A lesson from the GOAT

You will win some and lose some, we can’t win them all!

As long as we have life, we will have bigger and bigger battles to fight. You will win some and lose some, we can’t win them all, but the secret to success in life is – you must pick your battle carefully. That was the life lesson I got when I met the GOAT, The Greatest of All Times – Muhammed Ali, on a Monday morning in the summer of 1989. A Monday morning that would change my life forever.

I was about to step into the elevator at the Lincoln Building in Manhattan, New York, as I did every work day for the past fifteen years. Suddenly, the door began closing slowly when a giant hand reached out. The door sprung open. I looked up to thank the perfect stranger, only to realize that he was no stranger.

Standing majestically in front of the marquee was Ali. I stepped back; he said, “get in! what floor you’re going to?”  Like he was the elevator operator. Now, this is no table topic question, but tell me what you would have said or done. I froze, then whispered – I’ll take the fifty-second, please, sir – as I stepped into my neutral corner in the elevator – bewildered.  

At that moment, a little voice popped into my head, screaming don’t say anything stupid. Still, the motor in my mouth started running. I know you. Ali -No, you don’t. Then silence until my engine revved again. So, I see you are going to the thirty-sixth floor – The Banquet Hall? Ali Yep! – To retire again, Champ! It’s over – it’s over, Champ!

The GOAT did not like my comment. Like a caged lion, he growled, spun around, and came at me with his clenched fist, screaming – No! It’s over for you! Get them up! – I shall return! Luckily for me, the elevator bell tolled for his floor just then. It was only when Ali stumbled out of that elevator in stitches I realized that the world’s greatest prankster had just pranked me. Yes, he got me good. Like Elvis, I was all “shook up.”

We immediately realized that the thirty-sixth floor was in darkness, except for a dimly lit red sign – EXIT. And that was not the reception we both had expected, so I offered my services. Jokingly, I said Champ, I can stay and protect you. I know this building well. Oh! Ali replied, now you want to be my bodyguard. OK – And we began chatting, not like a prince and a pauper, but like two mere mortals. We spoke about some of his fights going back to the first I against Sonny Liston.

As we spoke, Ali kept looking at his watch. I told him my dad was his biggest fan. He asked who’s your dad. – Big George – I said. Ali growled – I hate that name, George. But I could tell he was uneasy about something. Ali then said, yes, today is the day. Looking at his watch again, he said, “I’ll finally be announcing my retirement to the world at seven am today.” And it was then I got my life lesson.

Soon after, his entourage arrived. And I was tickled when he introduced me as his newfound bodyguard. We all had a good laugh as his photographer Bingham, took pictures. What I remember most about that morning was Ali’s reflective mood. He finally realized that he had reached the end of fighting many battles inside and even outside the ring. Of all the pictures we took that day, I will always cherish the one when he gave me his secret to success. Again, the little voice in my head said -listen and lean. – this is not an accidental meeting. Ali is your messenger!

Ali didn’t know that I, too, was fighting a child custody battle within. I was at that building at six thirty that morning because I couldn’t sleep. I struggled for weeks with a major life-changing decision that I knew could even land me in prison. But, after that meeting with Ali that morning, I knew what I had to do. And one month later, I was driving to San Jose, leaving all my earthly positions behind to start life all over.  

Before that day, I had never driven further than New Jersey. Five days later, I arrived in San Jose shaken. It was the day after the Loma Perata earthquake. To this day, my grown kids still say – Dad, when California heard you were coming, the earth shook. My child custody battles were many. But I never lost the most important of them all, the custody of my children.  

My friends, if ever you are faced with a life-changing decision, remember this secret I got from the GOAT- As long as we have life, we will have bigger and bigger battles to fight. You will win some and lose some, we can’t win them all, but the secret to success in life is – you must pick your battle – carefully.“ It is a message that changed my life and could also change yours forever.

Public Speaking Tips for Beginners

“Talking is a necessity. Public Speaking is an art.”

Public speaking is feared by many and even by professionals at times. However, when you’re a business owner, executive, or even a student, you must stand in front of an audience to speak with poise and purpose. I hope these tips will help you overcome this fear of speaking in public so that you can tell your stories to the masses as you become a better speaker in public. As the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking – David Brooks, has often said: “Talking is a necessity. Public Speaking is an art.” It is an art developed with practice to achieve excellence, not perfection.

Accept your nervousness.

