Storytelling

Your once upon a time is now!

Do you remember the first time you heard the words “once upon a time”? Who was that storyteller? What was their story? And how about you? Is your story still being written, or will it someday just be told. Why wait to be the sage on the stage. Those days are over. No one can tell your story better than you. Your once upon a time is now. And while we should never let the truth get in the way of a good story, if you keep your truths in the middle of your account, you will always have an attentive audience. With a basic understanding of what it takes to tell stories effectively, you can captivate any audience with your storytelling. 

When you’re an authentic storyteller, audiences will happily take a trip with you down memory lane. Every successfully told story begins with a plot. Your plot is your “what” of the story. It is the foundation on which you build the story. Also, to engage your audience, you need a “setup.” Your setup transports your audience to a time, place, and event. First, introduce the conflict in your setup that leads your audience to say to themselves – tell me more. I want to know who did what to whom. Then, unveil your story by recalling the narrative in a progression of time. As the event unfolded from weeks, months, or even years ago, make that event come to life as if it were yesterday. 

Every story must have characters. Reveal your characters to your audience with clarity. While characters don’t always have to be a person, it takes a persona or personality to make something or someone your main character: your “who” may be fictional, a real person, or even yourself. When your main character occupies center stage constantly in your story, don’t make yourself the hero. Not a good idea – You can be heroic, but not the hero in your story. When your hero is someone your audience can identify with, or root for, making a solid connection with that audience becomes effortless. Storytelling reminds us that we are all human and share many of the same experiences of our everyday lives.

Telling your story using dialogue instead of a monologue can inspire your audience to get involved as they listen. With dialogue, you receive instant feedback. Dialogue takes your audience back to the time and to the place where your event occurred. The more you involve your audience in your story, the more you will feel like you are collaborating, and not just speaking. The days of the sage on the stage are over. Instead, invite your audience to contribute in real-time to your moment with their reactions. A smile, a gasp, a sigh of relief -their responses validate your story and you, the storyteller.

Storytelling is an art as well as a skill one can develop. It’s like riding a horse or a bicycle. The more you ride, the more you will gain experience. As your balance improves, so too will you. One of the first lessons you will learn as a storyteller is that some stories are better received. All audiences are not the same. When you believe you failed, always remember you never fall from grace when the stories you tell touches the hearts and minds of your audience. Your once upon a time is now. Tell your stories with passion and power, and the more you tell, the more audiences you will hold in the palm of your hands when you master the art of storytelling.  

The Olympics of Public Speaking

Did I take a club speech to Division or a Division speech to the District?

Making it all the way to the World Championship of Public Speaking is the dream of many Toastmasters who enjoy competing.  For some, it is the Olympics of Public Speaking. Many enter the competition for the love of speaking competitively and to develop as a speaker. The lessons learned from their successes and failures serve as reminders of the “dos and don’t” when next they are on the platform. However, for many, it’s the 2nd place finishes that are the hardest. You were so close. What could you have done differently?

Did your journey end at the club level, even though some felt that your speech could have been a winner at the finals at the International contest?   Even more painful, did your end come at the Regionals? Where ever it ended for you, make it your new beginning. The 1990 World Champion David Brooks called 2nd place finishes “The Sting of Silver.” Even before the pain passes, take the lessons learned and start preparing for your next trip to the platforms. Look at what worked and start fixing what didn’t. Your journey to the big stage continues.

A good place to restart is with your topic selection. Was your topic appropriate for the contest level, that room, your audience, and judges? Did you take a club speech to division or a Division speech to the District? That’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight. While you should choose a topic you are passionate about, connecting with your audience should be your primary focus. The topic you choose can decide your final place in your competition. Was your presentation all about you? Did the topic have some universal appeal? These are all questions you should address. 

Coaches always emphasize the importance of establishing a connection with your audience through personal stories and real-life events spun into a unique and powerful speech. Your speech should not be an act. Your results are by far better when you use persuasion and the power of the spoken word effectively to keep your audience engaged. While it’s a tall order for anyone, it is one of the main reasons why there is only one winner annually.

Every World Champion I can remember had a well develop (FS)-Foundational Statement. Your FS is the premise, theme, or message on which a speech is built. For some, it was a carefully worded sentence, a question, or a phrase with a unique connection to their message. That message should be powerful, catchy, memorable, and short enough to fit on the back of a business card. Be concise but also be clear. How you choose to deliver your message is also critical. Remember you are giving your speech to and for your audience.

