Friday, May 27, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: The Quest for the Trophy

Yesterday I posted a quote on Facebook from the Dallas Maverick's Dirk Nowitzki - a comment he made in post-game press conference following his team last victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder to send them into the NBA Finals.
Dallas, for those of you non-basketball historians, lost in the NBA Finals in 2006 to the Miami Heat, who, ironically, will be their opponent yet again. That year they faced a still powerful Shaquille O'Neal and a young, healthy Dwayne Wade. This year, they face Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James, who teamed up over the summer to create a team of stars whose only success will be found in winning a championship themselves. 

Here's the quote: 

"We can enjoy it for a day, but we got one of those trophies already, and it didn't mean anything in the end. I think once you get to the Finals, there is no second-place finish."

Uh-oh. In a couple of weeks, there's going to be some unhappy folks whose entire season will be a complete waste of time, whether they reside in South Beach or the Lone Star State. Many players on both sides have made it to the championship series before - and I'm willing to bet they all echo Dirk's sentiment.

It led to an interesting series of posts throughout the day, and even into this morning. People wondered if he was minimizing victory. Others commented that they understood, and 2nd place isn't always great, no matter how many others were in the race with you. The Zen responses discussed the importance of the journey over the destination. 

Toastmasters, of course, has its own championship competition, and after this weekend, all 81 contestants will be determined for the semi-finals August 18th - 9 contests to determine 9 winners who will vie for the World Championship of Public Speaking. I am one of the 81 this year, for the seventh time in the last 10 years. And I totally get Dirk's comment. Yet, when I think about his statement in Toastmasters terms, despite understanding Dirk, I both agree and disagree with him. 

Why I disagree:

A. It's a New Year - every year, the competition is different, from the other speakers to the judges to what the audiences want to hear about. We're different as speakers, and our connections to our stories strengthens or weakens over time. For me this year, I was in an all-new district - one that boasts many WCPS contestants over the last 12 years, as well as the 2000 winner. It's also a bigger talent pool - bigger than both my past two districts combined. The fact that I was able to pull out a victory here is huge for me. I was out of my comfort zone, knew very few people ahead of the District Conference ahead of time, and didn't know what to expect out of my competition. Regardless of Vegas, this is a victory I will cherish.

B. The Journey DOES Count - even when you've been on it before. Dirk is a 9-time All-Star, consistently made the playoffs, and come up just short after being up 2 games to none in the Finals. Me? For the past 11 years, I've competed in this contest. I've gotten lost going to the Area Contest and missed it (2001), lost at division and watched others compete at the next level, taken 2nd at Division and competed and won District anyway in a District that sends 1st and 2nd forward, gone OT at Region, finished 2nd at Region three times, finished third at the Championship, and finished out of the running at the Championship. This year, I only made it to District because the person who beat me couldn't make the District contest. Every year I've learned something about Toastmasters, about speaking, about myself. Dirk, when all is said and done, has likely learned to be a better player and a better teammate along the way. There is victory in the process, if not the victory most of us focus on in the midst of competition.

C. There is Always Something More, Different, or Better - even for Dirk. He may think his legacy in the NBA rides on winning a championship. But once he wins it, he will think his legacy rides on winning another one. In Toastmasters, once you win it, you're done. But even then, there's more. It's not instant success, it's not a final peace, unless, I suppose, you get hit by a truck on your way out of the conference center. (If this happens to me, please bury me with the trophy...) Even if Dirk or I or any of the other 80 speakers who go home a 'loser' this year, there is always something more. For Dirk, he's got millions of dollars to invest into business, and maybe a shot in the broadcast booth. For me, I'll trade my opportunity to win a championship for being remembered as a great dad and husband, and a successful speaking career. Many a Toastmaster has gone on to be very successful as a speaker without ever bringing home the WCPS trophy.

D. We Have an Example to Set - Dirk is a role model to millions of kids around the world. I'm a role model to six kids under my roof. If we set winning as the only goal, what does that say to our kids when they take 2nd at the science fair, or fail to get cast into the school play? Yes, I want my kids to be competitive. Yes, I want them to strive to be their best. But when there's only one ultimate winner - there will always be worthy contenders that lose out, even if they would have been as good or better than the winner going forward. I want my kids to take victories in the process and the effort, even if the result isn't what they expected or hoped. (Which means I should now take my 2nd place Topics trophy out of the car and put it next to it's slightly larger, 1st Place International twin...)

Why I agree - just one reason really - Because I'm Human. Humans want what we want - whether its grades or relationships or money or happiness - and when we get so close to something we've dreamed about for years, we get the concept drilled into our heads that we're weak for being happy 'just to be there'. Win Win Win! Just Win Baby! Nobody Remembers 2nd Place! (Robert MacKenzie, actually, in 2010). In those private moments, most of us feel just like Dirk does when we come to the precipice of a glorious victory. We just don't have press conferences to catch those unguarded moments. 