Being nervous is okay, even if you are an experienced public speaker. It happens not to some but to us all. We all get cold feet and shaky hands from time to time. To overcome anxiety, expect it, prepare for it, and get down to the root of why you are anxious in the first place. According to the National Social Anxiety Center, it can help to reframe how you think about freezing on stage. Before you choose a fight or flight response, practice beginning with a smile as you breathe. Make smiling and breathing the first thing you practice as a speaker. How and what you practice becomes permanent, so having the right place to practice is invaluable.

Create a peaceful environment at home.

One of the first things you can do as a speaker is to have a private space where you feel safe and secure to practice and express your emotions freely. Having a stress-free quiet room begins by keeping it clean and decluttered. If possible, add a few living plants. Bring some of Mother Nature’s magic into your room. Studies have shown that inviting nature into your living space improves mood and reduces stress. Everything should have its place, and every place should have its space.

Get to know your audience.

According to Sprout Social, the term niche marketing is the practice of narrowing down your message to your specific audience. It involves research and knowledge that speaks to those who need to listen. Use the same principle to better communicate with your in-person crowd. Ensure that your content suits your audience’s experience level and understanding. In other words, don’t give a doctorate-level presentation to a group of high school freshmen.

Format your own success.

Your speaker’s blueprint is an idea discussed before. Essentially, this is the time you take before your speech begins to get your thoughts collected. Have a foundational statement ready that helps to build your story. Remember, your message should be clear with points and purpose, leaving your listeners eager to offer applause.

Showcase your personality.

As a form of social anxiety, the fear of speaking may be triggered by not feeling connected to your audience. Taking this even further, you may not feel connected because you don’t feel like you can be yourself. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through, which will help you look and sound more credible throughout your speaking endeavor. However, be cautious not to overdo the humor; Lumen Learning suggests knowing when a laugh is appropriate and when it is not. Humor should be used sparingly and only when you have a good relationship with the person, audience, or group.

Work from an outline.

Although you’ve probably spent days or weeks perfecting what you want to say, now’s not the time to read your cue cards. Speeches are delivered and not read. Instead, get familiar with your subject matter, but remember to look at your audience. The last thing you want your audience to think is you’re distracted or don’t care about making a connection. Maintaining eye contact with your audience also encourages engagement and exudes confidence.

Whether you’re standing up in your high school auditorium, giving a presentation at work, or speaking at a charity event, it’s okay to be nervous. Your audience wants you to succeed, not fail. Give yourself the best chance at a successful speech by accepting that nervousness as part of the journey to your success. Perfection is an illusion. Seek excellence. Excellence is being better today than your experience before. These tips, and others you will discover on your journey, will help you stand up and speak confidently to any audience as you develop into a better Public Speaker.

Written by Ed Carter – Edited By Henry O. Miller DTM4/PDG

Your Speaker’s Blueprint

Every speech should have a Blueprint

Turning your great ideas into an unforgettable speech that inspires others begins with Your Speaker’s Blueprint. Every speech should have a Blueprint – Your plan that answers the following questions – What’s my purpose? How will that purpose impact my listeners? What will it make my audience think, feel or do?

For that reason, some coaches believe the most important minute of your speech is the minute of silence after you have spoken. If a speaker can inspire their audience to jump out of their seat to make a significant change in their life or the lives of others, they have made their case. They have achieved their purpose.

Once a speaker has answered those questions, they can start developing their blueprint by collecting their supporting material. Although the title is always your audience’s first introduction to your speech, it can wait. You can use a placeholder if you wish. Titles are a relatable premise of the speech. As your speech develops, the title often changes.

Focus more on committing your thoughts to paper. Write them all down. The memos of your flashes of creativity often come in handy later in the editing process. I call those jottings – “The Keepers and the Weepers.” Enjoy documenting them all, although you know some of the best lines won’t make the final cut. But where possible, share those creative ideas as were first experienced.

We all have unique ways of speaking in private and public. However, be mindful that it’s not what you say. It’s what your audience hears. Next, develop your Foundational Statement. It should be a tweetable and easily repeatable sentence. All speakers believe that their ideas are great. However, speakers must remember they are preparing a speech for their listeners’ gratification, not theirs.

Therefore, they should also ask themselves why this idea inspired them and why it should inspire others. Will their audience feel what they felt when this idea first popped into their head? And how they should structure their speech to touch all the emotions to which all humans respond.   

Your introduction should capture and engage the attention and imagination of your audience. It should keep your audience focused on your topic. As you write out your speech, deciding on the body parts you wish to engage is a good idea. Will it be the heart for empathy, the head to make your audience think, hands or feet to get your audience moving?

Whichever you choose is fine. However, your choice should always transition smoothly to the body of the speech. The body is where the speaker develops and expands their point, purpose, and proposition. If you don’t have a purpose, you don’t have a speech. Also, there should be a message in your purpose.

