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.  

The World Championship of Public Speaking – It’s a Process

You can’t sell what you don’t own.

Every speaker’s dream is to produce someday a speech that withstands the test of time. Having made it to the Regional Levels of the World Championships on three different occasions, I must admit that I have enjoyed the coaching I received over my twenty years of competing more than anything that contest has to offer.

Having been an original Edge Member and worked with various champion speakers who not only achieved their goal of producing great speeches but have also walked away with the title of World Champion, it’s difficult not to recognize that it takes a process to be a champion speaker.  If you were to ask any of those champs, what does it take to produce a world championship speech? They will quickly admit that their process contributed to yielding their winning speech. That heralded speech, in some cases, has even had its roots in a long-forgotten icebreaker revived and put through the rigors of the process. So what is this process?

That process begins with a speaker’s passion, thoughts, ideas, and real-life experiences with universal appeal. Sounds familiar? We all have many from which we can choose.  The heavy lifting to formulate that material to move it from your head to your heart and into every muscle of your body and the bodies of their audience is the challenge. Only with a process you can get the job done. However, there can be no shortcuts in your approach. As one Great Native American Chief warned many moons ago – “Short cut – draws long blood!”  

The process is simple. First, you must commit your speech to paper. What is written has to be carefully culled and edited. Your first draft then has to be polished.  What was polished has to be roughed up a little. Even then, you still have an unfinished product. The speaker must now test that draft in front of live or virtual audiences. And finally, that speech has to be owned by the speaker. Only when the speaker confidently says I own this speech, it is ready to be sold to an audience. And speakers should never forget that you can’t sell what you don’t own.

The first phase is always the hardest. It is natural to be constantly asking yourself how much is too much. One approach is to let your thoughts flow. Write them all down; the keepers and the weepers, but therein lies yet another process. There is a vast difference between writing and typing your first draft. Ed Tate, the 2000 World Champion, in one of his coaching sessions I attended many years ago, spoke about the different feeling when you transcribe your thoughts manually versus typing.

The process of writing your thoughts is a lot more intimate. Also, you can write down those thoughts anytime, anywhere as they come to you. When writing out your initial ideas, there should be no error correcting or editing. Let your joys, sorrows, and pain all flow like a river to the sea. Admittedly, many of us skip this critical step and begin typing. However, only after you have put pen to paper a few times will you appreciate the value of completing that first crucial step.

One of my all-time favorite TV shows still is – “Name that Tune.” I love it simply because it’s a game I play while going through my culling process. I often challenge myself to express my ideas or thoughts in fewer words than I had initially written. What is most important in this phase of the process is to decide what stays in and what stays out. Craig Valentine’s rule of thumb? When in doubt, leave it out.

For best results, do your culling and editing on a computer using Word or any software application. However, it is vital to write it as you usually speak. Using the fewest words to make your point often produces the best results. It also helps if you listen to the sound of what you wrote. Listening to yourself can be painful. Many of us don’t know or like how we sound. Record and listen as you do your editing until you no longer cringe and can smile as you listen to that recording.

Your nicely formatted – culled, and edited first draft is a good starting point. That draft must now be polished and prepared to be taken to market.  This is where you want to shift your focus from yourself and the results you seek – to what you would like your audience to think, feel or do during and after they have experienced your presentation. You are now going through the process of transferring energy from yourself to your audience. Remember, your audience is now your customer, and we know the customer is always right, even when they are not. 

You must figure out how you can reach into their heads, hearts, and every muscle of their body, just like you did and felt when you started your production. Find your nuggets to polish them, so they stand out when it’s time to deliver. As you continue to polish, you must find that gem that will make your presentation most memorable. David Brooks, the 1990 World Champion, calls it your Magic Moment – The moment should make your audience say, “Wow, or even repeat it backward woW!!!” And every speech should have a magic moment.

Before you can sell anything, you must own it. Customers can always tell if your product is one of a kind or one of a million. Your well-polished presentation may always leave a bit of doubt in the minds of your audience, as my mamma used to say when she was still with us, pretty face, dirty tricks. Son, all that glitters is not gold. The owning process is where the rubber meets the road. You should be able to start your speech or presentation from any word in your final script without hesitation. 

Next, you must remove some of your polish to make your presentation appear as natural as possible. Authenticity always makes a better connection with audiences.  As you practice internalizing what you have prepared, permit yourself to be the genuine you. But resist the temptation to stray from your finished product. Remember, sell only what you own. It is always safer to be in the moment with your body language, gestures, or even facial expression than unrehearsed phrases. Time is of the essence.

Evaluations – solicited and or unsolicited- are yet another process on its own. Speakers should take note of all feedback received – the good, bad, and even the ugly. In that feedback, they should observe patterns and repeated comments. Don’t be afraid to explore and test the merits of all feedback received with your coach. Any critical feedback should be tested in front of different live audiences on at least three separate occasions.

Word of caution, if you find yourself having to do a lot of explaining to your audience after presenting, that’s a red flag. You may want to revisit your culling and editing for clarity. It is a good idea to keep all of your rough drafts and the feedback received after your testing. Writing and delivering a speech that will live on forever takes hard work; however, if you follow a process that has been tried, tested, and proven by champions, you too will be recognized someday as a champion in your own rights, regardless of who walks away with the title of World Champion of Public Speaking.

Five eCommerce Entrepreneurship Tips for Parents with Disabilities

Learn more about the process of becoming an entrepreneur!

After reading my article on following your dreams, a reader, Ed Carter asked, how can you “Follow your Dreams” when you are disabled? Ed also provided this article to inspire the physically disabled and perhaps the procrastinators still waiting for the right time to make their right move. Thanks, Ed Carter!

 Five eCommerce Entrepreneurship Tips for Parents with Disabilities

For parents with disabilities, becoming an eCommerce entrepreneur poses its challenges. But traditional workplaces can often be inhospitable for people with disabilities, and working from home on your terms can represent an improvement. These recommendations will help parents with disabilities follow their dreams and run viable eCommerce businesses.

Create a Business Plan

To run a successful business, you must start with a business plan. Suppose you’re wondering what to include in this plan. In that case, you’ll want to begin with the basics: write out a description of your company, how you plan to sell your products, what business structure you’ll choose, and your financial projections and expectations. This is also an excellent time to note if you’ll need any outside funding. To learn more about the process of becoming an entrepreneur, review this start a business guide for details.

Test Out Marketing Methods

You’ll need to market your business effectively to land your first customers. When you’re in the eCommerce space, having a distinctive logo is a must! This will help you make a lasting impression on people who visit your website and allow you to foster brand awareness. In a sector with lots of competition, the right logo can ensure that your company stands out.

You don’t need to pay for logo design services to complete this project: instead, you can use a free logo design tool online to get it done! You’ll start by choosing a style and icon and then include the text you want. This will generate a variety of logos with different fonts and colors that you can choose from.

Maintain a Reasonable Workload

As a business owner, you might feel like you’re under pressure to continuously grow your company and make more money with each passing month. But when you’re living with a disability, you need to put your health first, which might mean placing limits on orders from your eCommerce store, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Get Childcare Help

Even if you’re working from home, caring for your children on top of tackling your business to-do list can be difficult. You may want to talk to your partner, parents, siblings, or other nearby relatives and close friends about helping you out with childcare. What if you don’t have loved ones nearby who can help? You may want to enroll your child in daycare, even for just part of the week, so that you can handle pressing work-related tasks that require deeper concentration. To find the right daycare, What to Expect recommends getting references from your loved ones – they can help you evaluate your options based on their experiences.

Hire Employees

When you start your business, you might be tempted to handle every task independently, leaving you stressed and overworked. In the long run, trying to do too much can be damaging to your health. Instead, consider bringing a part-time employee or two on board or outsourcing some tasks to contractors. Suppose you’ve decided that you’re ready to hire your first employee. In that case, People recommend getting an Employer Identification Number, registering as an employer in your state, and setting up your payroll system. You’ll also want to share job descriptions across various platforms to attract the best candidates.

As a parent with a disability, you may have found that your past employers were not always accommodating. But when you run an eCommerce business from home, you have more control over your daily schedule and workload. With these tips, you can work independently and help your family thrive!

Engaging with Audiences -100 Percent

As you write, target with the intent to connect with your audience.

One of the many challenges Zoom has presented to speakers is the ability to engage audiences one hundred percent. How do you engage an audience that is behind an invisible wall, many ask? That question has been debated over and over by both speakers and audiences.

Pre-Pandemic and Zoom, if you were comfortable facing audiences and blessed with an olive oil tongue, you had it made. You could wing it and live to wing another day. But to engage an audience over Zoom, to penetrate that invisible wall, you must imagine that your audience cannot see or hear you unless you break down that invisible wall that separates you, the speaker, from them, the audience.

