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. 

The Game of Life

Robinson soon realized he was invited but not welcomed

Baseball is America’s favorite pastime, but to me, it is more than just a game – as it has taught me this valuable lesson – that when we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice, there will come a day when people of all races will be invited and welcomed to follow their dreams regardless of race, color or creed.

In the game of life, are you a player or an observer? My Papa, Big George, once asked me that question before he told me the stories about the heroes who made baseball the game of life. Papa would always say before you move forward in life, take a moment to look back. So, come with me as I take you back to those dark days of summer when America was segregated, and so too was the game of baseball. Back then, there were the major leagues. Then there were the leagues for people of color only, the Negro leagues, with all-stars like Satchel Page, Gosh Gibson, and James Cool Papa Bell; the fastest man who ever ran the bases. A man who could flick a light switch and get into bed before the room got dark. Still, most Americans never saw those great players in their prime because of their skin color.

It was also a time in History when the good people from the better side of the tracks did not attend the same schools, worship at the same churches, or drink from the same water fountains. The Jim Crow laws of the day even made that illegal.  And while many felt in their hearts that segregation was wrong, they remained silent.   Everyone knew the owners of both leagues had ties to the vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan, who didn’t care if the rat was black or white. Mess with their revenues, and it could cost you your life. To protect themselves, even the Negro League players also remained silent, playing for the love of the game. Simultaneously, the Major Leaguers enjoyed the royal treatment with their pictures on these beautiful baseball trading cards.

Initially, I collected baseball cards for the bubble gum in each packet. Then I began collecting by teams regardless of the color and discovered a card, which seemed out of place. The player was Jackie Robinson, the team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. I even scratched the surface of the card to see if his complexion would change. It “didn’t” – who knew, I might have started scratchers.  It was then I asked my Pap, Big George, how did Robinson become a Dodger. And Papa replied: “Son, in 1947 a retired Baptist Minister, Mr. Branch Rickey, managed the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was adamant that if all men are created equal, they should compete equally on a level playing field regardless of color.  When he invited Jackie Robinson to join his team, the Dodgers, everyone turned against him. Mr. Rickie refused to remain silent. Robinson soon realized he was invited but not welcomed.  And although he was able to silence his critics on the playing field, he still was not accepted as a teammate.  In the face of that injustice, Again, Mr. Rickey refused to remain silent, and Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger.

From that moment, I was inspired!  I wanted to grow up to be just like Jackie Robinson and was even more committed when I learned that Robinson’s greatest fear was not the death threats he received, but was how he would perform at his first game in the south. When that day came, the good people of the Cincinnati Reds did not fail to disappoint; however, not once did Robinson say anything to disgrace himself or his team. When the umpire: the blue shouted – Play Ball! – Pee Wee Reese, a white player beloved by all, did the unthinkable.  Reese walked over to first base with tears in his eyes to recognize Robinson as his teammate in the presence of fans, friends and family – and in that one triumphant moment, baseball became America’s Game. 

And so today my friends, as we proudly stand on the shoulders of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Blanche Rickie, all heroes of the game of baseball, I urge you too, to be players and to not just be observers in the game of life. Always remember, when we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice, the day will come when we all will be invited and welcomed to live our dreams on a level playing field, regardless of race, color or creed in the biggest game of them all, the game of life.

In Honor of Black History Month – February 1st – March 1st – First Delivered 2012 : Henry O. Miller DTM/PDG

Observing Writing & Speaking

Suspects will often change their clothes, but seldom their shoes.

The first step to becoming a better writer or speaker is to become a better observer. By our very nature, we are lazy when it comes to observing things and people around us. We readily accept the observation of others. We use generalities instead of little details we discovered ourselves. We also ignore the senses that were touched, the little things that may have left an indelible mark on us subconsciously. As a writer or speaker, the little details we ignored are the ones that count most to our audience. Addressing the minor details will often go a long way in helping us be better observers, better writers, and better speakers.

When last you took a moment to be more observant of your surroundings? By testing your ability to observe, we can greatly improve our living, thinking, and writing. Close your eyes and try to recall the first time you saw your spouse. Do you remember what he or she was wearing? Do you remember the look when you first made eye contact? Or how about the aroma or the shoes that were worn that day, do you remember? My dad, the cop, once told me to be good at his job, you must be a curious observer. Suspects will often change their clothes, but seldom their shoes. I still remember that tip, as vividly as I remember my mama’s cooking. Mia Angelo, the great poet, writer, and speaker, often said, people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. When you write or tell your stories, explore all five senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Work on the feeling s of your audience, and you will bring your characters and your moments of truth back to life.

Using the right words at the right time to express what you saw, heard, and felt can be challenging, but with practice, you can master the art of audience awareness. If you practice reliving and not recalling details of what you saw, heard, and felt, you can transport your audience back to a time and place. As your story is being told, entice your audience to feel some of what you felt. With that approach, you will be far more effective as a speaker. Great speakers often advise, don’t tell them, take them. Get your audience involved. Ask them to do something or engage them with facial expressions, your vocal variety, and your charm. If you can get your audience to react, that’s a good indicator that you are being heard and your message is being delivered.