To achieve your best results, don’t just tell your audience; show them, take them, be descriptive. Use word pictures to convey your message. If a picture paints a thousand words, then paint pictures with your words. Also, check for unanswered questions in your script. Questions can become a distraction to your audience. Answer every question, resolve every conflict, and be always clear to your audience.

Speakers should try to avoid recent events and stories overused by the Internet and social media. Events with varied audience interests, opinions, and topics too big to be delivered completely in five to seven minutes are risky to bring to the platform. If a topic can divide the views of an audience, it will most likely divide the opinions of the judges. Remember, all you have is five to seven minutes. And don’t use the platform for therapy. Let those who have moved on rest in peace. Establish your purpose in the first thirty seconds of your presentation and let that purpose resonate through your speech.

Be sure about what you want your audience to think – feel – or do after hearing your speech. The minute of silence after your address can be the most critical minute for you, your audience, and judges. If they feel compelled to take some action during that minute of silence, you most likely achieved your goal who knows, and you could be the next Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking. 

All Speaking is Public Speaking

You cannot unsay what was said

My first speaking coach once said to me, all speaking is public speaking. Whether you are giving a prepared speech, an Impromptu talk, a Table Topic, or even speaking with friends and family, you are public speaking. For that reason; speakers must always choose their words carefully. You can undo what was done, but you cannot unsay what was said. Good public speakers strive to speak with empathy, good tone, and vibe when speaking on or off the platform. They know what you practice, becomes permanent. They also learn and exercise the essentials of good communication. They open with short introductions, followed by the premise of their story, the story, before closing with a summary or conclusion. Their communication is always clear, concise, and engaging.

Table topics are one to two minutes long. Prepared and impromptu speeches are five to seven minutes. Call them whatever you wish; once they have an opening, body, and conclusion with a topic and purpose, they are speeches. And they should always be delivered as such to the audiences you are addressing. When delivering any of the thirteen different types of speeches, if you practice using the same delivery style as you would in your everyday speaking experiences, over time you too will notice a tremendous improvement in your ability to communicate effectively.

Preparation is your key to success as a speaker. Dr. Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters, often said “A prepared speaker should never be nervous.” However, today speakers must stay prepared. While we should always prepare for any speaking assignment, there will be times when you didn’t get prior notice. That’s when staying prepared pays huge dividends. It is great to have one or two pocket speeches you can deliver at a moment’s notice.  However, here are a few more ideas to help you stay prepared. Keep a list of one, two or three-word topics which you can comfortably speak on, anytime, anywhere. Build and keep a story file from your life experiences. Begin with that single word that is the trigger, which always leads you to reflect on each experience. From that single word, you can build an idea, topic, and story.

Your single word can also lead you to a foundational statement. Next, add one or two related words to develop your topic title. For example: Your first word can be Love.  A related word can be Marriage. You now have your topic title from those two related words: Love and Marriage. Another approach is to use categories: Here are a few: Good Times, Rookie Mistakes, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. You can also string two related table topics into a single five-to-seven-minute speech. Have fun developing your ideas into topics and titles. Titles also make good openings for your presentations. Don’t make them too complex; make them memorable. If your topic echoes universal experiences, that will prepare your audience for what is to follow. Silently they should be saying, tell me more, tell me more.

When speakers accept that all speaking is public speaking, they will notice significant improvements in their ability to connect with audiences.  It doesn’t matter if they are on or off the platform.  With every opportunity to communicate with others, their confidence grows.  When impromptu speaking, they will feel prepared, because they have stayed prepared. Use your everyday conversations to develop your communication skills. You will notice your transformation into a speaker who can take you on a journey, and not just tell you a story about a journey. Speakers who can bring the person they are off the platform, to the platform, are the ones who speak from the heart, and truly believe that all speaking is public speaking.

Your Natural Speaking Voice

The breath must be under perfect control.

Do you know the sound of your natural speaking voice? If you listened to a short statement read by you and seven of your friends recorded weeks earlier, could you identify which voice was yours? Whenever I listen to some of the great speakers of yesterday and today, I realize how critical it is to find your natural speaking voice. Notice the pitch, range, and timbre of the speakers you admire. They understand the importance of inhalation of air when speaking and the control required in its emission.