New Toastmasters often go through a process of discovery. Initially, new speakers tend to focus on themselves while on the platform. Later, we go through a transformation. We stop focusing on how we look, feel, or even sound. Our focus shifts to how the audience looks, feel, and respond to our message. We realize it’s not about us. It’s all about your audience. And that invisible wall will come tumbling down when we shift our focus to our audience and speak to be heard, understood, repeated, and connected.

Sledgehammers are unnecessary; the process begins with good writing, editing, and delivery. The structure is also an integral part of the process. I once heard it said the great orator Winston Churchill could look at the structure of a speech and, without even reading a word, could tell if what he saw was a good or bad speech, all because of the structure. Do you ever focus on yours when you are preparing your speeches?  What are your techniques for connecting with audiences?

Speakers can develop many well-known techniques to break through that invisible wall in their writing and editing phases. As you write and structure your speech, you must be aware of the parts of the audience’s body with which you are connecting. When you want your audience to think, address the head. If you can tickle the brain, that’s even better. Their reaction will tell you if you have got them thinking. You can then shift to the heart to have them empathize with you.  Moving along, you may then speak to their hands to do something or feet to take some action.  As you write, target with the intent to connect with your audience. Writing to connect takes practice. However, the more you do it, the better and more natural you will become.

All speakers know the power of storytelling. Many years ago, one of my mentors introduced me to the power of keeping story files. Today I have a few volumes of events I captured over the years. After writing down my experiences, I turn them into vignettes to be told at opportune moments. I advise you to keep your short stories simple, authentic, and creative.  File them in a system that makes them readily available. Develop your storytelling skills by focusing on not just telling your stories but on taking your audience back in time with you. When you can re-live your experiences with your audiences, your presentations will long be remembered.

Asking your audience questions is another technique that engages audiences. Rhetorical questions are my favorite because you already know the answer. Asking questions of your audience can sometimes be risky. Know your audience. The method I often use is to preface the question with a setup. For example – It was a Monday morning.  I was standing at my front door – fully dressed but still feeling as naked as the day I was born – Have you ever had that feeling. We all have when you feel like you forget something.  There you have the setup, the question, and the answer. But there’s more. Then comes the pregnant pause – the silence that sends your message. Try it – It works every time. And trust me, your message will penetrate any wall between you and your audience.  

One of the most critical steps in breaking down that invisible wall is bringing that speech to life. Moving your speech from your head to a script is only the beginning. Next, you have to move your speech to your heart. You must convince your audience that you are passionate about your subject matter. You don’t have to sound like a used car salesman. However, you have to sell your message with conviction.  Use the tools you have mastered as you make your delivery. Be aware of your body’s spoken image, verbal punctuation, gestures, body movement, facial expressions, and eye contact. They all must work together in unison when you are on the platform.  

The tools I have given you are just a start, don’t put them on the shelf. You must practice them until that wall becomes invisible to you and your audience. I believe the Pandemic and Zoom have provided us an excellent opportunity to become better speakers – not just virtually but in how we will communicate when we return to live presentations. Today I challenge you to break through that invisible wall when next you step on the platform. Tell your stories, ask questions, and use every muscle in your body to connect with your audience, and you will engage with them every time – 100 percent.

 Fires in the Sky

The Travis Walton Experience

There is something up there – That is now out here. We don’t know what it is, but many are quick to dismiss that something as fake news or “much ado about nothing.” Fellow earthlings, what do you believe?

Ten, five, or even two years ago, I must admit I would be petrified to speak to you about that something, of which I know nothing more than what has been reported. However, recently there has been a lot of new media coverage about that something:  “Fires in the sky” – UFOs. Recently, even our government has finally admitted that we are not alone. But still would not tell us what they know about those fires. We all have heard or read stories about Area 51 and Roswell. However, my all-time favorite UFO story was and still is the Travis Walton Experience. It is the best-documented account of an alien abduction that also cost six of his coworkers their freedom. Why? Because we humans can’t handle the truth. Our truth is all that matters.

On November 5th, 1975, Travis Walton and six of his coworkers were on a truck departing the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest near Snowflake, Arizona. Suddenly, they witnessed a bright, large, silvery disk landing about 100 feet away from their truck. Travis jumped off the truck and started toward the object. He was blasted with a bright light that knocked him to the ground unconscious. His coworker, in a panic, fled the scene to report the incident to the authorities. However, their story was met with skepticism. The six coworkers were even subjected to taking polygraph tests. Five passed, and one was inconclusive. Still, no one believed their story. Soon, rumors and questions began to swirl. Was Travis killed in the forest by his coworkers? Were they covering up the truth with their crazy story? Are there aliens among us? Is one sitting next to you right here- right now?

