Blazing a Path- My Inspirational Opening for District 3 Toastmasters

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I was recently asked to present the opening Inspiration at the conference for District 3 Toastmasters in Phoenix, AZ.

Here’s the text of the 1.5 minute speech:

As we blaze a new path to success, I’m reminded of an old Irish blessing, may the road rise to meet you and may the wind be always at your back.

May is a month for remembering- a time for visits to memorials and tributes honoring those who came before us.  May is also a time of growth and renewal.

As we look to grow, I encourage you to remember the past, our history and our traditions at Toastmasters.  We are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Those who came before us forged new paths and paved the way for our current and future success.

We live in a rapidly changing world where we must adapt to the needs of our members in new and innovative ways.

So as we evolve and blaze exciting new roads, let us not forget our strong Toastmaster roots.

Embrace the new.

Honor our foundation.

Prepare for the future.

And know that by blazing a path to success with your District 3 family, the wind will always be at your back.

 

You Want Me to Change?

 

You want me to change?

What a simple but profound question to ask. What a bold request to make.

Change is hard. Change is painful. Why do I need to Change?

In the spirit of being Agile, I’d rather talk about adaptive transformation. It sounds so much more fun and interesting!

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Looking back in my blog archives, I realize that I have dipped my toe into this topic a few times in articles like “A Tower of Change” and “Dying to Adapt”.  I was having fun with my Tarot cards in late 2016 and the Death and Tower cards kept showing up so I reflected on them and wove them into the chaotic current events of the day.   “A Matter of Perspective” and a few other articles also danced around this difficult and daunting theme.

As I watch the train wreck that has become our nation’s political discourse, I am concerned that people are losing the ability to communicate with each other. How we converse and share information has changed so rapidly and dramatically in just 10 years that it makes my head spin.

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The Facebook and Twitter threads I see today make me wonder, are we able to “change” another person’s mind or position on anything?

As witnessed on social media every day, I don’t see much give and take on ideas where people disagree. I see a whole lot of confirmation bias and reinforcement of one’s existing views and values. I see many instances of digging in on positions and not much changing or adapting.

Why is it so hard to Change?

If I called you live on the phone right now and asked you to describe what change feels like, what would you say?

For me and many others the adjectives painful, stressful and uncomfortable would probably top the list.

The DailyOM blog by Madison Taylor sent me an article last week titled “Anxiety about Change”.   It seems to be on the minds of many people.

Change is Difficult. No Pain, No Gain, right? Every competitive athlete understands this mantra but most people’s default setting is to take the path of least resistance. The easy way and the status quo are like a close, dysfunctional couple and breaking up is hard to do!

At work I keep hearing the words and phrases Transformation, Agile Maturity, Accelerators and Radical Change being used in the context of staying competitive and relevant in the market. Being a disruptive Change Agent is a good thing in today’s world and it is being rewarded with dollars, likes and followers. Adaptive transformation is sometimes critical to one’s survival.

If change is such an important aspect to survive in this world, why is it so hard?

Why do humans usually respond to change with the reflective impulse to resist it?

Most of our major change of life events are made easier and less stressful with rituals and ceremonies that typically involve the abundant intake of food and/or alcohol.

 

Think about graduation parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funeral repasts. These are all times of big and scary change.

 

Evolve or die may seem a bit extreme but is an understood reality in our competitive business and technology world today. Remember what happened to Kodak moments and our once beloved Blackberry devices. They didn’t transform quickly enough and now they are a footnote in history.

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In more tame Agile terms, the iterative process of Build, Test, Inspect and Adapt is a continuous and beautiful flow of events that occurs over and over in short time increments (sprints). This flow makes change easier since it is done is smaller chunks (think baby steps).

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Playdough and Juggling Balls displaying Incremental Change

And if you fail, it is best to Fail Fast and start sprinting again.

I’ll close with the wise words of Ray Dalio from his book “Principles where he states:

“Evolution is good because it is a process of adaption that generally moves things toward improvement.”

“The faster one appropriately adapts, the better.”

