Let Freedom Reign

Can’t we all just get along

Thomas Wolf, an American novelist, once wrote – “You can never go home again.” But I believe we can if we remember where we came from and where we are heading. Recently, I met this brother I used to know; we both grew up in the same hood. But the brother went off to Harvard, and as the sisters would say, the brother was doing good.

We started conversing or conversating, as we would say back in the day – until somehow Language – Black English and Ebonics – got in the fray. Well, I must confess, I was pretty distressed over some of what that brother had to say.

We were never hooked on Phonics; we learned all our language on the streets. And back then, we could tell a true brother or sister with just a handshake when we meet. But since some became uplifted, or enlightened as some of you folks now say – the sisters and brothers are all networking, that’s the PC term they use today.

Trying to impress, I told the brother I love language, and I sometimes still use the vernacular. Man, you would have sworn I had said something bad about that man’s grandmother. He started spewing his English like that brother Al from NB or ABC. Or like he was some big-time professor from one of his Ivey League Universities. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  

Ebonics! that dialect you folks call English has certainly got to go. It’s simply an embarrassment to the educated folks like us who know. Such a limited language, if in fact, language is the word, to me, it sounds more like pigeon English, just the worst I’ve ever heard. 

You folks call that language, words with meanings changing every day; listen to guys like Regan or Obama; they never spoke that way. So, tell me, chump, what if you are called to go and talk abroad, you, they will ever understand, Speak the Queen’s English, my friend, and you’ll be respected as a man.

But, just then, we stopped by Georgie’s where the chicken was still finger-licking good, and there, we met some sisters and brothers who never left the hood. But when the brother started asking for a knife, fork, and napkins to eat his fried chicken, they started dissing him, asking me: “Where did this turkey get this jive?” And to cut a long story short, friends – we are lucky to be still alive.

And as the brother and I bolted, even faster than Usain, I couldn’t help thinking what my grandmother used to say. God bless her soul; I’m sure she’s turning in her grave today. She would say, those who spit up in the air flaunting their good fortune and fame will one day end up crying saliva, with themselves alone to blame.

But I say let the brother speak his peace, and let him make his choice. Imagine what a boring world it would be if we all spoke with just one voice. Let freedom reign, let freedom reign, can’t we all just get along. I pray that somehow someway someday, we all might just overcome – Let freedom reign.

Excerpt from the speech – Mr. HarvardSpeaking Poetically

The Beginnings of Toastmasters

For many years Toastmasters was a well-kept secret

Every Toastmaster has had, or will at some time have to answer the question, what is Toastmasters? And how and why did it get started? At a recent Toastmasters meeting, a member asked that very question. And many agreed that “For many years Toastmasters was a well-kept secret.” So here is a brief history of how the organization evolved.  

Dr. Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters, often spoke about finding
your way to Valhalla, that place where heroes go to live out their afterlife. However, if you were to ask the doctor of letters, “Can you show me the way to Valhalla?” he didn’t point you to places of higher learning or suggest the best life coaches. Instead, he would point to your heart.

Dr. Smedley firmly believed that the one sure way to punch your ticket to
Valhalla was through self-improvement and being of service to others. He also thought there was no better way to self-improvement than through better communication and leadership. Being of service to others became his mission in life.

After graduating from the Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, Dr.Smedley started his journey to Valhalla. The year was 1903. He took a job as a Director at the Young Men’s Christian Association: (YMCA). He quickly observed that the young men who stayed at the facility could not communicate effectively. Indeed, some of the ladies present may be saying: “tell us something new, or what we don’t already know.”

But sometimes, it takes a man to initiate change. That man was Dr. Smedley, who began inviting the young men at the Y to remain after dinner to toast each other. They would then evaluate each other’s toast. And the person who delivered the best toast was declared the Toastmaster.

But that was not the beginning of Toastmasters. The idea quickly attracted other residents at the Y to start attending his meetings and toasting. Soon, the group became known as the “After-Dinner Club.” But between 1903 and 1924, Dr. Smedley was transferred and promoted several times, and the clubs often fell apart after his departure.

He continued starting a new “After Dinner Club” wherever he was stationed. In 1915, Dr. Smedley was the Director in San Jose, California. However, the idea did not take root until he started club number one in Santa Ana, California. The year was 1924, and Toastmasters officially began.