Travis Walton went missing for five days and six hours before showing up mysteriously on the side of a street near Heber, Arizona. And his a story that was even more outrageous. Walton’s account of what transpired over those five days and six hours he went missing remains to this day, the best account of an alien abduction. Walton even wrote a book three years after the incident that was later dramatized in a film called – Fires in the Sky. After being struck by the light beam, Waldon claimed that he awoke in a hospital-like room, observed by three short bald creatures he described as humanoids. Initially, he fought before being subdued by a human wearing a helmet. That human led him to another room where he blacked out when three other humans put a clear plastic mask over his face. After that, Walton remembered nothing else until he found himself walking along the highway where he was found. He was dropped off, and the flying saucer departed overhead.

Although to Travis, every word of that account was true. But if you were Travis Walton, would you have told it to anyone? Walton described some of the events and their aftermath in a book – The Walton Experience. He claimed that being abducted by the humanoids was the better part of the story. Travis was freaking out initially. However, that experience was nothing compared to what he had endured from his fellow humans. Some accused him of being a charlatan, a fake to make money. Some even claimed that his abduction by aliens never occurred. And that it was a hoax just for publicity. Now that you have heard Walton’s story, do you believe we are the only living creatures on the face of this earth? You may want to check who is still sitting next to you, my fellow earthling.

We, humans, are becoming more and more skeptical about the truth. When a story is about something our intellect can rationalize and understand, we are more inclined to accept it as truth. When we can’t, it is often written off as fake news. In one of his many interviews, Travis said he came to believe that it was better to let the government spin his and their story however they wished. They claim it is to protect us all. Let the believers believe and let the doubters doubt. But today, there are many more reports of Fires in the Sky. Not just in America but all over the world. However, what is most disturbing to some, is the belief that those fires can be advanced technologies developed by countries seeking world dominance. What do you believe?

If there is something up there that is now out here, don’t you want to know? Do you even care? The lesson from the Walton experience for me is that your truth is all that matters in the world today, but be very careful with whom you choose to share those truths. While some may think you are just crazy, who cares? Why worry. Others will write off your experience as just another case of – fake news – or even much ado about nothing.

What you Said & What we Heard

The tip of the tongue the teeth and the lips.

What you said and what we heard were quite different. All speakers receive similar feedback at some time, even when they are sure they said what they meant to say. While some may be quick to blame their style of speaking or even their accent. That feedback may be a clarion moment, advising that it’s time to work on your voice, diction, and vocabulary.

Have you received feedback about your diction in an evaluation recently? For some evaluators, addressing a speaker’s diction is like touching the third rail of public speaking. Well, today, let’s touch that third rail carefully.

On or off the platform, speakers must never forget that what matters most is what your audience heard, not what they said or intended to say. Your diction determines your style of enunciation when we are speaking. Diction exercises and drills can help us develop our stresses, rhythm, pronunciation, and intonation. When practiced regularly, they enhance our ability to deliver our presentations with precision and clarity. Messages heard and clearly understood by audiences are repeated. To be quoted by someone who heard you speak days, months or even years ago is rewarding and validating.

When communicating formally or informally, we stress our content words. Conversely, we unstress function words. Simply put, content words contribute to the meaning of the sentences in which they occur. They typically are verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, some pronouns, numbers, questions, and quantities. When content words are stressed, they are more pronounced, they sound louder and sometimes are held longer in duration to command attention. And when speakers add a moment of silence to follow a sentence with content words, their message is sent. The silence that follows sends the message.

Function words are usually unstressed. They often don’t convey much meaning; however, they are essential to the grammatical structure of sentences. They include articles, prepositions, conjunctions, auxiliary verbs, and some pronouns. They are often pronounced quickly with a lower pitch than content words and are sometimes difficult to hear. They are usually softer, quieter, and are held much shorter in duration than content words. As a result, your function words can sometimes get lost in your communication.

