“Because I hate speaking in public!” That was the response of the young woman I sat next to at my first Toastmaster’s meeting recently when I asked her why she joined. I had noticed that throughout she dutifully took notes in her booklet, offered to comment on other speakers, and volunteered to speak herself. I had to know what motivated her to give up a Monday evening twice a month.
This year is the 85th anniversary of Toastmasters International, which has built the speaking and leadership skills of thousands with minor dues attached.
Many professional speakers I know started their careers with speeches honed at Toastmasters meetings. I had to see for myself! I was struck by the protocol, respect, and enthusiasm of the club I visited here in Chicago.
When you visit Toastmasters, the first thing you’ll notice is the solid agenda that keeps the meeting ticking and everyone on equal ground. It is one of the best uses of time management I’ve ever seen. You’ll meet the Toastmaster, the Joke Master, the Word Master, the Evaluator, the Time reporter, the Grammar/Ah reporter and more, among other members and guests. The night I attended there were about 15 young men and 4 women present; this club was located in a trendy north side Chicago neighborhood.
You’ll have a chance to volunteer to speak impromptu in the “Table Topics” section, which, on the night I attended centered on Halloween – trick or treating experiences and feelings about the event. I applauded those who rose to the occasion to talk about circus peanuts and embarrassing costumes.
I also heard two 5-7 minute “planned speeches” on leadership and travel; before they spoke, the speakers alerted us if they wanted to be evaluated stringently or less harshly – and then we all wrote feedback comments on small cards and silently passed them to the speakers.
The club’s officers ran the show, making us guests feel welcome and allowing us to observe and experience at our comfort level. In closing, here are three reasons to try Toastmasters and to recommend it to your coworkers and colleagues:
Here is a link to a website I recommend to my clients and students. In this link, Toastmasters tell their stories. http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/toastmasters-share-your-story/
As always, your feedback and comments are welcomed!
Lately, most of us know someone who has had a door close or a change thrust upon him or her as a result of the economy’s “domino effect” on our lives – our finances, family, work, relationships, and health.
We search for ways to talk respectfully to a friend who’s feeling the pain, whether due to normal life events like children leaving the nest or more shocking ones like job loss or family illness. These conversations have popped up at every social and work event I’ve attended recently, and I’ve been listening to how friends talk with friends about loss and stress.
Here’s what I’ve learned from those who seem to say and do it best. As always, your feedback is welcomed!
1. Verbalize that you care and respect them. “I’m sorry to hear that. Thank you for telling me.” Follow that with an empathy-statement such as “I’m sure this must be hard.” or ask a nonthreatening yet caring question such as “How are you doing so far?” (Note: An advice columnist recently recommended saying, “I don’t know what to say,” when people share bad news. I couldn’t disagree more. Saying that you don’t know what to say just sounds dumb.)
2.Accent the positive. Consider this response from one of my students at Columbia College Chicago when a classmate shared news of ending a volatile wedding engagement: he said, “I’m sorry slash good for you.”Yes, he said the word “slash” aloud – a great way to acknowledge both sides of the situation.
3. Remind them of life’s nuances that are universal. “Life has its twists and turns.” This is quoted directly from an email from my “seventy-something” cousin Lynnie in Cleveland – the truth! I like the way the statement covers a lot of ground in a simple way.
4.Don’t just ask what you can do. Do something – fast! Quick response time is important here. After someone shares his or her pain, send an immediate note in the mail, get a list of resources to him or her that same day, or get a date on the calendar within 30 days. Make sure you keep the date; it’s important now. If the person sells something, buy it. If they have a hobby, do it with them. The world is full of countless never done “What can I do’s?”
5. Don’t fuel the Internet rumor mill. If you hear a rumor about someone’s job loss, loss of home, or change of life circumstances, don’t pass it around the net. It’s best to wait for the person to share the news with you, of course, but if you’re a close friend you may feel like taking more initiative. In this case, call the person or send a private email to voice your concern, “Was thinking of you. Is all going well? ‘ or ‘Haven’t talked to you in awhile. Is all OK?” A colleague who recently divorced was honored when an old friend sent him this email: “I heard a rumor last night and I wondered if there was any truth to it. May I call you today?”
If we can help our friends, simply by knowing us – all the better: Carly Simon’s 1974 song lyrics say it well: “Now I haven’t got time for the pain; I haven’t got room for the pain; I haven’t the need for the pain; Not since I’ve known you…”
P.S. Another great source for connecting through conversation is www.conversationmatters.com run by a really nice guy who attended my session at the 2009 NSA convention, Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. Then, Loren and I discovered a shared love for the art of conversation. He’s devoted a business to it!
