Performing at the Herndon Fortnightly Library

Herndon Fortnightly Library I’ll be performing my story, “The Match,” live at the Herndon Fortnightly Library on Saturday, February 8th, at 1:00 PM. The story is about a man who engages in an unusual high-stakes wager in order to support his family during the height of the Great Depression. It’s based on a true story.

It’s a historical story, not speculative fiction, but I like it because it’s fun, and dramatic, and lends itself well to being performed in front of an audience. And no, this is not a dramatic reading. I get up in front of the audience and perform the story, sans notes or any kind of props.

The Herndon Fortnightly Library is located at 768 Center Street, Herndon, VA 20170.

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Meeting Ryan Avery

Ryan Avery and David Keener in Washington DC

I recently had a chance to meet Ryan Avery, the Toastmasters 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking on Monday, September 30th, at the AARP building in downtown Washington DC. Toastmasters District 27 and 36 teamed up to host his two-hour workshop, “How to Make It a Great Speech.” The event drew such a big crowd during the online event registration period that they had to add a second edition of the workshop to handle the overflow.

Ryan Avery and his wife Chelsea were both friendly and gracious. Moreover, the workshop itself was also excellent. The worksop was part of Ryan’s whirlwind public speaking tour to promote his new company, How To Be A Speaker. Since his championship win, he’s specialized in keynotes, inspirational training sessions, and workshops on speaking-related topics.

Ryan’s workshop, “How to Make It a Great Speech,” was introduced by the leadership from Districts 27 and 36. When Ryan subsequently came on stage, he started out by introducing himself, outlining what he was going to cover in the workshop, and generally engaging with the audience. Then he showed us two videos of 5 – 7 minute talks that he had done. One was, of course, his championship-winning talk for Toastmasters, entitled “Trust Is a Must,” which everyone was extremely interested in seeing. The other was an inspirational speech for a college.

Here are some public speaking tips that he gave that directly related to the videos we’d just watched:

  • Title: He emphasized that he believes titles are vital to the success of a speech. They help set the expectation of what a speech is going to be about. A memorable title may also linger in the minds of audience members, helping the audience to retain key points that were made in the speech. He used his title, “Trust Is a Must,” as an example of a memorable title.

  • A Strong Structure: Ryan pointed out afterwards that both speeches had the same structure, which he proceeded to describe to the audience. His basic outline was a brief introduction that established the theme of the talk, three short stories that matched the theme, and a conclusion that tied the stories together and echoed the message from the introduction. He added that it was essential for the conclusion to end in the same place as the introduction, which he summed up succinctly as: “Where you pick ’em up, you need to drop ’em off.”

    Bear in mind that this outline is perfect for a short, impactful speech, such as those required for speech contests. It may not be appropriate for all types of speeches, or may need to be adapted for other types of public speaking engagements.

  • Constant Object: Whenever possible. Ryan liked to have a “constant object” to help link the stories together. For his speech, “Trust Is a Must,” it was his mother’s slippers that featured in some way in each story.

  • Heroes: According to Ryan, “you can’t be the hero of your own story.” If you’re the hero, then it sounds like you’re bragging, which diminishes the experience for the audience. You can be in the story; you just shouldn’t be the hero.

  • The Five Senses: For more impact, try to engage the audience by appealing to the five senses. Highlight colors, emphasize a smell, or describe sounds. Paint a picture for the audience.

  • Drop the Prop: Ryan was not a fan of props. His view was that props interrupt your speech and, more importantly, disengage the audience’s imagination. He stated that in many cases, he considers PowerPoint slides to be an unnecessary prop, although he conceded that they can be appropriate for informational talks (his own workshop included a sparse set of slides, as an example).

  • Active Voice: Be active. Be assertive. Don’t let passive voice creep into your speech. When you say “was,” you’ve entered the Passive Voice Zone. Get away from there.

I thought those speaking tips were excellent. There was quite a bit more to the workshop, so it’s hard to sum it all up. There were some excellent messages sprinkled throughout the workshop, though, and I’ve captured some of them below:

  • Don’t look at the excuses, look at the opportunities.

  • Who is that one person you’d hike across the Grand Canyon for?