In 1932, Dr. Smedley created the Federation. By 1941, realizing the Toastmasters organization needed leadership, he resigned from the YMCA to give Toastmasters his full-time attention. He continued his mission until his passing in 1965 at the age of 87. Today the tradition of toasting has advanced to include eloquent speeches and helpful evaluations.

Looking back on the history of Toastmasters, the Federation has gone from “After Dinner Clubs” resembling banquets to virtual meetings. Yet, ironically, the most asked question by people calling the organization’s Head Office is, do you sell toasters? I am told that to this day, the answer is always, “No, we don’t. Toastmasters is where leaders are made!”

My Brief History of Everything

December 19th, 1994, I was born – along with the universe

In my last blog – Your Toastmasters Journey – I wrote about the value of repeating Icebreakers. Last Saturday, at our Surf City Club, we were treated to an icebreaker by one of our membersShaw F. Ramey- Wright who gave me permission to post his icebreaker to my blog. Hope you enjoy this icebreaker as much as we all did.

My Brief History of Everything by: Shaw F. Ramey-Wright

In the beginning, there was nothing. Emptiness, the void. Then, at the dawn of time, December 19th, 1994, I was born – along with the universe of course.

As I came into awareness, I was surrounded by beings, similar in physical construction to myself, but larger. I later learned that they were called humans, and I found them intriguing – the way they communicated, interacted, and moved was fascinating. And I wanted to know more.

In the coming days, months, and years I mastered their primitive language and came to understand their rituals. As I grew, I learned to appreciate some, and avoid others.

The practice of taking young offspring and forcing them into small rooms with dozens of others to drill mathematical calculations into their craniums was one that brought me little joy. Another practice that they called theatre, or drama, was much more enjoyable, and when I first engaged in the custom, in what they called “high school,” I fell in love with it.

Having been an observant and shy child, drama was my first opportunity to build presence and confidence, and to this day, I consider my decision to take that course of instruction one of the best choices of my existence.

After attending high school, I embarked upon another chapter of existential discovery and placed myself into much larger rooms with many more people at one of the several holy sites of knowledge that the humans call Universities.

Having been fascinated by these beings that surrounded me since I first entered this plane of existence, I dedicated myself to two courses of study, Sociology, and Psychology, disciplines that would help me understand these entities. And thus, the Enlightenment began.

During my time as a scholastic monk, I continued another practice I’d taken up in my early days – rhythmically moving my body in large chemically sterilized pods of water. The humans called this swimming, and regular sessions of this activity maintained muscular definition, metabolic rate, and overall health function, in addition to mood-altering effects – primarily of a positive nature.

As I approached the culmination of my academic vows. I took a variety of leadership responsibilities – President of the Swim Club, Director of Legislative Affairs of the Associated Students of UC Davis, Lead Coordinator of Student Mental Health.

 I didn’t know what these were, or what I was doing, but they sounded important. And I learned that the number and quality of titles a member of this species holds influences the amount of opportunity afforded to them.

 Indeed, the humans told me that in completing my monastic curriculum I would be awarded a bleached piece of wood with pigment etched on its surface, declaring that I was a Bachelor. It’s a title of great distinction.

I re-entered broader society, as a Bachelor, in modern day. I pursued many of my previous interests in a variety of “jobs”. I served as a campaign manager, I contributed to clinical research that studied the effects of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, I served in the governing body of my home state as a District Representative for a member of the California State Senate, and I also served as a volunteer for a crisis line.

Across my life, I have taken great joy in developing relationships with others, serving my community, exploring the natural environment, and maintaining my physical and mental health.

To date, I have lived for just over 27 revolutions of the planet Earth around its local star. So far, this existence has been something truly special, and I look forward to the future.

Your Toastmasters Journey

At Toastmasters, we teach by doing, and when we teach, we learn twice.

The Toastmasters Pathways program emphasizes the repeated delivery of icebreakers for good reasons. The first speech every member, new or existing, delivers to begin each new path is the Icebreaker. However, you soon will realize whenever you step on a speaking platform, you first must break the ice. And breaking the ice is a skill every speaker must master.

Icebreakers help you, and your audience relax. At the same time, you often learn something new about your fellow club members or even speak about someone you know very well – yourself. They also provide you with the tools to develop your model for preparing and delivering personal stories and future projects.