Participants in my courses have often said, “It’s hardest to present to peers!” They’re right. It calls for a strong mindset. And so does presenting at large conferences where the room is set for 200 and may attract 32 who move in and out as they please!
Ah! Summer – the time for barbecues, sun, sprinklers – and the National Speakers Association National Conference. Every year we professional speakers gather while everyone else is on vacation. And this year, I presented a 75-minute concurrent session program to my peers.Here are three things I’ve learned to help you conquer the conference presentation:
EXPERIENCE, not content. Avoid the natural tendency to dump your data to impress a large, savvy group. Data is important but can be added in a handout later. Instead, strive to share the experience of YOU – meaning your stories with the data. It’s the difference between saying, “65% of us are introverts,” and “Let me share what happened with a room of quiet, analytical engineers recently.” Think, “I’m sharing my best “stuff” with friends.”
DIALOGUE, not dumping. Someone once told me, “They’re always happier when they’re talking.” While this may seem the antithesis of conference presenting, there are many ways to engage even the largest and most discerning audiences and “let them talk”. Allowing questions at any time is standard. You can also ask them to briefly check in with a seatmate, write something down, or react and apply your content. Getting out among them is the best way to encourage dialogue. That means stepping off the stage for a bit, really listening to their feedback, and tying it into your points.
PRACTICE, not “winging.” This is the time to get another set of eyes on your 75 minutes. Don’t try to do it alone. For the NSA conference, I presented my program to college students and a trusted colleague who is also a professional speaker. I’m glad I did! As a result of their input, I cut my note pages in half, added visuals to my power point, clarified instructions for an interactive activity, and customized my opening story. I would not have thought of any of this myself. Many of their ideas garnered my most successful audience reactions.
So while others may be basking in the sun, heating up the grill, or sipping lemonade this summer, take the time to pamper your conference speech. When it’s your turn in the big, cold hotel room, you’ll be glad you did!
Your feedback and additional ideas are always welcomed.
“The eyes look out at the world, not under it, down at it or away from it. So look squarely ahead…” writes British vocal expert Patsy Rodenburg as part of a warm up exercise in her book The Right to Speak. She calls it “centring” – part of a very important series of mind, body and voice alignments for the speaker, and one that I use frequently with speaking students.
“Look out at the world,” – an important habit not only for the speaker but also for the human being, and it strikes me how less and less we look out at the world today. Some recent observations…
In refreshing contrast, I offer the old Polish and Russian couples and groups of friends who walk along the sidewalk paths of Lake Michigan together on summer mornings. All they do is talk, with hands clasped behind them, looking out at the world every day. Their faces are animated – always.
A thought for us all: Are we “centered” with what’s around us when we walk? Have we tried unplugging and looking out at the world every day?
Last weekend we held an Estate sale that emptied my childhood home of all its worldly goods. As I watched strangers sort among the unwanted items Dad (and we) had left behind, notably –
-Incomplete sets of drinking glasses
-An old blender
-An older waffle iron
-Too many short-sleeved shirts – out of style long ago
-Faded sheets and towels – kept too long
-A glass punch bowl, cups and dipper – barely used ever…
…I hoped we made the right decision – what to keep and what to sell. It made me think. What are life’s salvageables? What are the things we take with us, no matter what? I thought of ours – the ones my family carefully packed far from the crowd:
– Dad’s 1930’s high school yearbooks – all four
– Three of Grandpa’s pocket watches – all broken
– Too many of Grandma’s doilies – hand crocheted
– An ancient yard croquet set – from summer in the ‘60’s
– Mom’s little kitchen table – the leaves folded down
These were the things of memories. And so to you and me and all of us – as we face life’s stresses today – may we remember that today we have a chance to create the most important of life’s salvageables – lasting memories…for tomorrow.
What would yours be?
Now’s the Time To Speak Up: How to Talk to the Boss
New York gossip columnist Myrtle Barker once wrote, “The idea of strictly minding our own business is moldy rubbish. Who could be so selfish?” In this economy, bosses need all the help they can get. It’s the perfect time to speak up at work. You don’t have to be a new hire to let the boss know you’re around and you’ve got good ideas. Here are some suggestions. What works for you?
1. Introduce yourself. Imagine you’ve met your boss on the elevator. What would you say? “ Hi Joan, I’m Mike in accounting; how’s your day going?”
2. Start naturally. Let’s face it; the boss has a lot on her mind. But you can connect with easy topics like current work, the event, traffic, weather, or food; find a topic that you know is on the boss’s agenda. “ How is the Butler Project going?” “ How was the meeting in Georgia?” “How was the parking deck construction today?“ “I agree with your last email about vacation time ” – all of these are good connectors.
