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.  

Five eCommerce Entrepreneurship Tips for Parents with Disabilities

Learn more about the process of becoming an entrepreneur!

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

 Five eCommerce Entrepreneurship Tips for Parents with Disabilities

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

Create a Business Plan

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

Test Out Marketing Methods

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

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

Maintain a Reasonable Workload

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

Get Childcare Help

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

Hire Employees

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

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

Engaging with Audiences -100 Percent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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