Many of us depart from our natural breathing as infants with age and development. We use almost exclusively the upper portion of our lung capacity. To develop proper resonance, flexibility, and vocal beauty, focus on correcting how you breathe and correcting that condition called shallow breathing. How you breathe determines the quality of your natural speaking voice.

Before you can improve your speaking voice, you must recognize it. It is the tone and pitch we all use in our everyday communication. There is no need to look much further. Observe the pitch you would typically default to if you were to start humming. Notice the ease and comfort you feel instead of when trying to hum at a lower or higher pitch. William Shakespeare, the famous English poet, and playwright (1564-1616), said it best. He had this to say about finding your beautiful tone when speaking or singing.

Two factors are necessary: 1.The breath must be under perfect control. 2. You must train your vocal organs to act with unconscious ease. Without proper breath control and freedom of the vocal muscles, a speaker cannot attain a beautiful clear tone of voice.

Once you have found your natural speaking voice, the next steps are development and maintenance. Freedom of the jaw, throat, tongue, and lips are critical areas speakers must develop. It is a slow and disciplined process. Some speakers may require help from a speaking coach to break some of the bad habits perfected over time. Speakers should also notice how their tone and pitch changes when they are on the platform.  It is natural for a speaker’s voice to change if they are nervous, excited, or assertive. Understanding how to use those changes effectively can turn what may be, to some, a liability into an asset when presenting. Start with your natural hum and try changing registers. That is an excellent exercise for beginners to practice moving seamlessly between registers. With soft lips lightly touching, hum a favorite tune. Then recite or read and record a few short sentences. Listen to your recordings. If you want people to listen to you speak, you must be prepared to listen to yourself.

Attention to detail as you practice is of paramount importance. Maintain good posture, proper inhalations, and hum with ease as you practice exercising your vocal muscles. Make sure the lips are soft, barely touching, and loose at the corners. The tongue should lie easily and loosely, with the tip of your tongue lightly touching your lower front teeth. Make sure your throat is free as if you are about to begin yawning. Exercises are useless when performed incorrectly. Those performed once correctly are far more valuable than an exercise done repeatedly while ignoring a single detail. Begin your humming with simple songs, even nursery rhymes.  As you become more proficient with your breathing, step it up to include classical pieces and choruses as your resonance improves. Keep practicing and humming correctly, and you, too, will find that which is native to us all, your natural speaking voice.

Understanding Your Audience

Values Beliefs and Characteristics

How well do you understand your audience?  That is a question all speakers should answer when preparing a presentation. Some may regard presenting TO an audience, rather than FOR an audience as semantics. However, both deliveries are different. When a speaker is preparing FOR an audience, they begin by researching mainly the values, beliefs, and characteristics of the group they will be facing. Speakers should also consider looking into the ages, gender, ethnicity, ability, and membership tenure. Of the group.  It’s also a good idea to start with your point of contact. Prepare a list of questions to understand the topics that will resonate best with that group. Once you have done your homework, you should have a pretty good understanding of what you should prepare FOR that audience.

Delivering TO an audience is a bit different. The speaker may choose a speech to inform, to persuade or to entertain. Similarly as when they are presenting FOR, their understanding of the audience’s makeup will help them determine how much is too much or enough.  Although the speaker’s topic usually is one with which the speaker is familiar or may even be an authority, the speaker’s goal is to connect with that audience. Speakers base their content on their experiences and knowledge. They are offering a slice of their life experiences to you. To diffuse discord, the speaker may use rhetorical questions. Speakers should also rely on their instincts and observations as they decide how to connect with the group they are addressing. A little understanding of the group will often lead to success.

Lifestyle can be an indicator of values, beliefs, and characteristics. Looks are sometimes deceiving. It’s always a good idea to compare your research with your first impressions.  Age, gender, ethnicity, and culture can influence everyone’s ability to relate to some topics. Speak to your audiences’ level of understanding. Audiences don’t like being lectured or preached to unless they planned to attend such an event. Be prepared to cite sources for the information you are presenting. Your delivery will determine how the group is receiving your message.  As you continue your delivery, read the reactions you are receiving from the group in real-time. Know what you want your listeners to think, feel or do after hearing your presentation. If your message is clear, concise, and you-focused, your audience’s understanding will keep increasing as you continue speaking.