So I've got 85 days to accomplish a goal I've had in my mind for over a decade. So do 80 others, including at least seven speakers who've been to the Finals before, and several more who've made it to the Semi's before, and several more besides who have been working for years just to win District for the first time. Folks - we're all winners. By 11 am August 20th, all but one of us will be losers, to one degree or another, until we reframe our perspective to focus on the journey, and the example we will set.

Eventually, even the winner, once the rush is gone, will sit and think to themselves - OK, now what? Marilyn Monroe once said "Dreaming about being an actress, is more exciting then being one." Even Spock once said "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."

Regardless of results, we are speakers, with a message worth hearing. Now what? Simple. Go Speak & Deliver, and you will Win Anyway.

For the last few months, I've been writing contest-oriented posts, as Toastmasters International's Spring Contest season begins, and with it, the International Speech Contest, which annually produces a World Champion of Public Speaking. Prior posts include: Why Contests are the Best and Worst Events in Your Speaking CareerWhy Does International Become Inspirational?Are the Contests Fair?The Top 8 Ways to Guarantee Victory, and I Lost My Contest: Now What?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Can You Speak Like Oprah?

25 years of the Oprah Winfrey Show ends today. Most of us have heard her rags to riches story many times - I won't repeat it here - suffice to say she's proven her skills, her versatility, and her worth over the years in countless ways. What matters to us as speakers is how she did the one thing that mattered more in her career than anything else along the way - how she connected with her audience:

Questions - At a very basic level, Oprah is an investigative reporter. Over the years, she learned to ask better and better questions, to more and more interesting people in tremendously diverse situations. Unlike a Barbara Walters or a Morley Safer, Oprah's questions were most often aimed at emotional truth. As a speaker, are you getting in touch with your audiences emotional truth?

Share Your Struggle - Over the years, one of the biggest storylines of Oprah's life on camera has been her weight. We've watched her shrink and inflate numerous times, and after the first few years of hiding it, she began sharing her triumphs and struggles. She made it all OK for her viewers, and they loved her all the more when they realized that even with all the resources at her fingertips, she, too, struggled with everyday issues like weight. Do you share the struggle, and just tout the result?

Give 'Em What They Want - Many of Oprah's shows featured high-powered guest stars, entertainers, and even the occasional 'freak show' - bringing the most extreme possible situations out into the light. While Oprah is often considered the most legitimate of talk show hosts, and the least prone to sensationalism (other than when she gives her audiences cars or flies them all to Australia), she still knows she has to give the audience what they want. If Oprah doesn't do that, if we don't do that on stage, we won't be able to effectively take the next step.

Give 'em What They Need - This is the next step. Oprah routinely tackled tough issues with transparency and honesty. Addictions, abuses, and apologies became real, accessible, and believable on Oprah's show. Whether talking about health, sexuality, religion, literacy, responsibility, or a multitude of other important areas of life, Oprah wasn't afraid to put our vices, shortcomings, and mistakes out for all to see. She even made me want to read Steinbeck.

Be Self-Assured - Oprah seems to have an unwavering belief in herself - and she keeps that image up around the clock. She knows there are millions more that either hold her in contempt or despise her than love and respect her and her work. She knows her every move is being watched and judged. Even under the harshest of lights, she has held up, and put the naysayers, and even those that would betray her, behind her. Speakers often talk of the importance of believing in their message. Belief in yourself ranks even higher in importance.

Be Accessible - Oprah continually added ways for us to get to know her and her life, whether by expanding her subject matter, going behind the scenes, adding guests (Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and so many others) to provide new perspectives, or creating new ways to communicate with her audience with a magazine, a strong web presence, a book club, and now, a network! How many ways can people access your information and your attitude? You may not have a daily show, but you can blog a few times a week. What are YOUR 25 favorite things? Who do YOU hang around with?

Be Positive - Oprah's smile and laugh are infectious. Nearly every show ends on a positive note - whether its and attitude switch or an action step for the viewers. She doesn't leave us in a state of depression, no matter how depressing the topic. When your audience leaves with hope and direction, they'll come back again - in Oprah's case, day after day for 25 years.

It's true, you probably won't become the next Oprah. But she's a prime example of someone who Speaks & Delivers. She's changed the world's expectations when it comes to communication and inspiration. Whether you loved her or hated her - learn from her success!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Toastmasters Friday : Are You About to Get Burned?

(Since I am now officially in 'contest mode' in preparation for the District 26 Conference tonight and tomorrow, today's Speak & Deliver post is by my friend and fellow Toastmaster Dwayne Windham, a Past District Governor in District 55. If you would like to become a guest blogger, please email me with your thoughts!)

In any volunteer organization, there is inevitably a core group of people that are knowledgeable, reliable, and easy to work with. Whether you are working with a Toastmasters club, church, or PTA group – we all have that tendency to lean on our “go to people”  because you know they will get the job done, get it done right, and with minimal drama. The problem is that this often results in members of that core group being massively over-used and becoming burned out. As the Toastmasters year reaches the final stretch, and our new officers are developing their plans for the upcoming year, it seems appropriate for us to delve into the subject of Burned-Out Toast(masters).

Who has a potential to become burned toast?