To make your message crystal clear, you can tell a story to make your point. Many coaches teach the secret to public speaking is you make a point, then tell a story –  or tell a story to make a point. You then repeat the process over and over.

From your opening to the conclusion, your point, purpose, proposition, and message should echo through the delivery of your speech. One world champion calls it your scarlet ribbon that runs through the body. Varying how you deliver your B1, B2, & B3 will keep your audience focused on your message as you build to your big takeaway. That takeaway is what some coaches call your Magic Moment. The moment that will turn an excellent speech into one that is immortal.

To avoid ambiguity, your structure should be a single introduction, moving to the body of the presentation. Then, to close, choose your final words carefully—end with a single conclusion, and make sure your last words linger in the minds of your audience. We all have our preferred speech-writing model. Call it whatever you wish. It is Your Speaker’s Blueprint. A popular model we are all familiar with is the “Tell Them Model,” – Where -you tell your audience what you’re going to tell them – You tell them – Then you tell them what you told them. Use that model to check your script for clarity.

From the moment a speaker steps onto the platform, pause and begin reading the audience. However, the closing is where you will seal the deal. Many deals are lost because the speaker didn’t realize their audience is sold. Your audience tells you silently if you made a good connection and you have made your case.

While it is difficult to receive feedback over Zoom, it is possible. Remember, a smile is just a frown turned upside down. If you can see your audience, focus briefly on the frowns; the decenters and move on. If your audience is not visible, use carefully placed pauses and rhetorical questions as check-ins during your delivery.  

Nothing is built without a solid plan or blueprint. Your blueprint does not have to be fancy. If your written plan serves as your guide to help you stay focused on your plot, it is your blueprint. If it increases the effectiveness of the connection with your audience, it is your blueprint. Create a blueprint for your next speech. Experience the joy of turning your next great idea into an unforgettable moment for you and your audience. And remember, all great speeches begin and end with – Your Speaker’s Blueprint.

Are You Wagging Your Tall Tale

Traditional tall tales are closely associated with folklore

The contest season has begun for many Toastmasters. This Spring, Districts will feature International and Tall Tale speeches. And if you are wondering what’s a Tall Tale, or thinking of wagging one, it is a highly exaggerated, improbable story that can leave some members of your audience screaming, “liar, liar pants on fire,” – while others are questioning – could that story be true? Tell me more.

A tall tale is a narrative of events that have happened or are imagined by the speaker. It can also be a short story, actual or fictitious. It could be valid information, gossip, a rumor, a falsehood, or one big fat lie. But wagging a Tall Tale in front of an audience can be a fun experience. Like any good story, a Tall Tale should have all the elements of a speech. It should have a theme and a plot. In addition, it can include bits of humor and props to bring your story to life. Any speaker can turn one of their five to seven-minute speeches into a three to five-minute Tall Tale. All they need is an understanding of the elements that makes a speech memorable.

Traditional tall tales are closely associated with folklore. It’s a story that could include animals, men, women, children, and larger-than-life characters. If you grew up in America, I am sure you must have heard of the famous exploits of Paul Bunyan, who hollered and scared all the fish out of the rivers and streams. And the frogs that had to wear earmuffs so they won’t go deaf when Paul screamed for his breakfast. Many wild stories about Davy Crockett and Johnny Appleseed are excellent examples of your traditional Tall Tales written by the Brothers Grimm and Hana Christian Andersen.

In the West Indies, where I grew up, our equivalent was J O Cutteridge, whose First Primer started our conditioning in kindergarten. He even convinced us that a cow could jump over the moon and made a pig dance a jig for a fig. We learned well, and some even excelled. Many of us began as kids mimicking those nursery rhymes, telling “little white lies” or fibs. Today, some of us can twist facts into unbelievable stories with a straight face and are masters at creating “fake news.” Now I am not speaking from experience, merely observation. However, detecting their truth from fiction can be exhausting.

Toastmasters promote the telling of tall tales because they encourage speakers to let their imaginations run wild. They challenge speakers to expand their creativity and ability to become better storytellers. My introduction to Tall Tales was in 1999. That speech was entitled Hell’s Paradise. It took me to the District 4 Conference Contest, which I won. In that speech, I spoke about the micro and soft companies dominating the software markets of the eighties and nineties. I didn’t name any names. However, I am sure you got my drift. I also spoke about how their rival company behaved similarly to Adam when he was in the Garden of Eden, offering a forbidden fruit that was rotten to the core. I developed “Hell’s Paradise on the premise technology will someday take control of our lives. And look at where we are today. What was once fiction is fast becoming a reality.