Over time we become identified with our distinctive voice, intonation, and manner of speaking. Your vocabulary is essential when you are delivering your message. The words you choose can easily misrepresent the message you intended to convey. A better selection of words and proper diction can help us communicate more effectively with our audiences. Also, we tend to develop rhythmic patterns when we stress and unstress our words and syllables. We develop accents, especially when pronouncing two-syllable nouns. Ever notice that we stress the first syllable in almost every instance of the English language? And at the same time, many two-syllable verbs have second-syllable stresses.

Note that there is often a shift in stress when there is a noun-verb combination. For example – DEsert/ deSERT – ADDress/addRESS – PREsent/preSENT – The stressing and the un-stressing of content words and syllables create rhythm in our manner of speaking. Over time we develop a distinctive mode of pronunciation commonly used in the environment from which we originated. Where and how we place our syllables, stresses, and pitch often determine that which is called our accent. And believe it or not, we all have one; an accent.

To correct the problems and some of the bad habits we develop in our everyday communication, we must first become aware of how we sound when we speak. Do you know how you sound when you talk? Is your delivery fast or slow? Do you eat some of your words? Do you sound like you asked a question when you make a statement?   Well, I have good news and even better news for you. First, the good news: Those problems can be fixed easily with drills and exercises. And the better news? I know a place where you can find many of those drills and exercises.

Speaking out loud is a free website to which you can subscribe to get you started. It is a website developed by Susan Dugdale, which features articles on the basic principles of effective speech delivery. On her website, you will find several tongue twisters and drills to help you with your diction and pronunciation. On Susan’s website, in addition to a list of 36 of the best tongue twisters, you will find games and drills to develop your speaking skills.  The link to her website is  https://www.write-out-loud.com/dictionexercises.html  

Let’s have some fun with a few of her tongue twisters: Put a few on the back of a business card for easy access to practicing: “The tip of the tongue the teeth and the lips.” Now say that a bit faster.  

And how about your B words? “Betty bought a bit of butter, but she found the butter bitter, So Betty bought a bit of better butter to make the bitter butter better. Again, try saying that a bit faster and faster.

And let’s end with a few F words: Four furious friends fought for the phone. Again, again and again.

Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions. And a little bit faster, please, fantastic!

Lastly, remember your voice is your instrument. Take care of it. To keep it tuned and ready, stay hydrated, avoid shouting and where possible, use amplification. Do a simple warmup exercise before speaking. “Me Moo Mu My” is one of those simple flexing exercises all speakers can do even silently before stepping onto the speaking platform. Your daily exercise routines will help you stay ready, Improve your diction and clarity. And your message will be heard, understood, and repeated when you remember it is always not what you said; it’s what your audience heard!

Every Evaluator is a Donor

Remember the Mission

If Speeches are the heart of the Toastmasters program, evaluations are the blood that keeps our program alive. At club meetings and contests, evaluators compete. The best Evaluator at the club level competes at the Area, Division, and District levels. The winner at the district level is crowned the District Evaluation Champion. Every Toastmaster evaluates their fellow Toastmasters and is open to being evaluated by their peers. Giving, receiving, and applying feedback enhances our ability to become better public speakers. Evaluations are crucial skills for a speaker’s development. At Toastmasters, we evaluate to motivate. Good evaluators become better listeners, better speakers, and better leaders.

Members rely on the experiences of each other for their support and honest feedback. Therefore, it is crucial to learn best practices and strategies at your club meetings by observing. As you develop, you will receive, apply, and eventually learn to give constructive feedback to others. Understanding what is and what is not an evaluation is critical. Dispelling myths and using proven techniques to deliver feedback should be clearly understood. Using positive language and the difference between offering feedback and advice is vital. Every evaluation given or received can cause a speaker to move forward on their journey or submit to the belief that public speaking is for professionals.

As you continue your journey as a speaker, you will have many opportunities to evaluate fellow Toastmasters. When you receive evaluations from your peers, what should you do with those evaluations? They should be kept in a personal file. That file will later serve as your roadmap documenting your progress as a speaker. Keeping your evaluations in a single location is a good practice. The Toastmasters Pathways Program offers a repository for your evaluations. Review your past assessments to look for repeated behaviors. Take note of repeated comments. And also, look for areas where you have grown as you continue to develop.

 Evaluations are the personal opinions about the speech and not the Speaker. At club meetings, the evaluation is based on the objectives of an assigned project. However, although evaluations in a contest setting are quite different, the guidelines are similar. The Evaluator focuses on what they saw, heard, and felt, just like any audience member. Evaluators should also remember that the speech is not theirs; it’s the Speaker’s speech. As an evaluator, you are not a teacher and should avoid phrases like “you would,” “you should,” or “you could have.” Avoid any language which may sound like you are coaching or offering advice. It is better to use I statements. However, as a general rule, a suggestion should follow your critique, so keep your comments and suggestions brief.  