Your Icebreakers can be on any topic, informational or humorous. First-time Toastmasters may take the opportunity to introduce themselves. They may choose to speak about when they first realized they needed Toastmasters to improve their public speaking skills. Do you remember yours?

Seasoned speakers accustomed to the traditional program may ask – “Why should I have to do an Icebreaker to begin each new path in Pathways. That is ridiculous! I have delivered many in my five, ten, or fifteen years as a Toastmaster. So what’s that all about!”

My answer is simple. In a well-delivered icebreaker, you will find all the elements of a good speech structure. At Toastmasters, we teach by doing, and when we teach, we learn twice. So I say, challenge yourself to make your good icebreakers better until they become your best speeches.

Icebreakers encourage all members to speak in front of live audiences. The allotted time for an Icebreaker is four to six minutes. Your set time limit has a specific purpose. First, they help transform talkers into becoming speakers. Speakers focus on structure, the economy of words, and most importantly, delivering their message in an allowed time. You receive green, yellow, and red notices to indicate your timing as your speech progresses.

While there is no single recipe or formula for preparing a speech, fundamentals can make you more comfortable on the speaking platform. Start with the basic format, your opening, body, and conclusion. As you become more comfortable with that structure for your icebreakers, you will notice a natural tendency to approach your longer speeches similarly. The following are a few more tips you should try.

A good icebreaker model is to discuss where you were, where you are, and where you are heading. Another is, you make an opening remark that is your “Foundational Statement.” The foundation statement is a sentence or phrase on which you will build the rest of your presentation. For example – I am an extrovert – In 2001, I went to prison (pause) to speak at a gavel club or – I am not a chief, but I love to cook. Then, you build on your Foundational Statement.

Storytelling is the foundation of public speaking. After greeting your audience, tell a story to make a point, or make a point, then tell a story. As you develop your speaking skills, you will learn the secret to becoming a better speaker is simply – You make a point, then tell a story or tell a story to make your point. That is a tried, tested, and proven formula.

One of the most important exercises every speaker should do is, discover their speaking rate – The number of words they speak per minute. Read a passage at the same speed you usually talk for one minute. Then, count the number of words you read. That number is your wpm. The average wpm for men is between 125 and 130. The average for women is between 130 and 150.  

Speakers can then use their wpm to calculate their speech’s word count. For a four-to-six-minute speech, the formula is 6 Minutes minus 1 = 5 times your wpm. For a five to seven-minute speech: 7 Minutes minus -1 = 6 times your wpm. Your word count allows time for pauses and laughter. A word count of between 750 and 780 for most speakers, male or female, is average.

After completing your presentation, you will get an evaluation and feedback. Your evaluator will highlight what they saw, heard, and felt. How you receive each evaluation can determine your success as you continue your Toastmaster’s journey. You will not like every evaluation you receive; however, you should save them all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. They all are valuable. One day you too will be an evaluator.  

In your evaluations and feedback, look at your weaknesses and strengths. And as you continue to develop, you will realize the first thing we all do instinctively when we step on the speaking platform is break the ice – the icy steers – the cold feet. That’s a good reason why Icebreakers are worth delivering over and over. And honestly, some of the best speeches I have ever heard in my many years as a Toastmaster were Icebreakers, so keep breaking the ice. It is a skill well worth mastering.

Your Carnegie Hall of Public Speaking

Whatever you practice becomes permanent.

A story often told to aspiring musicians is about a young violinist flagging down a New Your City cabbie to ask: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall.” And the cabby in a New York minute, without skipping a beat replied ” practice! practice!! practice!!! dear friend” And your fare may also suddenly double as your cabbie takes you the scenic route.

Similarly, if you ask anyone who coaches speakers professionally, how do you go from good to great? They will tell you- you must know when to practice, what to practice, how to practice, and why you practice. They will also advise you to practice as you intend to deliver your presentations when facing your audiences. And you must also practice until you are comfortable with who you are and the message you plan to deliver.

Having a great speech is only one of the first steps in bringing that speech to the platform. It is a process. The word practice can be a verb or a noun. In the speaking world, practice is a verb. You are performing an activity or exercise. When you repeatedly complete a skill, you improve or maintain your proficiency. Doctors and lawyers have practices. Their practice, the noun, defines the type of business or service they provide.