…a person, who judged 23 contests this past contest season, serves as two club officers, a District officer, and holds a full time job
…spending 4 days of the past week at church events, including all day Sunday and the next and the next…
…spending three of four Saturdays in a row with day-long Toastmasters events….

I personally see this happen with excited new Area Governors that end up taking on much more than perhaps they intended to. Now of course, the easy response is to tell people to “learn to say No”.  While that is certainly part of the equation, as part of a volunteer organization we need to help create events and structures that support a diverse group being involved and carrying the load.

Are we encouraging people to take time off when needed?

While it is always nice to fill in slots for your next slate of candidates early or easily by carrying over people – take the time to really look at your “roster depth”. Make a genuine effort to be looking out for potential new volunteers and avoid carrying over people for year after year. Let them have some time off to recharge, get some perspective and pursue other projects.

Do we make a full effort to properly train additional people for roles requiring specific knowledge?

Especially for technical roles involving sound, video, or websites – it becomes very easy to fall into a pattern of leaving one person to fulfill the role until the end of time. Each of these areas has crucial knowledge they can lose in the event the person becomes suddenly unavailable. Make sure there are apprentices or backup people involved in each of these areas to ensure that your primary person can take time off when needed, and preserve the tribal knowledge gained from experience.

Are we consolidating sparsely attended events that require heavy staffing and support?

Often tradition can be exhausting, and we continue putting on events that have poor attendance and heavy staffing requirements because no one ever wants to “let go”. We don’t want to be the one that says “it’s OK to let go now”. Be the one willing to give permission – to let people stop carrying around burdens if they are not truly being effective in fulfilling the purpose of your organization.

Do we value our volunteer’s time by being efficient with meetings, training, and avoid “meeting for the sake of meeting?”

One of running office jokes is about changing the standard meeting length from 30 minutes to 20 minutes, or from 1 hour to 50 minutes. Consider how much these little things can cut down on stress for those running from one meeting to another. Very rarely has someone convinced me that all of the items on their agenda for a 1 hour meeting could not be accomplished in 50 minutes.  How would this apply for your group? Toastmasters International has wonderful material about How to Conduct Product Meetings.

When surveyed about job benefits, people over and over again cite the desire for more time to spend with their families. For many of us with busy lives, the greatest thing we are giving you is our time – treat it as a treasured possession and we will feel rewarded. You won’t have to buy so many thank you trinkets, because you will be showing me how much you value me by valuing my time.

Our guest blogger, Dwayne Windham is a past Division Governor from District 55 Toastmasters in Austin, TX. He has worked as part of Dell support for the past 13 years. Dwayne enjoys helping people understand technology and address problems in a realistic, straightforward manner.

Contact info: is the best email address,
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Think, Speak, & Deliver

It's amazing how often we speak without thinking.

It seems like life was a lot quieter when I was younger than it is now. That people thought before putting their foot squarely in their mouth. Of course, that perception is just a cross between nostalgic perception and the fact that as a kid, I never payed attention to what anyone was saying anyway.

It's almost impossible not to pay attention today. Between 500 cable channels, the internet, and the constant beeping of smart phone news updates, reports of rampant stupidity are just a YouTube away. Athletes and celebrities spout off on Twitter and lose endorsements and jobs voicing web-footed animals within hours of their ill-advised rants.

Gilbert Gottfried, no longer a Duck

But technology only magnifies what has existed for years - the innate ability for people to stick their foot in their mouths in a moment of uncertainty and stress.

Today there's a report that Lars von Trier has been banned from the Cannes' film festival for blowing it the old fashioned way - by speaking off-the-cuff in an interview, trying to be funny, but revealing a bit too much about himself. Invoking the name of Hitler is always a dangerous road. Joking about him is near suicidal in the arena of public opinion.

Lars von Trier

Off-the-cuff speaking can be intimidating, humiliating, damaging, and dangerous. It can also reveal moments of helpful honesty, insightful information, and spontaneous brilliance. How do you help create more of the latter than the former?

1. Pause. Don't just say (or Twitter) the first thing that comes to mind. A few seconds of silence isn't a bad thing in this situation, and won't even be noticed in most cases.

2. Restate or Reframe the Question. This buys time, improves understanding, and helps you formulate an appropriate answer.

3. Use Periods. Instead of a long, run on answer, be willing to stop. The second between sentences could be a second for you to use better judgment.

4. Shut Up. If you feel yourself going on a tangent - be willing to stop talking. Just say - "but let's not go there" and put the interviewer back on the spot.

5. Practice. If you're in these situations often, drill yourself ahead of time for potential question and answers. In the kitchen, in the car, in the shower - anywhere but in front of the microphone. Inexpensive practice in front of a less judgmental audience than a horde of reporters can be found at a Toastmasters near you.

As speakers, we spend a great deal of time carefully crafting every word we say on stage.

As humans in today's communication-driven society, we must now, more than ever before, work at crafting what we say in them moment, as well. We must Think, Speak, & Deliver.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oops! Speakers, Get Your Facts Straight

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." — Martin Luther King Jr.

