The Real Meaning of Toastmasters- Reflection on 25 years,

As I write this blog, I’m sitting at the dining room table where a small group of my Toastmaster family gathered in November to share in the celebration of my 25-year anniversary in the organization.

That night, the room was alive with boisterous conversations and intriguing stories of experiences, heartaches and triumphs. The laughter was contagious and complimented the culinary delights that were passed around the table.

The only thing that got too heated was the tiny fire in the oven from my bacon wrapped scallops! This ridiculous oversight by the hostess, yours truly, will be the topic of many speeches and embarrassing stories to come.

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Jason, Don and Pat: before the flames!

The evening ended on a fun and creative note as we formed a large circle about the kitchen and asking asked each other Table Topics questions.  One of the most memorable responses came from a husband of a Toastmaster I work with.  His impromptu query was “Grateful Dead or Led Zeppelin?” and he enthusiastically answered that he had seen both bands live and shared a short rainbow of memories. Also, he preferred Zeppelin!

A long time Toastmaster and past International Director, Don Griffith, asked me to talk about my journey in Toastmasters over the years and I happily shared my adventures of joining my first club, Word R Us, in Bentonville, Arkansas and how so many people have touched and changed my life.

When I joined this organization, I had no idea that I would have such an extended circle of amazingly talented and generous friends and colleagues. For this I am eternally grateful.

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The club I helped charter at Charles Schwab- Lone Tree, CO-  2015

In this time of deep and divisive polarization in America, it was heartening to see so many people come together in peace and good will, with the simple goal of celebrating a positive achievement. The group had two things in common, 1) we are part of the human race and 2) we are (or are spouses of) Toastmasters.

It is a rare, novel and happy occasion to have a group of people of such diverse political, religious and cultural backgrounds come together to simply laugh, plays games and tell stories.

After this milestone and event, I reflected upon the real meaning of Toastmasters that goes beyond the communication and leadership skills it builds in its members.

To me, the real meaning of Toastmasters is fueled by the authentic connections and camaraderie which lifts so many spirits and inspires so many to achieve their dreams.

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Great people from District 26, Colorado- Deborah, Mitch and Linda

The real meaning of Toastmasters is: 

People Sharing Life, Love and Laughter

Like a health tonic with the ability to uncover superpowers, Toastmasters clubs across the world are making a positive difference in this challenging and sometimes lonely world.

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A Christmas Party with friends from the Titan Toastmasters club in Lone Tree, CO

I was so happy to be able to celebrate my 25thAnniversary with so many special and talented people.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store in the next quarter century and I’ll be sure to cater the event to avoid a flaming surprise!

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The Courage to Communicate: From Bowling Alone to Better Angels

Being Aware

Bowling Alone

Bold Action

Better Angels

Add a “Q” and I give you Brenda’s Audacious Quest!

I now have the courage to communicate an important message and mission that I hope will resonate with you.

I feel that my 25 years as an active Toastmaster member has prepared me for this moment and I’m happy and excited to get started on a new and somewhat scary endeavor.

Written as a full sentence:

Over the course of time I became aware of the bold action needed to go from Bowling Alone to Better Angels.

At this point you may be asking-  what the hell am I talking about?

How much time?

What bold action?

What is Better Angels?

Simply put, my goal and quest is to help depolarize America.

What?

I want to improve our country’s health, one conversation at a time.

Why? 

Like many of you, I am saddened and tired of how divided we have become as a country.

Other reasons include my desire to:

  • Reduce our collective stress
  • Make our communities stronger
  • Increase civic engagement and bridging social capital

How?

I am an Organizer for Better Angels, a citizens’ organization that is uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. 

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So what does Bowling Alone have to do with this?

It all started in the early 1990s when I joined a bowling team called the Misfits.

I was living in northwest Arkansas in a town called Bentonville, the location of the world headquarters of my employer, Wal-Mart. 

To blow off some steam from my intense data center operations job, I joined a local bowling league and happily knocked down some pins every week with total strangers.  We named our team the Misfits and we proudly wore dorky, self- designed black T-shirts with a cheesy silk-screened logo. I had nothing in common with my teammates except the love of the game and the fact that we lived in the same state.  I didn’t remain in Arkansas for more than a few years but I have fond memories of the strong and happy social connections we shared.  Although we may have differed politically, religiously and socio-economically, we bonded and cared for each other.   To this day, I still love to bowl and miss my Misfit friends in Arkansas.

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The other major thing I did while living in Arkansas was join Toastmasters International.