Observing your audience from a stage is a bit different. While it is critical to observe your audience’s reactions as you deliver your presentation, it can become a distraction. Speakers should consider their tone, content, and language in the preparation phase of their presentation. Know your audience. Delivery, especially in a virtual environment, has its limitations. However, with a little creativity, we can use virtual settings to our advantage. Make connecting with your audience a priority. Stay connected with them from the beginning all the way to the end. Keep in mind great speeches are often forgotten when there is an absence of a call to action at the end. When a call to action is not offered to your audience, they are left to imagine your purpose. Be specific about what you are asking your audience to think, feel or do. What you are asking your audience to do must also be doable.

Practice seeing the unseen, hearing sounds of silence, and the feeling of being touched even when you are alone. And you will know what it’s like to be in tune with your surroundings. And as we observe the little things around us that we so often ignore, we will be inspired to become a better observer, better writer, and a better speaker.

The Competing Occasion

Time is of the essence when opening your presentation

Every speaking occasion is different. Every time you open your mouth to speak, you are judged – on or off the platform. But what about when you are speaking competitively? On those occasions, both speaker and speech are judged by individuals with different levels of expertise. Therefore, you must provide reasons to persuade your judges and audience to favor your presentation over someone else’s. Competitive speakers must know what motivates both their judges and their audience. The competing occasion demands that your topic selection must be appropriate for that particular audience and occasion.

How are great speeches created? They are created by the speaker having a clear understanding of their topic. Speakers should also know how they will get audiences to listen, be entertain while informing, and how they can make their presentation memorable. Speakers must also know exactly when they have achieved their goal and not overstate their case to undermine their credibility. Good sales-persons know exactly when to go for the head, heart, and your pocket-book. Speakers must also know their points of attack and when they have achieved their purpose, and it’s time to close the deal.

Time is of the essence when opening your presentation. Lead with your strongest point or argument. Get to the point. First impressions leave an indelible impression on audiences. Statistics show in your first minute; a speaker can win-over or lose their audience. Speakers should hint where they are going or plan to take you in the first minute of your presentation. In that first minute, you want your audience to think silently, come with me – l will tell you more. That curiosity you arouse in your opening will serve as the impetus for the rest of your presentation.

D’Brooks, the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, advises that you make brevity a part of your speaking style. He’s also an advocate for writing out your speeches, not to be read, but for them to be edited and re-edited. He stresses – “Great Speeches are not written, they are re-written.” Whether you choose to write first and then deliver or deliver and then write, it’s OK. When you write your speech, you can focus on your choice of words as you re-edit your speech. As you check your sentence construction. As you see visually, if you can deliver each sentence with fewer words.

David also reminds speakers that we should compete to become better. It’s not all about winning a trophy. It is about competing at a high level and taking the time to know as much as you can about your audience and their expectations. Find your voice. Don’t speak too fast or too slowly. Don’t try to sound like someone else. Be yourself. Use strategic pauses for emphasis. Practice enunciating each word clearly. Make sure you have a memorable or magic moment in your presentation. Your conclusion is just as important as your opening. Recall some of the main points of your presentation. Leave enough time to summarize and emphasize your take away message. The quality of your performance and not the trophy will determine if you made a winning presentation when your speaking occasion is competing.

2020 is Hindsight Finally

The future is now

For years we have said in jest 2020 is hindsight. And finally, it has now come to pass. However, for those who live life looking back, it will come to stay. Every year is a good year considering the alternative. But life is where the rubber meets the road. Before stepping forward into another year of your speaking journey, it is a good idea not to get stuck looking back but to review the feedback you received from your mentors, coaches, and trainers. Now is a good time to review what worked and what didn’t as you move forward to make 2021 a year of speaking excellence.

Feedback has played an important role in my public speaking journey. I still review many of the comments I received from when I first started my journey twenty-four years ago. I look back at those remarks to see if I have grown. I look back to be reminded of the bad habits I corrected and the good ones I must continue to develop. It is easy for habits, both good and bad, to creep into your presentations when you’re growing as a speaker. When you stop speaking for a few days, you will know. Stop for a few more weeks; your audience will know. Stop for a few more weeks, and everybody on the planet will know. A constant review of your past will lead you to a brighter future. Looking back, but don’t stay back. Keep moving forward.

The comments you receive from evaluators are different from the feedback you’ll get from your mentors, trainers, and coaches. Although we love to hear what helps us build confidence as a speaker, there comes a time when only the truth matter. The comments that will help you most are the raw truth. And sometimes, that truth may be too painful to stomach. Anyone can stroke your ego, but it’s the truth that will help you to excel. Dana LaMon – the 1992 World Champion of Public Speaking, said it best when he visited our District 4 in 2007 – He said, “I am stuck on excellence. Compare your performance today with yesterday’s results, and if you have improved or advanced, just a little you have excelled”.

There are no shortcuts to achieving excellence in public speaking. For some, it takes baby steps. It’s a long and winding road, with many milestones to record along the way. Enjoy the successes, but it’s the failures that will drive you to achieve your goals. When you can say to yourself with conviction, it doesn’t matter what failures I have had in the past; what matters most is what I will make happen in the future, and the future is now; you are on your road to excellence. Let’s ring in the new year with a new challenge. My new challenge in 2021 will be podcasting. What’s going to be yours? Let’s begin the New Year with a brighter outlook as we wave goodbye to 2020, to let it remain in hindsight, finally.