What you Said & What we Heard

The tip of the tongue the teeth and the lips.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOST

“Where was the last place you left it Daddy?”

It was a Monday morning I will never forget to remember. There I was, standing at my front door fully dressed still feeling naked as the day I was born. Suddenly, I realized I was missing something. In a tizzy, I thought I had lost my keys and wallet. And as if that was not bad enough, After turning the house upside down, I lost my mind and asked one of my kids – the smartie who always has a silly question for every answer you ask – “did you see my wallet?” That’s when I got one of his dreaded responses that would make any saint a sinner. “Where was the last place you left it Daddy?”

Friends, I don’t know about you, but questions for an answer always drive me crazy. And although that day, a little voice popped into my head telling me to stop, close my eyes, and think. But, no! I had to add fuel to my own fire with some snide remark. “Well, if I knew the answer to that, would I be asking you smarty? And as that little molehill is about to erupt like a volcano into a domestic dispute with everyone involved, the little voice returns screaming to Stop! Close your eyes and think. Think about that last place – The last place you saw it – The last place you had it. The last place you held it.

Have you ever had one of those days? If truth be told, that day, I opened my eyes and headed straight to that last place – the refrigerator. And as I desperately tried to steal away with the evidence, I heard it from the peanut gallery –My own words coming back to haunt me. “ Daddy – you always find what you are looking for in the last place you look.” And as you always say, everything has its place, and every place has its space.” Yes, my keys and wallet were right next to the milk and OJ – just chilling. As my eyes screamed – Did I do that?

That’s when I knew I had to find my quiet place. As a kid, my quiet place was deep in the woods. Today it’s the Mall. Do you have a quiet place? I could walk the Malls for hours, seeking nothing but finding a little peace and quiet, well, only until closing. That’s when I often realize I am lost. Usually, it’s when I try to remember which door I entered and where I parked my car. Has that ever happened to you? Trust me, that’s no fun. Can you remember standing in front of those huge directories telling you that you are Here! And you are still confused, trying to figure out where’s here. Only to realize once again – You are lost!

However, it was during one of those episodes, the little voice reminded me – You’re not lost, but even if you are, you will be found. Stop, close your eyes, and think – On that Monday morning, that little voice came to me from deep, deep within to remind me never to sweat the small stuff. Often things are not lost; they are only misplaced. Things like keys, wallets, papers, and even friends are replaceable. But, sometimes, we lose our way. We didn’t Google it. And like Columbus, we didn’t know exactly where we were heading. But he kept going and look at how much he found when he was lost.

Over time, I have accepted that all things are replaceable, even friends. And those friends I’ve lost when I was lost will stay lost. I’ll make new friends. You can get directions to get back on track. But what do you do when what you lost cannot be replaced? When what was lost can only be restored – like your good looks – your good name? Have you ever lost hope? How do you restore hope? That is when we must go to that place that is deep, deep within. That’s when we must stop, close our eyes, and listen to that little voice of reason. And it will take you to that place deep, deep within to restore what we once had. Regardless of how bad things get, my friends never lose hope – for when hope is lost – all is lost.

Not long ago, I read a story about a little boy named Cody. In 1986 he was just 6-years old. He was lost in the woods for 18 hours. His story began when he played hide and seek with his little sister at a family picnic. Suddenly he vanished. Everyone feared the worse. What made his story most remarkable was what he found in those 18 hours. Little Cody was confident that somehow, he would be found and never gave up. To the amazement of everyone, he was found alive 20 miles from the picnic from where he had disappeared. He still remembers walking those 20 miles and what he found during that experience – confidence. He still remembers how he listened to that voice deep within when all but hope was lost. He would stop, close his eyes and think about what he found deep, deep within – the confidence to carry on.

My friends, Today, whenever I am leaving home, and I have that naked feeling, I go straight to the refrigerator. What do you do when you feel lost? Where do you go to find yourself – When all but hope is lost, and you begin to feel like it’s you against the world. Stop, close your eyes and think. Think of that last place when you had it. The last place when you felt it. That last time you enjoyed it. Dig deep, deep within, and never give up. Never give up until what you have lost is found.

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. 

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 4 Squares Method

Brainstorming is an excellent way to begin your preparation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following is The 4 Squares method:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

%d bloggers like this: