A lesson from the GOAT

You will win some and lose some, we can’t win them all!

As long as we have life, we will have bigger and bigger battles to fight. You will win some and lose some, we can’t win them all, but the secret to success in life is – you must pick your battle carefully. That was the life lesson I got when I met the GOAT, The Greatest of All Times – Muhammed Ali, on a Monday morning in the summer of 1989. A Monday morning that would change my life forever.

I was about to step into the elevator at the Lincoln Building in Manhattan, New York, as I did every work day for the past fifteen years. Suddenly, the door began closing slowly when a giant hand reached out. The door sprung open. I looked up to thank the perfect stranger, only to realize that he was no stranger.

Standing majestically in front of the marquee was Ali. I stepped back; he said, “get in! what floor you’re going to?”  Like he was the elevator operator. Now, this is no table topic question, but tell me what you would have said or done. I froze, then whispered – I’ll take the fifty-second, please, sir – as I stepped into my neutral corner in the elevator – bewildered.  

At that moment, a little voice popped into my head, screaming don’t say anything stupid. Still, the motor in my mouth started running. I know you. Ali -No, you don’t. Then silence until my engine revved again. So, I see you are going to the thirty-sixth floor – The Banquet Hall? Ali Yep! – To retire again, Champ! It’s over – it’s over, Champ!

The GOAT did not like my comment. Like a caged lion, he growled, spun around, and came at me with his clenched fist, screaming – No! It’s over for you! Get them up! – I shall return! Luckily for me, the elevator bell tolled for his floor just then. It was only when Ali stumbled out of that elevator in stitches I realized that the world’s greatest prankster had just pranked me. Yes, he got me good. Like Elvis, I was all “shook up.”

We immediately realized that the thirty-sixth floor was in darkness, except for a dimly lit red sign – EXIT. And that was not the reception we both had expected, so I offered my services. Jokingly, I said Champ, I can stay and protect you. I know this building well. Oh! Ali replied, now you want to be my bodyguard. OK – And we began chatting, not like a prince and a pauper, but like two mere mortals. We spoke about some of his fights going back to the first I against Sonny Liston.

As we spoke, Ali kept looking at his watch. I told him my dad was his biggest fan. He asked who’s your dad. – Big George – I said. Ali growled – I hate that name, George. But I could tell he was uneasy about something. Ali then said, yes, today is the day. Looking at his watch again, he said, “I’ll finally be announcing my retirement to the world at seven am today.” And it was then I got my life lesson.

Soon after, his entourage arrived. And I was tickled when he introduced me as his newfound bodyguard. We all had a good laugh as his photographer Bingham, took pictures. What I remember most about that morning was Ali’s reflective mood. He finally realized that he had reached the end of fighting many battles inside and even outside the ring. Of all the pictures we took that day, I will always cherish the one when he gave me his secret to success. Again, the little voice in my head said -listen and lean. – this is not an accidental meeting. Ali is your messenger!

Ali didn’t know that I, too, was fighting a child custody battle within. I was at that building at six thirty that morning because I couldn’t sleep. I struggled for weeks with a major life-changing decision that I knew could even land me in prison. But, after that meeting with Ali that morning, I knew what I had to do. And one month later, I was driving to San Jose, leaving all my earthly positions behind to start life all over.  

Before that day, I had never driven further than New Jersey. Five days later, I arrived in San Jose shaken. It was the day after the Loma Perata earthquake. To this day, my grown kids still say – Dad, when California heard you were coming, the earth shook. My child custody battles were many. But I never lost the most important of them all, the custody of my children.  

My friends, if ever you are faced with a life-changing decision, remember this secret I got from the GOAT- As long as we have life, we will have bigger and bigger battles to fight. You will win some and lose some, we can’t win them all, but the secret to success in life is – you must pick your battle – carefully.“ It is a message that changed my life and could also change yours forever.

Your Speaker’s Blueprint

Every speech should have a Blueprint

Turning your great ideas into an unforgettable speech that inspires others begins with Your Speaker’s Blueprint. Every speech should have a Blueprint – Your plan that answers the following questions – What’s my purpose? How will that purpose impact my listeners? What will it make my audience think, feel or do?

For that reason, some coaches believe the most important minute of your speech is the minute of silence after you have spoken. If a speaker can inspire their audience to jump out of their seat to make a significant change in their life or the lives of others, they have made their case. They have achieved their purpose.

