Follow Your Dream

A dream without a plan is just a wish.

Write it – Then Speak it

Can you recall a time when you felt like you had a brilliant idea, one that you could change the world? But just as you began reaching for that dream, you sought advice from the experts – Mr. and Mrs. Always Right – Those righteous family friends who know everything about anything. And with all their what-ifs, they were quick to point out every little thing that could turn that dream of yours into a nightmare. Yes! We all have friends like Mr. and Mrs. Right. Do you?

And although you felt in your heart that you were all right, and the Rights – were all wrong, did you follow your dream? No! You, too, surrendered; why? Because those experts were able to convince your family, your friends, and even your pets that you were losing it, going crazy, and somebody had to save you. So now, you’re saved! Alleluia! And everyone is happy as you are now living like the Rights. – Doing the nine to five – You’re now living off the wall.

Fast forward – ten years. You are now sitting in your Den – With your wife and two point five kids. Yes, the family is growing. You’re enjoying your newfound favorite TV show – Shark Tank – The place where dreamers go seeking OPM – Other People’s Money – to make their dreams come true—and getting it. That’s when you see your bright idea flash before your eyes on your widescreen TV, with some stranger asking for 500 thousand dollars for 10% of his business—Your brilliant idea.

And to add insult to injury, your supportive wife chimes in – Honey, why didn’t you think of that. While you are accusing this stranger you have never met, of stealing your dream. But did you really have a dream? Again, your dear wife chimes in with – “Love a dream without a plan is just a wish. And there is only one place that promises to make all our wishes come true, (finger snap) Disneyland. In your dream, you must see the possibilities. You must make it happen. You must follow your dream with a plan. Love. The plan is the glue that will make you stick to your dream”

The most common excuse we all give for not following our dreams is life; the price we pay to see another God-given day. But if truth be told, we are quick to surrender to the comforts of the life we have come to know – instead of facing the challenges of following our dreams. And when that life demands that we start making a better living for the family, that’s when we go running back to Mr. & Mrs. Right, who are the first to tell you, your time has passed – You are over the hill – It is too late. But believe me, my friends it’s never too early or too late to follow your dreams.

My dream was always to be doing what I am doing right here, right now – Public Speaking; however, I got a late start. My parents thought I was mute at birth. They blamed my demise on cutting my hair too early, which turned out to be an old wife’s tale. So, I had some catching up to do. But once I began speaking, they could not shut me up. The comments on my report cards always had one common theme – Good student – talks too much. Did you have similar comments on your report cards?

Then in 1997, I found a great organization that transforms talkers into speakers. They convinced me that if could dream it I could make it happen. But I must see the possibilities in my dreams, and I must follow my dreams. And here I am today, living my dream, earning six figures from doing what I love – Public Speaking. Now those six figures started with all zeroes, but over time, those zeroes have been changing into ones, slowly but surely.

I believe we can change this world through better communication and better leadership. However, we must never be afraid of failure. I have heard it said many times, that failures are learning experiences; only surrender is permanent. Promise me; if your dream is to write a book, you will start writing. If that dream is to be an American idol, stop idling. If it is to be an Olympian, begin training. Whatever your dream is, just do it! But first, however, you must have a solid plan. A plan A, B, and perhaps even C.

My friends, a dream without a plan is just a wish. Follow your dreams with a plan. With a dream and a plan, someday, you will prove Mr. & Mrs. Right wrong! And on that day, trust me, they will be the first to say – we knew you could do it – I told you so – what took you so long. And that’s when you must continue your social distancing – and with a smile, just keep on dreaming.  

Henry O. Miller © 4.13.2022

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. 

Are You Competing

Follow the herd, and no one will hear you

February signals the beginning of the Toastmasters competition season at the Area, Division, or District levels. Are you competing – If not, why not? Competing is the fastest way to improve as a speaker. These contests vary. They can be International, Humorous, or Evaluation. Whether you plan to speak or evaluate, preparation is crucial. However, before you step onto the platform for the first time or once again, here are a few things you may want to consider.    

Every Speech – Humorous, International, or Evaluation has four areas that require your utmost attention, the point, purpose, message, and the foundational statement, or FS.   The point and purpose of the speech will often relate to the FS. The FS may be inferred when the speaker does not state it clearly. The title of the speech can also help you identify the speaker’s point and purpose. There is always a message that resonates throughout the delivery in that point and purpose.

Whether you are a Speaker or Evaluator, when you are on the competitive platform, your approach to an evaluation differs from speaking or evaluating at a club meeting. At a club meeting, you deliver a speech based on stated objectives. The evaluator states the objectives, follows them, and evaluates based on what they saw, heard, and felt. The aim is primarily to help the speaker improve.

Although your evaluation is still based on what you saw, heard, and felt on the competitive platform, there are no stated objectives. However, you should immediately identify the speaker’s type of speech. Ask yourself if this was a speech to inform, entertain, motivate, or inspire. How you feel is vital as it greatly influences what you saw and heard, as it will often positively or negatively affect your feelings.