A few weeks ago, in the wake of the U.S. SEAL team's successful mission to capture/execute Osama Bin Laden, this was one of the most retweeted and facebooked quotes on the web.

Turns out, he only said part of it - the first sentence is not his. (For a great story going into how this happened - click here.)


There is an old motivational story about a man locked in a refrigerated boxcar, who left a journal describing his slow torturous death. The next day he is found dead, despite the car not actually being powered up. He froze to death because he believed he froze to death.

Powerful stuff. Also not true.


And, of course, there's the old story about the Yale (sometimes Princeton) Goals Study - how the 3 percent of the 1953 graduating class with written goals out earned the other 97 percent combined later in their careers. Another great example that is too good to be true - but has been passed around so long between Ziglar, Tracy, Rohn, Robbins, et al - that it is considered fact. It's not true, either.


It's easy to use stories and quotes from others. It saves us time, makes us look researched, and often makes our point stick with the audience.

In today's copy and paste world, our borrowed thoughts may suffer from a worldwide game of telephone, leaving what comes out the other side warped, incomplete, or downright wrong.

It is our responsibility as speakers to validate and attribute our borrowed material - our responsibility to our audiences and ourselves. While its not always possible to trace a quote to its original source (many quotes have been attributed to multiple people over the years), we still need to find a way to verify that the person we say said it actually did.

When we simply take quotes and stories at face value, we risk a loss in credibility and risk providing our audience with misguided principles. Just because a lot of people believe something to be true, doesn't make it so. Even if, as Brian Tracy said about the Yale Goals study, "it should be."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Do You Feel A Draft?

I was looking through my posts over the last year and a half, and realized something. My blogger dashboard is a bit drafty. I have many posts that I started, but either wasn't in the mood to finish, or I was waiting for a moment when I had more time, or I needed to get additional material.

This is both good and bad. Good that I at least wrote something down, and can come back to it later. Bad that at least one draft is over a year old, and I rarely think to go find a half-started post and finish it.

While everyone tends to have ideas they leave orphaned, only to find they've blossomed elsewhere, often to the tune of millions of dollars - writers and speakers have a special way of torturing themselves. Moleskins, legal pads, sticky notes. Emails to ourselves, story logs, long lists of starred internet stories and sites for 'future reference'. We go that one extra step of keeping our great ideas saved for posterity thinking that we'll get back to them soon - when the time is 'right'.

We do this because we're supposed to - we're all brilliant, and you never know where we'll be when we get the next great idea. They say they created Rite in the Rain products for the military and outdoorsmen, but it's really for those of us who get our best ideas in the shower!

This week, I'm going to go back into my 'savings' and finish a few of those posts. I'm going to drag out my story log and see what new stories I can use to freshen up some of my speeches. Who knows, all those ideas might add up into something amazing!

Where do you keep your great ideas? It's May 16th. A special day called TODAY. Take advantage of today, and go find them again, and decide to use at least one this week. Before they all blow away for good.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: The Big Stage

Is it finally LeBron's time? LeBron James has made it back to the Eastern Conference finals, this time with the Miami Heat, leaving Cleveland and his legion of hometown fans behind. He still has to get past the Bulls, and likely the Dallas Mavericks, on the NBA's Big Stage - The Finals - in order to fulfill his youthful ordainment as King James, but many say this is the year.

This time of year, many Toastmasters are saying the same thing. LeBron has essentially gotten himself out of District - and is heading to the semifinals, in hopes of another shot at the big stage and the big trophy. 

About half the Toastmaster Districts have crowned their champions for the semi-finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking in Las Vegas the third week in August, with the rest to be crowned in the next 3 weeks. Every year, 81 winners compete for the 9 finalist spots on the final Saturday morning of the Toastmasters Int'l Conference, where one will be crowned champion. (Yes, I know, the current format is only two years old, but work with me here...)

Did you compete this year? Are you still competing? Are you watching your friends fret and sweat and practice as they compete? As if speaking in public isn't frightening enough to most, whose idea was it to pit speakers against each other, leaving 29,999 losers in the search for a final winner? Well - its not quite that bad - but it is a bit daunting when you think about it.

I have been among that large group of losers 9 of the last 11 years. I took a year off, and I'm still alive, just barely, this year. I've lasted a long time most years - getting to the semi-finals six times, and the Finals twice, but, like LeBron, I have fallen short, just like the other 29,999 competitors worldwide. 

Competition, win or lose, has been a wonderful teacher for me over the years. Without it, I would never have spoken professionally, chosen to go out and coach others, or learned to Speak & Deliver.

In 2006, I experienced my best finish - third in the world, with Douglas Wilson finishing second, and Ed Hearn taking home the Holy Grail of Toastmasters Speaking. After the championship, the three of us wrote a book - Win, Place, & Show.

It features all nine of our speeches from the contest rounds, in the format we worked from when we wrote them (Douglas was a stickler for stage direction), and includes our personal stories from the journey - how we dealt with doubt, evaluations, pressure, health issues, and victory along the way.

I've turned it into an ebook, and its available for the next six days (right up until my conference next week, where I will once again compete to reach the semifinals against 5 other tremendous speakers from CO, NE, and WY) for only $10. 

Even if you aren't competing - the speeches themselves (at least Ed's and Douglas') are worth thirty-seven times the investment in and of themselves. Inspiring, funny, and memorable - and a tremendous teaching tool for you, your hyper-competitive friends, and your Toastmasters club.

If you are still competing - hopefully you aren't experiencing the pressure Mr. James is under. Go out, have fun, and remember you get the chance to change the mood, opinion, and actions of your audience. And if you lose, no one is going to drop beer on you as you head to the tunnel!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ask Your Future Into Existence

"How do I get speaking gigs?"

This is a primary question for speakers just getting themselves started in the business. It feels like an 800 lb gorilla. We go through so much preparation work to make sure we're a good speaker, that we have a great message, and that our website looks just so - and then we're left with nowhere to speak.

There are lots of options out there for free speaking opportunities (gigs is so 'Wedding Singer' - be above that term). Service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis. Local associations always looking for their monthly speakers. Low hanging fruit, where a home run speech may land you more audiences.

You can spend a fortune on one-sheets, brochures, and a demo video of you in front of an audience, assuming you can get one together - then spend another fortune getting in front of people you think will pay you to speak. If you've got two fortunes to spend, you might consider this option, but its still far from guaranteed.

You can even roll the dice on a 'free' seminar - you book the venue, provide the food, and hope people come flocking in to hear you inspire them to change their lives by buying your book and cd set. You DO have a book and CD set, right? (insert facetiousness warning)

The easiest step most people miss is free, and can be amazingly effective. Speak about the fact that you speak. Tell your friends. Tell your boss. Tell your church. Tell your Toastmasters club, your chamber of commerce contacts, and even your drinking buddies. Go to networking groups, and tell them. Tell your Facebook friends, your Twitter tweeps, and your Linked In contacts.

If people don't know you speak, if they haven't heard you even speak about the fact that you speak, you may as well be sitting in your house knitting - you'll get the same number of speaking opportunities.

Once people know you can speak, you'll be amazed how quickly they will get you in touch with the people they know, and the people the people they know know, etc. Especially if you take the NEXT step. It's a concept that may be tough to swallow: after you speak - you ASK them to help you find places to speak!!

After a few initial opportunities - you'll have a good gauge of how well you are able to Speak & Deliver in front of a real live audience - by how many people you didn't know before start referring you to their friends.

ASK. SPEAK. DELIVER....and repeat.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Everyone's Got an Angle

Last night, during our Mother's Day family meeting, I asked each of my six kids to tell their mother something they love about her. The answers were pretty cool, and each came from their own personal angle of importance.

"I love Mommy's hugs" - 3 year old Brooklyn
"I love Mommy's kisses" - 6 year old Riker
"I love Mommy's hugs AND kisses!" - 8 year old Rachel
"I love that Mommy loves us, even when she's angry" - 10 year old Riley
"I love Mom's Thriving attitude - that no matter what she tries to look at the good side of life" - 15 year old Bailey

Then it's 13 year old Braden's turn: "I love Mom's nachos!" It didn't stop there - he listed off about 10 other of Mom's culinary masterpieces before he was done. Braden has a great sense of humor, but he also knows what he likes - and that's what he focused on. Of all the things Mom does for him and our family, cooking was his number one.

That's an audience of six kids talking. What do you think your audience of 25, 100, or 500 adults are thinking about you? Different types of people will leave with different take-aways from your presentation, and you only have so much control over what those will be from person to person. In every case, they will take away what they feel is important to them.

It might be a particular phrase. They may remember your humor, or a story that stood out to them. Others are remembering a Power Point slide, a prop you might have used, or even a memorable gesture. Is every angle of your presentation focused on your overall message?

Even though Braden may have seemed a bit off-topic, he was still keyed in to his Mom's main message: Love. He just focused on it from a different angle - sustaining and care-taking love, vs. affection or example.

The more ways you give them to reach your main message, the more people you will touch. How many angles can your audience reach your message from? How many angles are you considering when you prepare your presentation? Everyone is coming from a slightly different direction. To Speak & Deliver, it is your job to find every way possible to lead them to the same horizon point.

Even if you have to make great Nachos to get them there!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Rebranding Could Change Everything

There's been a lot of debate on the internet boards about the upcoming rebranding effort in Toastmasters International. People always worry about change, and there's worry about costs for clubs, freedom of District expression, and, of course, whether or not the logo should keep the gavels in today's electronic age.

Toastmasters says it wants to create a more consistent perception of the organization and its benefits across the board, and feels that a change in graphics will help accomplish that goal. Specifically, they feel the change in look will:

  • - Accurately set and maintain the public’s perception of Toastmasters.
  • - Expand the organization's reach into emerging markets.
  • - Reduce the volunteer leaders’ workload by providing brand guidelines to use when creating materials.
  • - Garner more recognition and media coverage.
  • - Become the consistently recognized world leader in leadership and communication development.
  • - Create a more consistent member experience, regardless of geography.
       (from the TI Website)

Today, Toastmasters graphic identity is all over the map. District websites look wildly different from one another, as do the individual club sites. Even the logo offers many variations - not all of which have ever been sanctioned by Toastmasters itself.

Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, rebranding is going to occur. I believe it will take awhile to trickle down to the club level, much as the FreeToastHost club internet site directive has done, but in 5 years, most of the members and potential members of Toastmasters will know us primarily by whatever new look TI puts together - gavels or no.

For all the power a new logo may have for the organization, and for all the wide-reaching goals the organization has set for itself, I suggest that rebranding needs to go deep as well as wide. Deeper into our clubs and individual members - to go beyond how we look on paper - and into the mindset of every Toastmaster.

Let's rebrand the perception of being a Toastmaster Speaker. I've talked about the differences between Toastmasters speaking and real-world speaking before, and I even wrote a post in 2009 about not letting Toastmasters hurt you in 2010 (you can bet my friends on the board were less than thrilled with that title, until, hopefully, they read further...).

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone say "you can tell they are a Toastmaster" in a derogatory way, I'd be rich in more than just my name.

For all the tremendous training Toastmasters offers, it also has a reputation for creating the 'Toastmasters Style' in speakers. Speakers who get used to the rhythm of a 5-7 minute speech, to shaking the hand of an introducer, to using overblown gestures, to talking 'at' the audience instead of 'with' them, to having a general tendency to 'go over the top', to getting praised for almost anything they do in their speech beyond fainting altogether.

The Toastmasters style is tough to completely describe, and has as many combinations as the TI logo, but you know it when you see it. 

It's a combination of tone, stance, and speech construction that comes with delivering speech after speech to loving audiences that don't tend to give much feedback beyond the evaluator, who may or may not be able to evaluate with the precision and power the speaker really needs. "Amateurs coaching amateurs" is the phrase I repeatedly hear in the professional speaking arena. And, it's true, and still, for the most part, it works.

Toastmasters accomplishes its goal of getting people in front of an audience and enabling them to put together a string of sentences intelligibly for 5-7 minutes, even if they came to their first meeting unable to complete a one minute table topic. This is a wonderful achievement.

Once we've gone through the basic manual, what if we took it a step further? What if each of us, individually, rebranded who we are as a Toastmaster? Instead of pursuing Toastmasters for the sake of Toastmasters, for the next level of awarded achievement, a best speaker ribbon, or even a contest victory, we used Toastmasters and its treasure trove of tools to become a better speaker in the REAL WORLD?

How would this change the way you approached each speech? How would it affect your topic choice? How would it change you as an evaluator? Could you be a better mentor? Would you ask better questions of YOUR mentor?

Toastmasters offers a top of the line workshop, with virtually every available tool at our fingertips. Yet most of us spend our time building basic birdhouses - because we get rewarded for completing a project, whether we improve much from our last one or not. In general, the expectations put upon us are too low - and those expectations start from within.

The awards and the ribbons and the trophies and the leadership offices should not simply be a completion on our checklist - but a natural outgrowth of our desire to improve. Instead of writing our speeches in our cars before we walk into the building, we prepare them with the intent of it being our best effort yet. Instead of giving the same old evaluations, we work with our speakers to find out how we can better guide them in achieving their goals outside the meeting as well as inside the manual. Instead of just going through the motions, making the most of each opportunity in our meetings to improve as speakers, regardless of the role.  

You may be saying to yourself, "Rich, I do all those things - you're not talking about me." If you're reading my blog, you're probably right - you're more proactive and interested in learning than the average TM. But look around you. Are you showing others around the workshop? Are you raising the level of your club dynamic? Are you taking an active role in preventing the creation of yet another 'Toastmaster Speaker'? 

I'm certainly guilty of going through the motions at times. And just when I thought I had reached my highest point in Toastmasters, I realized that's exactly where I was - the highest point IN TOASTMASTERS. I was a terrific Toastmasters speaker. But there is more available to us than that in our organization.

Toastmasters purpose is not to create great Toastmasters. It's to create great communicators. That's the rebranding I'd like to see. A rebranding within each one of us. A change in our personal perception of what it means to be a Toastmaster, and a Toastmasters Speaker. Until we rebrand THAT concept in our heads, many in our organization will never get past the birdhouse. 

Take a new blueprint to your next meeting. Pick up that soldering iron for the first time. Start taking yourself, and those in your club, to a new level. When we never have to hear the words "Yeah, you can tell he's in Toastmasters" uttered with a sarcastic groan again, our organization will have accomplished something much more important than standardizing our websites, business cards, and lecterns. 

It will have proven that Toastmasters does indeed teach people to Speak...& Deliver.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Burden of Proof: A Speaker's Responsibility

We got him! Osama bin Laden is swimming with the fishes, according to military officials, and out of our hair forever. Or is he? There is already a faction of non-believers forming. Buried at sea? How convenient. Just got him now, on the heels of low approval ratings and Birther rants? Sure we did. Prove it!