There are many common myths that evaluators and speakers should dispel. The first is that they are not worthy of evaluating a speaker with more experience than themselves. Wrong! Some of the best-unfiltered feedback you will ever receive is from kids or non-Toastmasters. Speakers speak to be heard and understood. Once you can understand the Speaker, you should be able to talk about what you saw, heard, and felt. Focus on how you felt and respond with your emotions as if you just had a one-on-one conversation with the Speaker about their speech.

Another is that you must find something wrong or negative about the speech. Wrong again! No, you don’t. You don’t even have to like the speech or the Speaker. Instead, decide on one of the techniques commonly used for evaluations. For example, in a club setting, if you can communicate with the Speaker before the speech is delivered, ask the Speaker for three things they would like you to focus on as their Evaluator. Two well-known techniques I like using are the Sandwich method, Good – Improvement – Good, and the Spaghetti method. With the spaghetti method, you state each category you will address: i.e., Presentation, Content, and Delivery. Then, you speak about the positive and negative in each category before linking what you liked overall in your summary.   

When competing at the Area, Division, or District Competitions, prepare a cheat sheet for note-taking and use it to practice. Many examples are available on the web. Follow the Speaker from their beginning title and introduction. Highlight the central point from the body and the development of their topic. Make sure you Repeat their FS – their Foundational Statement. Your delivery should be one – the Speaker – to many – the audience. Keep in mind that your audience is the camera in a virtual setting. And if you mentioned what the Speaker needs to work on in your summary, end on a positive note. Remember the Mission as you focus on the Toastmaster’s core values: Integrity, Respect, Service, and Excellence.

The following is a general reminder of what evaluators note when observing a speaker on the platform – Poise, Confidence, and Nervousness. They listen for Vocal Variety, Diction, Simile, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphors. They list some of the Speaker’s power statements. Then they recall how the Speaker delivered them in their evaluation. Mirror the emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, or even disgust. Often, how you felt is more memorable than the actual words spoken.

Your last words may be your most important statement in an evaluation speech contest. They should linger into your minute of silence after you have spoken. Do not thank your audience, let them thank you with their applause. Choose your last words carefully. And always remember, when you Evaluate to Motivate, you are honoring the Mission. You are helping with the development of your fellow members and clubs. And with each evaluation you give or receive, you are like a donor supplying what the heart needs to keep our Toastmasters programs alive, strong, and healthy.

Difficult Conversations

Are you the problem solver at your Company?

How do you speak to angry customers – carefully! Speaking with a dissatisfied customer was the occasion that brought me to Toastmasters initially. In my past careers as a Credit Manager, Technical Support Engineer, and Manager, I often dealt with dissatisfied and angry customers. However, after my many successes and developing a record of restoring relationships between my Company and customers, I became known as the problem solver. Are you the problem solver at your Company?

 It is important to remember when you are the problem solver; the customer is trying to resolve an issue or a challenge they are facing. You are not the problem; however, you can become their bigger problem if you are not careful. They may be expressing their frustration at the Company and not you personally. So don’t take it personally.

Their dissatisfaction and frustration resulting from the issue may be because of the business challenges they face, or it may be due to the failure to meet past expectations. For starters, always make sure you are the person who should be addressing their issue. Then, if you will be their problem solver, the following are some helpful tips when facing angry, dissatisfied customers.

Establish if a problem does exist, and you are not dealing with the misinterpretation of your documentation. Be emphatic without accepting blame. Sometimes, documentation interpretation is the root cause of a perceived problem. Documentation clarification can often save both parties time and unnecessary frustration when resolving issues.  

Take a moment to do a quick check or audit before digging deeper into the problem.

  • First, verify that the product is performing as designed.
  • Next, consider if the customer’s expectations were reasonable.
  • Finally, establish if the issue is a problem or feature request.

The objective is for both parties are to feel:

  • That they were heard and understood
  • Someone will address their concerns
  • And a resolution for their problem is possible immediately or in the future.

To advance to a resolution, be prepared to answer questions as they arise. Stay focused, relaxed, and confident without allowing yourself to be intimidated. Make sure your product knowledge is current. Operators who use your product daily may see use-cases you have never experienced before. Listen and document their experience before moving forward.

