Freezing on the Platform

You are the messenger – Not the message!

IMG_1980 (1)Freezing on the platform while experiencing a performance anxiety attack, is far more common than most speakers care to ever admit. No one can predict how or when they will experience one of those episodes. It happens not to some but to us all. Good coaches and trainers often include how to manage those attacks in their training. How to avoid or prepare for these types of events is an essential part of your development as a speaker. But what you do before during and after one of those experiences can determine your success or failure when next you are on the platform.

There is a widely held belief that stage fright or performance anxiety attacks are closely linked to age, experience or even incompetence when in reality, it all boils down to the three P’s of public speaking – purpose, planning, and preparation.  When speakers are well prepared mentally, physically, and are present in the moment with a purpose, chances of freezing on stage are less likely. Their preparation should also include common what-ifs scenarios, like unexpected laughter. They should not be afraid to rough up the final draft as they begin their drilling exercises – picking a word or phrase from the prepared text and proceeding with their delivery from that point on.

Good writing can also significantly increase a speakers ability to deliver their message successfully. When a speech develops as a series of ideas with a transition for each vignette, the speaker is not only helping their audience follow the story; they are also helping themselves to focus on the flow of ideas and not just the words. Next, the must move the message from head to heart.  They must be prepared to manage any glitches by even changing body language or persona if necessary. In those unexpected moments, prepared speakers can safely jump to their anchor – the speech title or foundational statement momentarily, while they recover from the keywords or thought they may have lost. They take a deep breath, they refocus to regain their swagger without anyone realizing they’ve made a faux pas.

Freezing on stage can be a wakeup call for all speakers. Over time, we sometimes get careless or overconfident. Freezing on the platform can be a blessing in disguise, however, speakers should take a moment to honestly determine why they had the freeze.  Freezing can serve as a reminder that we must be well prepared to step onto the platform. If can serve to remind us about our purpose as speakers. It can also serve as a reminder that you are the messenger and not the message. Bring the heat, bring it early and surely you will heat things up the next time you find yourself experiencing a freeze on the platform.

  Speaking in Praise -The Eulogy

In your words, someone will find comfort.

FB_IMG_1525933421067 (5)Speaking in praise can be a challenging experience for even accomplished speakers, especially when you are honoring the life and times of a close friend or family member. Preparing this tribute may be emotionally draining as you find yourself searching for the right words to express your love and praise for someone who may have touched your life or changed the lives of many who will be present for the ceremony.  Some of the questions you may ask yourself might be – what should be my approach.  How can I make this moment a lasting memory for everyone – What would the departed have wanted me to say on their behalf to their friends and family – So many questions -so little time.

Having had to speak in praise on a few occasions myself, I too have found that achieving the goals of a eulogy does depend on your approach. Another crucial question you may want to ask yourself is the following: is this passing the end or a new beginning. I have found the speakers whose focus is on celebrating a new beginning by delivering their message just as they would have, at a banquet honoring their friend or a family member are often the most successful. Those speeches are inspirational, unforgettable and remembered long after the ceremony by all.

One approach is to personalize your presentation with significant milestones of the life you are honoring. Avoid making the speech too biographical. Include a few words about events that shaped their life and perhaps yours.  Another successful method is to select two or three life experiences, one of which can also be a great accomplishment that makes the individual worthy of praise. Weave a story around each event you selected.  Speak about the individual’s service to country and humanity or, life lessons you learned from being in their presence. Include a funny anecdote or two about the individual to provide some relief from the stress of the moment.

Delivering a tribute can be challenging, however, anyone can make this occasion memorable. I once heard it said, if only the best birds sang, the forest will be a quiet place. Practice your delivery, especially the opening and closing.  Begin with an opening statement or verse you are familiar with.  Use the one you can say with ease and confidence. Focus on your words and not on the occasion. If you do become emotional, pause, take a deep breath and continue delivering your message. Preparation and delivery of this type of speech make us all realize the power of words. In your words, someone will find comfort. In these times we are reminded to celebrate every day of living and that all lives are worthy of praise.


A Toastmasters Life

Join Toastmasters and present with confidence

20190317_122306JOIN TOASTMASTERS AND PRESENT WITH CONFIDENCE: That was the headline in the Navy’s Center Newsletter – The headlined that attracted Helen Blanchard to Toastmasters. She would later reveal those words literally leaped off the page at her as she had just taken on a new assignment – a position typically reserved for men.