Once a speaker has answered those questions, they can start developing their blueprint by collecting their supporting material. Although the title is always your audience’s first introduction to your speech, it can wait. You can use a placeholder if you wish. Titles are a relatable premise of the speech. As your speech develops, the title often changes.

Focus more on committing your thoughts to paper. Write them all down. The memos of your flashes of creativity often come in handy later in the editing process. I call those jottings – “The Keepers and the Weepers.” Enjoy documenting them all, although you know some of the best lines won’t make the final cut. But where possible, share those creative ideas as were first experienced.

We all have unique ways of speaking in private and public. However, be mindful that it’s not what you say. It’s what your audience hears. Next, develop your Foundational Statement. It should be a tweetable and easily repeatable sentence. All speakers believe that their ideas are great. However, speakers must remember they are preparing a speech for their listeners’ gratification, not theirs.

Therefore, they should also ask themselves why this idea inspired them and why it should inspire others. Will their audience feel what they felt when this idea first popped into their head? And how they should structure their speech to touch all the emotions to which all humans respond.   

Your introduction should capture and engage the attention and imagination of your audience. It should keep your audience focused on your topic. As you write out your speech, deciding on the body parts you wish to engage is a good idea. Will it be the heart for empathy, the head to make your audience think, hands or feet to get your audience moving?

Whichever you choose is fine. However, your choice should always transition smoothly to the body of the speech. The body is where the speaker develops and expands their point, purpose, and proposition. If you don’t have a purpose, you don’t have a speech. Also, there should be a message in your purpose.

To make your message crystal clear, you can tell a story to make your point. Many coaches teach the secret to public speaking is you make a point, then tell a story –  or tell a story to make a point. You then repeat the process over and over.

From your opening to the conclusion, your point, purpose, proposition, and message should echo through the delivery of your speech. One world champion calls it your scarlet ribbon that runs through the body. Varying how you deliver your B1, B2, & B3 will keep your audience focused on your message as you build to your big takeaway. That takeaway is what some coaches call your Magic Moment. The moment that will turn an excellent speech into one that is immortal.

To avoid ambiguity, your structure should be a single introduction, moving to the body of the presentation. Then, to close, choose your final words carefully—end with a single conclusion, and make sure your last words linger in the minds of your audience. We all have our preferred speech-writing model. Call it whatever you wish. It is Your Speaker’s Blueprint. A popular model we are all familiar with is the “Tell Them Model,” – Where -you tell your audience what you’re going to tell them – You tell them – Then you tell them what you told them. Use that model to check your script for clarity.

From the moment a speaker steps onto the platform, pause and begin reading the audience. However, the closing is where you will seal the deal. Many deals are lost because the speaker didn’t realize their audience is sold. Your audience tells you silently if you made a good connection and you have made your case.

While it is difficult to receive feedback over Zoom, it is possible. Remember, a smile is just a frown turned upside down. If you can see your audience, focus briefly on the frowns; the decenters and move on. If your audience is not visible, use carefully placed pauses and rhetorical questions as check-ins during your delivery.  

Nothing is built without a solid plan or blueprint. Your blueprint does not have to be fancy. If your written plan serves as your guide to help you stay focused on your plot, it is your blueprint. If it increases the effectiveness of the connection with your audience, it is your blueprint. Create a blueprint for your next speech. Experience the joy of turning your next great idea into an unforgettable moment for you and your audience. And remember, all great speeches begin and end with – Your Speaker’s Blueprint.

Using Quotations

A misplaced or misused quote can be a distraction to your audience.

Quotations! Are you a grateful user or a woeful abuser?  All speakers use quotations for different reasons in their presentations. When placed and used correctly, quotes can achieve the intended effect the speaker seeks. Ironically, just as a quote is often referred to as the price you pay for goods and services, speakers should also be mindful that they pay dearly when quotations are perceived to be misused or abused. Speakers often add quotes in three main areas of their speeches. The most common placements are at the opening of their presentation. When closing to drive home their message. To add credibility to their point of view. Or to reinforce their message. The speaker should also ensure that the focus remains on you and your message, not the person you quoted.

Speakers must remember that when quoting an author or speaker, they are repeating the words taken from an author’s work or a speaker’s speech. As such, two rules should always be maintained. First, the speaker should repeat the quotation as it was precisely written or said.  Second, credit must be given to the author or speaker you are referencing. Break any of those two rules, and your credibility with your audience is destroyed.  No one, dead or alive, likes to be misquoted. A misplaced or misused quote can be a distraction to your audience. Your selection should also be timely, relevant, and well-known to your audience.