No, I don't want to start a debate here on whether we actually got bin Laden or not. The point is that we are a world that demands proof, whether we're discussing place of birth for the oval office, proof of age for buying alchohol and getting into R rated movies, or even the veracity of public speakers.

Yes, you as a speaker are expected to offer proof. Proof that what you are saying is true, has the value you promise, and will work for the audience hearing it. What does that mean, exactly? Are we to bring in our paystubs? Bring in people who we've led to the promised land? Release pictures of the body?

Well.....maybe - and maybe not.

7 Ways to offer proof from the Stage

Implied Proof:

Existence - the fact that you are there offers proof that someone, somewhere, for some reason felt you already offered proof, and the audience generally works under the assumption of proven until proven unproven.

Demeanor - your confidence on stage will reveal the existence of proof of what you say, even if you never offer it. Confidence often substitutes for proof in politics, sales, and relationships. What that confidence is based on will eventually reveal itself.

Physical Presentation - Sam Walton offers a famous example of a rich man not caring about his physical presentation, often being seen in overalls and a John Deere hat, as legend goes. You are not Sam Walton. Your outfit offers proof of both your success and your confidence in yourself.

Actual Proof:

Introduction - while you don't want you introduction to be a laundry list of your awards and achievements, adding in a relevant or recent accomplishment can give the audience an anchor point for your credibility.

Storytelling - the stories you choose will often reveal your veracity. If you use the same stories they've heard for years, or just last Sunday in church, you are only proving you listen to other speakers. Use your stories, and prove your experience. Use stories that prove the use of your information, and you prove your message.

Leave Behinds - The information you provide on leave-behind material can provide concrete references, websites to visit, and depth of detail into your subject. Don't lead with them, however, or you may find yourself faced with an audience of heads buried in their handouts.

Products - Got a book? A CD? A DVD? Instant proof - at least further proof than the occasion of the speech. It means you've given your message before, and have enough confidence in it to sell it.

President Obama has refused to release 'death pictures' or video of the burial at sea, stating to CBS that "We don't need to spike the football" - and I think that's fair.

You will always run into people who don't believe in your message, or in you. More often than not, those people often don't believe in themselves, either - which means your message won't work for THEM.

As speakers, though, a bit of a celebratory dance is needed, as long as its done with the intent of benefiting the audience, by offering proof to them of what we're offering them, be it inspiration, finding a better career or relationship, or making efficient use of their time.

Of course, none of this proof will matter in the long run if what the speaker is saying isn't actually true - if their methods aren't effective, the promise isn't real, or the product is garbage. 

The integrity of your proof will reflect the integrity you possess. Many are willing to speak on broken promises, pipe dreams, and miracle cures. Their proof sparkles and glitters, but fades in the face of reality.

Provide your audience with proof of all kinds, implied or actual, but ALWAYS REAL - and you will be one of the few who Speak....and Deliver.

Speaking of Religion - Part II

Last week, in Speaking of Religion - Part I, I put forth a question about how speakers handle religion in their speeches. The response I got was interesting, to say the least.

Religion vs. Spirituality

Some argued over the term religion, and suggested spirituality was a better point of discussion for inclusion in speeches. Nina John, from the Chenai area in India, quoted one of her students, who made a profound remark "where religion ends spirituality begins".

This argument seemed semantic to me, but many felt strongly that religion and spirituality held very different territories - religion demarcating spirituality into smaller territories and more specific belief systems which made adding to a speech more problematic. Spirituality was more general, and allowed greater leeway.

Know Your Audience

The overwhelming recommendation came in the statement: know your audience. fellow speaking coach Lisa Braithwaite suggested asking yourself - "how does it benefit the audience, or provide value and tools relevant to the topic, to include your personal religious beliefs in the presentation?" - and suggested "different kinds of presentations allow for different kinds of personal expression."

Is your audience in need of hearing about your convictions for your to get your basic message across? Will you offend people? My friend Amelia put it this way - If I want a new hairstyle, I'll go to a salon. If I want to preach or be preached too, I'll go to church. I do not force my religious principles on others, and I do not appreciate others forcing theirs on me. I feel the same way about politics. 

Change your Language

Can you change spiritual language to a less 'charged' vocabulary and make the same point? Instead of invoking God, many invoke creator or universal force. Instead of mentioning Jesus, they say 'the Prophet' or 'the Great Storyteller'.

David Goad mentioned making a small change in his speech - from "Sometimes God sends us reminders that we are not alone" to "Sometimes we receive reminders that we are not alone." - which he felt made it more accessible. Still others said that ADDING scriptural references increased the impact of their speeches.


This post also brought out a large contingent of Atheist discussions on my Facebook page. Comments ranged from "It doesn't bother me" to "why should I have to hear your spiritual views when I can't express my atheist views without being attacked."

My Thoughts

I can certainly see the value in the perspectives listed above. They make sense, particularly from a business standpoint. In particular, knowing your audience is a vital component to being a successful speaker. 

