Are You Wagging Your Tall Tail

Traditional tall tales are closely associated with folklore

The contest season has begun for many Toastmasters. This Spring, Districts will feature International and Tall Tales 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 Tail. 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 Tails 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 Tail, 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 tail 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 Tails. 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 Tail

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.   

Love & Marriage

Love & Marriage -D101 2017 Winning Humor Contest Speech

Love and Marriage! – According to that old song, they go together like horse and carriage. However, my Papa says, sometimes you’ll feel like the horse, sometimes the carriage. But you’ll be well on your way to a happy marriage – If you or your partner don’t ever behave – like that part of the horse that faces the carriage. Fellow Horses and Carriages!

Now, I don’t mean to pry but tell me, in your relationship or marriage, who is the horse and who – is the carriage? If your horse or carriage is sitting next to you right now, trust me; this is not the time to ask any questions. Yes! It takes more than five to seven minutes to figure this one out. But what is your secret -secret to a happy marriage? Can you have one without the other? And what do you do when your horse starts bucking and is pulling away from the carriage?  Well, these are some of the questions I hope we can answer as we take another look at love! And the institution of marriage.

Married life used to be so simple. First, you fall in love. Then you get married. And you live happily ever after. Right!  Wrong! In some cultures, first, you get married, then you have the rest of your life to fall in love. But ever since the beginning of time, there has always been this debate over which should come first. Love, then marriage? Or marriage, and then Love – Who knew, do you?

Then tell me, how do you know when you are in love?  Yes, that was a question, but now is not a good time to turn to your partner for answers. That would be stepping in it – what the horse always leaves behind. But how do you know? I believe you are still in love when you can remember some of these magical moments, the first kiss. The first time you looked into your partner’s eyes, didn’t know a word of Italian but saw Amora. And when you can remember those early morning breakfasts in bed with a smile?  You are still in love.

Now I don’t profess to be an expert on this subject of Love and Marriage. Yes!  I am married – again. But back in the day, when I thought of marriage, I saw myself waving that white flag of the Olympic Games. The five rings on that flag always reminded me that there are sometimes five rings in many marriages. First the engagement ring, next the wedding ring, then comes the suffer ring, boring and even the boxing ring. 

However, I take full responsibility for all of my rings, as my X father-in-law forewarned me. I wrote him a five-page letter asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage. His response came back, one word. No! I thought the man liked me. Then he invited me to meet the entire family at this posh restaurant to tell me no! You cannot have just my daughter’s hand in marriage. You will take her hands, feet, and all the spare parts that come with her. Then he said (SON) there is no warranty with my baby. She’s all yours. I should have seen it coming. No, I wasn’t blind. I was in love.

It wasn’t my fault. You see, there is no University you can attend to get a degree in love or marriage. But again, who needs one? When a man gets married, he loses his bachelor’s. And the woman! She earns her master’s with honors. Once you lift her over that threshold, I guarantee you that’s not the last time she’ll be putting her foot down in her house. Statistics show that in the first few years of marriage, the man speaks, and the woman listens. Soon the woman speaks, and the man listens. Then before long, everybody speak and speak, and only the neighbors listen.

My friends, you don’t need a bachelor’s or master’s to enjoy a successful marriage. We must realize that the two people are different in any relationship. You could be the best magician; you will not change each other. So, what’s the secret to a happy marriage? Respect! Respect each other’s differences. And when you are the horse – be a stallion. When you are the carriage, enjoy the ride. You can’t separate love from marriage. That’s an illusion that will always take you back to one conclusion, that love and marriage do go together like horse and carriage. And you will find your secret to a happy marriage once you or your partner don’t ever start behaving like that part of the horse – that faces the carriage.  


Is there a formula for a Winning Humorous Speech ?- Whenever I am asked that question, my answer is always the same 20 Laughs, 5 Chuckles, and One Belly Full of Laughter – delivered in 7 minutes.

Your Voice – Your Instrument

If you want people to listen to you, you must be prepared to listen to yourself.

Your voice is your instrument. You carry it with you every day of your life. However, do you know the sound of your voice? Can listeners clearly understand what you are saying when you speak? Every instrument has a distinctive sound.  We all know what a trumpet, sax, or tuba sounds like.  If you were to hear a snippet from you and seven of your close friends, would you be able to identify which voice was yours? We all have accents and different ways of pronouncing certain words. We recognize and even admire the sound of our favorite speakers and singers. Over time, we become familiar with their pitch, range, and tamber.   

Every instrument has to be tuned, and so too is your voice. To produce a clear sound, you have to work on improving your “Buzz,” which makes your tone. To create that “Buzz,” you must work on breathing. All speakers understand the importance of inhaling air when speaking and the control required in its emission.  We all depart from our natural breathing as infants with age and personal development. Many of us use almost exclusively the upper portion of our lung capacity when speaking. To develop proper resonance, flexibility, and a beautiful tone, we must focus on correcting how we breathe while avoiding the condition we call shallow breathing.  Many articulation exercises are available in books and on the internet to address this problem.

Before you can even begin to improve your speaking voice, you must first find it. You should know how you sound.  Your voice tone in everyday communication is an excellent place to start. Observe the pitch you typically default to if you were to start humming. Observe the natural ease and comfort you feel. Take note of how you felt when you tried humming at a lower or higher pitch. William Shakespeare had this to say about finding your beautiful tone when speaking:

“Two factors are necessary; first, the breath must be under perfect control; and second, the vocal organs must be trained to act with unconscious ease – without correct breath control, and without freedom of the vocal muscles, a beautiful clear tone of voice cannot be attained.”

