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.
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.
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.
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.
I watched the award-winning speech twice, first with my right brain and then with my left.
The first time I viewed the 2022 World Champion of Public Speaking, Cyril Junior Dim, I sat back and enjoyed the story, the humor and the emotional drama. The impactful message resonated with me and inspired to write this article. My creative mind was activated.
During my second observation of the speech entitled “Ndini”, I used my left brain to analyze the structure, word usage, and delivery techniques. Click here to view the speech.
It is with both sides of my brain (with help from my corpus callosum) that I write this article.
The foundational phrase of the winning Toastmasters speech by Mr. Dim was “This is me” which translates to Ndini in the Bantu language Shona. The repetition of this powerful message struck a chord in me and caused me to reflect on my own family and identity.
Cyril Dim wove a powerful story around self-acceptance, family and tradition as he reflected on his middle name which came from this father’s language. He boldly asked the audience, “Have you ever hated or been ashamed about some aspect of yourself?” I wasn’t proud of my answer to that question but knew that this was an important topic and worthy of further contemplation.
I suppose that before I can proclaim “This is me!”, I need to ask “Who am I?”.
More than a result of the human reproductive process of my mother and father, I am a Heinz 57 blend of genes and traits from my ancestors from numerous countries across Europe (UK, France, Germany and Italy). I am also a US citizen who represents the values and ethics of my family and friends. My parents and home environment growing up surely shaped me and made me into the woman I am today.
I love and respect my parents and wish they hadn’t left the earth so soon.
Who I am is strong and solid thanks to the love, support and encourage of my parents, my siblings and extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins.
My foundation is a resilient and durable patchwork quilt of genetics, experiences, traditions, and values.
I lived at home with my parents until I graduated from college and received a US Army commission. In retrospect, I should have spent more time with my parents and thanked them more for all that they sacrificed for me but, like most adolescents
I didn’t appreciate what I had. During my teenaged years, I wasn’t as proud of my Mom as I should have been and was often embarrassed by her hearing impairment and her simple words. It pains me to think of how badly I treated her when she couldn’t understand me. My impatience and rudeness were horrible, and I am embarrassed by my immature and selfish behavior. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own and was married that I fully appreciated who my parents were.
Like Cyril Dim, I came to embrace and be proud of my family name and my parents’ values. I know that they are responsible for my strong foundation, my work ethic, and my patriotic spirit.
The words below were read to me recently by my Yoga Therapy coach, Nancy Martch, and truly hit the mark on idea of Ndini- This is Me.
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.
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:
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.
Focus on the Delivery and Structure of the presentation with specific examples.
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.
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:
Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who supports the topic and reflect on how they would respond to the speech.
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.
Open your mind, take off your biased filters and focus on how the speaker is connecting, delivering and making their point.
Ask yourself: Was the speaker able to motivate, educate, influence or inspire?
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.
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.
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.
For more information on my book Strong Words and Simple Truths click here.
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.
Strong Man—Veterans, Remembrance and Traditions
Laughter—Connections and Gratitude
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!
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.
Where Speakers are Sharpened and Words are Wondrous.
Where Leaders are Made and Alliteration is Alluring.
Where Communicators are Courageous and Friendships are Fostered.
As a public speaker in Toastmaster clubs for over 25 years, I understand and appreciate the impact of a well-crafted phrase. Words have the immense power to inspire, educate, persuade and entertain.
Now certain ideas, phrases and books are deemed inappropriate and unacceptable. Entertainment in the form of humor and satire is slowly being extinguished. The creative spark of many minds is being snuffed out.
In the name of “compliance” and “correctness” we have limited and constrained our ability to share and discuss ideas. Only the government-approved ideas are allowed on the most powerful and prolific platforms. Those in power control the narrative and are now limiting the free exchange and expression of thought.
Like the lockdowns of the past year, this is not a healthy trend. The impact of the current silencing is devastatingly sad.
Some say that laughter is the best medicine. Entertainment and light-hearted comedy can help heal our lonely and wounded souls.
Humor is a uniquely human superpower that is being taken away when we need it most.
I do not condone angry, hurtful speech but the recent crack down on “violations of community standards” is a bit harsh and extreme in my view.
Why do some powerful entities want to keep everyone so sad, anxious and upset? Do they want people do remain lonely, isolated and frustrated?
More and more I am witnessing creative creators being suppressed. These creators have been a shining light of entertaining wordplay and comic relief through out this year of dark fear and despair. These fun and joyful voices are now stifled and suppressed.
The fear of the virus is now being replaced with the fear of words. The wide, rich and expressive vocabulary of the English language is being brutally pruned by oppressive control freaks.
At the rate things are going, I soon won’t be able to write or speak the words “oppressive control freaks” without being banned or punished.
As I continue on my creative journey of expression, I hope that my courage and resolve remain steady and strong in the face of increasing pressure to conform and be quiet.
Word phobia is a sad new condition that I hope will be treated by an infusion of ingenious humor and reasonable common sense.
As the world begins to heal and open up, freedom will beget happiness. Happiness is sustained by fun entertainment.
Words have the power to entertain, let’s not take that potential away.
The Silence of the Lambs is a thrilling book, but I don’t want a world of the Quieting of the Sheep.