an ideal back of the room sell - listen to Nana, then bring him home. It's a strong example of what most emerging speakers need to add credibility and income to their speaking careers.

While I would have liked more of HIM and less of the time-worn stories, there is enough personal, original, and insightful magic here for me to give 'Real Magic' four stars out of five.

Now, before you head off to Amazon to buy the book - take a look at Nana in action - if for no other reason than to be able to hear his amazing voice in your head when you start reading!

(Disclaimer - I was sent a review copy of Real Magic by the author, but this review is unpaid, and all links are non-affiliate.)


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