Writing and delivering that speech was fun. Although I wanted to impress the judges, I focused more on entertaining my audience. When developing a Tall Tale, the way you string your ideas together for the audience to understand is most important. A good Tall Tale speech immediately grabs your audience’s attention. It should continue to keep them engaged as you build to a conclusion. Recognizable figures of speech, when skillfully placed, will impress your judges and audience. Those embellishments include hyperbole, irony, puns, contrast, and a surprising twist. But they must be delivered in good taste. Use voice modulation extensively to maintain that connection with your audience when speaking to the head, heart, and body. 

The release of tension created is essential. While it’s great to get your audience at the edge of their seat questioning, is that possible? Your next step is to give them a breather. Walk them off the cliff before you begin to wag your tale one more time. And as you close, don’t forget the story’s message or the moral of the story. If an animal is your main character, remember animals cannot speak, but they can teach us a thing or two. We speak for them to tell their stories, for their stories to become Tall Tales. Speak as your character would. Lend them your voice and let your audience fill in the missing pieces so they can become a part of the experience.         

Gathering content for your tall tale today is not as challenging as it used to be. With the advent of social media, wild stories abound. Today’s many famous and infamous heroes are known to us all, however, a word of caution. Lifting a story from social media that is overused, well-known, or controversial is usually not well-received by audiences. So be original, be bold – be authentic with your brand of style and substance. And you and your audience will have fun as you wag that Tall Tale.

Let’s Talk Public Speaking

All speaking in public is Public Speaking!

Is there a difference between talking, speaking, and Public Speaking? I, like many, have mused upon that question. Daily, we use signs and language to communicate. Although the differences are in how or when we talk and speak, the “why” or purpose is the same. The goal when we speak is to communicate effectively with others. As one of my friends often says, you might as well be speaking to a wall if you are not communicating. However, I do believe good Public Speaking begins with proper breathing.  

When we breathe life into our words, there is a connection with whoever is listening. But first, let’s take a look at the grammatical differences. According to Webster, the intransitive verb “talk” is expressing or exchanging ideas using spoken words with signs or sounds. The verb “speak” is to utter words or articulate sounds with the ordinary voice to express thoughts, opinions, or feelings orally. But the noun “Public Speaking” is the act or process of making speeches in Public to communicate with audiences. Talking and speaking, privately or publicly, are all interrelated. The subtle differences that exist are in the speaker’s delivery style. Breathing can make a vast difference when speaking privately or publicly.

When talking personally, we pay little attention to breeding. However, Public Speaking requires voice placement to produce different sounds, pitches, and tones. Therefore, it is critical to intake the air needed before starting each sentence. How that air intake is released helps to change the speaker’s tone, accent, and diction. Using a single tone or pitch causes what is called a monotone. A monotone becomes daunting to the ears of listeners. Varying the stress on different words helps audiences stay focused and connected to you and your message.

Speak to the eyes of your audience, and they will know that you care. At the end of each sentence, stop – pause, and take a breath. Some speakers fill what should be a pause or silence with “filler words,”  “ahs,” “ums,” or “you know.” In that moment of silence, the speaker should scan their audience before continuing to speak. Silence is an integral part of the communication process. The speaker can also use their non-verbal communication in those moments to stay connected. An inquiring look or smile can keep any audience engaged. Practice taking that fresh breath of air silently. And those moments can become enjoyable for you and your audience when executed seamlessly.  

One of the goals of Public Speaking is to speak as if you were talking to your friends or stranger. I have even heard coaches describe Public Speaking as being private in public. In a private conversation, the speaker focuses on voicing their opinion, offering information, or confidently making their case. However, everything changes once Public Speaking is mentioned. There is this belief that you must be a speaker to step onto a speaking platform. No! You’ll become a speaker when you seize every opportunity to speak to audiences. As my dear friend Darren LaCroix often says, it takes “stage time, stage time, stage time!” The transformation takes place on the platform.

Experienced speakers will tell you that you will have great success in Public Speaking when you focus on your audience and not yourself. That freedom of expression developed during private conversations and your life experiences provides excellent material for you to share with audiences. All speaking in public is Public Speaking. It certainly was, when you shouted those choice words to that driver who cut you off. When speakers are authentic and can present themselves as relatable human beings, anyone will lend an ear. The ability to appear unscripted and natural is attractive to audiences. When you focus on your audience and not on yourself, you will enjoy speaking from the platform just as much as you do when you talk or speak privately.