And so began Helen Blanchard’s Toastmasters Journey – which would lead her to become the first woman president of Toastmasters International.  The year was 1970.  Helen’s new assignment with the – United States Navy Research and Development Center in San Diego California – was to travel to offshore test sites to train the engineers to use a uniform method of analyzing and reporting the technical data they collected.  That headline – “Join Toastmasters and present with confidence” Helen knew was just what she needed; however, when she read the fine print, observed one minor detail – The article and invitation entitled “Men on the Move” was limited to men only – Yes! men only!.

The contact person for the program was a name Helen was familiar with – Bob Bolam. She called up Bob to ask for more information. He politely explained that Toastmasters was an all-male organization – Women did not join Toastmasters, they joined Toastmistresses – The same type of organization but one exclusively for women. Bob even suggested the possibility of Helen starting a Toastmistresses Club at the Center. Although Helen, was well aware that she was walking in a highly technical man’s world without the background of an engineering degree and that presentation training would be a boost to her confidence, decided to move on when she was unable to find Toastmistresses who shared her passion for presenting with confidence and to also “be on the move”.

Three weeks later, Helen got a call from Bob to informed her that the members of Center Toastmasters had unanimously voted to admit her to their club. Bob reminded the members, that the club met on Federal land, on Federal time and that Helen was a Federal employee. As such, her membership could not be denied. At first, Helen was a bit reluctant to attend their meeting, however, Bob assured her that their decision was unanimous and that she would be welcomed to the club with open arms. Ten of the fifteen members of the club were present at her first meeting. Once Helen saw the program in action, she wanted to join and formally applied from membership on June 2, 1970, under the non-gender-specific name of H Blanchard.

Helen’s first speech, her “Ice Breaker” was scheduled right away.  She had two weeks of preparation as the club met bimonthly.  Her evaluator’s comment by her own admission was that she had great potential but used so many “ahs” and “uhms” he decided to stop counting mid-speech.  Several weeks later, her application was returned to the club’s VPM – Vice President Membership – for a first name. The challenge was now to find a male name starting with the letter H. She was racking her brains – Herman … Harry … Harold – or perhaps even Henry? Who Knew!!

One member of the club suggested the club find her a name. That became the Table Topic of the day. Since Helen had already done her Ice Breaker, the members used some of the information she revealed about herself to choose her male name. The winner was Joe Dobbs. He wove a beautiful story around her maiden name – Pallas suggesting there would be no better name for Helen – referring to her as “Helen of Troy and the Trojan horse” – than Homer!  She agreed and that name remained with Helen until November 1971 when Toastmasters International informed the club they could accept female members.

In August 1973, the policy officially changed to permit any club to amend their bylaws to allow women in its membership. Fifteen years later, Helen Blanchard would become the first female President of Toastmasters International.  Wow – What a Toastmaster’s life! Helen Blanchard died at age 86 on May 31, 2013. I met Helen when I was the District 4 Governor in 2009 -2010 and will always remember these words of encouragement I received from her: Enjoy life’s Journey – Yours and Mine!

Adding Humor To Downers

Speech Brighteners are also a great way to add humor ….

IMG_6582Of all the advice, I have ever received about adding humor to a speech one might consider a downer; a sad or tragic experience, being natural and authentic has always served me best. Humor is all about being natural. If you practice, speaking or doing what comes naturally, getting people to laugh without you having to crack even a smile, could leave your audience laughing uncontrollably. If you want to be funny, don’t try to be. Natural humor can found in the worst of your experiences, even a downer.

It is possible to find natural humor regardless of the audience you are facing. Keep in mind humor can take many different forms.  In the delivery of your stories, you may use exaggeration; to stretch the imagination of your audience. Exaggeration often results in laughter. If your subject matter is related to numbers, instead of just using eighty percent, try using eighty, point nine, nine, nine percent which may leave your audience laughing about the absurdity of your overstated number.

A play on words is another good source of humor. Some words have more than one meaning which often generates natural humor – for example – They are taxing us right and left – do your taxes right and you will have nothing left. Then there is the understatement – like the director who ordered – Send out an S.O.S backward to keep it secret – This is also an excellent example of implication – Humor that makes a point but lets the audience fill in the blanks, however, the blank must always be obvious.

“Speech Brighteners” are also a great way to add humor to your speeches or presentations, especially topics considered dry, dull, and badly in need of a pick-me-up. Speech Brighteners can simply be a one-liner the speaker adds to their content with little or no disruption to the flow of their presentation. Here are a few examples.