If your delivery is all TO or all FOR your audience, that is a recipe for failure.  The goal is to make a connection while switching as you deliver. The speaker can deliver parts of their speech TO the audience and others FOR the audience. Decide where you will do your switching during your preparation. Use reminders in your script for your delivery. One approach that works well is the “speaking one to many” method when switching. The speaker focuses on one audience member. At the same time, everyone receives the messaging as if it was intended for them only. Delivery is where the rubber meets the road. Finally, whether you choose to deliver your presentation TO or FOR your audience, success or failure on the platform depends on how well you understand your audience. This talk was prepared FOR a Pathways-L3 project on Motivational Strategies.

What is Your Purpose

Your purpose statement should be laser-focused on your topic

Every speech must have a clear purpose. I am sure you have heard that said many times. The reasons for speaking, in general, are to inform, persuade, actuate, and entertain. But although those purposes are not mutually exclusive, they can still be treated as individual purposes. However, the speaker should always be very clear about what they want their listeners to think, feel or do after hearing you speak.

Speakers should decide on their purpose or foundational statement on which they will build their speech. As Randy Harvey, the 2018 World Champion of Public Speaking, advises:  “your purpose statement should be laser-focused on your topic and run like a scarlet ribbon through your speech from start to finish.”  A general statement is of little value until reduced to a manageable size – a series of why questions will help narrow your message. The first “why” question should be why that particular subject. The second, why your audience would be interested in listening to you speak on that subject. Third, is it appropriate for that audience and occasion, and can you complete this topic in the allotted time?

As the speaker answers the why questions they have chosen, they should also keep in mind the general purposes for public speaking. Speakers should speak to be heard, understood, and repeated while focusing on the central idea and message.

1. When the purpose is to inform, the speaker must clearly understand their message.

2. If the objective is to persuade, the focus should be on getting your listeners to accept your claims or ideas. 

3. If it is to actuate, you want the focus to be on taking some action. 

4. While the primary focus of speeches to entertain centers on entertaining, amusing, or providing enjoyment to their listeners, humor is discovered when you contradict your audience’s thinking. When your audience expects you to turn left, you go right. 

Selecting a subject about which you already know a thing or two and find out more through research. Whether you are speaking to inform, persuade, actuate, or entertain, natural humor will significantly increase your audience’s attention to the content presented. Speaking from personal experience, we exhibit goodwill, and empathy for the feelings of others increases your credibility. However, your purpose will go a long way in determining the success of your speaking occasion. Your purpose is everything.

The 3 Phases of a Speaker’s Development:

“All great speakers refined their thoughts on paper – before they spoke, they wrote.”  

The 3 phases of a speakers’ development are: 1: Their concerns about self.  2. Their concern about their message and 3: Their concerns about their audience.

Many years ago, I attended a workshop with the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, David Brooks, who spoke about these three phases. In his talk, he also emphasized the importance of writing out your speeches to have something to edit. Immediately I was hooked. To repeat a few of David’s words of wisdom: “All great speakers refined their thoughts on paper – before they spoke, they wrote.”  

Do you know which phase of development you are in presently? You could find the answer to that question by simply looking at one of your recent speeches. Ask yourself, is my speech focused on self, the message, or my audience?    

In the first of the three phases of development, speakers are concerned about how they look, how they feel, and how they sound. Concern with yourself in this development phase is where many speakers begin and where average speakers remain.

When a speaker focuses on giving speeches for personal satisfaction, the singular first-person pronouns “I” are noticeable in their writing.  The text of the speech will show the number of times they repeated the pronoun “I” instead of the more inclusive, we, us, or you.

Putting your words on paper and editing them will help restructure your sentences to be more message-focused. Focusing on the message is the second phase speakers graduate to as they move forward in their development.

In the second phase of the development process, speakers usually shift their concerns to their message. Speakers in phase two edit what they have written for accuracy, clarity, and brevity. Their focus is on effectively communicating their message. Speakers in this phase put the needs of their audience before their personal opinions, likes, and dislikes. Their focus is on their message.  

They also focus how their audience will receive their message. Each sentence is checked carefully for clarity and brevity. Speakers in phase two know the importance of speaking to be understood and to be repeated. They know, what’s evident to the speaker may not be apparent to their audience. Regardless of how beautifully written your text sounds, when in doubt, leave it out. 

The third phase of development is where all speakers aspire to be; concerned about their audience. They are confident, comfortable with themselves, concern about their message, and are focused on their audience. To get to that third phase, speakers must free themselves from the expectations of perfection. They are willing to reveal who they are and what they are about to their audience.

