Big Weekend

It’s a big weekend, or at least an exciting weekend.  This weekend my wife and I are celebrating our anniversary at Gaucho Parrilla Argentina, a highly recommended Argentinian restaurant, in Pittsburgh.  We’ll be celebrating the past seven years of our life and how much it’s changed.  I can’t believe it’s been seven years.  During the last seven years, I lost one of the most important people in my life, my father, but I also had the amazing opportunity to welcome two of the most important people I’ll ever meet, my kids.

Overall, the last seven years have been the best of my life both personally and professionally.  I imagine we would both change a thing, or two, about the last seven years but the one thing I wouldn’t change is my family.

There are two other events going on this weekend.  The District 13 Toastmasters International Contest will take place Saturday afternoon at the District 13 Toastmasters Spring Conference.  A few weeks ago, I qualified for the contest by coming in second at the Division D contest.  I’ll be competing against seven other contestants for the opportunity to move on to the Toastmasters International Speech Competition that will be held in Washington, DC. I’m ready and excited.  It’s been a great opportunity to continue to refine a speech after presenting it multiple times. As a Toastmaster I’m used to performing a speech one time to complete the speech project in the manual and then I almost never repeat a speech a second time.  This competition process has allowed me to refine my speech by adding and removing different parts or movements.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot about my process and the kinds of techniques I can use to get my point across to an audience.

I’ll be practicing this speech twice today and tomorrow, but Friday I’m making a point to not worry about it and relax.  The important point is to simply have fun with this opportunity.  It’s a presentation I’ve given almost ten times. There is no need to stress myself out.

The last event of the weekend is something fun.  Sunday night is the premier of Season 6 of Game of Thrones.  I’m a big fan of the show. I’ll be spending Sunday night with the new Ommegang Game of Thrones themed beer and watching the premier at 9pm on HBO. If you’re on social media you’ll probably see an update like this, “All quiet in the realm! #GoTSeason6” and then I want be bothered for the next hour.

The weekend can’t come soon enough.

Why I had to start speaking in front of a crowd

Why I had to start speaking in front of a crowd


My palms were sweating, heart was racing, my mind was churning through each of my points, and I was about to walk to the front of the room to give my first speech at Toastmasters in June of 2013. I was attending regular meetings for about a month. I did a table topic and some other roles. Thinking back makes me wish I would have video taped some of those past performances. I would have liked to see the difference from today. Before joining Toastmasters, I can’t say I didn’t like to speak in public but I got nervous to speak.

Three years later, I find myself trying to give a speech every week. Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have thought this was possible but I’m now into week 13 of my 2016 goal. It’s been pretty amazing. It’s been kind of overwhelming to come up with material but the pressure has helped me grow. I think I’ve actually given more than a speech every week since the past week or two I’ve been practicing my competition speech.

It took me a while to to get over my fear. It wasn’t exactly public speaking but really talking in front of strangers.  This fear was also one of my roadblocks to expanding my network.  That’s another area Toastmasters has helped my build upon.  I plan to continue building my network and getting involved in different communities like Toastmasters.

Don’t be afraid. Fear is something happy people don’t worry about. Happy people aren’t afraid of being afraid. Conquering my fear of public speaking by standing up one day at a time has helped me in many areas of my life. That’s all I’m trying to do.

This was a great weekend. I think I gave the best speech of my life but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been better. My goal going forward is to continue to give a speech every week but continue focusing on practice and perfecting the little things that make a speech great, like eliminating my crutch words, improving vocal variety, body movement, and eye contact. The key for me is practice, practice, and more practice. Keep standing up every week.


HT themuse

Dropping my G’s

During my past few speeches, I’ve been made aware that I’ve been dropping the g’s off some of the words in my speech, like walkin’, talkin, and speakin’.  I never realized I had this issue but it’s another reason why I go to Toastmasters. Without a place like Toastmasters, I would have never found out about this poor habit.

Now I’m thinking about how to correct the issue.  First, I had to put a name to the issue.  Was is pronunciation? Was it enunciation?

Pronounciation is the way a word is pronounced.  While I’m sure I mispronounce a word sometimes, dropping my g’s was not the same thing.

Enounciation is the act of speaking. Poor enounciation could include mumbling or slurring.

Diction was the term I was trying to find.  Technically, Diction is a broader term than enounciation that includes enounciation and word choice.  In a more practical sense, diction is about speaking clearly.

I found a good article about Diction from Lisa Marshall, The Public Speaker on Quick and Dirty Tips. That offers some ways to practice good diction.  The advice boils down to practicing your plosives, reading tongue twisters, and repeat the speech of someone who has good enunciation.  She recommends repeating a quality podcast like some of the shows produced by NPR.

I’m going to start working on some of these tips today because I want to rid my self of this bad habit.