My first experience was in a club called “Words R Us”. It was a diverse and jovial group ranging from southern Baptist preachers to Italian-American transplants from New York.  We all learned from each other and developed a wonderfully supportive culture of tolerance and inclusion.  The club was a true melting pot of ideas, styles and perspectives where everyone was welcomed and all views considered.  I remember enjoying the nights when we held actual debates in a point-counterpoint format.  Pastor Willie Brown was my favorite club member and I always enjoyed listening to his impassioned speeches even though I often disagreed with his point of view. His big smile and hearty laugh were many times the highlight of my week.

Another important and impactful memory I have is from a speech I gave in 2005 while I living in San Diego.   I was the Test Speaker at a Toastmaster Evaluation contest and the title of my speech was called “Bowling Alone”.  I remember using my bowling ball as a prop and discussing the importance and benefits of participating in bowling leagues and other community groups.  While stressing the importance of bridging social capital and community involvement, I lamented the fact that fewer and fewer people were joining and attending local clubs and events and this was having a negative effect on our country’s civic engagement.  My speech was inspired by the book by Robert D. Putnam titled “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” and focused how the reduction in all forms of in person social activities has caused a decline in social capital.   My message was powerful and I recall many people coming up to me after the speech to express their thoughts and concerns on the topic.

 

Five years after giving the “Bowling Alone” speech, I found myself living in Littleton, CO and a member of the Columbine Communicators Toastmasters club.   There I was again impacted and inspired by the events and people in the local community. The opening words of my presentation that cold day in 2010 were “another school shooting”.   My husband filmed this sober speech with its bold call to action and shared it on YouTube where it has been viewed 3,935 times.  The title of that speech was “Bowling Alone: How to Rebuild our Communities”.

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Fast forward nine years, two more moves and I’m living in Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s 2019 and our country’s civil discourse is at crisis levels. 

The intense amount of polarization is startling to this socially engaged joiner of Toastmasters clubs across the county.  I never imagined that the United States of America would become so divided that friends and family members are not speaking to each because they support different political parties or candidates.

So here I am with my bowling background and public speaking experience, ready to try to bring people together to learn how to communicate again.

My audacious quest is simple yet lofty.

I want to help build bridges and real live connections to overcome our culture of contempt.

I want to help people to see the human faces of their family, friends and neighbors.

I want to help provide a safe environment and forum so people can begin to listen to the shared values and stories of those with whom they disagree.

I want to provide the skills and training for people to have productive conversations.

I want to bring together reasonable people of goodwill to have a sincere dialogue and a healthy competition of ideas.

I want to face fear and contempt with jovial strength and warm heartedness.

I want to listen and find common ground.

I want to disagree without being disagreeable.

I want to live up to Abraham Lincoln’s words below and be a Better Angel. 

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

My name is Brenda Smull and I am organizing a free Communication Skills Workshop in Phoenix, AZ on June 15th, 2019.

Please spread the word and let me know your thoughts on my audacious goal.

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My Compelling Blog: Part 8 (WXYZ)

This is the final post of My Compelling Blog series and the letters are WXYZ.

Words

Xenophile

Yoga

Zest

Words have power.

As a speaker, mentor and now writer, I have a great appreciation for the strength, meaning and impact of words.

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How you ever noticed how many quotes, rules and words of wisdom there are that refer to watching what words you use and how you speak?

Be impeccable with your word.- The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz

Be precise in your speech.  12 Rules for Life, Jordon B. Petersen

Silence speaks when words fail.- Unknown

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Xenophile–  I like this word better than the more commonly used antonym, xenophobe.  A xenophile is a person who has a love of foreign people and cultures.  I like that.

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My friend Shardul, a xenophile and world traveler

Yoga– Some of my best friends have shared their zest for yoga with me.

Here’s a wonderful quote by Amit Ray that frames yoga and words.

“Exercises are like prose,

whereas yoga is the poetry of movements.

Once you understand the grammar of yoga;

You can write your poetry of movements.”

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Zest- I’ll end this compelling blog series like I started it- with great enthusiasm and energy.

My zest for writing and sharing thoughts, ideas and images is what keeps life interesting and I am glad that you have joined me on the journey!