Opening with a quotation gives a speaker the latitude to introduce and develop their topic.  A witty introduction can break an audience’s icy steers. A quotation can help a speaker grab their audience’s attention. Quotes can also protect you should anyone take exception to your quote. One technique is to bring the person you are quoting to the platform as your backup. In the minds of the audience, you are not the one speaking. The person mentioned is: Here is an example – Perhaps your presentation is about doctors who keep you waiting even when you have an appointment. Your opening statement can be: Humorist Erma Bombeck suggests “never using a doctor whose plants have died in the waiting room.” You then shift from the person quoted to yourself with a comment or tagline: My first thoughts are always – “Thank God I am not one of their plants.” Immediately, you shift your audience’s attention back to you, the speaker. Also, be sure your audience knows where your quote ends and your words begin. Don’t leave your audience in limbo.

Closing with a quotation is an excellent way to drive home your message. Many presenters use the words of speakers who are no longer with us. A speaker like Sir Winston Churchill, who rallied a nation when the world was at war, is a popular choice.  His words to this day, still inspire audiences to – never give up and to never give in, even in their darkest moments. But it’s always a good idea to revisit your opening statement before closing with a quote.  Elizabeth Dole, in her book – My 500 Favorite Inspirational Quotations, reminded me of the importance of a call to action when closing with this story about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was leaving church one Sunday morning and was asked what he thought of the minister’s sermon. “The minister had a strong voice and a good delivery,” said Lincoln. “But he forgot the most important part of the sermon. He forgot to ask us to do something great.” The lesson – inspire your audience to take action or do something significant before closing with a quotation.

How and when you introduce the words of others to reinforce your ideas, message, or point of view is also crucial. Instead of saying:  Mr. X. or Mrs. Y said XYZ, a better introduction to the quotation could be: As Mr. X or Mrs. Y have often said. In the immortal words of the great Mr. X or Mrs. Y.  Or, today, I echo the words of Mr. or Mrs. Y.  Whenever the opportunity presents itself, using the author or speaker’s voice when delivering their quote often adds a nice touch to your presentation. The flow of your speech should not be disrupted. Your transitions to your selection should be smooth, continuous, and seamless as you proceed with your presentation.  

Every speaker has their favorite quotes. Some are soundbites or stories they wished they were the first to have said.  Over the years, world champions Darren LaCroix and Lance Miller encouraged me to keep a collection of my isms – Henry isms, and I now have quite a collection. Today, I encourage you to do the same.  Someday one of your isms may be just as well-known as one of Aristotle’s, Steve Job’s, or Mia Angelo’s.  My friends, it takes some of us a while to figure out that every speech does not need a quotation.  But if you decide to use one, ensure the person you’re quoting is recognizable, well-liked, and appropriate as you deliver their words of wisdom with gratitude and the reverence their quotation deserves.

Soledad

A promise is a debt you must pay someday

Soledad is a place you don’t want to go to, even if you were invited. It is a State Prison in the Salinas Valley in southern California. At that facility, there’s a Toastmasters Club known as Talk the Line. In 2009 I received an invitation to be a guest speaker. As a district leader, I promised to visit. Who wouldn’t like to speak to a captive audience – wouldn’t you? But I soon realize that some promises are not easily kept.

Every time I thought about making good on my promise, I remembered how badly I felt as a youth after doing concerts with groups for inmates at juvenile facilities. It was difficult to erase the memories of meeting young men and women my age who had lost their way and purpose in life. I still remember asking some of them how they ended up in a place like this. Their most common response was silence or stories that would stain my soul.  

Haunted by my Papa’s words of wisdom that a promise is a debt you must pay someday, I sent gifts to avoid visiting. I encouraged other division leaders to visit.  But nothing eased the pain of not having the courage to go.  Honestly, I feared revisiting that empty feeling I had after visiting those facilities. As the months slipped into years, and I was no longer a district leader, I thought the feeling of being obligated to keep my promise would be gone forever.  Visiting Soledad was fast becoming a long-forgotten memory until a fellow Toastmaster asked me to evaluate one of her contest speeches, and without a second thought, I said yes.  