Keep an open mind. Resist the temptation to interrupt or propose a solution before fully grasping the issue you attempt to resolve. Instead, show empathy when faced with the unexpected. Paraphrase the customer’s statements to gain a clearer understanding of the issue. Be open to testing and recreating the behavior the customer is experiencing. Expect the unexpected.

There are times when a customer may strike out at you. Don’t strike back or give in to the customer with promises you cannot keep. Silence works best in those situations. Instead, professionally stand your ground. Then turn your customer’s focus and attention back to solving the problem.

Your objective as the problem solver is to turn your dissatisfied customer into a happy, satisfied customer for life. That is a big responsibility and a tall order for anyone. However, when trusted with that responsibility, you are your Company’s face. That challenge will test your communication skills. Each time you speak to a dissatisfied customer and achieve success, your confidence will grow. Of course, you can’t win them all, but who knows, someday you too may become known as the problem solver.  

The Benefits of Competing

What we practice daily becomes permanent. 

Once again, it is contest season, and many Toastmasters are preparing for their competitions. Some are competing for the first time, while for others, it’s one more time. We all say, one more time, until the next time or until you become the WCPS – The world champion of public speaking. Yes, you can smile.

Whether you are competing at the club or international level, you will notice that your speaking skills will dramatically increase when you participate in any of the annual speaking contests. This is because competing has proven to be the fastest way to develop your speaking skills. 

Once you have decided to compete, it is a good idea to commit to the three Ps of public speaking-: Preparation – Practice, before Presentation. The three Ps apply to all competitions, not just the International Speech Contest. Those Ps also relate to the Evaluation and Table Topics contests.

Make it a habit to answer your everyday questions like you would your Table Topics questions. And evaluate your responses. Provide your answer as if you were at a club meeting. Make it a part of your daily communication style. And over time, you will discover what you practice is fast becoming permanent.  

One may ask how you can prepare for those moments you cannot predict? The trick is to avoid expecting or anticipating, or predicting those moments. Instead, practice being in the moment. Use the skills you have developed at your club meetings over the years to help you to stay ready for your big moment on the competitive stage. Don’t just get ready to compete – stay ready by incorporating being spontaneous in your everyday speaking style. 

Everyone relates to stories. Use life stories and experiences that brought you to where you are today. Then, use those stories to practice thinking on your feet as you stand and deliver with confidence. As one of my mentors would often say, we don’t join Toastmasters to be better Toastmasters at Toastmasters. If life is a stage, then we are the speakers, and again, what we practice daily becomes permanent. 

A well-delivered response depends on how well we listen. Be attentive. Listen for keywords. Let your inner voice silently confirm what you heard before beginning your answer. When evaluating a test speaker, focus on what you Saw, Heard, and Felt. Most people will relate to how the speaker made them feel. Express empathy by using phrases to express how you felt when the speaker said whatever they said that resonated with you.

Make good communication an integral part of your lifestyle. Before you begin speaking, always try to put your audience at ease. An initial pause or a smile is an excellent strategy to help you connect with your audience. Let them anticipate what your opening statement might be after your introduction. There is no time penalty for pausing or smiling; however, you should make sure it is not overdone. Also, pleasantries are unnecessary – Get to the point and begin with your primary issue when you start. Time is of the essence when you are competing. Make every minute count.   

To help you stay focused and on topic, practice using models, formulas, or templates when preparing for Evaluation and Table Topic Competitions. Many excellent samples are available for different types of questions. Some you can even turn into acronyms. For evaluations, there are well-documented standard methods.

Here are some examples:

The PREP Formula: POINT REASON EXAMPLE, then repeat your POINT to summarize works well.

The WAG: Where I WAS – Where I AM & where I am GOING, then summarize to close.

ALWAYS SUMMARIZE TO CLOSE

The CER Method: CAUSE – EFFECT – REMEDY is another excellent method. 

The PPF: PAST – PRESENT – FUTURE. Great for some types of Table Topic questions. 

Stay with the rule of threes as you create your formulas, and you will gain experience with all different types of questions.  

Make competing fun, and you will enjoy the benefits. Strive for excellence. To quote World Champion speaker Dana LaMon, to excel is to do better today than you did yesterday. Compare your performance today with yesterday’s results. If you were improved or advanced, you excelled! Good luck competing, and if you did, I am sure you too will be competing for many more years to come. 

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