Whether your practice is a verb or noun, the purpose is to keep improving; perfection is an opinion or an illusion. However, whatever you practice will become permanent. For that reason, it is crucial to examine your practices as you practice. Your practice approach will determine your success or failure when you are on the platform.

For example, rehearsing your speech in the shower, while driving, or lying in bed is not exactly practicing. You are sequencing. You are just arranging your thoughts in a particular order. While that is helpful, it is a far cry from practicing. Sequencing puts your presentation’s words, paragraphs, and ideas in the correct order in your head. While sequencing is an essential step in your preparation, it is not ready for delivery when that speech is still in your head.

You must then move that presentation from your head to your heart. You can choose to avoid that extra step of sequencing. Instead, some speakers prefer to practice as if they are always speaking to an audience. That approach helps the speaker develop muscle memory, which you cannot do effectively in bed, shower, or driving. It requires your total body involvement. Accentuating the six emotions as you practice is most important. Those emotions are happiness – sadness – fear – anger – surprise, and disgust.  

You should also avoid practicing in front of mirrors. Speakers tend to focus more on themselves when they practice in front of a mirror. Instead, the focus should be on your audience. Speaking to cameras is also a challenge most speakers face when delivering an address over zoom. But you will find recording yourself and analyzing your presentation is far more effective than practicing in front of mirrors. Mirrors can also be a distraction. You may find yourself focusing on every little mistake you made and not running your speech from start to finish. Again, what you practice becomes permanent.

Just as that young musician had to practice the works of the masters to attain a standard to perform at Carnegie Hall, speakers should also study the speeches of speakers they admire. As you listen and analyze their speeches, take note – they tell a story to make a point, or make a point and then tell a story. They deliver their stories with conviction using those emotions to which all humankind relates. And with practice, your storytelling becomes natural as you become an authentic storyteller. 

Anyone who has attained greatness in their chosen field will tell you it took many hours, days, and years of practice. But how they practiced was also very important. They also had specific workout routines. They had different exercises and drills for each day. Before they began to practice, they knew what to focus on during each session. They knew how many times they would practice each routine. And they practice uninterrupted from start to finish.

Speakers should also make sure they practice delivering their presentations to an audience. If you don’t have an audience, create one – chairs, trees, dolls. Use whatever that will not talk back to you. Feedback will come in your testing phase. Practice, Practice, Practice but do it right. And the day will come when you too will be on your way to the Carnegie Hall of public speaking – at your club, contests, or who knows – The World Championship of Public Speaking.

Happy New Year to You and Yours

 May the wisdom of the three wise men lead us into a New Year of health, truth, and love. Wherever you are, and however you are celebrating the season of goodwill, let’s take a moment to reflect on our blessings. And with gratitude, ask ourselves – what is the secret to our life and happiness. Secrets, some say, should never be revealed. And a secret is no longer secret once it’s told. But what if we show our secrets as we journey through life. Showing speaks louder than words. When we show, we also tell.

Since the beginning of time, the misty of life has been debated by scholars and many with goodwill. Some claim to have found theirs, and it’s their secret to keep. Others prefer to enjoy observing, sharing, and learning from the wisdom of others. However, many more will confess that the more they keep searching, is the less they see the light. One of my secrets is when you take a long look in the mirror, and like what you see, therein, you will find your answer, and the truth will always tell you silently.

Some say the secret to life is love. Love for who and what you are. When your love improves the lives of others, you have found your because. Because  – which many say is the true secret of life. Your because is the reason to rise each day with purpose and mission to pursue your love. Show who or what you are every minute and every hour of the day. When you do,  words are not needed to share your secrets. What you see is what you get. Life is for living. Living is loving, and loving is sharing. How you choose to live your life is a choice. Live the life you choose to live to the fullest. Good liver, good life!

Let us all understand what we need “over-standing” in the coming year. At times we must stand over what it takes to make life better and happier for those we share so much for which we should be grateful. All it takes is truth and love. There is wisdom in truth, and there is only one truth. But, unfortunately, we all have seen how facts can change when it is for sale. And like truth, love is not for sale.  