I also appreciate Mr. Dalio’s equation: Pain + Reflection = Progress

The question is: Are we ready to embrace the discomfort and potential failure so that we can change and get to a better place?

Are we open to adaptive transformations to get us to a higher level?

None of my questions have simple, easy answers but I do think that if we strive to keep our lenses clear and both eyes open like I discuss in  “A View on Balance”  and “A Matter of Perspective“ then perhaps we can frame our challenges in a new light and take the small, incremental steps to evolve to a different and better way.

Looking at an issue or a challenge from a completely different angle can help us adapt and evolve to improve the situation.

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On the topic of changing other people’s views and opinions on Social Media – upon further reflection, I don’t see this as a reasonable or easily attainable goal and will instead focus on changing myself in the hope that others will see my values in action.

So let’s hear it for real live Adaptive Transformations!

Taken in smaller, bite-sized chunks, change doesn’t have to be so painfully hard.

Fun footnote:

The title of this blog is the chorus of this catchy tune by the group Churchill.

Click here for the fun and  cool video of the song “Change”.

I listened to this tune while writing these words and it gave me additional motivation and inspiration. It greased the skids in my mind and helped me get unblocked. Maybe it can do the same thing for you.

 

You Have a Seat at the Table, Now What?

Much has been written about the strength and impact of women’s voices in corporate America and the level to which they are acknowledged and perceived. What we say and how we say it are critical success factors and key skills to refine and perfect. I would even go as far to say that how we present our message is an art which needs to be thoughtfully approached and practiced for maximum effect.

As more women get promoted into leadership and executive positions, the next challenge and question is-  how do we make certain that our input is heard? How do we connect and reach people to influence, motivate and inspire them?

Given my frame of reference and experience as a leader over the last 28 years, I’d like to share with you some thoughts, ideas and suggestions on how to ensure that your voice is  heard and respected.

My background is deeply rooted in the area of communication both in the military and in leadership roles in a number of large corporations in the US. I served as a Signal Platoon leader during the first Gulf War and my main job was directing and projecting my voice to give orders and commands to a communications unit that deployed cellular networks on the battlefield. I also received extensive training on radio communications and protocols during hostile operations. This is where I learned the importance and value of being bold, being brief and being gone. The mantra that stuck with me was: “Be bold, be brief, be gone”.  Make your point quickly and then be still.  Speak, wait, listen and learn.

After my time in the Army, I worked in various fields including Sales, Consulting, Project Management and Agile leadership, all of which rely heavily on strong communication skills to be effective.

I have been an active member in Toastmasters International since 1994 and enjoy giving speeches and mentoring others to improve their confidence and communication effectiveness. Basically, I’ve been working on honing my ability to connect, articulate and transmit information, stories and messages to others since the mid 1980s.

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As a long time Toastmaster, I’ve been told that I possess a “Confident Command” when I speak. It is from this perspective that I present to you some tips and techniques  on the topic of Powerful Speaking.

1 – Project your voice

Before you utter your first word at the table, on the conference call or at the lectern, take a long, deep breath and get grounded in your thoughts and intention. Relax your neck and shoulder muscles ( I use a technique of firmly pressing the palms of my hands together for 8 seconds- usually done under the table where I am sitting prior to standing for my presentation).

Be mindful of your volume and pitch. Avoid a shrill sound which is often overly high and piercing in quality. Even tones and breathing are your friends.   Practice your key foundational statements ( opening and closing) in advance so you can ensure that you project your message clearly and strongly.

2- Make your point quickly and succinctly

Back to the “Be Bold, Be Brief, Be Gone” mantra. Make sure that your main point is clearly stated up front and with power and conviction. Declare and proclaim the situation, facts and impact in a short 1-3 sentence statement of clarity and impact. Get their attention, connect and then elaborate on your point if necessary.

Providing brief stories and examples can help support your point and knowing your audience’s concern and frame of reference is key to ensuring that your message is heard, understood and hopefully appreciated.

Know your facts cold. This will help you deliver in a solid and unwavering manner.

Remember, Less is More.

3- Know your value and what you uniquely bring to the table.

Be prepared.

Be authentic.

Be steady.

Be assertive.

