Category Archives: Public speaking & Toastmasters

Pitchforks, pistols and “going postal”

Pitchfork: n. a long-handled fork that has two or three long somewhat curved prongs and is used especially in tossing (pitching) hay

Pistol: n. a handgun whose chamber is integral with the barrel

“Going postal”: v. To become extremely angry or deranged, especially in an outburst of violence. The term derives from a series of incidents from 1983 onward in which United States Postal Service  workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police or general public. Between 1986 and 1997, more than 40 people were killed in at least 20 incidents of workplace rage.

Used to be when the rabble got roused, they’d go after the bad guy with their pitchforks pointed at his butt, thus running him out of town.

No more. We’ve got guns, and we’re gonna use ’em.

Pistol, by Christoph Niemann

Pistol, by Christoph Niemann

How many mass murders are we going to allow before we stand up to the gun lobby???  47 just in the past month!

An article by AP writer Ted Anthony asks, “What is happening in the American psyche that prevents people from defusing their own anguish and rage before they end the lives of others? Why are we killing each other?”

I can answer that:   Because.We.Have.Guns.   Without guns we’d have to resort to fisticuffs, maybe a knife, maybe lots of screaming and yelling.

The other issue, raised by Charles Blow in the NY Times: Are certain susceptible people taking as gospel the call of right-wing crazies like Glenn Beck, Chuck Norris, Michelle Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh to be red-blooded patriots and take up arms if necessary to prevent SOCIALISTS and ATHIESTS and LIBERALS from taking over the country?

What are we becoming?

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PowerPoint prowess pays off

PowerPoint: n. a presentation program that is part of Microsoft Office, which can be used to put an audience to sleep — or can inform and inspire.

Prowess: n. extraordinary ability

Pay off: v. to reward for hard work

I recently taught a two-hour feng shui class for a group of feng shui novices, and if I say so myself, it was RAD!

I had used slides in PowerPoint once before to illustrate a feng shui talk, so I knew how effective pictures could be. However I was still struggling with an A/V inferiority complex that developed in high school watching geeky male classmates run the Rube Goldberg contraption known as a movie projector.

Furthermore, I hadn’t yet read Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen, which is an absolute MUST resource for any would-be presenters.

First, out went any slides with bullet points. Then out went slides with more than a few words, unless it was a succinct quotation. That left me with….

Almost nothing.

I started over. This was my process (h/t to Garr Reynolds):

  • Get a stack of Post-It sticky notes and a big white board.
  • List all the points you want to get across – one per sticky note, and then  figure out what visual images would convey them even more effectively than words.
  • Gather lots and lots and lots of pictures – from your own camera, scanned from magazines, found on Google Images and Flickr. Note each one on a sticky.
  • Look also for images that are extreme examples (what not to do, before & after, stumbling blocks, etc.) to emphasize your point or defuse fears.
  • Shuffle the notes on the white board till they make some sense.
  • Import the pictures into PowerPoint using the totally blank slide as your template, so the pictures are full-screen (means your pix must be in landscape format).
  • Shuffle them around in the Slide Sorter View until they tell the story in a way that flows most naturally.
  • Now you can add some text floating in front of some of the pictures or on transition slides.

Here are a few examples of images I found:

To illustrate what a feng shui consultant does when she/he comes to your house – conveying both the fresh eyes which can see your home more clearly AND addressing the fear many potential clients have that she’ll be some sort of critical witch:

eyeballs1

Or these three slides, which illustrate the dilemma of clutter. First the extreme possibility that you could be buried alive by it:

cluttercartoon

Then, the inertia we feel when viewing the clutter-clearing task ahead:

boulder1

My audience laughed hysterically at this boulder – recognizing themselves.

And then I encouraged them with the concept of momentum… what happens once you get started tossing crap:

domino-effect

I’d say it took a solid 40 hours to put together 150 slides for a two-hour talk, and a lot of creative thought while I was half-asleep. But it was totally worth it.

The “pragmatic particle” – public speaking nemesis?

Pragmatic: adj. practical, as opposed to artistic, theoretical or idealistic

Particle: n. a unit of speech expressing some general aspect of meaning or some connective   relation and including the articles, most prepositions and conjunctions, and some interjections and adverbs.

Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s only surviving child, tentatively tossed her hat into the political ring when Hillary Clinton left her NY senatorial seat open to become Secretary of State. Unfortunately, Caroline inherited the fabled name, but not the Kennedy silver tongue.

Among the albatrosses around her neck as a candidate was her inability to express herself clearly and succinctly. Her specialty is the phrase “you know,” which in two recent interviews she used 138 times and 200+ times.

