Strong Words, One Year On

One year ago I published my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate.

Now more than ever, the topics covered in this edition are critically important and relevant in our polarized world. Pervasive virtual communication has left many people feeling isolated, lonely and struggling to communicate effectively.

Areas of focus include: Communication, Toastmasters, Veterans, Agile, Health and Science.

Click on link below to order now.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HFTBDN8/ref=nodl_?dplnkId=291723f2-e7eb-4ad1-bb69-adba641bd9d5

Losing the Magic:  Virtual Toastmasters is No Laughing Matter

Toastmasters International is losing more than clubs and members- it is losing its magic!  The nonprofit organization has 1,400 fewer clubs than it did in 2019.  As a result, there are 82,000 fewer people receiving the benefits of the educational programs.

The mindset of virus avoidance and remote meetings is taking its toll. In person meetings, training and contests are the exception while virtual events are the rule in 2022.

Many members are dissatisfied with the distant and disconnected experience of Zoom meetings and especially virtual contests at the area, division, and district levels. 

Delivering a humorous speech without a live audience is no laughing matter.  The lack of body language cues, emotion and feedback makes it hard for the speaker to connect and adjust to the audience’s reactions.  The lack of energy can add an extra burden to the speaker. 

Photo by Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent on Pexels.com

A long-time Distinguished Toastmaster in Arizona recently shared this in an email, “Live entertainment in the Toastmaster world seems to be coming to an end. The winter contests have been eliminated and now the Spring contests in 2023 are virtual.”  This dedicated mentor and coach joins hundreds of people in expressing their frustration with the lack of live audience speaking opportunities at Toastmasters.

Nature abhors a vacuum and the live-speaking gap will be filled by other groups. The desire and demand for direct, in-person events is raising in 2022 and a growing number of clubs and people in Arizona are organizing to meet the challenge.  Innovative and creative ideas are being implemented to provide large-scale speaking experiences and competitions.  Once such event will be held on Oct.11, 2022 at the Tempe Improv where 8 finalists will perform in a humorous speech competition.  The laughter, fun and festivities are free and open to the public and is not an official Toastmaster contest. Click here for tickets to the event.

I have attended this high energy and boisterous competition for three years and am happy that the tradition continues.

Twenty-eight years ago, I joined Toastmasters for the communication and leadership training but I stayed for the friends and the connections.

I love the positive energy, support, and camaraderie of the clubs and had no idea that the program and the people would have such a profound impact on course of my life. The last two decades have been an amazing experience of growth, experimentation and achievement.

Some of my best friends were met at Toastmaster meetings in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and California. These close bonds would never have been made had I only attended meetings through a zoom portal.

A Toastmasters club holiday party

I am still active in three clubs in the Phoenix area but worry that some of the great power and magic of Toastmasters is being lost as fewer and fewer in-person training sessions, leadership conferences and contests are being held.

The value of live language connections should not be underestimated and Toastmasters Districts across the country should strive to meet the needs of all of its members.

I strongly believe that the benefits are of the strong educational programs are not fully realized when a speaker and an evaluator never get to meet and talk in person before or after the meeting. 

Virtual Toastmasters is falling flat and can be energized by creative and innovative leaders who think out the box to find in-person and hybrid event options.

Laughter is the best medicine and can be the prescription for what ails lagging club and membership numbers.

Energy, excitement, engagement and enthusiasm can all be recaptured.

Commitment, connection, confidence and coaching can be reinvigorated.

The magic of Toastmasters is not a mystery. 

The magic of Toastmasters is live and in person.  

Taking the High Road: Giving Feedback in a Polarized World

One of the things I love about Toastmaster meetings is the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives and stories from club members with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and political affiliations.  For some, Toastmasters may be the only place where members are exposed to viewpoints that differ from their own.

In July 2022, I witnessed two very different presentations while attending two community Toastmaster clubs in Phoenix, Arizona. The speeches also had many similarities, as both were well presented, dynamic and passionate. The speakers were intelligent, successful and respected baby boomers whom I know and admire.

The topics of the speeches were socially charged ideas given from the presenters’ point of view and frame of reference.  Based on the size and diversity of the audience, it was probable that not everyone agreed with the premise and points of talk. 

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

What impressed me most about these specific Toastmaster meetings was the high quality and neutrality of the formal speech evaluations.  Providing verbal feedback on a topic that you may not agree with is not easy and the club members accomplished this should be praised and respected.  The Speech Evaluators did an outstanding job of providing quality input on the delivery and structure of the speech while avoiding judgmental statements on the content of the presentation.  They took the high road and made me very proud to be a Toastmaster.

