public speaking

Connecting to and communicating with passion (my talk at TEDxTacoma)


Apparently, the only thing that terrifies me more than giving a talk at TEDxTacoma about passion-based communicating is watching myself give a talk about it.

Still, I felt is was important to put on my Big-Girl Pants and watch it. The whole thing, slightly less than 18 minutes, because I got a little nervous and forgot some stuff.

My objective (as possible) critique? Not as horrible as I'd thought it would be, even good in places! I think the main points come across, and I think there's valuable information in there for anyone starting out on the road to putting out the word about what moves them. I forget sometimes, but it really is confounding, having all that energy and no funnel to put it through; the discipline of acting has a lot of valuable information for building your funnel and practicing the use of it.

Also? MY MOUTH WAS SO DRY. I'd forgotten until I watched this again, but I was sort of freaking out on stage because I could feel my mouth drying, drying, drying up. That's what all that weird, old-people-tongue-moving stuff is about: trying to keep my lips from sticking to my teeth. I know: disgusting. But there it is. A technical reality of speaking, especially early in the morning after you have had not enough water and too much caffeine. Gonna have to work on that.

Finally, the sound is iffy in places. I'm talking into a headset mic, but the audio seems to be coming from the ambient me, not the mic'ed me. And we're in a chapel, so it gets a little boom-y and I come off (much to my embarrassment) a little preachy. Maybe that's a function of the chapel's acoustics, but I think there's a bit of me to blame, too, in that. So. You know. Working on that, too.

It's a process, right?


Video of me speaking at TEDxTacoma shot by my new pal, and dead ringer for Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, only the goofy, fun version, Kyle Sleeper, one of the fine students of the amazing Michelle Jones at Puget Sound University University of Puget Sound who helped get this shindig birthed. You can watch all the videos of the talks from TEDxTacoma on YouTube, including my fave "talk" of the day, the performance of the a capella group, Garden Level. Love them boyses who raise their voices, yes, I do!

Thanks, Michelle! Thanks, Kyle and all you crazy kidz! Thanks, UPS! Thanks, TEDxTacoma!

Anatomy of a breakthrough


I had an extraordinary experience last Thursday night, and enough time to process it since that I feel like it warrants some dissection here on the digital word slab (which may be my new pet name for communicatrix-dot-com) this morning.

The backstory of the event

A few weeks ago, via Facebook, my friend Brenda Varda invited me to read something at the 2.0, spoken-word gathering  of her project for writers and writing, w o r d s p a c e. (And yes, it's spelled out with the spaces, get it? Word space.)

The invitation asked for my best "extreme" 5 - 10 minutes of current material; there would be snacks and drinks, the public would be invited, and the list of other invitees was made public, so we could get a handle on the shape "extreme" might take, or at least what the rest of the lineup might be like. She later followed up with a request for a short bio and our putting the word (no pun intended) out to our own networks. Specifically, we were asked to bring one to three people: she wanted a full house, but Son of Semele's space (okay, this time I'm punning a little bit on purpose), the venue, was on the small side.

We were given the theme of "breaking the wordspace" to either write around or choose our material from; we were told that accompanying music was a possibility (among other things I am envious of her for, like her amazing hair and killer mid-Century modern house in the hills of Silver Lake, Brenda is an accomplished composer and musician).

Where I was coming from

One of my goals this year is "Do three Ignite-type presentations." That's my shorthand for:

  1. Planned (thought out, plotted carefully, well-rehearsed)
  2. Important (to me, personally, and in the scheme of things)
  3. Fun (because life is too fucking short)

Last fall's experience presenting at Ignite: Portland was huge for me. Not just because I presented to the biggest honkin' crowd I had yet, 600 fine and enthusiastic people, bless every last loudly appreciative one of 'em, but because for the first time since I started thinking about speaking as a means of sharing information, I was talking about something I deeply cared about. Don't get me wrong: I'm happy to share what I know about branding and marketing, and grateful for the opportunities it gives me to practice skills while relaying information that's useful to people. To say it's where my heart lies, though, would itself be a lie.

So I've been casting about for ways of moving closer toward my goal of being, essentially, a motivational speaker, if not an outright preacher without a church. There: I've said it. I've pantsed myself. It's out, it's done, I'm exposed, we can move on.

Okay, perhaps a little more on that stink-bomb I just dropped...