It is also crucial for the speaker or evaluator to understand the difference between point and purpose. The purpose focuses on WHY the speaker is delivering that speech. The top three purposes are to persuade your audience to take action, inform or explain or teach a concept, or entertain the audience. The acronym PIE is a simple way to remember -purpose.

To identify the point of the speech, shift your focus from the WHY to the WHO or WHICH. Who or which character is delivering the story’s details? Although the speech is the speaker’s point of view, it is essential to recognize and identify the different characters telling or sharing the story’s details. The point will often lead to some action.

As the speaker or evaluator, you are up against the clock to make your point, state your purpose, and deliver your message. To do so effectively, you must know where you are as you deliver your speech or evaluation. Divvy up your time. You must know where you are at the five, six- and seven-minute mark when you are the speaker. The same goes for when you are an evaluator. Know the two,  two, and a half-and three-minute marks in your evaluation. Always know where you are and where you are heading.

The message carries a heavy burden, as it’s your final opportunity to get your audience to take some action. The 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, David Brooks, has often said you should leave your audience feeling compelled to take some action during the minute of silence after you have spoken.

Although the speaker’s message should resonate throughout the speech, driving home your message is most important. When you are the evaluator, make sure you highlight the message you got from the presentation and how the message made you feel. Too often, evaluators focus almost entirely on what they saw, heard, and ignore how the speaker made them feel.

Finally, dare to be different whether you were a speaker or evaluator. Follow the herd, and no one will hear you. So, on a scale of one to ten, ask yourself, what is my eleven. What will make my speech or evaluation stand out from the others? While there is nothing new under the sun, if you could find that nugget, making that gem your magic moment can make all the difference.

And, if you felt like you owned the platform and enjoyed the moment, you should walk away feeling you made your point, fulfilled your purpose, and delivered your message. And regardless of where you placed, you will always walk away a winner because – you competed.   

Let Freedom Reign

Can’t we all just get along

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from the speech – Mr. HarvardSpeaking Poetically

The Beginnings of Toastmasters

For many years Toastmasters was a well-kept secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Brief History of Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Meeting That Never Was

Make your next meeting an experience.

Sometimes we attend a scheduled meeting, which turns out to be something else; an experience. Recently I had one of those unforgettable experiences. At one of my club’s bi-monthly meetings two Thursdays ago, we didn’t have a quorum.

As the SAA- Sargent at Arms, I called the meeting to order. Realizing we were facing a problem all clubs occasionally do, we considered canceling the meeting. Luckily, we didn’t, and it turned out to be a moment all who showed were happy they did. I now call that experience – The Meeting that Never Was.

The scheduled agenda was postponed to the next meeting day. A motion was then entertained to watch a video and have Table Topics based on what everyone saw, heard, and felt. The motion carried.

After watching the video, Jeffery Deslich delivered his Table Topic, which I am happy to share today with his permission. The video selected from my library was by Dr. Sean Stephenson.

His video was played on the final day of a 3-day Seminar I had attended one week earlier. Unfortunately, Dr. Sean Stephenson is now deceased, but he remains unforgettable.

The Seminar was entitled – Monetize Your Message – Hosted by Bob Dietrich and Chris Nielson. It featured Lance Miller, Darren LaCroix, Mark Brown, and many other well-known Toastmasters and professional speakers. The following was Jeffery’s Table Topic. He vividly captured and shared how much he appreciated Dr. Stephenson’s video in an email to all the members of the club.

——– Original message ——–

 Hello fellow Toastmasters,

“During the last meeting, which was minimally attended, Henry proposed that we watch a video by Dr. Sean Stephenson, a therapist, self-help author, and motivational speaker. This speaker was unique in that because he was born with a problem that caused his bones to be very brittle, and he was only 3 feet tall 65 pounds, and in a wheelchair. Nonetheless, this man was an incredible speaker. “In the speech that we watched, he broke down the elements of the speech that he was giving, as he went along, detailing the many lessons that he has learned on how to write and deliver a great speech.”

I searched YouTube hoping to find this video, I could not find it, although I found many other excellent Sean Stephenson videos such as:

YouTube Link:
Creating Powerful Connections | Sean Stephenson    
(Dr. Sean Stephenson Videos are available on YouTube)

After watching the video last Thursday, we had a table topics session, and I delivered my table topics speech about the video from the notes I had taken.

This is a summary of my notes:

Don’t jump into the speech – he rolled his wheelchair out onto the stage but did not immediately start to talk; instead, he took a moment to look at the audience – for the audience to look at him. This had a huge visual and psychological impact.

For someone in a wheelchair, he had an incredible onstage presence, the way that he moved his wheelchair about the stage kept the viewers’ eyes focused upon him.

No autopilot – focus on your audience, make it real and personal every time you give your speech, don’t just recite your speech the way you have rehearsed it many times before

Pauses – many times during his speech, he just stopped and looked at the audience, sometimes to let the audience absorb what he just said, or other times to build up anticipation of what he would say next.

No Division – write your speech in a way not to divide your audience into groups; politically, religiously.

No Idolization – be one with the audience, try to be like your audience, show your audience that you are like them, do not put yourself on a pedestal.

Reconnect with the audience often.