I felt strongly about this topic in October 2016 and published a blog entitled “Objective Evaluations in a Polarized World”.  In this article, I emphasized that “the ability to give objective and neutral feedback on another person’s speech is hard enough without the many external and internal factors influencing us. Pesky things like human nature, emotions, personal biases, insecurities, extreme political views, polarization of opinions and what I call the “siloed, echo chambers” of social media”.

Now more than ever, my advice from six years ago on giving objective evaluation is important and relevant.

Below were my key recommendations:

  1. Remember that as a speech evaluator, you are there to observe and provide neutral and constructive feedback, recommendations and suggestions on the basic tenants and techniques of effective communication and public speaking. 
  2. Focus on the Delivery and Structure of the presentation with specific examples.
  3. When commenting on the Impact of a speech (especially if you disagree with the content), try to set aside your personal emotions and biases and look at and assess the overall audience response to the speech.
  4. Honestly ask yourself if the topic/point of the speech is clouding your ability to provide positive and objective feedback on the Delivery and Impact. If it is, then:
    1. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who supports the topic and reflect on how they would respond to the speech.
    2. Run a “What if” scenario in your mind by replacing the content of the speech with something that you agree with and see how you would view and analyze it.
  5. Open your mind, take off your biased filters and focus on how the speaker is connecting, delivering and making their point.
  6. Ask yourself: Was the speaker able to motivate, educate, influence or inspire?
  7. The purpose of your evaluation is to encourage and help club member improve and develop strong communication skills, not to impose your views, values and opinions about the subject matter.

Building a Keynote Speech, One Story at a Time

I’ve begun working on a keynote speech and thought I’d share with you my idea and the process I’m using to craft it.

The working title is of my presentation is The Power of Small:  Sys-bits for Big Results.  The initial speech will be 20 minutes in length and is the main deliverable for a Toastmasters Pathway project (Level 5 in the Presentation Mastery path).

The concept for this keynote has been swirling around in my mind for many months and features ideas and tales about systems, habits and methodologies that I have used in the past 40 years to accomplish my goals.  My personal experiences as a unicycle rider, a Toastmaster, and a published author will be highlighted as I weave together the stories and points in support of my Power of Small approach.

My first story will describe my experience of learning to ride a unicycle when I was ten years old and how I, without knowledge or formal training, employed the principles of Agile and experimentation to achieve my lofty goal.

The second story of my keynote speech will chronicle the techniques and visualize tools I used to compile and publish my first book in five months.  Leveraging my Project Manager and Scrum Master skills allowed me to know which systems and habits to use to get the job done on time and under budget.   I also think that my “Power of Small” method of book writing improved my creativity and increased my quality.

The final story of my big speech about small steps will feature an analysis of the Toastmaster educational program called Pathways.  This proven system is an incremental learning experience designed to help members build the skills they need to be better communicator and leaders.

Another big step I’ve taken in my speech creation in hiring a professional Coach to assist me in refining, shaping and optimizing my words and my delivery.   More to come on this endeavor.

So that’s what I have to share with you thus far. 

The small steps of my journey to an amazing Keynote have begun and I’m excited to report my progress along the way to you.

A Spirited Launch at The Buzzed Goat

On November 4, 2021, I hosted a book launch party for Strong Words and Simple Truths in Phoenix, Arizona. The venue was a fun, independent coffee shop called The Buzzed Goat and Ernie the hedgehog fit right in.

Our spirited gathering included over 30 friends, coworkers, toastmasters and veterans. The energy in the room was electric and I was thrilled to be able to speak in front of a live audience.

Below is a video of my short presentation and tribute to military veterans.

Ernie and me at the book signing table

For more information on my book Strong Words and Simple Truths click here.

To order on Amazon, click here.

Building a Book with Agile

Building a Book with Agile

Earlier this year I embarked on a journey to write and publish my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths. After eight years of writing this blog, I knew I had enough content (102 Posts with over 50,000 words). The trick was figuring out how to knit together so many seemingly disparate topics into a cohesive and interesting story.

I had a mountain of ideas and knew I had to focus, organize and categorize.

The first thing I did was put on my Scrum Master hat and break out the pink and yellow sticky notes! For a definition of what a Scrum Master is click here.

With an Agile mindset, I set about the task of visualizing every blog post.  I did this by writing the title of every blog with a black marker on square sticky notes.   The pink notes covered the majority of the wall in my home office.  For more information on Agile click here.

The next step involved organizing and grouping the blog titles into themes or categories.  I ended up with eight themes that I wrote on larger, rectangular sticky notes.  I moved the smaller titles around on the wall so they were under the appropriate theme.  I let this display sit on my wall for many weeks and I spent hours staring at them to see how they looked together.  I moved some titles around and I removed over 20 blogs entirely.  This editing process was difficult but very important to the integrity and flow of the book.

