Tag Archives: Toastmasters

Know Your Audience

“Did you know that workers’ compensation claims cost our company over $24 million last year!?” I asked incredulously. And, with that opening line, I lost my audience.

I had the best of intentions. I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted to achieve buy-in. I wanted my audience of operations vice presidents and warehouse managers to leave the meeting with a sense of purpose and a committed resolve to run their distribution centers in the safest manner possible. Unfortunately, I only achieved one of my three objectives, and that only in part: They all left the meeting.

This squandered opportunity underscores an often overlooked component of successful communication: the need to tailor the message to the audience. Truth is, we did have an opportunity to reduce workers’ compensation costs. Achieving the buy-in of the operations professionals who ran the warehouses and loaded the trucks was essential to our success. And, in this instance, I failed.

I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority.

Fast-forward one year. After the debacle of the year before I had to battle to get the risk management team a spot on the operations meeting agenda. Quite frankly, I understood management’s hesitance; my presentation the year before used an hour of valuable time and achieved nothing. I told them I had learned my lesson. I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority. I showed them a draft of my new presentation as I told them this year would be different. And it was.

“I want you all to close your eyes,” I said. “Picture in your mind the best order selector in your warehouse; you know, the one with the near-perfect pick rate and lowest error rating. I know that each of you already has that person pictured in your mind. Now, picture him at home because he hurt his back at work. He’s off for six months. Open your eyes.”

I had their attention. I asked, “How many of you have had this experience in your operation at least once during the past year?” Many raised their hands. I asked them, one by one, “How was your warehouse impacted by that employee’s prolonged absence from work?” All of a sudden, a discussion broke out! Operations VP’s and warehouse managers shared how overall pick rates deteriorated and overtime costs increased. Several even talked about reduced morale and reduced bonus payouts. “If I could show you three simple things you can implement now to help avoid this disruption going forward, would you consider them?” I now had their full attention. I had a room full of risk management deputies. Mission accomplished.

During that second presentation, I never talked about money. I didn’t preach the virtues of prevention as a means of reducing retained loss costs. Why? Because this audience couldn’t care less about those things. That is not the world in which they live and breathe every day.

I had the honor of addressing the attorneys and paralegals of Vernis & Bowling at their 2014 firm retreat in Orlando, FL.

I had the honor of addressing the attorneys and paralegals of Vernis & Bowling at their 2014 firm retreat in Orlando, FL.

That presentation, now some 20 years in the past, was the catalyst for some amazing results. And, for me personally, it launched a true appreciation for and enjoyment of public speaking.

I offer this glimpse into my career learning process in the hopes that you might consider (or reconsider) each slide in that PowerPoint deck you’re about to present. Persuading a Board, a C-Suite, mid-management colleagues, and operations professionals to support any given objective will typically require a different approach tailored to each of those groups. To whom are you presenting? I’m sure the content is important to you, but is the content important to them? How can you make your objective meaningful to your audience? Will your supporting facts resonate with them?

After several years of absence, I rejoined a local Toastmasters club two years ago. I believe strongly that well-honed communication and presentation skills are an essential component to any leader’s success. I know they have contributed hugely to mine.

Click here to learn more about Toastmasters and how it can help you hone your communication and presentation skills!

The New England Patriots and Legerdemain

Many believe that the New England Patriots displayed legerdemain in deflating 11 of 12 game balls prior to their AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. However, the Patriots and their fans believe the Pats displayed great legerdemain in walloping the Colts 45-7 in that same game. Well, which was it?

As Word Master for this week’s meeting of my Toastmasters club, I needed a word that most people in the group have likely never heard. That is the purpose of this role, after all: to help our members expand their vocabulary. My Merriam Webster Dictionary app solved my dilemma by offering me a word that met this criterion while allowing me to craft a usage example around a topic that is generating much discussion these days – the New England Patriots’ “deflategate” scandal.

Legerdemain (noun): 1. Sleight of hand; 2. A display of skill or adroitness. (credit: Merriam-Webster.com)

So, did the Patriots display legerdemain (1) or legerdemain (2) in the AFC Championship game? I believe they epitomized the concept of legerdemain by nailing both definitions. Based on news reports thus far into the NFL investigation, it appears clear that the Patroits managed to alter the game balls beyond what is allowed in the rules after the game officials had validated the balls. Did that by itself make the difference in the outcome of this game? Not hardly in my opinion. The final score was 45-7, after all, and New England outplayed Indy in all aspects of the game.

The NFL reported yesterday that their investigation will likely not be completed for another couple of weeks, so we fans of sports talk radio will be hearing about “deflategate” for at least that long. I think it’s sad that one of arguably the best teams to play the game apparently felt the need to cheat the rules to gain an edge over their opponent. Based on interviews with former NFL Quarterbacks and others who know Coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady well, I don’t believe this occurred without their knowledge. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

2015 Photo-A-Day 1.12.2015

These are the new officers of the Southlake Toastmasters Club at their installation this morning. Toastmasters is an organization that helps people from all walks of life and a variety of vocations hone their communication and leadership skills. I’ve been a member of this club since early 2013. They are a wonderful group of people from whom I have learned much.