But I'm going to suggest that the solution to this issue begins earlier - that is, Know Your Self. 

Judi Rogers commented on Linked In: My mother used to quote Shakespeare to me: "To thine own self be true.." and I believe that includes your feelings on religion as well. It is very hard to ignore when it's so much a part of your life..and shouldn't be denied. It's part of our being and certainly our walk! However, you can include it in a non-threatening way...perhaps by saying something like "have you discovered that wonderful peace in your life??" You are not accusing or blaming, just speaking on a personal basis. Whenever I have done this, it receives nothing but positive feedback. It is hard to deny your own PERSONAL story! Or the repeating of someone else's story. If doesn't have to point out any particular denomination or persuasion--just the positive influence on your life or the "hero of your story."

Whether the matter at stake is religion, spirituality, or atheism, you must know yourself well enough to determine what you want to do with it as a speaker. Do you feel called to speak about it in your speech, regardless of the consequences? Do you feel compelled to share your God no matter the situation? Do you feel it is your mission in life to stop others from wasting their time in a false belief system about some old man in the sky? Then talk about it.

Its unlikely that many of us fall into the above categories. We are surrounded by teachings of political correctness and tolerance (two terms Lisa Braithwaite accurately describes as mocking true acceptance of actual differences), and are often uncomfortable with putting our beliefs on display in everyday life in general, much less on stage.

Even those of us with strong evangelical backgrounds worry about sabotaging our careers by talking about our faith, and unless we're in front of a faith-based audience, can easily justify sticking to the topic without adding any spiritual spice.

But until we come to terms with our own 'calling', our own take on how we share our theism or atheism, are we really being true to ourselves

Not everyone is called to evangelize their point of view - but if you ARE - that should be OK, and should be your first consideration. It may cost you business, and it may give you challenges when adding it into presentations, but it will ultimately give you more satisfaction knowing you are being true to yourself as a speaker.

Crazy advice, I suppose, in the eyes of most. But it all depends on what is most important to YOU to Speak & Deliver.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Speaking of President Obama

I was so pumped up yesterday watching the videos from President Obama's White House Correspondents Dinner speech - there were so many things he did well in his speech, and a couple places he (and his writers) could have provided greater impact.

First of all, he had some great jokes and jibes throughout the speech - the dinner is designed as a bit of a roast for everyone in attendance, and everything he said was justifiable in the moment. Overall it was very effective - from the videos to the Matt Damon to the 'doubts' cast on his potential opponent true nationality to his sarcasm-laden compliments of Donald Trump. While he went light on his actual 'political' opponents, he went for the jugular on "The Donald", in front of a crowd that clearly didn't hold Mr. Trump in high-esteem.

What didn't work quite as well - the supposed topper in the midst of his Trump riff - the picture of the White House if Trump were to move in. He had reached such a crescendo with the 'decisions that would keep me up at night' comment, that this, despite drawing laughter, seemed anti-climactic. Humor is always a risk, of course. The well-produced King's Speech spoof, went on a bit too long, and offered some uncomfortable moments more fitting for Michael Scott than the President and VP, though it offered a great send-up of movie previews in general, perhaps unintentionally.

While many still see President Obama as a superstar speaker, I have always a hard time with his halting style. His timing with his humor was off in countless places - punching the wrong word and failing to pick up the pace when humor fell flat. He chuckled at much of his own humor, which appeared  either self-serving or indicated it was the first time he'd seen it in front of him.

His transition at the end, however, was delivered well. His change in demeanor, from his facial expressions to the edge in his voice, was wholly appropriate, and brought the audience into an entirely different state of mind.

Overall - it was a great oratorical victory for him when he needed one desperately. He appeared human, he skewered his opposition, and he paid tribute to our military in one 20 minute speech.

What a great blog post this was going to be - as I delved into a minute by minute analysis of humor in leadership. And then, it all changed.

This 'victory' speech showed the strength in tone we have been looking for in our leader, whether we agree with him or not. He took the high road in his tone, despite having just struck a mighty blow in the name of the United States. He gave us a description of how we did it. He honored those who accomplished it and those who died in 9/11 and their families. He reminded us gently that we don't oppose Islam. He even ended with a patriotic excerpt from the Pledge of Allegiance, including the 'under God' portion, without looking like a gloating, red, white, and blue fanatic.

This speech was both well-written and well-delivered, and showed that when he is put in a position to speak on an event carrying this much weight, he is up to the task.

In addition, it makes the dinner speech that much more impressive, when we realize he was the only one in the room knowing how close we were to finding Osama bin Laden, and the risks we were taking to get him, even as he invoked the names of Meatloaf and Gary Busey in the same sentence.

Still, did our President Speak & Deliver this weekend. I still have my reservations about him being a great speaker, regardless of his politics.

It appears that when the pressure is on, President Obama can really Speak & Deliver. Unfortunately, I wonder if he doesn't put enough pressure on himself in his other settings? Does he not realize his every word will carry weight and endure scrutiny? Or does he simply choose not to care unless the situation is important enough to him to do so?


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