So, who are the wise ones in your life? And what are their secrets? Get to know them better; and you will also see that love is in them and their lives. That love then radiates to everyone in their path. The love they show is the love we know that is authentic, genuine, and true. Their willingness to share their blessings with others may be a secret to some. But those who are lucky to be in their circle of life will know there is no mystery to the secret of life. So, like the three wise men, keep going to the light,  and have a happy and prosperous 2022Happy New Year!!!

The 4 Squares Method

Brainstorming is an excellent way to begin your preparation!

Gathering data and ideas for a presentation can be challenging and time-consuming. Yet, we all have had speeches in our heads that we say we will deliver someday. Well, why not make today that someday. Brainstorming is an excellent way to begin your preparation for that presentation.

Brainstorming is the process of writing your unedited opinions, facts, thoughts, and ideas about your chosen topic. Let all your ideas flow once you have decided to bring that topic to the platform. Then, like an open faucet, begin writing your thoughts.  Write down every – who, what, where, why, and when. However, at times is challenging to stay focused on the overall goal and your intended audience as you write. How you gather your information matters – I call the method I use – The 4 Squares.

A phycologist who helped Nelson Mandela transition from his 20 years of darkness to the light and presidency of South Africa introduced me to this method. Many years ago, I adapted it to my speech writing and coaching. Answer these four questions honestly, and you may resolve your problem: 1. What you know 2. What you don’t know. 3. What you know that you know. 4. What you don’t care to know.

Regardless of the type of speech, you plan to deliver, the 4 squares method will help you stay focused as you prepare. Audiences quickly become aware of whether you are ready or not when you are on the platform. A prepared speaker should never be nervous once they develop a preparation method for their presentations. With this method, you can create word pictures in the mind of your speech.

Selecting an appropriate topic for the audience, you will be facing is an essential part of the preparation process. Let us assume you already had this topic before you began your brainstorming. Once you have all the information you wish to present, an excellent question to ask yourself is, what is my PURPOSE?  Which of the following will it be?

INFORM: Am I going to inform my audience about a subject that should be of interest to us all?

PERSUADE or MOTIVATE:  Do I want my audience to take some action or make a change in their life?

ENTERTAIN:  Am I just going to keep my audience happy. Humor is universal. It is also an excellent additive to your other purposes. Comedy is best when it is natural or carefully constructed and not forced.

Your purpose can be a combination of any of the three. But, while you can always add entertainment to your mixture, your purpose should always be crystal clear.

What you do with the information you collected will determine the outcome of your presentation. The next step is to begin testing and editing to see what you should keep or throw away. Your general rule of thumb should be, keep what adds to your overall goal.     

Now let’s look at the 4 squares method of evaluating the information collected. With this method, you can develop and arrange your facts, thoughts, and ideas in the 4 Squares on a sheet of paper.  You can also focus on your speech title and the foundational statement while gathering information on the topic. Your foundational statement is your power purpose statement that summarizes the message of your presentation.

The following is The 4 Squares method:

Fold a Blank Sheet of Paper into 4 Squares – Add the Letters SMP to Square 1 & 3. SMP stands for – Story Makes the Point. It is always a good idea to add stories to your presentation. You can tell a story to make your point or make a point to tell your story.  

Down The Middle – The long side – Add Your Foundational Statement – Your Purpose Statement will keep you grounded. Then, on the 4 Squares across the top – Add Your Speech Title.  Next, fill in your Squares with the information you collected using bullet points or short sentences.

Square 1:  What You Know about the topic.  Facts, Figures, Dates, verified details you researched.

Square 2:  What You Don’t Know.  The future, the what if’s – What’s accepted universally as the unknowns.

Square 3. What You Know That You Know. What you can deliver like a palindrome – backward & forwards.  

Square 4. What your audience Doesn’t Care to Know. The minutia – what you don’t need to mention.

The 4 Squares method will help you immerse yourself in the subject matter. It will help you gain extensive knowledge and heighten your excitement about your topic. When your audience can relate to your excitement and enthusiasm about a topic,  that compels them to be better listeners and makes them more interested in your presentation.

You now have a roadmap for your speechwriting with that single sheet of paper.  Now you are ready to begin creating your outline. Again, write for the ear and not the eyes as you develop your introduction, body, and conclusion. Finally, you are all squared away. You are ready with the 4 squares method to write and deliver your presentation.