You’ve got this!

4- Having a Positive and Grounded Tone

It’s not only what you say but how you say it has never been more true.

As a woman friend and outstanding speaker from Laughing Matters Toastmasters club in Austin recently shared with me:

“Don’t be wimpy. Don’t be whiny. Don’t be pissy. Don’t go postal.

Rather, have a tone of confidence, composure, and quiet conviction.”

Another tip to have a good, solid tone is to tap into your Personal Power.

Here’s an energizing quote that I read on DailyOm.com two days ago.

“ Power is not about exerting our will over others, it is about being in complete truth with ourselves. When personal power is balanced, we are neither meek nor overbearing.”

When we have harness our Personal Power we:

  • Have a clear sense of our strength and the impact we can have on others
  • Are worthy and deserve to be heard
  • Come from a place of humility and strength- not entitlement

When speaking from a position of balanced strength, our tone and non-verbal communications send the message that “ I have something important and valuable to contribute”.

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The Goddess Pose

So take your seat at the table, speak up and let your voice and powerful message be heard!

I hope that this article was helpful and connected with you in some way.

Please send me your comments, questions and thoughts.

This is Brenda Smull signing off. Over and Out.

So Many Things Left Unsaid

There is much on my mind. So many topics to talk about, so many things to say but lately my blog outlines and drafts are piling up on the shelf.

Perhaps I have my first case of writer’s blog. Maybe I’m just too busy to finish and publish. Maybe I’m caught up in the intense tone of the nation when it comes to Freedom of Expression.

I’m not sure of the reason and I’m not big on making excuses so I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas and topics I’ve been tossing around for the last 6 months but haven’t finalized in an article, speech or blog.

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I’ll let you decide what you think is important, relevant or interesting.

Please send me your comments and feedback on one or more of the following topics:

  1. Letting Go – I learned a new word today while in Yoga class. It is Vairagya…
  2. REI’s Force of Nature marketing campaign.
    • Do we need a retail company to “help make outside the largest level playing field on earth”?
  3. Life is Spiritual Warfare. Words of wisdom from Tariji Henson.
  4. You have a seat at the table- Now what? Speaking with confidence and humility to land your message and make an impact.

Sadly, the communication climate in the United States has taken an extremely negative turn since the election of Donald Trump in Nov 2016. Many people do not feel safe or comfortable with sharing their thoughts and opinions outside of their circle of like-minded “friends” and those that are voicing their ideas and concerns are doing so with such anger and intensity that the point of the message is not being received by those who need to hear it.

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Is this the reason why I’m not carrying through with my ideas on my WordPress blog ?

Is Fear stopping me?

I don’t know but I’m afraid to ask.

What do you think?

Should some things be left unsaid?

Soulful Servings 

Getting healthy dose of quality communication with others and can do wonders for your soul. But how often do we get a full and balanced serving of it?

Taking a vacation with a long time friend is fun and rejuvenating, especially when you can connect with the child-like spirit you once possessed.  This year’s getaway was to the west coast of Florida and I was thrilled to have a three day road trip with my dear friend Andrea.

Our time together was just what the doctor ordered and our interaction time was extended, genuine and authentic.  We told stories, shared dreams and lamented the woes of the world.  We were together and connecting without the use of an electronic device, just like we did in the 1980s when we met.

I had full, balanced and delicious meals of communication that left me happy and satisfied. I can’t tell you how much I have missed live expression, eye contact and nuance in my connections with others. All the things we are lacking in our frenzied life of online interaction with what’s called the “Snackification” of communication, I got to enjoy and experience it in the flesh.

Since it is the Lent season, Andrea and I have decided to give up Angst. Relaxing and restoring a sense of balance were our main objectives and I think we have met our goals.

There are many different forms of communication in today’s online world: written (texts, emails, letters), verbal (phone, FaceTime) and social media (posts, blogs and tweets). To me, nothing beats good old fashioned face to face sharing.

As I reflect on these last few days I can’t help but feel blessed and thankful for being able to spend quality time with good friends and family.  This is what a full and balanced life is all about and I was so happy consume and savor my Soulful Serving!

