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.

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!

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.

Word Phobia Kills Creativity

Words have power. 

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.

Photo by Steve Smull

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.

Photo by Steve Smull

Ways to Connect

There are many ways to get your message to others.

Written words, spoken words, gestures, music, songs, drawings, photos, smoke signals, flags and sign language are methods to communicate with others.

Today, I’m experimenting with a new way to connect.

Click below for my first 30 second emoji video.

More thoughts, ideas and messages to come in this short, fun format. There are so many cool animals and avatars to choose from.

Ernie our hedgehog is ready for Spring

Below is Ernie playing shuffleboard at a VFW post in Leander, Texas.

A Marvelous Facebook Universe

Step right up! Don’t be shy!  

Dare to venture into the wonderful world of social distortion, um, I mean media. 

Ah yes, social media, the place where healthy and productive conversations go to die.

If you are tired, frustrated and/or annoyed with your Facebook newsfeed, I have some good news for you.

I welcome you to join me as we enter Steve’s Emporium of Internet Delights.  My best friend and husband, Steve, has been the driving force behind what I’m about to share with you and I have been a behind-the-scenes contributor and co-administrator to these shenanigans.

Steve Smull, Creative Word Master

To revitalize your Facebook experience, I encourage you to check out the Groups.  

The well run, upbeat Facebook groups are where it’s at if you are looking for a positive, entertaining and creative place to let loose. 

Steve has created six lively Facebook groups that are cheerful, happy islands for people around the world. These communities are relatively small and have active, spirited participation.  Though the groups are lightly moderated with minimal rules from the admins, rude, intolerant or aggressive behavior is rarely, if ever, seen.

Below are the six zany groups that we shepherd:

  • Ernie’s Oasis– Started in 2016 as Ernie’s Fake News, this group is my all-time favorite and features the ongoing antics and silly stories of our adorable hedgehog Ernie (see photo above).  This humorous site is truly a happy-place getaway for many people. 
  • Dysfunctional Communicators– This newly formed group takes satire, sarcasm and word play to a new level.  Here the admins leverage their Toastmaster experience to assist with communication challenges.
  • Lame-0’s– A cross between Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Beavis and Butthead. Serious adults need not apply.
  • We Are Not Aliens From Outer Space– Out of this world photos and discussions of other galaxies.
  • Run Away and Join the Circus– A free-wheeling group with escapist themes.
  • The Reasons Why We Are Leaving This Group– A never ending list of reasons why people are exiting stage right.

If you are craving light-hearted banter, productive dialogues, satire, unusual angles, great photos and fun stories with witty wordplay in a tolerant, supportive environment, these Facebook groups and others like them are the place for you.

Come have a marvelous time in the positive Facebook universe where you get some relief from the stress and strife of tedious newsfeeds.  

 Ernie is waiting for you with a big cookie and a smile!

There are also various animals to help you be a better communicator.

How my Positive Pathway Project Led to Many Matrix Probes

In an effort to be more aware of my thoughts and be “more positive”,  I increased my focus, followed a new trail and ended up expanding my understanding of reality.

What started out as what I thought was a simple Toastmasters Pathways Level 3 project morphed into a complete reevaluation of my worldview.

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I feel like we are living in a multidimensional matrix where there are countless numbers of people plugged into a multitude of different “systems”.  Could it be that if you are connected to one system then you completely unaware of and can’t even communicate with people attached to other systems?

Is a shared view of humanity an illusion?  Are shared values possible?  Can there be positive national identities?

Is anyone truly aware of the genuine nature of the world or do we all have our own unique perceptions and lens with which to comprehend and experience it?

As author and heavyweight boxer Ed Latimore wrote in his book, Not Caring What Other People Think Is a Superpower,  “Many people have no desire to wake up.  They enjoy the lie and the comfort it brings.  As Morpheus said in “The Matrix”,  “The matrix is a system.  The very minds of the people we are trying to save. You have to understand,  most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to keep it”.

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As I pay attention to my thoughts and focus on trying keeping a positive outlook, I can’t help but wonder- is that even possible?

Is it realistic to be optimistic in the world today given the various limitations (blind spots) on our view of reality?  Or will our connection to the “system” provide us with the ability to stay content in a comfortably numb but happy bubble?

What about people who seem to be plugged into a system that keeps them perpetually upset, negative and anxious?  How will they become aware of a different and more productive matrix?

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I dislike the binary choice of a “blue pill” or a “red pill” and it is my hope that humans can wake up and take a “clear pill” so that they can see things in a perspicuous and unimpeded way.

How’s that for “staying positive”?