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For those of you who love lists, here are the 26 words I have featured in my last 8 blogs:

Action

Bold

Creativity

Don’t

Encourage

Faceplants

Giving

Heroes

Inspire

Just

Keep

Laughing

Molding

Novel

Outlooks

Perspective

Quality

Reputation

Standards

Trust

Unites

Values

Words

Xenophile

Yoga

Zest

My Compelling Blog: Part 2 (DEF)

Welcome to Part 2 of my Compelling Blog series where the featured letters are D, E and F with the phrase of: Don’t Encourage Faceplants.

Part 1 began with A, B, C: Action, Bold and Creativity.

Here’s an excerpt from a speech I gave on Jan. 29, 2019 at my Toastmaster club’s International Speech contest.

“In these troubling and turbulent times my serious and solemn advice for you is: Don’t encourage faceplants!

Why, might you ask, am I focusing on faceplants?  Well for one, faceplants are not fun.  In fact, they can be quite humiliating and are often times very painful.

Thus, they should be avoided at all costs!

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How do I know this?

Well after 25 years of mountain biking,  I’ve taken a tumble or two and lived to tell the tale.

I also believe that many important life lessons can be learned while mountain biking.

I experienced one of these painful lessons many years ago while biking in the mountains of southern California.  The Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a beautiful area and I was enjoying the warm, sunny weather.  As a young and inexperienced rider, I was struggling to keep up with the older more skilled cyclists in my group and I fell behind and started to tire.  The trail had many climbs, stunning views and numerous fun and swooping descents.  But after many miles, I started to lose my confidence in my technical skills.  My speed decreased and I lost some of my nerve.   And then I came across a new and scary part of the trail- a long, extended rocky stretch.  There were big rocks, small rocks and everything in between.  My experienced husband glided over the section with ease but at the first sight of the rocks,  I seized up inside and slowed to a near stand still.  I was pedaling so slowly that my front wheel wedged between two of the larger rocks and I endo-ed onto a huge, flat boulder to my right.  I face-planted on my cheek and it cracked.  There was a flash of blinding white light and I knew that my ride was over for the day.”

Here are my 3 Tips for a better, smoother ride:

  1. Don’t let fear, uncertainty or hesitation cause you to stumble or fall. Once you decide to go, commit with confidence and don’t look back.
  2. Momentum is your friend. Keep your speed up and you will have an easier time of rolling over rocks, obstacles and barriers.
  3. Keep your eyes ahead on the trail. Focus on where you want to go.  Don’t focus on where you don’t want to go.  Distractions can be detrimental.

In life, not all the paths we take are smooth, flat and easy.  Sometimes the downhills are treacherous and frightening with obstacles and sudden drops offs.  Sometimes, the ascents are steep and seem to last forever.  Remember to keep moving with your eyes focused on where you want to go and you will dramatically increase your chances of getting there unscathed.

It is my hope that this turbulent tale from the trail can help you remember these tips for a better, smoother ride no matter where the path of life takes you.

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My Compelling Blog: Part 1 (ABC)

2019 is here and it’s time to change things up!  After six years of writing this blog,  I’m ready to step outside the fox and try something new.

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Red Fox in Colorado. Photo by Steve Smull

Thanks to the Toastmasters Pathways program, I am expanding my horizons as it relates to my communication and blogging skills.  To finish up Level 4 on the Effective Coaching path, I need to complete one (1) elective project from a list which included activities such as:  Create a Podcast, Managing a Difficult Audience and Public Relations Strategies.

For many reasons, I chose the “Write a Compelling Blog” project and am ready to take Strong Words and Simple Truths to the next level.

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My new challenge and project objective is to write 8 blogs in a one-month period.

Twice a week I will share my thoughts, ideas and insights on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I plan to use the alphabet as my guide and will run through the 26 letters in 8 weeks ( 3 letters per article with a big bang of V-W-X-Y-Z for the part 8 series finale).

Here we go with Part 1 of my Compelling Blog!

Starting with A, B and C.

WHAT

A- Action, take it.

B- Bold, be it.

C- Creativity, nurture it.

 

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HOW

Here are some tips on how to get started on your WHAT.

  1. “Just Do It’ is easier said then done! Getting going is often the hardest part of taking action.  I recommend starting with small, incremental steps.
  2. To boldly go where no one has gone before is great if you are aboard the USS Enterprise but a bit more daunting for us mere earthlings. A fun way to start being bold is by standing up straight and keeping your shoulders back.  Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose really works to improve your confidence!
  3. Young children seem to have an endless supply of creativity.  I encourage you to tap into this amazing energy and remember what you loved doing when you were 5 years old.

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WHY

The Why is very personal and will vary from person to person.