  • I don’t mind suffering; it’s the pain that gets me.  
  • I trust everyone, but I always cut the cards.
  • I expect nothing; therefore, I’m never disappointed.

Another form of brighteners are “Topic Brighteners” for example:

  • Envy: When you are getting kicked in the rear, it means you ‘re in front.
  • Age: A woman’s age I can never tell, but I can always tell a man’s age by what he takes two at a time – stairs or pills
  • Taking No Chances: Psychiatrist to patient – since you suffer from loss of memory my fee is one hundred dollars in advance. 

Keeping a journal or story file with similar titbits is also very important.  Create a folder and collect those funny sayings you experience in your everyday human interactions. Humor is everywhere. Collect and use them in your speeches and presentations and your daily conversations until they become part of the way you communicate naturally.  

Did You Say What You Meant

Single syllable words are useful when telling stories

Pronouncing some English words can also be tough. There are so many different ways English words sound even good speakers sometimes have trouble with their diction and pronunciation. It is frustrating when you know you have used the right word to express what you wanted to say only to find yourself constantly asked to repeat yourself. In private conversations, you can explain what you meant or correct yourself; however, when facing an audience, you want to make sure you do your homework to avoid interruptions to your flow and delivery.

When delivering a speech or presentation, you have one shot at getting it right. Right or wrong, you have to move on; in spite of any “Icey” steers or puzzled looks, you might receive from your audience. Although it may sound like the obvious, to avoid those types of experiences, speakers should choose their words carefully. Speakers should be very clear about the meaning of each word they select. Speakers should also take time to practice the pronunciation of every word they want to use. Single syllable words are useful when telling stories. Use them. To see samples of how effective they can be when used creatively, Google Graceguts, “A story in 100-syllable words” and look at the examples of the stories in 100 one-syllable words written, without repeating a single word. Each story paints a picture with words we use in our everyday communication.

As we speak, we should keep in mind; words by themselves seldom carry meaning. The meaning of words become clearer when used in a paragraph or sentence. As you string words together, try thinking about the underlying rhythm or beat, you are creating to develop patterns of language. Focus on the sound patterns you want your audience to tune into as they listen to your message. Training yourself to produce those sounds you desire takes practice, sounds convey feelings. Think of the mood you wish to create with the sound you want to produce. To express those moods and emotions to your audience with confidence, you must work on building your vocabulary and grammar skills also. Recording and listening to yourself are also essential.

Recently in a Q & A session, an ESL student – Students studying and speaking “English as a Second Language.” asked if I could recommend a resource on the Web to help with the challenges of becoming better at speaking the English language. One of the best resources recommended to me many years ago was the “Student Guide” a website still available at – Take a look at the “43 Excellent ESL Resources for Students” – Also the – Web Site of Professor Paul Brian – where you will find a list of common errors in English usage. I have found these sites to be particularly useful not only to for ESL students but to all speakers of the English language. It is my hope this post will help you to say what you meant to say when you said what you meant.

The Seven Learning Styles

A visual learner may also be very social and verbal.

FB_IMG_1550169405777As a speaker, you are a teacher. Each speaker has his or her particular style of delivery, but then so does most of us on the receiving end of their wisdom and messages.  Problems often arise when there is a disconnect between the teaching styles of the speaker and the learning style of the audience.  As speakers, we must learn to tap into the seven learning styles of an audience to achieve a better connection. When you can read your audience as you speak, and switch between the seven learning styles we all possess, you will make a better connection with your audience. The following are the seven common ways we all learn:

Visual (spatial): Those who prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
Aural (auditory-musical): Those who prefer using sound and music.
Verbal (linguistic): Those who prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
Physical (kinesthetic): Those who prefer using your body, hands, and sense of touch.
Logical (mathematical): Those who prefer using logic, reasoning, and systems.
Social (interpersonal): Those who prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
Solitary (intrapersonal): Those who prefer to work alone and use self-study.

It is essential to understand that we most likely do not possess one style exclusively in our learning experiences. A visual learner may also be very social and verbal. While speakers may often use their preferred learning style as their primary mode of preparation and delivery, it is crucial to understand the difference in learning styles to maximize their ability to reach and hold the attention of every audience member.

We all listen intently to subjects we are interested in and, often struggle with information in which we hold little or no interest. However, we all process the ability to assimilate information differently based on our personality, and how we interact socially. Our general like or dislike for subject matters that interest us grabs and holds our attention. As speakers, when we can capitalize on the learning style that works best for our audience, we will more often than not, make a better connection with our audience by reading them while we are speaking.