Where is My Audience

Love it or hate it, Zoom is the new normal.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Thanks for your condinued readership. What a year it has been. Tell me! Are you Zooming? As that famous therapist, Dr. Phil would say, how’s that working out for yuh? Love it or hate it, Zoom is the new normal. Our audience is in the camera. And that’s where we are now looking from the start to the finish to make your connection. And where do you store that image of your audience? In your mind! So, take a good long look at everyone before you start speaking, as its the last time you should look at them while you are speaking.  

That first moment of your speech is critical. In your opening, you have the full attention of your audience. Even before you utter your first words, your audience is sizing you up. You may only have that one chance to create that first impression. Unfortunately for some, that one chance is the first moment of your talk. When that audience has never seen or heard you before, expectations are at their highest. If you are known as a good presenter, your audience may immediately revert to your previous presentation positively. Now you must match or improve on that last performance.

One of the significant adjustments speakers must make today when speaking over Zoom is holding on to their audience. But it’s scary to think that you risk losing their attention if you look at them on your screen. As a speaker in transition, my advice is to keep an image of your audience in your mind. Imagine how they are responding to you as you speak. That approach takes lots of practice, confidence and, admittedly, is easier said than done, but you will get better with time.    

Feel confident that your opening is strong enough to hold on to the attention your audience has given you. Imagine taking your audience on a journey to another level of consciousness.  A weak opening will leave everyone, including yourself, uninspired and disappointed. Although you should not be looking at your audience, you must feel a strong connection.

Ironically, this is when you must speak as if you are delivering your speech to a mirror. Many years ago, I heard a coach who loves to wear hats say, never practice in front of a mirror.  She said that you are practicing focusing on yourself and not your audience when you do that. So now we practice looking into the camera lens to make our connection. Wow, what a difference a few years make.

With that said, your topic selection is most important. When your listeners can relate to your topic, they will listen to you and pay closer attention. However, your introduction must hold on to the gift and the initial spotlight on you, the speaker. In your opening, grab your audience’s attention and hold on to it. Pleasantries and excuses for any reason are nonstarters – get to your point, purpose, and your presentation.  Keep in mind that you are on your speaking platform wherever you are.  The basics of delivering a speech, talk, or presentation are in play. And what are those fundamentals?

First, you want to introduce your topic with a title.  I make my title function like a light switch. I ask myself, would this title switch my audience on or off? Is it going to give away my speech? Will it offer a hint of what’s to follow?  Even if your presenter announced your title in your introduction, it’s an excellent idea to include a version of it in your opening. A follow-up comment about your introduction, if appropriate, is always a good ice-breaker.

Next, lay down your foundational statement – check in with your audience with a question to establish rapport. And then, transition smoothly into the body of your presentation. Remember, you are doing this blindly, so use your imagination. Focus on the details and speak with your entire body. Use vocal variety, gestures, and eye contact. Finally, let your audience tell you how you did. That’s why we receive evaluations and feedback.

One delivery mistake which always seems magnified over Zoom is repetition. What’s said already should only be repeated when summarizing or making a call-back to a person, place, or thing. Enthusiasm, too little or too much,  sticks out like a soar thumb. But on the flip side, here is one technique that works well and holds your audience’s attention. Make a promise early. Remind them about that promise a few times during the presentation. And make sure you fulfill that promise before you close.

Another negative is appearing angry or frustrated for your entire presentation. Every emotion should be for a purpose. If your demeanor exhibits one feeling for the whole speech, that will negatively resonate with your audience. Being entirely positive or negative can also be a turnoff. Strike a balance with your content. Contrast is an excellent technique to pique your listener’s interest. Whatever you do, your gold should be to draw your audience to you, the speaker, your message, and the value of your presentation.

Speaking over Zoom can be lots of fun. But, where is my audience? That might still be a troubling question for some speakers. Well, in Zoom, they are right there in the room, inches away from you. Keep that in mind as you prepare your presentation.  Zoom can help us all prepare for better speaking days.  When we go back to face-to-face or hybrid meetings, we should all be more conscious about what it takes to make and hold on to our connection with audiences.

I believe some of us may need many therapy sessions to deal with the images left in our minds from Zooming,  And we all know treatment isn’t cheap; ask Dr. Phil. However, over time I believe we all will be better presenters and better prepared for our audience whenever we return to meeting face-to-face. And we don’t have to ask the question –  Where is my audience?