So today, I urge you to take another look at your approach to Public Speaking. Speaking is a gift that we should never take for granted. But, unfortunately, many are not so blessed. Talking, speaking, and in particular, Public Speaking, requires a purpose. There must be a “why” when you talk or speak. The only difference between speaking publicly and privately is your delivery. And the development of your delivery all begins with your breathing. Be aware that people will listen to you when you breathe life into your words when you speak. And when you breathe life into words that come from your heart, your message will land in the hearts of your audience.  

Using Quotations

A misplaced or misused quote can be a distraction to your audience.

Quotations! Are you a grateful user or a woeful abuser?  All speakers use quotations for different reasons in their presentations. When placed and used correctly, quotes can achieve the intended effect the speaker seeks. Ironically, just as a quote is often referred to as the price you pay for goods and services, speakers should also be mindful that they pay dearly when quotations are perceived to be misused or abused. Speakers often add quotes in three main areas of their speeches. The most common placements are at the opening of their presentation. When closing to drive home their message. To add credibility to their point of view. Or to reinforce their message. The speaker should also ensure that the focus remains on you and your message, not the person you quoted.

Speakers must remember that when quoting an author or speaker, they are repeating the words taken from an author’s work or a speaker’s speech. As such, two rules should always be maintained. First, the speaker should repeat the quotation as it was precisely written or said.  Second, credit must be given to the author or speaker you are referencing. Break any of those two rules, and your credibility with your audience is destroyed.  No one, dead or alive, likes to be misquoted. A misplaced or misused quote can be a distraction to your audience. Your selection should also be timely, relevant, and well-known to your audience.

Opening with a quotation gives a speaker the latitude to introduce and develop their topic.  A witty introduction can break an audience’s icy steers. A quotation can help a speaker grab their audience’s attention. Quotes can also protect you should anyone take exception to your quote. One technique is to bring the person you are quoting to the platform as your backup. In the minds of the audience, you are not the one speaking. The person mentioned is: Here is an example – Perhaps your presentation is about doctors who keep you waiting even when you have an appointment. Your opening statement can be: Humorist Erma Bombeck suggests “never using a doctor whose plants have died in the waiting room.” You then shift from the person quoted to yourself with a comment or tagline: My first thoughts are always – “Thank God I am not one of their plants.” Immediately, you shift your audience’s attention back to you, the speaker. Also, be sure your audience knows where your quote ends and your words begin. Don’t leave your audience in limbo.

Closing with a quotation is an excellent way to drive home your message. Many presenters use the words of speakers who are no longer with us. A speaker like Sir Winston Churchill, who rallied a nation when the world was at war, is a popular choice.  His words to this day, still inspire audiences to – never give up and to never give in, even in their darkest moments. But it’s always a good idea to revisit your opening statement before closing with a quote.  Elizabeth Dole, in her book – My 500 Favorite Inspirational Quotations, reminded me of the importance of a call to action when closing with this story about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was leaving church one Sunday morning and was asked what he thought of the minister’s sermon. “The minister had a strong voice and a good delivery,” said Lincoln. “But he forgot the most important part of the sermon. He forgot to ask us to do something great.” The lesson – inspire your audience to take action or do something significant before closing with a quotation.

How and when you introduce the words of others to reinforce your ideas, message, or point of view is also crucial. Instead of saying:  Mr. X. or Mrs. Y said XYZ, a better introduction to the quotation could be: As Mr. X or Mrs. Y have often said. In the immortal words of the great Mr. X or Mrs. Y.  Or, today, I echo the words of Mr. or Mrs. Y.  Whenever the opportunity presents itself, using the author or speaker’s voice when delivering their quote often adds a nice touch to your presentation. The flow of your speech should not be disrupted. Your transitions to your selection should be smooth, continuous, and seamless as you proceed with your presentation.  

Every speaker has their favorite quotes. Some are soundbites or stories they wished they were the first to have said.  Over the years, world champions Darren LaCroix and Lance Miller encouraged me to keep a collection of my isms – Henry isms, and I now have quite a collection. Today, I encourage you to do the same.  Someday one of your isms may be just as well-known as one of Aristotle’s, Steve Job’s, or Mia Angelo’s.  My friends, it takes some of us a while to figure out that every speech does not need a quotation.  But if you decide to use one, ensure the person you’re quoting is recognizable, well-liked, and appropriate as you deliver their words of wisdom with gratitude and the reverence their quotation deserves.

Soledad

A promise is a debt you must pay someday

Soledad is a place you don’t want to go to, even if you were invited. It is a State Prison in the Salinas Valley in southern California. At that facility, there’s a Toastmasters Club known as Talk the Line. In 2009 I received an invitation to be a guest speaker. As a district leader, I promised to visit. Who wouldn’t like to speak to a captive audience – wouldn’t you? But I soon realize that some promises are not easily kept.