  • You should never “give a speech.” Speak from the heart and send a message.
              — Randy Harvey

  • You must impact yourself before you can impact an audience. To accomplish great things in your life, you should:

    • Put it out there. Go for your dream.
    • Delete negative people from your life.
    • Visualize your reality. Change the story in your own head to be what you want it to be.
    • Set up visualization stations, aids that help you imagine where you want to be, or what you want to become.

  • Never tell a joke. Share a failure instead.

  • Make you speeches Simple, Impactful and Relatable.

  • Remember the acronym, SMILE:

              SSimple stories.
              MMistakes; talk about mistakes, and lessons learned.
              IImitate, e.g. – imitate characters for effect.
              LLaugh; look like you’re enjoying yourself, and so will the audience.
              EEnthusiasm; add some energy to your speech.

  • Dress to relate to your audience.

  • PRACTICE. How you practice is how you will play. Get serious about practicing.

I had a great time attending Ryan Avery’s workshop, and I felt like I learned a lot from it. If you’re interested in public speaking, and the opportunity arises, attend one of his workshops. It will be worth it. Additionally, he’s got a book on public speaking coming out in early 2014, so keep a watch for it.

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The Finest Legacy, Redux

On March 3, 2012, I delivered a talk called “The Finest Legacy” for the Toastmasters 2012 International Speech Contest. It was a heart-felt talk about science fiction, the unwritten rules that SF writers follow, and my dad who died in 2010. I was fortunate that it was recorded on a home video camera by Anthony DiPalma, because it meant a lot to me.

I first posted the video on YouTube last October, but I consistently heard from folks that the video was too dark, and that the audio was poor. I’ve learned a lot about Final Cut Pro, my editing tool, since then. So I decided to re-post the video after spending hours “fixing it in post,” as they say.

The audio is still a bit low, but increase your volume, put on your ear phones and prepare to hear a pretty decent talk (or read the transcript).

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My “Aloha” Speech

It’s not often that I have the opportunity to attempt an inspirational speech. One recent occasion featured my speech, Aloha, which was my last speech as the President of Ashburn Toastmasters, the club that has done so much to help me improve my public speaking and leadership skills.

To start, let me provide some background on how a Toastmasters club works. In each meeting, people perform different roles according to a well-defined agenda. Some people run the different sections of the meeting. Some people give prepared speeches. Other members are assigned to evaluate the prepared speeches. People switch roles for each meeting. Bottom Line: You get a lot of experience speaking in front of people, whether giving a speech, conducting the meeting, providing an evaluation or even responding in an ad hoc fashion to questions.

Toastmasters also has a two-track curriculum, one focused on Communication, and the other focused on Leadership. The speeches that people give contribute to the Communication track, while the various roles they perform contribute to the Leadership track.

A good Toastmasters club has to accomplish four main tasks:

  • Members should make progress on the Communication Track.
  • Members should make progress on the Leadership Track.
  • The club must recruit new members to replace people who leave (expect 25% to 30% turnover per year).
  • The club must perform administrative tasks such as electing officers, getting officers trained so they can accomplish their position, collecting dues, scheduling regular meetings, etc.

Toastmasters International, the non-profit organization to which all clubs answer to, has a “report card” called the Distinguished Club Program (DCP) that evaluates how well a club is functioning. It’s a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best score. A club is considered “Distinguished” if it gets 5 points, “Select Distinguished” if it gets 7 points and “President’s Distinguished” if it gets 9 points.

Under my watch, the club achieved something it had never previously done in its 8-year history: “President’s Distinguished” — with a score of 10 out of 10. I was proud of the achievement. I was proud of what my club had done.

I wanted to give them a rousing speech that would make them feel part of something special, cement their enjoyment of the club experience, and inspire them to achieve “President’s Distinguished” again in the next year. I’m nothing if not ambitious.

Thus, my Aloha speech, the text of which is now up on the Ashburn Toastmasters blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed giving it. Please let me know what you think.

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Largest Public Speaking Course in History

Some of my technical friends have been extolling the virtues of online courses for quite a while now. Some of them have even taken several highly technical college courses for free on Web. The courses didn’t count for college credit, of course, but they still had the chance to learn in an organized way from some highly qualified professors. Their view is that education, particularly college education, is heading for the same kind of massive disruption that has already impacted the music and publishing industries.

University of Washington - Intro to Public SpeakingAbout a month ago, my friends convinced me to enroll in an online course with Coursera called “Introduction to Public Speaking.” It’s taught by Matt McGarrity, a dynamic, top-ranked lecturer at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.