The speech title was – “Get on the Bus.” It wasabout the memories of her life and times when as an infant and teenager, she had to get on a bus provided by the state every month for the children of incarcerated parents to visit with their kids. She recalled how happy she was to spend a few hours every month with her father.  As a single dad at the time, I was almost moved to tears. After the contest, she called to tell me how well her speech was received. Then said Henry; some of my club members are planning to visit Talk the Line. Would you join us and be a guest speaker? For a moment, I was silent.  I knew then that my someday had arrived. I couldn’t say no; I had to go. It was time to pay my debt.

One week later, an email arrived from the prison. The process had begun. First, I had to answer several questions regarding my eligibility for the visit.  My security clearance came days later with instructions on even the colors of clothing I was not allowed to wear and the scheduled time I must arrive for a mandatory briefing. My friend, sensing my anxiety over the process she had experienced many times in her lifetime, assured me that we would be together every step of the way.  

The briefing brought back many memories of my visits to the juvenile facilities. However, the tension was intense and got even greater when we faced the white line that gave Talk the Line its name. Before walking the line, we were instructed not to look to our right or left, as you might see someone you know. That was all the incentive I needed to get to the end of that line and into our meeting room as quickly as possible.  

The speech I delivered that day was entitled “Papa.” I chose Papa because of the many words of wisdom and the lessons my Papa taught my siblings and me to keep us on the straight and narrow. Papa believed that the Lord protects the innocent and the foolish and those of us who are twice blessed, but he warned us about friends.  Friends will take you, but they will never bring you back. Don’t be an eye servant! Whatever you can do in front of my face – You can do behind my back.

To this day, I will never forget the sound that reverberated in that room when I recalled Papa’s golden rule of life – Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. And after that most memorable meeting, I felt my debt was paid in full. It was gratifying to later learn about the many life-changing lessons some of those inmates took away from that visit and that time we shared with our fellow Toastmasters at Soledad. – a place I now say you should go to, but only if you are invited.  

My Leadership Style

Many are called, but few are chosen.

Leadership is not a game. It is a process – It is a calling. But as the good book says, many are called, but few are chosen. We all will be called upon to lead at some time. Most great leaders have a style that is unique to them. Their style is shaped by traits developed over time through various leadership experiences. Great leaders motivate and inspire others. They encourage those they lead to better themselves and the people around them.

Knowing your leadership style is essential as you continue your process of self-discovery. Today, when I think of my leadership style, Dynamic, I think about a time in my life when I was twenty-one. The year was 1970, and my homeland, Trinidad, was embroiled in a revolution. I was chosen to lead a squad because of my rank. Everyone in my squad was older than I was. That’s when I quickly realized the virtues of being a Dynamic leader. The mission at hand was to get everyone back to base alive. We worked together as a team and achieved our goals as a team. That was when my Dynamic leadership began to take shape.

As a Dynamic leader, my focus has always been to find better ways to direct, guide, motivate and influence the behaviors of others I lead. Achieving each individual’s goals and the organization’s purpose is essential. However, leadership does not mean you take ownership of the organization. You take ownership to ensure the success or failures of those you lead. Leadership demands that you maintain good interpersonal relations while staying true to your values. Your challenge is to motivate each team member to contribute and work together to achieve their goals and objectives.

Since that 1970 experience, I have used the Dynamic Leadership Model to implement changes when faced with difficult situations. It is a model that teaches us to change with the changes we encounter. It demands that your words and actions must be in sync. And while it is wonderful to be optimistic as a leader. It teaches us that leaders must also be realistic. And that sometimes a pessimist is just an optimist with information. Dynamic Leadership also requires you to show respect for time – your time and the time of others. It helps you understand your strengths and preferences that can help you adjust to the leadership styles of others.  

Here are four Leadership styles. Can you identify which best describes yours?

Autocratic: The leader has complete control of the team. The team cannot present their view in the decision-making process. Everything comes from above!

Democratic: One that offers everyone a fair hearing while respecting and conforming to the organization’s basic rules.

Laissez-faire or Free-rein: Translated from French, meaning ‘to let it do.’ This style results in a hands-off approach to leadership.

Bureaucratic: A leadership style in which a Governing Body establishes the management and decision-making norms of the organization.  

We all have deferred to one of those leadership styles as parents or members of an organization to which we belong. But can you identify which styles you most commonly default to when pressured or faced with your moments of truth? Does that style offer ways of working and communicating within the organization? Does it state who does and is responsible for what? And how is that information shared? The Dynamic Leadership Model allows members to understand, communicate and express that information clearly.