Speech of the Week: The Ice Breaker

Today, I’ll be presenting my Toastmasters Ice Breaker speech, which I first presented on July 11, 2013.  I’m presenting this speech as an example to a new group of Toastmasters at a club I’m helping to start at my company. This speech means a lot to me because working on my public speaking has had a major impact on my life. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of practice and I’d get nervous, my palms would sweat, and I would have rather done almost anything else.  During the speech, I remember grasping onto the podium with a range of emotions swirling around me. Fear, panic, and trying to remember my key points.  For a period of time I lost my place, but luckily no one noticed.

After this speech and while I began attending regular meetings, I learned that these are similar fears most beginning Toastmasters experience. In these past two going on three years, I missed about a year in between when I switched jobs and couldn’t find a club that worked with my schedule.  Eventually, I got back into a routine. Now, I’m giving a speech every single week and I’ll continue to do so until the end of the year.

Every speech I learn something new. I’m far from perfect but each time I try to improve on something, whether it’s my content, structure, delivery, vocal variety, eye contact, body language, grammar, or visual aids. Each speech is a learning experience and, more importantly, an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone.

Everyone starts somewhere.  This speech represents my starting point. I love this speech because I could never write this speech again.  I’m no longer the same person.

It’s Tuesday, March 6th, 2012.  I’ve just arrived home from work when my wife calls me to come downstairs. Her voice is filled with urgency so I rushed down the steps to see what the was matter. My wife looked like she was about to cry and tells me, my stepmother found my father unconscious on their back porch after she arrived home from work and he was being rushed to the hospital.  My stepmother said she would call us when she found out how he was doing. We spent the next forty-five minutes driving to the Mon-Valley hospital with both our minds racing through the range of emotions and each of us hoping to receive a phone call.

The call never came.

My father suffered a heart attack and died that day.

I don’t tell this story to make this meeting a sad one.  When thinking about my Ice Breaker speech I thought about all the topics I could talk about today.  I could talk about how I’ve been married to an amazing women for over 4 years, who is my rock, and who is only a few weeks away from giving birth to our first child, a baby boy, who’s named after my father.  When I was thinking about an event that explains where I’ve been and where I’m going. It’s this story. My father’s death changed me the way only losing someone you love can change you.  This event is the reason I’m here today.

I’ve thought about coming to Toastmasters before my father died.  I’ve known about the benefits of the program. I’ve read books from people who believe this program changes lives, but I never came to a meeting because I was afraid. I was afraid to screw up, sound stupid, or realize I had nothing interesting to say. I worried about how people think about what I said. What I was really afraid of was being rejected by my peers.

When my father died, I realized something we all know but repress.  We all know that our life here on earth is finite.  My problem was, I wasn’t living as if this was true, I was afraid to take chances, to take risks.  Professionally, I’ve been procrastinating.  Like Steve Jobs referenced in his 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, where he talked about looking in the mirror each day and asking himself this question, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”  Whenever the answer is ‘No’ for too many days in a row, he knows he needs to change something.  For me the answer was ‘No’ for too many days in a row.  I needed to change and I’ve to begun to make many changes in my life.  Coming to these meetings is one of those changes.

This coming year offers another full year of changes and challenges.  I cannot wait to try and tackle all of them.  I’ll be a new father, I’ll be completing my graduate degree, I’ll been learning to code, I’m going to complete a Tough Mudder race, I want to write a daily blog post, and find a job that gives me more freedom and challenges me to grow.  It’s going to be an exciting year and I hope Toastmasters will be a prominent part.

Next year at this time, I hope to receive my CC and CL. I hope to be a contributing member and get to know all of you better. I hope to be changed by this process that has helped so many other people.  I hope to become a better speaker and impromptu speaker.  I hope to come to these meetings and challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone.  To reach to a place I haven’t been before.  I hope to experience all of your speeches and the challenges they give you.  I hope to see the accomplishments and errors this process creates.  I hope to screw up, say something dumb, and have people not agree with me.  I hope you didn’t hate this speech and I look forward to your feedback, but I also don’t care because this is my opinion and I meant every word of it.  I was lost but I will not make the same mistake again.  I hope…

The night of my father’s death was the worst moment of my life, but it doesn’t do me any good to sit around and feel bad for myself.  He was an amazing father and he’d want me to keep moving forward.

My main hope here at Toastmasters is to leave this meeting, a little better than when I entered.

Speech of the Week: Toastmasters Meeting Roles and Responsibilities

This past weekend, I wrote a series of posts about the lessons that Steve Martin taught me.   I’ll be turning those blog post into a humorous speech that I hope to present next week.  

Earlier this week, I was offered the opportunity to give a prepared Toastmasters Successful Club Series speech on Meeting Roles and Responsibilities at a new club starting at my company.