Finding Your Path with Pathways

Take the Nike approach: and “just do it.”

Are you ready for the future of Toastmasters? Have you found your first Path in Pathways? If not, why not! However, if you have already found yours, let’s make Pathways the way of the future for all Toastmasters, newbies, and oldies.

Five years ago, when I was a Pathways Ambassador for District 4, I realized getting seasoned Toastmasters on board with Pathways might be a challenge. However, after looking at the critical points and the focus of the program, I decided to take the Nike approach: and “just do it.”

As a Toastmaster who had already completed multiple DTM’s by following the Communication and Leadership requirements, I, too, was a bit hesitant. But after doing my first Path, I was hooked. And to date, I have completed two Pathways DTM’s and six Paths. I am also committed to the success of our new program and Toastmasters.

One of my primary beliefs is we must always take a step back before moving forward. And I applied that same principle to how I approached Pathways and the challenge it presented. Many years ago, World Champions speaker Lance Miller encouraged me to complete one CC – Competent Communicator and at least one AC – Advanced Communicator annually.

To this day, I still have all my old completed CC and AC manuals. Before starting a new Pathways project, I often look at the feedback received from my evaluators. It was fun to look back at those completed projects. They all took me back to a time and place. It was also quite revealing to observe my progress since I began my Toastmaster’s journey.

After reviewing the new offerings in Pathways, I immediately saw getting started was a problem for some members. Although they were computer literate, there was still a resistance to change with the changes. They were also slow to look at the wealth of resources available at the TI -Toastmasters International and Districts Websites.

Today, one of the best overviews of the program is to log in to your Toastmasters Profile, select the “Choose a Path,” and watch an introductory video available at: bit.ly/TI_PathSelection. Once you have decided on a Path, you will discover the next important step is to become familiar with Base Camp.

Having everything needed for your projects in one place, Base Camp is convenient. I no longer had to resort to my stack of old manuals to review my feedback over the years. They are now in a directory and files at my fingertips which saves lots of time and space.

Today, Pathways allows users more flexibility to view the five levels before starting the projects. Many new and long-time members have found redundancies to be a problem. Doing an icebreaker to begin each new Path is an annoyance for some members. However, being accustomed to doing a CC each new year, repeating icebreakers has not been a problem.

I just got creative. It can be fun when you reminisce about your first times. You can give speeches about your first visit to a concert, another country, your first love, or even your first day at school or college. Do you remember those first times? We all have had so many first times in our lifetime, and I believe it will take a lifetime of icebreakers to deliver them all.

The problems many have observed with the program are fixable. The number of projects repeated in a Path already completed is a significant drawback for members. But, again, my approach is – “it was what it was, it is what it is, and only when we provide our feedback will it become what it should be.” That’s why it is essential for Toastmasters who have done the traditional programs to voice their opinions.

When you do the program, you can provide helpful feedback. If every new journey begins with a single step, what gets us to our destination may change as our journey continues. Pathways is just the vehicle. But it is when we jump on board to become familiar with all the bells and whistles, we will know the type of vehicle Pathways is and what we would like it to be.

Like any new program, we expect Pathways to keep evolving. When I joined Toastmasters in the nineties, Toastmasters of the sixties, seventies, and eighties inspired me tremendously. I will never forget meeting one female member Dr. Smedley mentored when she joined the Navy at age eighteen. She spoke passionately about attending meetings on Base before the nineteen sixties when Toastmasters did not allow females to become members.

The challenges we face today are screaming for better communicators and better leaders. Are you ready to answer the call? Pathways offer many new opportunities to express our vision for a new tomorrow. The program is more balanced between the Leadership and Communication Paths. Members now have a list of projects in each Path with Core Competencies, ranging from writing a compelling blog, creating a podcast to improving your social media presence.

If you are one of those members who took a step back because of the changes from the traditional program, the time is now to step forward. With the virtual and hybrid opportunities available, now is the time to jump back into the program locally and internationally. You can attend meetings any day, any time, and in any language in any part of the world.

Now is the time for all members to start sharing one of the best-kept secrets and valued ROI – Return on Investment, with the rest of the world. Our program has successfully moved from traditional; manuals only to virtual platforms. Although it is still in its infancy, the future is bright.  The time is now to share what is perhaps the best-kept secret in the world today. It is time to start asking your friends, family, and colleagues, are you ready for the future of Toastmasters?