The beginning stage of my blog grouping wall

The eight themes became the chapters of the book which are:  Communication, Toastmasters, Creativity, Veterans, the 1980s, Gratitude, Science and Health, and Agile.

I built a storyboard of the eight chapters to help visualize the order and flow of the themes.  I evolved and iterated on this multiple times and landed on this display which includes the custom drawn illustrations by Alex Delit Garcia.

The Final Story board

The creation of the Table of Contents was quite simple as I ordered the blog titles chronologically under each chapter/theme.

To tie all of the chapters together, I chose a fun and symbolic circus theme.  Each chapter was represented by a character or element from the circus and I spun a tale about a curious girl named Elizabeth and her hedgehog friend, Ernie.  The story took us on a “run away and join the circus” journey and wove together all of the chapters’ topics with the Ringleader kicking things off.

The use of a creative and symbolic fiction story to tie together 80 non-fiction articles was a fun and effective way to compile and build a book in a short amount of time.  From the start of my sticky note wall display to the publication of the book was five months (including the creation of the chapter illustrations and the editing/formatting).

I often call my book a patchwork quilt of lifelong learnings, dreams and ideas and I hope you enjoyed my sharing of the stitching process!

For more information on Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate, click here.

A Book Is Born!

I did it!

I published my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate, on Amazon today.

To those who have been following and reading my blog over the past 8 years, I thank you for your interest and support of my thoughts, ideas and stories.

Words can not express the joy and elation I am feeling today. This is my baby. My legacy. My tribute to my family, friends, fellow veterans, and Toastmasters.

Over the last few months I have created new content and stories to weave the last 8 years of articles together. The book has 8 Chapters (Epics/Themes) where I grouped the over 80 blogs.

The chapters are: Communications, Toastmasters, Creativity, Veterans, Gratitude, the 1980s, Agile, and Science/Health.

What is the book about?

  • Courage, Communication and the American Spirit
  • Strength, Tolerance and Respect
  • Balance, Perspective and Change
  • Science, Health and History
  • Gratitude, Remembrance and Joy
  • Truth and Common Sense
  • Heroes, Adventure and Fun
  • Veterans, Poppies and Honor
  • Creativity, Toastmasters and the 1980s

An amazingly talented young woman illustrated the book with a fun circus theme that my mascot Ernie the Hedgehog endorses. Kudos to Alex Delit Garcia for her great work.

I don’t know what is next but boy am I excited and energized to share this news with you.

If you would like to purchase this fun compilation with a new, creative adventure throughout, please click on the image below for your very own copy. Here’s the book’s website.

Thank you!

What’s It All About?

Since 2013, I’ve been sharing my thoughts, ideas and stories on this blog. I enjoy writing and will continue to post here with fun and interesting photos that are harder to share in a printed book.

As I have stated in my last post, I am about to publish my first book on Amazon and have been mentally preparing for the inevitable question- What is the book about?

Since Strong Words and Simple Truths is a compilation of nine years of articles on a wide range of subjects, the answer to that query is not fitting into my normally pithy response box.

During my bike ride this morning, I came up with the following bullets to describe what the book is about.

I hope to have it live on Amazon in October 2021. Please check out www.thecouragetocommunicate.com for more details.

  • Balance, Perspective and Change
  • Strength, Tolerance and Respect
  • Science, Health and History
  • Gratitude, Remembrance and Joy
  • Creativity, Toastmasters and the 1980s
  • Heroes, Adventure and Fun
  • Truth and Common Sense
  • Veterans, Poppies and Honor
  • Courage, Communication and the American Spirit
Illustration by Alex Delit Garcia

Big News for Strong Words

I have exciting news to share!

I am working to publish my first book Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate based on the contents of this blog.

Below is a sneak preview of the book’s Foreword. I plan to publish it on Amazon in Q4 2021.

http://www.thecouragetocommunicate.com

There are over one hundred and seventy thousand commonly used words in the English language, but most people employ just a fraction of them in their daily lives. Many people yearn to find and articulate the truth. The courage to communicate has many meanings; each of us struggling to get our voices heard brings our own understanding and desires to the process. I bring my understanding of communication and wish to be heard to this book.

Growing up in a large family in the northeastern United States, I learned the value of direct and powerful communication. I still appreciate the emphatic and heartfelt style of my New Jersey upbringing and have spent my adult life honing my skills through key programs, paths, and career choices. 

I believe that strong words have the power to catalyze change, that direct communication has value, and that words have energy.I believe that words are best when they are consumable, easily understood, and impactful.