Once you have found your speaking voice, your next step is improvement and maintenance with exercises to strengthen your facial muscles – your jaw, throat, tongue, and lips. These are all critical muscles of your “Mask Cavity” that speakers must develop with vocal exercises. One I highly recommend is “Mouth exercise for Clear Speech,” available here: Articulation Exercises. Here you will find exercises that cover many letters and sounds of the alphabet.  Some speakers may need more help from a speaking coach to produce a clear tone. However, this is an excellent place to start.

Speakers should also be aware of times when their tone and pitch change while delivering presentations.  It is natural for a speaker’s voice to change if they are nervous, excited, or are being assertive. Understanding those changes in your communication style and using them effectively can turn what may be, to some, a liability into an asset when presenting. Starting with your natural Hum or Buzz and changing registers is an excellent exercise for beginners. This exercise helps speakers move seamlessly between registers.  With soft lips lightly touching, hum a few of your favorite tunes. Recite or read and record a few short sentences. Listen to your recordings.

As any coach will say, if you want people to listen to you, you must be prepared to listen to yourself.

Practicing correctly is critical. As you practice, pay attention to details. When you do, you will achieve the best results. Maintain good posture and proper inhalations.  Practice humming and buzzing with ease as you exercise your vocal muscles. Make sure your lips are soft, barely touching. They should also be loose at the corners. The tongue should lie easily and loosely, with the tip of your tongue lightly touching your lower front teeth. Ensure your throat is free as if you are about to begin yawning. Also, remember that exercises are useless when performed incorrectly. Start slowly and increase your speed as you become more proficient. Exercises performed once correctly are far more valuable than an exercise repeatedly done poorly. Begin your humming and buzzing with simple songs. As you improve, step it up to include classical pieces and choruses as your breath control and resonance improve. Keep practicing, and over time you will find what is unique and natural to us all – Your distinctive, beautiful sound – Your voice – Your instrument.  

Acting & Public Speaking Same Difference?

Tell a story to make a point

What’s the difference between Acting and Public Speaking? Actors perform –  Speakers speak to be heard, understood, and repeated. They are different disciplines, but they have a lot in common. They both strive to achieve the same goals – communicating with their audience. However, some may ask, if 90 percent of all communication is nonverbal, shouldn’t public speakers include some acting when they are presenting?  And who determines if a speaker is acting or public speaking? Unfortunately for many speakers, when they don’t address those questions with their coaches and evaluators, audiences will walk away with the answers to those critical questions, and the speaker will be none the wiser. Actors perform, and public speakers use language to make their connection.

Speakers speak to inform, persuade, entertain and inspire. Storytelling is a critical skill all speakers use to achieve those goals. However, a fine line divides both lanes. Some speakers drift in and out of the acting lane with success. However, they must be reminded that speakers speak and actors perform. Acting is unnecessary when speakers use different figures of speech to tell stories. Dr. Randy Harvey, the 2004 World Champion of Public Speaking, uses the acronym SCREAM as a reminder to include Similes, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphors when storytelling. Speakers should also have a basic understanding of what is acting and what is public speaking.

Storytelling is the act of telling stories. They are narratives with a beginning, middle, and end. Webster defines acting as the act of presenting a character on stage or camera. The definition of Public Speaking is the act or process of making speeches in public. They all have a common purpose – the art of effectively communicating with an audience. And although the word act is present in all three instances, how the actor or speaker chooses to perform those acts makes all the difference.  Adding gestures, vocal variety, and eye contact when delivering a speech is not acting. All speakers must develop those essential skills to enhance their ability to connect with audiences. Your body speaks even louder than what you are saying; however, your words and actions must be in sync. You may very well be in the wrong lane when they are not.

A public speaker’s primary objective is maintaining contact with their audience throughout their delivery. Conversely, actors create an imaginary wall on stage between themselves and their audience as part of their act. In theatre, it is referred to as the fourth wall. Actors create an imaginary invisible wall to separate themselves from the audience. The audience fully views the actors communicating with each other on stage as if they are in private, which is quite the opposite of what public speakers strive to achieve.  I can remember observing Derek Walcott back in the 1970s while working on two of his plays – the Joker of Seville and O’Babylon. He would spend hours directing seasoned actors to break down that fourth wall when he wanted them to make a connection with the audience. Yes, actors do change lanes also.  

All speakers realize that maintaining a connection with audiences depends on their approach to Public Speaking. When speaking one-to-one in conversations, we all talk naturally. Speakers who take that same approach to the speaking platform communicate more effectively with audiences. When a speaker can build trust by speaking naturally from the heart, audiences will listen, regardless of size.  However, speakers must give their audience something to remember. Speakers must silence the questions that creep into the minds of their audience during a presentation. When an audience is watching and listening to a speaker, they are processing what they heard and interpreting what they saw and felt. When they like what they hear, you are connected. When they don’t, you lose them.    

I will never forget one of my dad’s favorite sayings, and he had many: – son, there’s nothing new under the sun. Dear to be different. Always give your audience something old, something new, something borrowed, and wear something blue for good luck and to ward off evil spirits. As always, papa was right, so I made those words of wisdom my secret to connecting with audiences. But finding and developing your unique style that interests audiences is always challenging. I would later discover the key is how the speaker chooses to deliver their message. Good speakers deliver their message as if it were served in fine China, while others will offer that same message as if it were on a garbage cover. Delivery makes all the difference.  

David Brooks, the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, has often said in his coaching sessions that the secret to Public Speaking is simple when you break it all down.  You tell a story to make a point, or you make a point, then tell a story. It is that simple. Then you repeat that process over and over. Give your audience something to think, feel, talk about or take some action after hearing your presentation. Leave the acting to the actors. They are performers. Use the SCREAM method when presenting. And when you speak to be heard, understood, and repeated, there would be no question in the minds of your audience about if you were acting or public speaking long after you have departed the platform.  

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