Oh, Bummer. I have a note about a joke he told, but I only wrote on the punchline! “I’m not the father… I’m not the father” please, somebody, remind me of the joke! … ( it was about receiving good and bad news – I am not the father – Good News… I am not the father – Bad New)

Never make up a story – I liked this part the best! In this concept, he referred to the story as coffee, never make up a story, make your story real, but it’s okay to add “cream” that’s what adds flavor to the story, a little bit of embellishment.

He used many comedic hand gestures, for example, “ripping the Band-Aid off.”

Don’t apologize for screwing up – if you screw up and apologize to your audience, then you have screwed up twice! If you make a mistake, just keep going.

Audiences want closure – when you end your story, your audience wants it to have an ending. Even if it is a bad ending, it provides closure. ‘He closed his story by humming the tune to “Hail to the chief” as he told of him being pushed in his wheelchair into the White House, and that took his story back around the beginning of his speech where he talked about wanting to become the President of the United States.”

I invite all of you to go to YouTube and watch one or more videos from this excellent speaker. I believe you will find them very entertaining as well as educational.

I’m looking forward to seeing you at next Thursday’s meeting,”

Jeffery Deslich

That was not the first or will not be the last meeting that never was. However, every time I have one of those experiences, I am reminded of the humble beginnings of Toastmasters and even some clubs. They began with those who showed up and kept coming back. So, make your next meeting that never was, and experience. Have it for all who are called and the few who have chosen to be present. It’s not always about the numbers when you show up.

Impromptu Speaking

Let silence send your message!

Samuel Clements, famously known as Mark Twain, must have scared every aspiring speaker when he said –  “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” However, Twain was known to be quick-witted, humorous, and could be in the moment when called unexpectedly to speak.

I believe the secret to impromptu speaking lies in your ability to be in the moment. But first, you must have a plan. Over time, speakers should develop their strategy for speaking impromptu. Begin by focusing on the keywords of the question. Then, use your keyword as anchors at the beginning and end of your answer.

In the English Language, there are five basic types of questions. Factual, Convergent, Divergent, Evaluation and Combination. Most Toastmasters Table Topic questions are either Convergent or Divergent. Therefore, it is wise to identify the topic type as you listen carefully for subtle details hidden in the question.

 Convergent: Questions moving towards a single point challenge the cognitive thinking skills of the respondent. They are expected to offer a response that is within a finite range of acceptable accuracy. The response provided may be based on personal awareness, material read, or known. The speaker is also expected to justify their answer or give evidence to support their response.

Divergent: Questions moving toward different directions challenge the speaker to explore other avenues and create different variations and alternative scenarios. Correctness may be based on logic, projections, creation, or the speaker’s imagination. These types of questions require the speaker to analyze, evaluate or synthesize the various possible outcomes.

How you answer your question is most important. Don’t leave your audience out of the moment. Check-in with your audience. When you fail to check in – your audience will check out. A standard method used to answer Table Topic questions is the PREP formula. The acronym PREP is derived from (P) Point, (R) Reason, (E) Example (P) Point.

In Toastmasters Table Topic Competitions, each speaker is allowed 2 minutes and 30 seconds to respond to their question before disqualification. So, prepare a plan for how you are going to divvy up your allotted time. The following is my suggestion.

  •        Point – Pause – Paraphrase:             30 – Seconds
  •        Reason – Because – Justification:  30 – Seconds   
  •        Example – For Instance or Story:    30 – Seconds
  •        Point to Summarize and Close:        30 – Seconds

Note the speaker will still have 30 seconds left. After you have delivered your summary, hand control back to the Chair. Stop talking! Let silence send your message.

Table Topic contests judging are like any humorous or international speech contest. The suggested point values are Speech Development 30 pts, Effectiveness 25 pts, Physical 15 Pts, Voice 15pts, and Language 15pts. When your answer is different enough to stand out from the rest of the crowd, you will most likely win the judges’ hearts and minds.

We all know nothing in life is absolute. But just as there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to an argument or a Divergent question – Make sure you address both sides; the pros and cons. A referee with a two-headed coin is biased. Similarly, addressing only one side of a discussion will divide your audience and your judges. So show both sides of the coin to your audience.

Your summary and closing must have a lingering effect on your audience. You don’t have to be an expert on the subject you are addressing. However, by relating the question to a real-life event or a familiar theme, you should get a boost of energy. So, relax, and get to work without hesitation. Be in the moment.

Before you begin to speak, let your body language show your appreciation for the question. With a smile, check in with your audience, then paraphrase or restate the question. If possible, add a twist to your paraphrase to make a stronger connection. Then, address the question as if you are the expert in the room. You must convince your audience that you know what you are talking about.

Table Topics in Toastmasters is intended to help members develop their ability to organize their thoughts quickly and respond to an impromptu question or topic. Two past Presidents I have always admired for handling difficult questions were Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton. They were both quick-witted, Regan especially. He mastered the art of turning questions on its head in a flash with humor.

When speakers can get their audience to laugh, think profoundly, or look at a problem differently, they will be rewarded by their judges and audiences. So perhaps Mark Twain was right; maybe it does take three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech, but I will add, except for when that impromptu speaker is in the moment, with a plan.

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