Yes, reading your audience as you speak is important. Your audience also remembers what you were doing when you said what you are saying. That is why your gestures, your vocal variety, and your silence is so important when you are on the platform. You will know when you are making a connection with individuals in your audience. That smile, that nods, that frown speaks volumes. Reinforce your message using multiple learning styles and remember to add reputation to your content. Reputation is the key to making your message stick.

When you prepare your next presentation, give some thought to the learning styles of your audience. In your copy, weave sentences and phrases with rhythmic or musical sounds. Add lines featuring the beauty of words and language. Use your body language to connect with those who are sensitive to touch. Add something for those who are inclined to be logical.  And do not forget the groupies or the loners. Tap into all seven learning styles and over time, you will notice a significant improvement in your ability to make a better connect with your audiences.

Clarity is Key to Good Communication

Great speaking comes from having a clear focus on your message

20181207_093125It is often said that clarity is the key to good communication and public speaking. Public speaking is a skill everyone has to embrace at some time or another; however, over time as speakers, we come to realize that “all speaking is public speaking”. Every day, we communicate requests, opinions, and ideas with family, friends, and associates. The more we exchange communication, the more it becomes evident that communication is not only what you said, but also what the listener thinks you said or is saying.

The following are a few concepts anyone can start practicing today, to become a more effective communicator. These principles can be career-enhancing when practiced daily. They can unleash a whole new perspective in the way you communicate. Speakers can also start applying them to presentations, conversations and your communications with family, friends, and colleagues. They will also significantly improve how you respond in your daily interactions with others. They will help you develop who you are as a communicator.

One of the first requirements of good communication is, getting people to listen to you. How to get audiences to stop, look at you and listen is a question all speakers must try to resolve. Before a speaker utters their first words, they should make sure they have the complete attention of their audience. The challenge then becomes how to hold that attention. Begin with a voice inflection that commands your listener’s attention. Also, use appropriate body language to let your listener know you are ready to establish a line of communication.

If one of the parties tune out or disconnects, it is like having a bad phone connection. Communication is over. While still connected, you should envisage how you are going to hold your audience’s attention. A good strategy is to strive to be entertaining while you are informing or being informed. Listen before you interject. Go with the flow.  If you can entertain and inform at the same time, the flow of information between the speaker and listener will be greatly enhanced.

Great speaking comes from having a clear focus on your message. Quips; witty communication will often keep the conversation alive and memorable.  Well placed quips will often have the effect of an echo long after you and your listeners have disconnected. When used in speeches, quips can bring clarify your message.  Give your messages a voice. Make your audience stop, look at you and listen to you while you entertain and inform. And the day will come when you be respected not only as a good speaker but also as a great communicator.

Your Power Pause

Let your audience embrace your silence.

20181207_093125Whether you’re presenting a speech at your club meeting, introducing a speaker at a social event or delivering a sales pitch, you will always connect with your audience if you stage some silence before you speak.  In the immortal words of William Shakespeare – “I stand in pause where I shall first begin.”

The power pause method has been the key to magnifying the messages of many great orators, however, stage silence before you begin your presentation should not be overdone. Your expressed purpose should be to make sure you have the undivided attention of your audience. Before you start, try locking your eyes on each of your listeners with a stare, as you silently review in your mind each word of your opening sentence. Make your Power Pause your final preparation before you begin to speak.

When you’re sure, you have your audience attention, it is wise to acknowledge that you now have their attention with a smile or perhaps a gentle nod. The Power Pause is the great equalizer. Whether you’re male or female, tall or short, dapper or grungy, an audience will lend you their ear if you take the time to make your audience stare back at you in hopeful anticipation, before you begin. Stand and steer with confidence as if to say I am ready for you. Are you ready to listen to me.

The Power Pause is one of the keys to charisma – that special power some speakers have naturally or develop. A power that makes them able to influence others and attract their attention and admiration. Audiences usually listen attentively to people they like and those who they admire. The Power Pause can also be your safety net also as you stare out into that audience for the first time from the platform. Let your audience embrace your silence. Take time to gather yourself, your thoughts, tame those butterflies as you begin to deliver what everyone present waited with bated breath to hear; your opening with a roar or a whisper.


Conflict – Wit – Wisdom & Humor

“Each one takes what he doesn’t have.”