Every time I thought about making good on my promise, I remembered how badly I felt as a youth after doing concerts with groups for inmates at juvenile facilities. It was difficult to erase the memories of meeting young men and women my age who had lost their way and purpose in life. I still remember asking some of them how they ended up in a place like this. Their most common response was silence or stories that would stain my soul.  

Haunted by my Papa’s words of wisdom that a promise is a debt you must pay someday, I sent gifts to avoid visiting. I encouraged other division leaders to visit.  But nothing eased the pain of not having the courage to go.  Honestly, I feared revisiting that empty feeling I had after visiting those facilities. As the months slipped into years, and I was no longer a district leader, I thought the feeling of being obligated to keep my promise would be gone forever.  Visiting Soledad was fast becoming a long-forgotten memory until a fellow Toastmaster asked me to evaluate one of her contest speeches, and without a second thought, I said yes.  

The speech title was – “Get on the Bus.” It wasabout the memories of her life and times when as an infant and teenager, she had to get on a bus provided by the state every month for the children of incarcerated parents to visit with their kids. She recalled how happy she was to spend a few hours every month with her father.  As a single dad at the time, I was almost moved to tears. After the contest, she called to tell me how well her speech was received. Then said Henry; some of my club members are planning to visit Talk the Line. Would you join us and be a guest speaker? For a moment, I was silent.  I knew then that my someday had arrived. I couldn’t say no; I had to go. It was time to pay my debt.

One week later, an email arrived from the prison. The process had begun. First, I had to answer several questions regarding my eligibility for the visit.  My security clearance came days later with instructions on even the colors of clothing I was not allowed to wear and the scheduled time I must arrive for a mandatory briefing. My friend, sensing my anxiety over the process she had experienced many times in her lifetime, assured me that we would be together every step of the way.  

The briefing brought back many memories of my visits to the juvenile facilities. However, the tension was intense and got even greater when we faced the white line that gave Talk the Line its name. Before walking the line, we were instructed not to look to our right or left, as you might see someone you know. That was all the incentive I needed to get to the end of that line and into our meeting room as quickly as possible.  

The speech I delivered that day was entitled “Papa.” I chose Papa because of the many words of wisdom and the lessons my Papa taught my siblings and me to keep us on the straight and narrow. Papa believed that the Lord protects the innocent and the foolish and those of us who are twice blessed, but he warned us about friends.  Friends will take you, but they will never bring you back. Don’t be an eye servant! Whatever you can do in front of my face – You can do behind my back.

To this day, I will never forget the sound that reverberated in that room when I recalled Papa’s golden rule of life – Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. And after that most memorable meeting, I felt my debt was paid in full. It was gratifying to later learn about the many life-changing lessons some of those inmates took away from that visit and that time we shared with our fellow Toastmasters at Soledad. – a place I now say you should go to, but only if you are invited.  

My Leadership Style

Many are called, but few are chosen.

Leadership is not a game. It is a process – It is a calling. But as the good book says, many are called, but few are chosen. We all will be called upon to lead at some time. Most great leaders have a style that is unique to them. Their style is shaped by traits developed over time through various leadership experiences. Great leaders motivate and inspire others. They encourage those they lead to better themselves and the people around them.

Knowing your leadership style is essential as you continue your process of self-discovery. Today, when I think of my leadership style, Dynamic, I think about a time in my life when I was twenty-one. The year was 1970, and my homeland, Trinidad, was embroiled in a revolution. I was chosen to lead a squad because of my rank. Everyone in my squad was older than I was. That’s when I quickly realized the virtues of being a Dynamic leader. The mission at hand was to get everyone back to base alive. We worked together as a team and achieved our goals as a team. That was when my Dynamic leadership began to take shape.

As a Dynamic leader, my focus has always been to find better ways to direct, guide, motivate and influence the behaviors of others I lead. Achieving each individual’s goals and the organization’s purpose is essential. However, leadership does not mean you take ownership of the organization. You take ownership to ensure the success or failures of those you lead. Leadership demands that you maintain good interpersonal relations while staying true to your values. Your challenge is to motivate each team member to contribute and work together to achieve their goals and objectives.

Since that 1970 experience, I have used the Dynamic Leadership Model to implement changes when faced with difficult situations. It is a model that teaches us to change with the changes we encounter. It demands that your words and actions must be in sync. And while it is wonderful to be optimistic as a leader. It teaches us that leaders must also be realistic. And that sometimes a pessimist is just an optimist with information. Dynamic Leadership also requires you to show respect for time – your time and the time of others. It helps you understand your strengths and preferences that can help you adjust to the leadership styles of others.  