The Meeting Roles and Responsibilities speech does exactly what the title would suggest. It outlines the specific roles and the responsibilities for those roles for not only the Toastmasters assigned meeting but also the Toastmasters club officers meeting roles. For this Successful Club Series speech, I’m given an outline of what the speech should include. The outline is not meant to be a script. The goal is to figure out a way to make these canned speeches your own. This speech also includes a prepared PowerPoint slide deck which I’m supposed to use. I’m not a fan of these prepared slides because they’re incredibly boring and I’m not allowed to change the design. It’s a canned design which is the same for every slide and it’s something I’d never normally use, and I strongly suggest you never use them unless required.

I’m a believer in Garr Reynolds presentation philosophy which he wrote about in his excellent book, Presentation Zen. I think I’ve written a blog post in the past about this subject but, based on the above tangent, I think I need to write about it more. Plus, I’m building a Powerpoint at work and I’m constrained to a preapproved slide design.  I need to figure out a way to be creative in these closed design environment.

Lastly, I need to start placing a countdown for the number of speeches I’ve given and how many I have to go to complete my goal of a speech every week.


Things Steve Martin Taught Me: Acceptance 

This post will be about the second point, Use Everything, in the speech I’ll give later this week about the, Three Things Steven Martin Taught Me. The speech will be based on the fourth project, Keep Them Laughing, in the Toastmasters Advanced Manual: Humorously Speaking. In this project, I need to open my speech with a self-depreciating joke and then use sets of two or three joke sets throughout the body of my speech.  I have been trying to accomplish this speech for a few weeks but I continue to put it off this speech while I complete other speech projects because I’ve been having a hard time writing my own jokes.  That’s why I decided to do the speech about Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, by Steve Martin, so I’ll build joke sets off of the examples in Steve’s audiobook to help tell my story.
I first wrote about this point about a year ago, in the post, Are You That Boy on the Tonight Show? Yuck!. It was inspired by a section of Steve Martin’s book, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, that blog posts title is something a woman in an antique shop said to Steve Martin after the first time he thought he killed it on the Tonight Show, a night when Johnny Carson loved his appearance and Sammy Davis Jr hugged him.  The next day Steve ran into this women at the antique store, she actually recognized him, and let him know she hated his appearance last night.

Steve was standing there.  A night after making two of his idols double over in laughter, somebody was bringing him back to earth. This story helped me realize that no matter what you do, no matter how good you think whatever you created turned out.  There will always be someone out there who is dissatisfied with your work.

This gives you two available options: 1) You can let there opinion dictate your work, or 2) You can decide that what your doing isn’t for them. Your work shouldn’t be meant to please everyone.  If that’s the goal then you probably need to rethink your strategy. The first option can be continued to be broken down further.  The next question will be, “Is this the kind of person I’m targeting?” If your target person is the one with the negative opinion then you probably do have a problem. If this person is not your target then it’s safe to assume option two.

Creating this kind of mentality is difficult for a lot of people.  It was difficult for me. You grow up wanting everyone on to like you and to make them happy.  Only to find out that to create the type of work that makes you happy means you need let go of caring about other people’s opinions.

You need to quit living for acceptance.  Think about what audience your work is targeting, ignore all the other noise, and get to work.

Speech of the Week: Read Out Loud

This week speech is based on a Toastmasters’ Advanced Manual: Specialty Speeches.  It’s the fourth project in the manual, Read Out Load.  The speech is meant to be 12 – 15 minutes that includes a short introduction and then reading a story out loud to the audience while incorporating proper vocal variety and body movement.

Hemingway is one of my favorite authors because I love his simple style and how he’s able to tell  deep, meaningful stories about human emotions and life without the need of complex techniques.  I’ve read a number of his most popular books: A Farewell to Arms, Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Sun Also Rises. Ron Charles, Washington Post’s book editor, has said the Hemingway’s short stories are better than his novels.  The only Hemingway short story I’ve read was in a college literature course, “Hills Like White Elephants,” which is a cryptic conversation between a man and a women.

Today, I’ll be reading another Hemingway short story, “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” which is about two waiters preparing for the end of the evening.

This story takes place in a Spanish-speaking community. I would assume Spain giving Hemingway’s history and other writing about the country, but I couldn’t find any source to confirm my assumption.  If you don’t have any background in Spanish here are the definitions of the Spanish words used in the short story:

Nada = nothing

Pues = then, well

Bodega = a grocery store that sells wine

Otro loco mas = another crazy person

Click on the link to read a free copy of, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, by Ernest Hemingway.

I discovered this short story from this Huffington Post article: These Classic Stories Are So Short, You Have No Excuse Not To Read Them. There are eleven other short stories listed in the previously mentioned article.  All of them will take you less than ten minutes to read.  I’m planning to read all of them in the coming week.