GandhiOne of the best skills all speakers must develop is the art of being quick, witty and polite. Without a doubt, one of the best ways to defuse conflict is with wisdom, wit, and humor. Wisdom comes with time. However, humor and wit take practice. Mahatma Gandhi was a leader who also used wisdom, humor, and wit effectively to defuse conflicts. He was a lawyer, activist, and politician who became the leader of the nationalist movement against the British rule of India. Here is an example of his wit, his wisdom, and his humor.

When Gandhi was studying law at the University College of London, a professor by the name of Peters disliked him intensely simply because Gandhi never lowered his head when addressing him as he expected. There were always “arguments” and confrontations. 

One day Mr. Peters was having lunch at the University dining room when Gandhi came along with his tray and sat next to him.  The professor said, “Mr. Gandhi, do you understand that a pig and a bird do not sit together to eat.  “Gandhi looked at him as a parent would, to a rude child and calmly replied, “You do not have to worry, professor, I’ll fly away,” and Gandhi went and sat at another table.

Peters, red with rage, decided to take revenge on Gandhi’s next test paper, but Gandhi responded brilliantly to all questions. Unhappy and frustrated, Mr. Peters asked him the following question:  “Mr. Gandhi ! if you were walking down the street and found a package. And within that package was a bag of wisdom, and another bag with a lot of money, which one would you take?

Without hesitating, Gandhi responded, “Why of course, the one with the money.”  Mr. Peters, smiling sarcastically, said:  “I, in your place, would have taken the wisdom.”  Gandhi shrugged indifferently and responded, “Each one takes what he doesn’t have.”

Mr. Peters, by this time, was fit to be tied.  So great was his anger, he wrote on Gandhi’s exam sheet the word “idiot” and handed it back to him.  Gandhi took the exam sheet and sat down at his desk, trying hard to remain calm while he contemplated his next move.  A few minutes later, Gandhi got up, went to the professor and said in a dignified but sarcastically polite tone “Mr. Peters, you autographed my sheet, but you did not give me the grade.”

It is my hope that the next time you find yourself dealing with a Mr. Peters, you too will remember Mahatma Gandhi who was the master of wit and wisdom.




My Pathways DTM Journey

Change is good when you go first

20181215I joined Toastmasters in March of 1997 and received my first DTM in July 2007 under the original education program. In 2017 we had the rollout of Pathways in our District 4.  I achieved my second DTM award in November 2018 after meeting all the Pathways requirements for a second DTM   Why did I undertake a second DTM? Because it was time for change.

In 2009 to 2010 when I served as the District Governor for District 4, I learned about the new educational program under development to modernize the Toastmasters learning experience. I was excited. The Toastmasters organization started in October of 1924 and was incorporated in 1932.  Since then, the world of Communication and Leadership has changed tremendously. I too believed it was time for change, and it was time to change with the changes.

One of the reasons I decided to get on the fast track to complete the requirements in Pathways, was to help me better understand the changes in the new program. I knew what old offered but was curious about the new. I signed up to be a Pathways Guide for District 4. After introducing the required ten clubs to the program, I decided to do the program myself, to see where Pathways will take me. I wanted to validate the full range of benefits the Pathways program promised. Some of those promises were:

• Customized learning tailored to personal and professional goals
• Early and frequent recognition of accomplishments
• Mobile access to educational materials
• Expanded video and digital content
• A self-paced, self-development journey

At one of my sessions to introduce Pathways, a fellow Toastmasters said to me, if the change is so good why don’t you go first. So I did. The two Paths I selected Presentation Mastery and Visionary Communication delivered on the promises. Once I did my icebreaker, I realized how important it was to develop a strategy to complete each project with full benefits.  While it was great to have the flexibility of working online, anytime, anywhere, I found it useful to have the downloaded copy of each project. I also opened a notepad window and made notes after launching each project. The notepad made it easy to cut and paste key points as I worked through a project. Finally, I would combine the guidelines from the worksheets with my notes to develop the required project for my presentations at club meetings.

The Pathways program is an evolution in the Toastmasters experience. It allows you to select and customize speeches on topics best suited for your personal and professional growth.  New projects like writing a compelling blog, creating a podcast and building a social media presence are dynamic projects, which were not available before the change to Pathways. Having done both programs, the old and the new, I believe the Toastmasters education program will help you build the core competencies required to be an effective communicator and effective leader.

To get started, you will find a wealth of valuable information on the Toastmasters Website. Another useful resource made available by a fellow Toastmasters Guide – Ken Braly from District 101 is available at – Pathways will take you where ever you want to go if you embrace the change. This milestone in my Toastmasters journey made me realize that change is good when you go first.

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