Here are four Leadership styles. Can you identify which best describes yours?

Autocratic: The leader has complete control of the team. The team cannot present their view in the decision-making process. Everything comes from above!

Democratic: One that offers everyone a fair hearing while respecting and conforming to the organization’s basic rules.

Laissez-faire or Free-rein: Translated from French, meaning ‘to let it do.’ This style results in a hands-off approach to leadership.

Bureaucratic: A leadership style in which a Governing Body establishes the management and decision-making norms of the organization.  

We all have deferred to one of those leadership styles as parents or members of an organization to which we belong. But can you identify which styles you most commonly default to when pressured or faced with your moments of truth? Does that style offer ways of working and communicating within the organization? Does it state who does and is responsible for what? And how is that information shared? The Dynamic Leadership Model allows members to understand, communicate and express that information clearly.

Over my years as a leader, I have found that the organizational structure is often a reflection of the personality traits of the membership. And when all are invested in the organization’s structure and policies, the result is success. However, when those policies are adjusted to fit the whims and fancies of individual members, it’s only a matter of time before the culture and essence of that organization are lost. And most likely, it will stay lost forever.

When we join an organization, we can move in one of three directions. We can remain where we were on the first day we joined. Some may regress, while others will improve as communicators and someday become high achievers and leaders. The choice is ours. The foundation of our Leadership style is based on knowing yourself, your beliefs, and your core values. There are many challenges one will face as a leader. However, it is those moments of truth that will always reveal who we truly are as a leader and why we were called upon or chosen to leadership.

The Hamburger Helper

Giving your best is more important than being the best

Can you write a five to seven-minute speech in ten minutes or less?  Yes, you can!  You can always shake the dust off one you have delivered before. Or, challenge yourself to prepare a new speech using one of these methods: The “Tell Them.” The “Table Topic,” or my favorite – The “Hamburger Helper Method,” where you build your speech like your favorite Burger. The topic you choose should be on you know as well as your name. That choice can cut your preparation time in half.

Believe it or not, we give speeches every day. Sometimes we start and don’t know when to stop. We call it having a conversation or just talking when speaking in private. However, we freeze when called upon to speak in public. Why! – Is it because we believe we must be perfect whenever we step on the platform?  While there is nothing wrong with seeking perfection, we should never forget that giving our best is more important than being the best. To excel is to do better than you did before. When what we practice becomes permanent, we will realize that there is very little difference between talking in private and speaking in public.

While we all will agree it is wise to stay seated and listen if you have nothing to say, it doesn’t do you any good to keep sitting and listening. There is nothing you will ever say that has not already been said. It’s your turn, so when given the opportunity, have your say with confidence. Many years ago, I was invited to a National Speakers Association meeting and was asked, what do you speak on? For a moment, I was stumped. It was the first time I had ever been asked that question. However, my big takeaway from that meeting was that you must find your passion and lend it your voice. Every speaker at that meeting spoke passionately about the topic that interested them the most as a public speaker. I also noticed the structure of their responses was similar, but their delivery was different.  

We all have used the tried, proven method used by presenters called the three “Tell Them” – You tell them what you will tell them, you tell them, then tell them what you told them. Another approach I sometimes use is the Table Topic method whenever I have less than ten minutes to prepare. In those situations, I think of a topic and a message related to that topic. To use the Table Topic approach, begin with a question and message of your choosing. Choose a topic you know well that would interest your audience. Devote two to three minutes to answering the question, then give a, for instance, to support your answer.  Deliver two to three minutes on your message – the meat of your presentation. And finally, you go back to the top; the question, just as you opened, to close. A great way to practice the Table Topic method is by ensuring you use your entire two to three minutes to respond whenever you are called upon at Table Topics.

Now let’s take a look at the “Hamburger Helper method. Take a moment to close your eyes and visualize your favorite Hamburger. Let’s undress that hamburger. Make the top half of the bun your topic, what you will Tell Them. Next, you add a transition to “Tell Them.” – the meat of the presentation. Remember that famous advertisement “Where’s the Beef.” Even if you are serving a Veggie Burger, you must have a patty. The patty is the meat of your presentation. And finally, you return to your opening to remind your audience what you told them. And before you do, add a bit more dressing as you close the bottom half of your bun. Noticed something? – All three methods are the same. But I like using the Hamburger Helper method as It also gives a visual of what my speech would look like before it is delivered.  