 

A View on Balance: Yoga, Minds and Eyes

I went to yoga class the other day and after holding a difficult pose for a minute the yoga instructor asked us to switch sides. She calmed stated, “You may notice that this side feels different than the first one and that is okay. Just observe it, take note and let it go. Don’t judge the difference between the two sides.”

After hearing some groans and comments from the group about recent events, marches and demonstrations, the instructor gently reminded us that there are no politics in Yoga rather it is about centering and focusing. Yoga helps us balance and is about opening your body and clearing your mind.

Wouldn’t this be nice if we did this in our everyday life?

Being aware of the differences from all the different sides and viewing them with both eyes wide open and not filtering so strongly through our own biased lens.

I view my life as a continuous effort to remain in balance. Opposing forces are always around us and we are often asked to pick or support one side or the other. But why? Why is there always a binary choice? Why is one side viewed as always right and the other as wrong?

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After my yoga class experience, an interesting and apropos book was brought to my attention by Steve Smull, a thoughtful and insightful writer, with his clever commentary and posts on Facebook.

The book by Jonathan Haidt titled “The Righteous Mind” was published in 2012 and has an important and relevant message in the polarized and hyper-partisan world in 2017.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s Yin and Yang. Both sides see different threats; both sides are wise to different virtues”

My husband Steve created another insightful thread online this morning that ties into this theme and I’ll leave you with his words.

“I view the world through both eyes. I have a right eye and a left eye. People who pick one to look through and close the other are missing depth perception. I suppose it’s simpler that way.

I do close one eye when I look through a viewfinder to capture an image. But not before surveying the scene with both eyes open first.

I don’t know why people are so incredibly defensive about how great it is to see through only their preferred eye. OK, one of your eyes may be dominant, but that’s no reason to cover your other eye with duct tape.”

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A Tower of Change

This week’s featured Tarot card is The Tower– tall and ominous with lighting bolts, fire and falling bodies. It is an unsettling card that matches the mood of the nation in this incredibly tumultuous and divisive US election cycle. It is card number 16 of the major Arcana and reflects a dramatic jolt and shift in direction.

The Tower is a card of Change- the ultimate “ending the status quo” statement.

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Not everyone is a change junkie like me and many people find it disconcerting when a tsunami wave comes and wipes out carefully constructed sand castles (even if they were built on false premises). These sudden change experiences shake the very foundation of our current sense of security and force us to question our strongly-held beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and behaviors.

Some overall meanings and themes of the Tower card include:

  • Experiencing sudden change and upheaval
  • Realizing the truth after a major revelation
  • Breaking down false structures/ beliefs/ institutions
  • Falling down or being humbled

In America today, a tower of change looms ahead of us and change is a good thing, right?

But what if the change is a major disruption or crisis and is likely to bring chaos in its wake?

In the words of Charles Kettering, “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” 

Progress is sorely needed and dramatic change is required, even if it is unsettling.

According to Joan Bunning in her book “Learning the Tarot”, “How you respond to the Tower’s change makes all the difference in how uncomfortable the experience will be. Recognize that the disruption occurred because it was needed. Perhaps embracing the change is too much to ask, but try to find the positive in it. In fact, you may feel tremendous release that you have finally been forced in a new direction”.

Note the symbolism in the Tower card below  (from a traditional Universal-Waite deck).

Two people are falling head first from a tower that has been struck by a bolt of lighting (truth). The man in red has crazy light colored hair and the  woman in blue is wearing a crown.  I can’t help but feel that these two characters represent Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in all their falling-from-grace glory.

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It is clear to me that change is desperately needed in our country but did we really need to go to such destructive extremes?

This quote from President Bill Clinton helps to justify and explain the situation the US is in, namely,

“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.”

And so the menacing Tower looms, reminding us that a wave of change is coming.

We have a choice in how we response to the inevitable alterations of life.  We can:

  1. Embrace the change.
  2. Resist the change and risk being snapped like a twig in the strong currents of a river.
  3. Accept the change we may not want or like and look for the positive aspects of it.

I leave you with a final quote from Sydney J. Harris.

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”