3. Listen for style. What is the boss’s communication style? Outgoing? Introverted? Casual? Formal? Try to listen to the words the boss uses and observe how he or she dresses and acts. Then adapt your tone and language to their style.
4. Offer your honest perspective. Keep your conversation moving by sharing and disclosing; for example, “I’ve felt that way about email for some time. Why do you?” OR “In my experience, that approach works, and if you’ve got a moment, I’ve got a great example.”
5. Disagree assertively, not aggressively, when you disagree. For example, “While I like the approach to the website, I think other colors would better represent our culture and here’s why.” is better than, “I don’t like our website at all.”
6. State your ideas often. Take initiative. Then listen; don’t force. Too many employees remain quiet as mice for too long. Others talk too much before they get a full picture.
7. Share the credit. Give credit where it is due. The boss will see you as ethical, not ego-filled. If a teammate does most of the work, mention it and add something else positive that you also had a part in.
8. Thank the boss. There are many simple things you could be grateful for: an interesting project, a great team, a nice office, a new computer, etc. A quick “thank you” in person or an email or hand written note goes a long way. Just don’t overdo it.
©2009 Cyndi Maxey
My first experience snowshoeing was two years ago with a wonderful group of athletic, middle-aged and older women in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. After a day with them, their wisdom and life views impressed me so that I wrote a poem. Now two years later, with the introduction of our new book for women, Speak Up!, it seems a fitting time to brush off the “Snow Women” again. Please enjoy their advice and send yours.
( Dedicated to the Women’s Book Group of Steamboat Springs,
Colorado – February 2007)
Snowshoes make a track that is steady and firm in the deep snow.
The mountain accepts the tracks as it was built to do.
And so the tracks bear the weight of women – snow women.
And the shoes bear the weight of the wisdom of the women who wear them.
Live for today because you never know what tomorrow brings.
Each step is sure but the path is not. The mountain knows no trail
here. As is the mountain, so life is improvised.
Throw things away. Don’t make a big project out of
Step simply. The mountain shows how. Sagebrush and snow is all it
Change is constant. Be healthy. You will care for the young and
And step and step again. The wise women bear the care of others.
There are babies and the young and the dying. The women breathe
in and out and step on.
Do things. Don’t save money. Experiences are more meaningful
Connect the steps. The line in the snow breaks apart. Groups of
women talk and laugh. The air is not still now – doctors, educators,
writers, athletes, mothers, daughters, poets, artists – make one line in
Do it now while you can. Physically you will age. Do it now.
Step in rhythm. Again and again. Some lead. Some follow. Many are
in the middle. Step. Step. Step. Step.
Accept your limitations and be OK with them.
Step with caution. The leaders look back to see. Some sticks rise up
in the snow. Women guard women. There are the holes, the pitfalls to
be cautioned. Watch out for each other.
You have to close one door before the other door opens.
Step sure into the snow. Why look back? The snow is clean and
Don’t spend time with those you don’t want to. Get toxic people
out of your life.
Step with friends. The mountain accepts friends who share its beauty.
The magpie flies over friends – a free and happy partner in the air.
Enjoy each day to the fullest and don’t put things off.
Step anyway. The snow is wet and not so deep this year. The
mountain offers it today. The women walk today.
Take time to understand the new generation.
Step with vigor. The women are young…in spirit…at heart…and will
listen to the young around them.
Manage your time. Nobody said you have to work twelve hours a
Step in time. Take your time, the mountain says. It is large and
unending. The women choose how far to walk and when to stop and
when to turn around.
Use it or lose it.
Step now. The women take the time today to walk. They leave the
busy life in town or work or home where others call and claim. They
breathe in and out. The air is fresh and cold and clean.
Take time out for yourself every single day or you’ll feel sorry
Step in the moment. Step and think. Step and talk. Step and thank.
The women take the time this day together.
Live on a lot less.
Step simply. The mountain asks for little. A full life asks for little.
Snowshoes make a track that is steady and firm in the deep snow.
The women return to the mountain home. The tracks will disappear
with the next snow. The wisdom of the women lives on.
February 18, 2007
Endorsed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan: “Speak Up! is packed with savvy advice – any woman who wants to succeed in her career should read it!”
In SPEAK UP!, you’ll learn how to –
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NEW! October 2008
Present Like a Pro: More Tips and Techniques from the Road – a CD Companion to the Book. Even MORE practical tips on how to present like a pro! This companion CD to the book Present Like a Pro, written and recorded by the authors Cyndi Maxey and Kevin E. O’Connor adds material not found in the book and includes personal stories with techniques the authors use to handle tough speaking scenarios. Provides over 53 minutes of clever conversation and ideas that will boost your ability to:
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Business & Professional Communication
DePaul University, Chicago, IL
College of Communication