Phase three speakers are confident communicating with their audience, even when faced with the unexpected. So, where are you as a speaker? If you are in phase one, the move forward is simple. Change your focus and concerns. Focus on your message and your audience. You will become a better speaker when you know where you are, in the three phases of development as a speaker.

Your One Minute Toastmaster

Be the messenger, not the message.

Ten tips to help control nervousness when you are on the Platform:

Feeling some nervousness before speaking to any audience is natural and at times, even healthy. Channel your anxiety, and you will be OK. Some nervous energy might show that you are passionate and care about what you are presenting to your audience. Too much nervousness will detract from your message and performance. Your physical preparation is also an essential P when preparing for the platform. Your other P’s are: Preparation and Practice before Presenting.

1.    Know the Room-: Become familiar with the speaking area before it is your turn to speak.  The view from the speaking area is quite different from the audience or the back of the room.

2.    Know Your Audience:  Meet and, if possible, greet some of your audience as they arrive. Meeting your audience before you speak can help you better connect as you look out into the audience as you deliver your speech.

3.    Know Your Material: In the words of Dr. Ralph C Smedley, “A prepared speaker should not be nervous.”

4.    Relax: Get on your feet, stretch a bit before taking the stage.

5.    Visualize yourself giving your speech: Harbor positive thoughts. Visualize yourself being successful, and you will be successful.

6.    Think Positive: Audiences do not want you to fail. Smile, and your audience will smile back at you.

7. Don’t apologize: Do not call attention to any of your slipups. Those slipups may very well have gone unnoticed.

8.    Focus on your message – When you focus on your message and your audience, your attention moves away from yourself. Your energy moves outwardly towards your message and your audience. Be the messenger, not the message.

9.    Turn nervousness into positive energy:  Add vitality and enthusiasm to harness your nervous energy.

10.    Gain experience. Experience Builds confidence: Grasp every opportunity you get to SPEAK. Grasp every chance you get to EVALUATE – Evaluations are the key to becoming a better speaker.

Just another Icebreaker

Include the six emotions that touch all audiences

The first speech delivered by a Toastmaster is the icebreaker. However, that first speech can be the first of many great speeches if your chosen approach points you in the right direction to begin your Toastmaster’s journey. Pathways, the Toastmasters newly minted communication and leadership program, introduces each new Path with just another icebreaker. After being in Toastmasters for many years, it’s only natural for members, both new and old, to ask why someone must prepare another icebreaker to begin every new Path. How many times must you re-live that first experience when you almost fainted on the platform? Some of the main reasons are the ever-changing faces in club memberships and the development of each club’s programs. I believe we have a greater appreciation for that first experience when you take a moment to look back as you continue moving forward. With each new Path you begin, you will recognize the importance and focus on speaking about your life experiences. Telling those stories with passion will help you to continue with your development as speakers with greater confidence.

If you were to review some of the world champion speeches, both past and present, you would discover they contain many of the rudiments you will find in a well-crafted icebreaker. Over time, you may also conclude that icebreakers can set the foundation for that world championship speech you will deliver someday. However, your icebreaker will become that memorable speech only when you begin to live and share the values of the lessons learned from the stories you continue to develop and deliver. Telling your story is not enough. It would be best if you also took your audience with you to re-live those precious moments. When you speak about your successes, failures, and future aspirations, your audience will better understand who you are, which is one of the icebreaker’s primary purposes of the icebreaker. As you tell your stories, never forget to include the six emotions that touch all audiences: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. And when you make sure your speech contains a Purpose, Point, and Message that touches the head, heart, and soul of your audiences, they will always lend you an attentive ear.

Telling your story to an audience can be challenging. Pathways provide you with worksheets that help you structure not just your icebreaker; they provide you with the foundation for your future presentations. They will also help you organize your thoughts as you decide what you should include or exclude. Once you start working with the worksheets, you will quickly realize their value. Some of the questions you should consider asking yourself are, what’s the greatest lesson you have ever learned, who taught you that lesson, and how that lesson changed your life. Your answers should resonate with the audience for which you have prepared. Remember, you are delivering a speech about yourself to that audience and not giving a speech about yourself for yourself. Telling your stories in that manner sounds self-centered and selfish when the focus is entirely on you and not on your audience.