Knowing your WHY can help you with your HOW.  For me, I’m:

  1. I’m taking Action because I have a new goal I want to achieve this month.
  2. I’m being Bold because it feels good and helps me be more confident.
  3. Being Creative opens up my mind to new ideas and ways of doing things.

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My parting question to you is-  WHAT do you want to do this month and WHY?

How important is it to your health and wellbeing?

Hopefully these thoughts on Bold, Creative Actions will provide some wind to your back and help you achieve what you desire.

The White Elephant in the Room

Eat, drink and be merry for it may just save your life

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I was happy to attend a festive holiday party with my Ahwatukee Toastmaster friends last week and little did I realize that it was supporting an anti-cancer lifestyle.

 

The annual white elephant gift exchange is a lively and often hilarious tradition at many Toastmaster year-end gatherings and this one did not disappoint.  The devious antics played out and the most “stolen” gifts were a Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure and a particular plunger of questionable origin ( new, with tag).

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The biggest gift of the evening came to me a few hours after the party, while I was reading in bed. While scrolling through notification messages on Facebook, I noticed an interesting article posted by my good friend Nancy in Texas.  I clicked on the story and dove into an intriguing piece written by Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, a Houston based Professor and Researcher who introduced the “Mix of Six” as a way to reduce ones risk of developing cancer.

At this point you may be wondering, is the mix of six some new drink recipe?

No, it’s not the latest libation trend but rather group of factors and lifestyle choices which, when combined, can radically transform health and delay or prevent many cancers.

The Mix of Six factors include:

  1. Social and Emotional Support
  2. Stress Management
  3. Sleep
  4. Physical activity
  5. Diet
  6. Environmental toxins

The bonus is that the fun, laughter and social connectedness I enjoyed from the joyous Toastmaster event was supporting my health in ways I never imagined (plus the food, especially the homemade samosas, was delicious).

Bottom line: Emotional support and fellowship is the best medicine for combating loneliness and illness.

The White Elephant in the room could be your best Doctor!

But wait, there’s more!

Research shows that having a strong circle of positive, supportive family and friends helps with stress management which in turn helps with sleep.  It’s like getting a 3 for 1 deal toward your the magical mix of six.

Warning:  Overstuffing on holiday food and drink can be can be slippery slope and should be enjoyed in moderation.  

So be present and give yourself the gift of health this holiday season.   Enjoy connecting with others in the light heartened spirit of sharing, laughing and sometimes “stealing” a white elephant gift!

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Festive gatherings and silly, zany gift exchanges are a fun and wonderful way to share in a circle of wellness and jolly goodwill.

So eat, drink and be merry for it may just save your life.

Happy Mix of Six!

Getting to the Point

NEWS ALERT:

You have something important to say.

 Here are some tips to ensure that your ideas are heard.

Why?

  • Attention spans are short
  • People are inundated with information
  • Your ideas need to stand out
  • Focusing your point/purpose will help you hit your target

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One of my favorite movies from the 1980s is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”.  Little did I realize that it was teaching me valuable lessons on how to be an effective speaker.

The humor and sarcasm of Steve Martin in his scenes with John Candy are memorable, priceless and often times, instructive.

This fun quote from the movie applies to all Toastmasters.

“Here’s a good idea. Have a point.  It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”

Steve Martin’s Pointed Clip

What?

For decades, the objectives of Project # 3 in the Toastmaster communication manual emphasized that the speaker should strive to organize their speech with a focused and precise purpose. The project was later named “Get to the Point”.

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Objectives of “Get to the Point” speech:

  1. Determine your general purpose
  2. Focus in on your specific purpose.
    • What does the audience really need to hear?
  3. Organize your speech so that the opening, body and conclusion all tie into and reinforce the purposes.

Interestingly, when I researched and found the archives of Ralph Smedley’s  “Basic Training for Toastmasters”manual from 1956, the concepts and techniques outlined are still relevant and applicable today.

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How?

  • Give the headline (point/purpose) up front.
  • Early in the speech, provide the audience with a roadmap of where you are taking them.
  • Bring stories and supporting items together to reinforce the larger, single message.
  • Use an outline or a framework (a plan on which to hang your words).
    • For example, I find the acronym PRES helpful.
      • P- Point
      • R- Reason
      • E- Example
      • S- Summary
  • Frame the central idea so that no matter what, the audience will remember that.
  • Strive to have the closing statement link back to the opening (like book ends).

I had something important to share with you and it is my hope that my point was clear and that I made it mildly interesting along the way!

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