You know, that’s hard to do!

In Toastmasters, you know, we have a person whose role at the meeting is to keep track of every speaker’s verbal stutters – um, uh, er, like, you know – and other elocution no-nos. By merely becoming aware of these verbal distractions, you know, it’s possible to reduce or eliminate them.

I thought they were just verbal tics, but “you know” is a special case about which someone actually wrote a doctoral thesis in 1980.

Linguists call “you know” a pragmatic particle, and it has its linguistic counterparts in many other cultures around the world.

“You know” typically occurs in face-to-face interactions, and can indicate discomfort. However, it can be used (usually unconsciously) as a mediator of social relations.  “You know” implies an attempt to maintain an already close relationship with the person being addressed, to simulate shared views – or to establish such a relationship.

In the case of a political candidate, who wants to be seen as at the same level as The People or be persuasive about an issue, “you know” brings the listener in closer.

I still think the repetitious use of  “you know” is annoying, sloppy, and unprofessional.

Before Caroline returns to the public eye she needs to detour through a year at a Toastmasters club. A club is easy to find (enter your zip code here) because most communities have at least one club – and some have dozens.

Plumber without portfolio: Joe “types without a clue”

Plumber: n. a person who installs and fixes toilets, and should have stuck to his day job

Portfolio: n. a selection of a person’s work (papers, artwork) compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress

Joe the Plumber (an unattractive adjunct to the McCain campaign second only in repugnancy to Sarah Palin) has written a book. Or typed it. (Or had someone else type it for him…).

Timothy Egan wrote a hilarious and angry commentary on it, “Typing without a Clue,” in yesterday’s NY Times. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here are a couple of tidbits:

The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.

Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon. Who could forget poor John McCain at his most befuddled, calling out for his working-class surrogate on a day when Joe stiffed him.

With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.

Joe is evidently not in line to be the 100th monkey.

Egan goes on to bemoan the hard life of real writers and the sorry state of the publishing industry.

The idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers think the world is unfair.

On the other hand, plumbing is a career path that never goes out of fashion. “After the deluge,” says my ex-, who has plumbing skills, “they’ll still need plumbers.”

Public Speaking: the power of Toastmasters

Public speaking: talking from the front of the room to a group of people, some or all of whom may be strangers -for many people the most petrifying experience imaginable.

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters since 2002 and last year completed all the requirements to receive the top TM award, Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).  Among other things, this means I’ve given about 100 (mostly) short speeches, each of which was evaluated by another member.

When I joined I was already a semi-experienced speaker and I’d long long ago left the knocking knees behind.  Furthermore, because I’m a writer, pulling together 700 words on a topic of interest to me was no problem either.

But many folks start here:

I joined for five reasons:

  • I am a terrible memorizer and could not leave my “brilliantly crafted” script behind.
  • I feel quite passionate about some of the things I wanted to talk about and have a tendency to burst into tears at in impassioned moments. This is mortifying.
  • I wanted an excuse to organize the nebulous snippets wafting inside my head, because I often don’t know what I think until I’ve had to write about it.
  • I wanted to choose my own topics. As a writer for hire, I’m usually assigned them.
  • I wanted live feedback from warm bodies. When someone reads my written stuff I’m rarely present so I have no clue if they understood my message, if they liked it, where it caught their attention and where it lost them.

After the first ten speeches (which is unfortunately when many people quit their clubs) I had improved on all counts, but had just begun to understand how much PRACTICE good public speaking requires. The advanced manuals offer such a variety of speaking assignments that I’ve been able to expand my skill repertoire into new realms.

Toastmasters’ magic formula includes constructive feedback after every speech. If you’re not speaking, you’re evaluating. This has improved not only my speaking, but also punched up my writing. In some ways you learn even more doing evaluations than speaking because you can clearly see in others what works and what doesn’t.

The memorization thing? Speaking without notes is 100 times more effective than reading a speech, even if you stumble some. It’s so much more direct and communicative.  Think Barack Obama v. Hillary Clinton.

I gave up on memorization after one horrible experience in a humorous speech contest when I was talking about meeting men as an older single woman.  I had dressed up in a hideous baggy dress, rouged my cheeks and put on a Dolly Parton kind of wig.  I delivered my first memorized paragraph, then totally forgot/skipped over the next two paragraphs which were to have set the stage for the action. The audience was baffled and thought the memory lapse was part of my senior citizen schtick.  So no more trying to memorize for me… instead I practice and use a few notes. It’s still a “growing edge.”

The weepy thing? It runs in my family – we’re a mawkish bunch. I try to avoid topics that are sure-fire tear-jerkers, even though they’re sometimes the most persuasive. I take a deep breath when I’m blind-sided by the sudden prick of tears, the constricted throat and the high squeaky voice. In desperation, I extract a length of toilet paper from my sleeve and mop my eyes with a flourish which usually defuses the situation.

Public speaking is such a crucial skill that it should be a requirement for high school graduation. And after that, a year or two in Toastmasters to give you the necessary practice.

It’s never too late! There are thousands of clubs across the country and around the world. Find one near you here. Toastmasters is CHEAP, it’s 80+ years proven, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

Pugnacious: Palin “pit bull with lipstick”; McCain just pugnacious

Pugnacious: adj.  Eager to fight; having a belligerant disposition.

McCain wanted an attack dog, and he found one in Sarah Palin. Last night she smiled her pretty lipstick smile while she lunged at Obama’s jugular.

Tonight John McCain took pugnacity and ran with it.  More proof that the GOP loves a good fight.  I should have done a word bubble on the words Fight and references to War because he talked about little else for most of the speech. Here are 26 instances of the word fight:

I’ve fought corruption, and it didn’t matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans. They violated their public trust, and they had to be held accountable.  I’ve fought the big spenders…I’ve fought the big spenders in both parties, who waste your money on things you neither need nor want, and the first big-spending pork-barrel earmark bill that comes across my desk, I will veto it. I will make them famous, and you will know their names. You will know their names.

[How about “Sarah Palin’s name? You know, the gal who’s your porky partner? Big earmarks for little Wasilla, the Bridge to Nowhere money she kept??]

…. I’ve fought to get million-dollar checks out of our elections. I’ve fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes. I’ve fought crooked deals in the Pentagon. I’ve fought tobacco companies and trial lawyers, drug companies and union bosses.

I’ve fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.

And when the pundits said — when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I’d rather lose an election than see my country lose a war

I don’t mind a good fight. For reasons known only to God, I’ve had quite a few tough ones in my life. But I learned an important lesson along the way: In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test.

I fight for Americans. I fight for you. I fight for Bill and Sue Nebe who from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market…. [not their home, their investments – plural.]  I fight for [a couple who lost their son due to the Iraq War he helped start] and I fights for [a couple who have health insurance problems the Republicans did nothing about. ]

I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us.

[no shit sherlock: you’re the one who voted with Bush 90% of the time. It’s YOUR party that started a war, shredded the constitution, ruined the economy, made moral hypocrisy and corruption your party’s modus operandi, etc etc etc]

Loooonnnngg segment about the Vietnam war and being a POW. Did you know McCain was a prisoner of war?…

The grand finale:

I’m going to fight for my cause every day as your president. I’m going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank him, that I’m an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on Earth. And with hard work — with hard word, strong faith, and a little courage, great things are always within our reach.

Fight with me. Fight with me.
Fight for what’s right for our country. Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.
Fight for our children’s future. Fight for justice and opportunity for all. Stand up to defend our country from its enemies. Stand up for each other, for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.

Stand up, stand up, stand up, and fight.

Do we want a president whose first response is to put up his dukes?

Aren’t we ready for a change? For leaders who think things through, who will sit down and talk, who will use their heads and hearts rather than their fists and teeth.  America should Just Say No to Pugnacity.

Public speaking prowess: a liability for Obama??

Prowess: superior skill or ability

“I listened to part of his acceptance speech, but I don’t much care for him;
he speaks too well.”

That’s what one of my relatives said today of Obama’s speech. And she’s a Democrat.

He speaks too well.

What has America come to, that it’s a bad thing when someone as thoughtful and articulate as Obama “speaks too well”?   Have we become that cynical?

Many politicians can deliver an effective speech – even if they have shit for brains – IF they’ve got skillful speech-writers crafting their words.

But Obama is that rare bird who actually writes his own speeches.
You simply cannot write a speech like that without having a well-educated, orderly, creative AND rational mind. His powerful delivery is a plus…
but the ideas came first.

The man can actually think!

America desperately needs a leader with a well-educated, orderly, creative and rational mind – one who doesn’t depend on speech-writers to get the message right.

The job of President requires a person who thinks and expresses himself clearly.  We’ve had eight years of monumentally muddled thinking and garbled speaking.  McCain is another shoot-from-the-hip quipper, with a loose grip on his facts and his memory.

OH PLEASE, NO MORE!