Over my years as a leader, I have found that the organizational structure is often a reflection of the personality traits of the membership. And when all are invested in the organization’s structure and policies, the result is success. However, when those policies are adjusted to fit the whims and fancies of individual members, it’s only a matter of time before the culture and essence of that organization are lost. And most likely, it will stay lost forever.

When we join an organization, we can move in one of three directions. We can remain where we were on the first day we joined. Some may regress, while others will improve as communicators and someday become high achievers and leaders. The choice is ours. The foundation of our Leadership style is based on knowing yourself, your beliefs, and your core values. There are many challenges one will face as a leader. However, it is those moments of truth that will always reveal who we truly are as a leader and why we were called upon or chosen to leadership.

The Messengers

Who were the messengers in your life!

My life is an open book, and in that book, there are many chapters. And the chapter I have chosen to address today is the one I call the Messengers. I decided on that chapter because I believe the Messengers in our lives are everywhere – and they will appear to guide us when we listen to their message, to take our leap of faith. However, as one of my friends Andy, warned – taking your leap of faith can sometimes earn you the best of friends or your worse enemies.

So today, I ask you to take a moment to recall a time in your life when you felt lost. Do you remember how you came to be found?  You were praying for a messenger when your life was a mess. Do you remember standing at your fork in the road, struggling to decide which way to turn? Who was that special someone who appeared to point you in a direction? Was that special someone your messenger?

In my Messengers chapter, I recalled them all. However, there is one who appeared in my adult life that I will never forget because of his message. And I hope that his message will also resonate with you and yours. It was the 1990s. Back then, I managed a team of support engineers. Our company was in crisis. We were all worried about the future. Should I take my leap of faith like my friends and colleagues? That was my burning question.

A problem solver was brought in to analyze the situation. His name was Russell. That day he introduced himself to us as Russ. His simple rustic look initially struck me as odd. Jokingly, the name Rusty popped into my head when we first met, and it stuck. He struck me as someone who had lived many different lives. And I would soon discover that I was right. Rusty would later impress upon me the true meaning of what it takes to be a sage.

He had just returned from South Africa from a significant assignment – transitioning Nelson Mandela from prison life back to society. Mandela had spent twenty-seven years of his life in prison. Russ was a psychologist and trainer with a major oil company. His expertise was working with managers and executives to sniff out the “whys” that were causing problems within an organization. He could listen to team members and quickly analyze the bottlenecks in any system. During our sessions, I noticed like the sage he was; he spent far more time listening before making a single statement or asking a question. 

During our sessions, we all wanted to know how it was possible to turn a life around after someone had spent that many years in prison. That seemed to us as an insurmountable task. He shared his problem-solving model with my team to answer one of our related questions. His four squares method.  It is a model I still use to this day. From that day forward, whenever I am faced with what appears to be an impossible task, I think of Rusty and his four squares.  

Initially, I was cautiously curious. However, it was not long before I was sold.  It also made me realize that the size of a problem doesn’t matter. What’s most important to solving any problem is discovering that there was one. And knowing as much as possible about the issues. He emphasized the importance of understanding the knows before spending a minute trying to find a solution.

Russ then demonstrated how to approach solving any problem by folding a blank sheet of paper twice to produce four squares—and numbering each square B1, B2, B3, and B4. The next step – ask the following questions. Then place your answer in the appropriate box.

B1. This is what we know about the problem.
B2. This is what we don’t know about the problem. 
B3. This is what we know that we know about the problem for sure
B4. And this is what we don’t care to know about the problem.

He also emphasized the importance of brutal honesty when filling in each box.  Then the fun began. Reviewing the content of each square was an eye-opener for everyone. Our moments facing the truth about ourselves and our perceived problems brought laughter and even tears to the eyes of some. It was like the dawning of a new day after that session.   

After all was said and done, I realized Rusty was my messenger. He gave us a problem-solving model we could all use to solve problems far beyond those we faced at work or play. As I share his model with you today, I feel like I am one of his messengers. So, I leave you with his message; his four squares of problem-solving. And today, I am confident that whenever you are faced with a problem that may seem insurmountable, feel lost, or believe that all but hope is lost, rest assured that your messenger will appear.  And when you listen to their message, you too, will take your leap of faith.   

Love & Marriage

Love & Marriage -D101 2017 Winning Humor Contest Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Your Voice – Your Instrument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acting & Public Speaking Same Difference?

Tell a story to make a point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t sell what you don’t own.

Bay to Bay

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.

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