To get that visual, go to the internet and Google “Burgers and Pictures” – there, you will see several different burgers. Ask yourself which of those burgers looks like something you would enjoy yourself. Which one is the Burger you will be happy to serve to your audience? Did you add too much of anything?  Which of those burgers will represent you and your message accurately? When you can answer those questions, you now have a speech you can confidently share with different audiences. And each time you deliver that speech, it will always be a little different as you move it from your head to your heart. Sometimes you will receive feedback like; I heard that speech before, and that’s OK. What matters most is that you were not sitting and listening. You were on the platform speaking. And as you become more confident, add a little spice to your original delivery, and that newer version will be enjoyable to every new audience.  

Burgers come in different packaging. Your packaging makes all the difference. As you open your package to reveal what you would like your audience to know, think, feel or do, your facial expressions should entice your audience’s curiosity to see, taste, and even smell what you’re sharing with them.  What you are giving to your audience is a gift; always remember, it is in giving that we receive.  So, the next time you have to prepare a five to seven-minute speech in ten minutes or less, try the Hamburger Helper Method, and who knows, with help from your favorite Burger, you may someday become a Burger King or Queen. 

The Messengers

Who were the messengers in your life!

My life is an open book, and in that book, there are many chapters. And the chapter I have chosen to address today is the one I call the Messengers. I decided on that chapter because I believe the Messengers in our lives are everywhere – and they will appear to guide us when we listen to their message, to take our leap of faith. However, as one of my friends Andy, warned – taking your leap of faith can sometimes earn you the best of friends or your worse enemies.

So today, I ask you to take a moment to recall a time in your life when you felt lost. Do you remember how you came to be found?  You were praying for a messenger when your life was a mess. Do you remember standing at your fork in the road, struggling to decide which way to turn? Who was that special someone who appeared to point you in a direction? Was that special someone your messenger?

In my Messengers chapter, I recalled them all. However, there is one who appeared in my adult life that I will never forget because of his message. And I hope that his message will also resonate with you and yours. It was the 1990s. Back then, I managed a team of support engineers. Our company was in crisis. We were all worried about the future. Should I take my leap of faith like my friends and colleagues? That was my burning question.

A problem solver was brought in to analyze the situation. His name was Russell. That day he introduced himself to us as Russ. His simple rustic look initially struck me as odd. Jokingly, the name Rusty popped into my head when we first met, and it stuck. He struck me as someone who had lived many different lives. And I would soon discover that I was right. Rusty would later impress upon me the true meaning of what it takes to be a sage.

He had just returned from South Africa from a significant assignment – transitioning Nelson Mandela from prison life back to society. Mandela had spent twenty-seven years of his life in prison. Russ was a psychologist and trainer with a major oil company. His expertise was working with managers and executives to sniff out the “whys” that were causing problems within an organization. He could listen to team members and quickly analyze the bottlenecks in any system. During our sessions, I noticed like the sage he was; he spent far more time listening before making a single statement or asking a question. 

During our sessions, we all wanted to know how it was possible to turn a life around after someone had spent that many years in prison. That seemed to us as an insurmountable task. He shared his problem-solving model with my team to answer one of our related questions. His four squares method.  It is a model I still use to this day. From that day forward, whenever I am faced with what appears to be an impossible task, I think of Rusty and his four squares.  

Initially, I was cautiously curious. However, it was not long before I was sold.  It also made me realize that the size of a problem doesn’t matter. What’s most important to solving any problem is discovering that there was one. And knowing as much as possible about the issues. He emphasized the importance of understanding the knows before spending a minute trying to find a solution.

Russ then demonstrated how to approach solving any problem by folding a blank sheet of paper twice to produce four squares—and numbering each square B1, B2, B3, and B4. The next step – ask the following questions. Then place your answer in the appropriate box.

B1. This is what we know about the problem.
B2. This is what we don’t know about the problem. 
B3. This is what we know that we know about the problem for sure
B4. And this is what we don’t care to know about the problem.

He also emphasized the importance of brutal honesty when filling in each box.  Then the fun began. Reviewing the content of each square was an eye-opener for everyone. Our moments facing the truth about ourselves and our perceived problems brought laughter and even tears to the eyes of some. It was like the dawning of a new day after that session.   

After all was said and done, I realized Rusty was my messenger. He gave us a problem-solving model we could all use to solve problems far beyond those we faced at work or play. As I share his model with you today, I feel like I am one of his messengers. So, I leave you with his message; his four squares of problem-solving. And today, I am confident that whenever you are faced with a problem that may seem insurmountable, feel lost, or believe that all but hope is lost, rest assured that your messenger will appear.  And when you listen to their message, you too, will take your leap of faith.   

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