Do You Evaluate to Motivate

Let the speaker determine if your feedback is a criticism, coaching, cheerleading, or evaluating.

At a recent table topics session, I was asked the following question, if you had the choice, who would you rather receive feedback from, a Critic, Coach, Cheerleader, or Evaluator, and why. My response was, while feedback from all the above chosen or qualified to be so-called, I would choose the evaluator. We evaluate in some manner every day of our lives.

We listen and observe others and offer our opinions even when we are not invited to do so. If there is one thing everyone has, is an opinion even when we are not qualified. But that is precisely what an Evaluator is, someone’s personal opinion, and that is how I believe it should be received.

Evaluators are expected to provide direct feedback and follow-up on what they saw, heard, and felt. In addition, they are expected to offer specific improvements, reinforce the speaker’s strengths, and support building and maintaining the speaker’s healthy self-esteem. When evaluators can fulfill those expectations, you have received a good evaluation. However, what separates the evaluator from the cheerleader, coach and critic is the language used to deliver that evaluation.

In a casual or informal setting, we are direct. Do you remember the feedback you gave when another driver cut you off? We are all human. Then why is it so difficult to be natural among friends and associates? Could it be because you are conscious of being evaluated also? Whenever we approach evaluating for the right reasons, we feel wordy to evaluate anyone at any level, anytime. And what are those reasons? First, you are offering your knowledge and experience to help others improve. You are building self-understanding. You are creating mutually beneficial bonds with others. And you are improving your impromptu speaking skills.

The tone and content of an evaluation can positively or negatively impact everyone – speaker, evaluator, and audience. Therefore, it is essential to meet every speaker where they are. After you have had a few experiences under your belt as an evaluator, you can tell if a speaker was prepared or not. Every day is not Sunday. Even a major league slugger gets three strikes before they are out.

As an evaluator, think before you make that call. Even when you believe that call is deserving, it can be taken differently, especially by audience members. Also, an overly kind or undeserving evaluation may be received negatively by others. Some guests may even walk away with the false impression that it is the accepted standard of your group or club.  In those cases, there are no winners. So, amid the noise and haste, be gentle, and be on good terms with all persons. Some feedback is more effective when given privately.

Good evaluators prepare for their speakers.  As Yogi Berra “is said to have said,” if you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else. Similarly, if you are not prepared, not familiar with the objectives of the speaker’s project, which the speaker has provided, you are going to try to “wing it.” And that is where many evaluators get into trouble. One of the primary responsibilities of the evaluator is to prepare the audience for the speaker’s project.

The evaluator sets the expectations of the assignment for the audience. It is also important for the speaker and evaluator to connect before the delivery of the presentation. Ask what are you working on and what would you like me to observe specifically? With that information and your evaluation forms for that project, you should be all set as an evaluator.

Addressing only that which the speaker can change is a good rule of thumb. Make notes during the presentation and pay attention to the speaker’s soft skills, natural eye contact, meaningful gestures, audience awareness, and speaking area usage. To make the best use of your delivery time, work in threes. Three things the speaker did well – organization, clarity, humor. Three things the speaker can improve, like posture, unanswered questions, or confusing statements. And three things to encourage or boost the speaker’s morale. Thank the speaker for their time and work in preparing for the presentation. When speakers and evaluators are ready for the platform, that’s a winning proposition for everyone. Always close on a positive note and give thanks for the moment.

Follow-up after the speech is essential. After providing the speaker with a written evaluation, ask for questions or comments about the evaluation. The responses you receive will help you improve as an evaluator. Do not be defensive. Clarify anything that may have been misinterpreted in your verbal evaluation.  Then, expand in your written evaluation on anything you were unable to cover in the oral assessment.

Let the speaker determine if your feedback is a criticism, coaching, cheerleading, or evaluating. However, if critics and coaches hold the same views as you, their evaluator, and they still don’t know that they have a problem, then they have a problem. And a  cheerleader and not an evaluator will better serve that speaker. Therefore speakers should also seek out their trusted evaluators. As we all know, many are called critics, coaches, cheerleaders, and evaluators. Still, few, and only a few, are ever chosen.

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