The formula for my future

If you've hung around at all, you know that I'm a big one for condensed shorthands, not as a means of skipping steps, but as a way of staying focused. I have problems with focus, or perhaps, I have a central challenge of remaining focused when I've been blessed with a interests like water contained in a brain like mesh. So I come up with formulas to help me stay on track: The Formula for articulating your brand in terms of your end user; the formula for Right Use of social media (which, as I always point out when deliver it in a talk, also works beautifully for marketing and life in general).

I still can't articulate what it is that I want to be when I grow up clearly and succinctly in childlike terms, but if I can't have the laser-like focus that "ballerina," "fireman," or even "C-Suite creative executive in a new media company" might give me, I can come closer with a direction and a formula:

  • Direction: I want to write and talk.
  • Formula: 70 - 90% writing, 30 - 10% talking.

Note that the direction doesn't specify the type of writing, and that I've used "talk" rather than "speak." That's intentional: I'm thinking of "talking" as incorporating more than just speaking, which (to me) means a stage, possibly a mic, and definitely a crowd. "Talking" may mean audio and video performance of some kind; it may even mean teaching of some kind, although it would have to be a very special set of circumstances for me to go that route, since (good) teaching requires a level of interaction that would send me and my poor little introverted self running for the hills where our cave of privacy is dug into.

What happened in and around w o r d s p a c e

The above provides both the context for my decision to participate and a jumping-off place for the nutty amount of sturm und drang, synapse-firing, syntheses and lessons that came out of the experience.

But in the grand tradition of jumping-off places, I'm going to hold the rest of it until later. Because the scale of my goals in certain areas this year requires that I learn to exercise some restraint in others. Tune in Wednesday for Part 2, and in the meantime, enjoy the clip, above...


Video shot by my good friend, former client and fellow Cornell alum, Larry Greenfield. Sorry for the overexposure; one of these days, I'll learn to find my light.

Think fast, talk slow: An Introduction to Table Topics

speak, cross-stitch When it comes to a Toastmasters meeting, the hands-down favorite event is usually our extemporaneous speech feature, "Table Topics."

One person takes on the task of coming up with a slew of questions which she then springs on a series of unsuspecting (but, for the most part, secretly hopeful) victims, who are given a short window of time (1 minute minimum, 2 minutes maximum), to answer their particular question. It can be great fun, especially if the Table Topics Master (or "Mistress", as I insist upon being called, "Madame Table Topics Master" being more ridiculousness than I can stomach) chooses a good theme.

It's my favorite role at a meeting, so much so that I don't let myself volunteer for it anymore. I figure that I should spend my time learning new skills and getting better at things I suck at, and letting other people discover how much fun it is to be Table Topics Mistress. On my first at-bat, I chose the theme "True or False...and WHY!?!?", comprised of a series of classic quotations from my files with the framing question. Another time I ran with an international theme of sorts, giving each player a proverb from a different country and letting them speak on the topic (pro or con is a pretty typical Table Topics gambit).

But my favorite Table Topics session was the simplest, hearkening back to those old, fourth-grade discussions at sleepovers or on the playground. You know, the "would you rather be blind or deaf?" type of grammar-school-philosophy arguments.

In case you want to play along at home, I'd thought I'd include the batch of questions I wound up using that night. Yes, every one of these puppies has been road-tested by an Actual Toastmaster, who came up with a 1–2 minute speech on the spot.

If you had to choose, would you rather... a little overweight and not be able to lose it or extremely underweight and not be able to gain it?

...go without dessert forever or go without fruit forever? the President of the United States or the Vice President of the United States?

...get an extra hour of sleep per night or an extra 20 hours' pay per week? an identical twin or a fraternal twin?

...go to the most exciting show in the world or stay home and read the greatest book in the world? (NOTE: You're getting ONE chance to do either, i.e., you can't say "I'll go to the show tonight and read the book tomorrow," as our beloved Miss Ida did.)

...wear really comfortable shoes that made you feel dumpy or really beautiful shoes that made you feel uncomfortable?

...own the house of your dreams or be able to buy someone really deserving theirs?

...have a perfect memory or be able to truly forget the worst things in your life?

...have your dream color in a color you hate or an ordinary car in a color you love?

...have mild colds the rest of your life, or one month when you had all your colds at once?

(HINT: for you non-Nerdmasters, these also make fantastic blog post ideas ...)

xxx c

Image by kittenry via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.