“Ours is the only organization I know dedicated to the individual, we work together to bring out the best in each of us and then we apply these skills to help others.” ~  Ralph Smedley, Founder of Toastmasters

Southlake Toastmasters officers installation 1.12.2015

Southlake Toastmasters officers installation 1.12.2015

Santa is Real!

NOTE TO THE READER: This is the text of the speech I offered last night at my Toastmasters Christmas party. I hope you enjoy it!

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Each of us is familiar with this famous line penned by NY Sun editor Francis Church as he replied to a query from little Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897. Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, honored Guests, I stand before you this evening to share with you the truth that Santa Claus is, indeed, real.

Who is this Santa Claus? In American culture he is portrayed as that jolly old elf with the rotund torso donned in his famous red suit trimmed in white fur. His hair and his beard are snowy white and he laughs with a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He lives in the perpetual winter of the North Pole and has a troupe of elves building children’s toys year round for Santa’s Christmas deliveries. He magically appears simultaneously in innumerable shopping malls and town squares all across the land as he welcomes children onto his lap to hear their Christmas wishes. He tours the world in a single night in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer as he distributes toys to good little boys and girls. That is how culture portrays him; but is that who he is, really?

According to History.com, the notion of Santa Claus has its origins way back in a 3rd century Turkish Monk named St Nicholas. St Nicholas was known for his piety, his kindness, and his charity. Let’s briefly examine these three traits of Saint Nicholas.

Piety, according to Websters dictionary, is the quality of being religious or reverent. Nikolas was a monk, and monks typically live lives of religious ritual and repetition as they seek to connect with and relate to God. Reverence is a deep respect for something. It’s more than just going through the motions of some ceremony or ritual; it that complete, internalized honor, respect, and love for the One behind the ceremony or ritual. His reverence for God is likely the catalyst behind the other two traits for which he was known.

Websters Dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. History tells us that Saint Nicholas traveled the countryside helping the poor and the sick. In this, he reminds me of Mother Theresa, a nun who lived a life of self-deprivation as she dedicated herself to helping the poor and needy. Both Saint Nicholas and Mother Theresa are excellent examples of individuals who dedicated their lives to showing true kindness to others.

Charity, according to Websters dictionary, is benevolent goodwill towards or love for humanity. One of the best-known stories about Saint Nicholas involves his encounter with a very poor family. The family could not afford to put up a proper dowry for its three daughters so they could be married. So, instead, the girls were going to be sold into prostitution. Saint Nicholas gathered the resources necessary to put up a dowry for each of the girls so they could be married instead of being sold into prostitution.

I would be willing to bet that each of us in this room has, at some point in life, been the recipient of unsolicited kindness or charity. When I was in college, I was driving home to Katy from Austin late one night. I dozed off as I drove down a dark farm to market road just outside of Bellville, Texas. I woke up as my car careened off the road and into the ditch. Fortunately, I was not injured. As I stood by the roadside at about 1:00 in the morning, I wondered what I would do next. (Remember, this is 1983, long before we all carried cell phones.) It didn’t take long for a car to come along and stop. A man and his wife took me to their farmhouse, which was close by. The man retrieved a tractor and the three of us drove back to the site of my accident where he proceeded to pull my car out of the ditch. The man and his wife offered to let me spend the rest of the night as a guest at their home, but I told them I was within 20 minutes of my own place. I offered him a $20 bill, all the money I had on me. He would accept no payment for his effort; he told me that he hoped I would take the opportunity to help somebody else someday. You know what? On that night, at that time, that man and his wife were Saint Nicholas to me.

Several years later I was standing in line at a Houston BBQ restaurant, waiting to order my lunch. As I approached the register, a man came stumbling towards me. At first I assumed he was drunk, but once I looked directly at him I knew something was wrong. His eyes were bulging out from his face and he held his hands to his throat in the universal sign for choking. He was obviously in distress. He was rather large, but I moved behind him, wrapped my arms around his torso, and delivered the hardest Heimlich maneuver I could muster. The piece of brisket that had lodged in his throat flew several feet through the air, over the counter, and landed at the feet of a very shocked cashier. As he gasped for breath, he managed a soft “thank you” as he headed to the men’s room. You know what? On that day, at that time, I was Saint Nicholas to that man.

Saint Nicholas, the original inspiration for our modern day Santa Claus, lived a life of kindness and charity towards others in honor of his faith in God and his love for humanity. So you see, my friends, Santa is real. He exists as the spirit of Saint Nicholas lives on through each act of kindness and charity that we receive and through each act of kindness and charity that we pay forward. As we celebrate this holiday season, let us seek to view every person as Saint Nicholas viewed them – worthy of our respect, worthy of our time, worthy of our kindness, and worthy of our charity. Merry Christmas!

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:28-31

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