Once you have prepared and delivered a few icebreakers, you will begin to develop your format. Keep a story file to preserve the ideas and the beautiful lines you use in your everyday conversations. You will also start recognizing and paying attention to those lines and formulas you have heard delivered by other experienced speakers. One of those that immediately come to mind, which I have borrowed many times from Patricia Fripp, a Hall of Fame, award–winning speaker, is Q1, where I was, Q2 where I am. Q3, where I am heading. Answer those three questions, with three sub-points for each of those questions, and you will have the basic structure for your icebreaker.

Another I borrowed from the great motivational speaker; Les Brown: Q1: where have you been, Q2: where are you heading. Q3 when will you get there. And my very own: Q1: I was, Q2: I am, and Q3 I will be. Practice creating your own Q’s, and over time, they will become a natural part of your preparation, not only for but also for all speeches. Icebreakers are fun. When the stories you tell make your audience think. When your life experiences touch their heart and soul, when your subtle humor makes your audience laugh and cry in those four to six minutes that they will never forget, they will be ready, willing, and able to walk a mile with you in your shoes. When you develop your four to six-minute speeches, your five to seven will follow and flow with that same style and delivery. Keep breaking the ice with each new audience you face, and the day will come when you will remember every one of the icebreakers you deliver as just another icebreaker and some of the many excellent speeches you have given as a Toastmaster

Your Amazing Grace

It is a feeling of being Unbreakable-Unshakable-Unsinkable

Your Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound – it is a song that awakens the power of the human spirit to remind us, in our hour of darkness, if we reach out to the power of the human spirit, that spirit that is deep within us all, you too will be filled, with your Amazing Grace. Are you filled with Your Amazing Grace? It is a feeling of being unbreakable, unshakable, unsinkable, even when you believe that all but hope is lost.  

On Christmas Eve, some two hundred and forty years ago, Pastor John Newton, the man who coined that phrase Amazing Grace and wrote those beautiful words that became the song Amazing Grace, delivered a sermon in which he recalled a time in his life when he was lost, and how he came to be found. When he was too blind to see the beauty of humanity and when he came face to face with what he was sure was going to be his destiny, a watery grave at sea.

Newton, a self-proclaimed wretch – a vagabond of the sea, who broke every one of the golden rules of life, was sailing across the Atlantic with his crew and human cargo – Yes, he was a slave trader, a vocation many believed could only be reserved for the worst of humankind. As they sailed off the coast of Ireland on a bright sunny day, suddenly they ran into the eye of a storm. The seas were angry; the sky grew darker and darker. The winds were howling like mad dogs. Newton, an experienced seaman, realizing he was no match for the fury of mother nature that day, fell to his knees, begging for mercy, promising to change from his wicked ways if given a second chance at life. 

Newton got that second chance. Miraculously, they made it to Donegal – a little port of the Northern Coast of Ireland with his ship almost a complete wreck. It was there, while his boat was being repaired, he wrote those beautiful words that would become the song, Amazing Grace, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found-was blind, but now I see” – And I am sure if we had more than five to seven minutes here today, we all would still be singing that song of song, that hymns of hymns, that gives us all hope in our hours of darkness.

It is sung more the 10 Million times each year, recorder over 11,000 times in more than 100 different languages. But the true miracle of that song is the melody – which was inspired by the moaning and growing of shackled slaves in the hole of that ship, as they too struggled to survive that voyage, wondering if their destiny would also be a watery grave at sea. Haunted by those memories, Newton kept every word of that covenant he made at sea. He transformed his life from being one of the worst of humankind to become an advocate for the abolition of the slave trade. 

I truly believe, everyone will someday have at least one John Newton moment in their lifetime – a moment when their entire life flashes before their eyes like a bad movie. Do you remember your Newton moment? Did you too make promises? And were those promises made promises kept. I still remember mine as if it were yesterday. To this day, I could still remember seeing those two words we all dread in bold letters – “The End” – as the credits of my life journey scrolled amid a deafening silence. But in that moment of darkness, I too reached out and was blessed with an experience I will never forget. It was a feeling I can only describe as being simply Amazing.  

Today, whenever I hear someone cry in word or song with those – Amazing Grace! seeking comfort from their grief and suffering, I am reminded that second chances don’t come easy. And not every bend in the road is the end of the road. But what I do know for sure, is in your hour of darkness, if you reach out to the power of the human spirit, that spirit which is unshakable, unbreakable, unsinkable, you too will be filled with your Amazing Grace.