I also believe that simplicity in communication is elegant. Simple is clear and honest and true. The most delicious recipes have five or fewer ingredients. My Mom’s delicious rice pudding comes to mind. But alas, communication is not always as simple as a recipe.

From this understanding came the title of my first WordPress blog, Strong Words and Simple Truths, which I began writing in 2013. The title encompasses everything I believe about communication, and I have not changed the focus or intent of the phrase in my nine years of blogging. 

I always have an idea that I’d like to share, so I’ve continued thinking, speaking, and blogging about communication since 2013. I am rarely at a loss for words.

Some of the articles I published on my blog were adapted from speeches I gave at Toastmaster meetings. Other times, I would challenge myself to convert a blog article into a speech. I found the challenges of the back-and-forth creations fun and fascinating. This process taught me the important lesson that the spoken word is quite different from the written word, and through this hard work I learned to be more flexible and creative in my communication style.

This book invites you to accompany me on a journey of discovery through a curated selection of over eighty articles from my blog. When I decided to compile these articles into a book, I knew that the same title, Strong Words and Simple Truths, would perfectly express what I am trying to convey. Little did I know when I started writing my blog that the extreme events of 2020 and 2021 would make my pithy title and subtitle all the more relevant and important.

So here I am, sharing in the most powerfully vulnerable way I have ever attempted. Blogging and public speaking are one thing, but publishing a book has brought me to a whole new level of commitment to my beliefs and my message.

The format of this book was inspired by author and fellow veteran, Ed Latimore. His book, Not Caring What Other People Think Is a Superpower: Insights from a Heavy Boxer, was an outstanding compilation of his tweets, which includes strong and powerful lessons of life.  

In this book, I blend the creative power of agility, communication, history, and science to create a patchwork quilt of my ideas, stories, and dreams.

I am honored to share the stories of the people and personalities who shaped who I am today. While I may not have been completely fearless as a child, the role models I emulated were feisty, strong, and spirited. Many of the themes in this book were inspired by my mom, Virginia, my brother, Bill, and my sister, Barbara. During elementary and high school, I was encouraged and guided by many amazing and motivational teachers and coaches.Ihad role models from the entertainment world as well. I desired to be as daring as Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett and as strong as Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman.

These role models were heroes to me, and they inspired me to branch out and achieve the substantial and audacious goals I set for myself. I hope they will inspire you to do the same. 

As a young adult, I had two different career aspirations. In high school, I wanted to be a medical doctor. After college, I considered becoming a science teacher.The common thread through my life is the desire to help people, share knowledge, and train others to learn new skills.

In this book, I’ll also share lessons from mymilitary service, which taught me the importance of KISS- Keep It Simple Soldier (or Stupid as some would joke). As a US Army Signal Corps officer, I supported combat and support units on the battlefield with precise and effective communication infrastructure and procedures.When lives depend on clear, concise, and timely messages, you learn to value their quality greatly.

My wish is that you find this book entertaining and educational, and I hope that it motivates you in creative and unique ways. I also pray that these words, thoughts, and expressions pay adequate tribute to the brave and selfless heroes in our world. 

I have grouped the blog articles into eight sections. Each article includes the original publication date and appears as it originally appeared on the blog (with some proofreading to correct minor issues). I stitched the articles together much as a quilter would piece together colorful fabrics to create an intricate and appealing pattern. To keep things fun, I chose a theme from the magical world of the circus.

The sections of this book represent the main interests, influences, values, priorities, and passions in my life, each linked to a symbolic element from the circus.To aid the reader in remembering the sections and their symbols, I created a brief tall tale to open the book. 

  1. Ringmaster—Communication
  2. Big Tent—Toastmasters
  3. Juggler—Creativity
  4. Wheels—Agile
  5. Strong Man—Veterans, Remembrance and Traditions
  6. Laughter—Connections and Gratitude
  7. Unicycle—The 1980s
  8. Animals—Science and Truth

When you read the Table of Contents, you can think of it as a menu for a smorgasbord dinner which allows you to select the topics that most appeal to you. It’s a collection of various perspectives, angles, and tastes.

Come on, let’s run away and join the circus for a few hours! 

The Big Tent: Toastmasters Center Ring

I am crafting the introduction to the Toastmaster section of my upcoming book, Strong Words and Simple Truths and wrote penned (literally in a paper journal with an ink pen) the short poem below. Words flow differently when you write them by hand. While awkward at first, they soon loosened up.

Toastmasters

Where Speakers are Sharpened and Words are Wondrous.

Where Leaders are Made and Alliteration is Alluring.

Where Communicators are Courageous and Friendships are Fostered.