The course is what’s known as a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. It’s free. It’s open to the public. More than 40,000 people from around the world have signed up for the course, leading McGarrity to say: ā€œIā€™m preparing to teach the single largest public-speaking course in the world — in the history of the world.ā€

It’s a 10-week course, with lectures made available online as videos. Discussion groups will be available in different forums. Google Hangouts are also likely to play a role. There are quizzes associated with some videos, as well as three optional speaking assignments (they’re optional because they require video equipment in order to perform them).

You can learn learn more about the course from this excellent article in The Seattle Times. You can see the course syllabus and description at Coursera.

The course begins on June 24th. I’m really looking forward to it.

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Movie Moments

How many of you have ever heard the term “movie moments” before?

Well, a movie moment is when something happens in real life that’s just so perfect that it seems like a scene in a movie. Like it’s just so perfect that it could only have been envisioned by some brilliant screenwriter.

Let me give you an example.

When I was 17, my family lived next to a church. The church’s parking lot ran up to the side of our property, and there was a standard 4-foot-tall chain link fence between our side yard and the lot.

On weekends, I often parked in the church lot to avoid stacking our driveway with cars. One day, I parked there, but I was accompanied by my best friend, Cody, and my younger brother, Steve.

When I got out, I decided to show off by hurdling over the fence. Perfect form. Up, leg out, snap the foot down, carry over. I was on the track team at school, and my specialty was hurdling.

Cody laughs, and says, “I can do that.” He gets a running start and just jumps as high as he can, arms windmilling as he clears the fence. He comes down close to the fence, splashing as he lands because the grass near the fence is wet from recent rain.

Then my brother decides to do the same thing as Cody, only his left foot dips down and catches on the fence as he leaps over it. He does a complete face plant as he splashes onto the grass. Cody and I were laughing at him for the next 30 minutes…

Folks, that’s a movie moment. I’d like to share several of my favorite movie moments with you, and then I’ll explain why they’re so important to me.

Once upon a time, I was in the Boy Scouts. One summer, I attended a week-long camp, and my Dad was drafted as a volunteer to help. We had all sorts of cool classes to go to, archery, tying knots, etc.

As I came back to our camp site from one of these classes, one of our youngest scouts came rushing up to me, and then he threw a water balloon at me from point-blank range.

I was drenched, and it was hilarious. But I didn’t have any water balloons to throw myself. Etiquette required that I make him pay for his transgression. Plus, as a more senior member of the Scouts, I needed to let him know there’d be consequences if he tried it again. So I thumped him.

Open hand shove to the chest, not too hard, just to let him know that he’d been tagged. But he was off-balance, and fell backwards onto his butt.

His eyes got really wide. He leaped up like a jack-in-the-box, and ran across the clearing to my Dad, wailing, “Your son hit me!”

My dad looked down at him and said, “Well, I told you that you could throw a water balloon at him. I didn’t say he wouldn’t hit you.”

In another movie moment…

I was dating a girl who lived in Arlington. It was my birthday, and she was picking me up at the Ballston Metro. She’d already told me that she had my birthday present with her, and that it was really breakable.

When she saw me, she came rushing down the escalator. Unfortunately, she tripped about two thirds of the way down, and launched into a perfect swan dive.

So there she is, flying through the air from 15 feet up. And there’s my highly breakable birthday present, flying out of her grasp.

And thus, the terrible, terrible dilemma. Do I catch my present? Or the girl?

We’ll leave her there for now, hanging in mid-air.

I’d like to tell you one more story, but this one has several movie moments within it.

Once upon a time, when I was in fifth grade, I was sitting outside the principal’s office with my mother, waiting to find out if I was going to be suspended.

You ask, of course, what could a goodie two-shoes like me do that could have gotten me suspended? Especially as a fifth grader.

Well, the night before, there was a championship basketball match held at my school. I was the star player in a very close game. By end of the match, people were chanting my name, and cheering my team on.

It was glorious.

Afterwards, the parents were gabbing, and us kids were just shooting hoops for fun. An eighth grader, who was there because his brother was on the team, started making fun of me, being really mean, as if my success had offended him in some way.

He capped off his little campaign of abuse by stealing my basketball and throwing it out the back door of the gym. This is the first movie moment. It was pouring. And the school was at the top of a long,
gradually sloping hill.

That ball rolled past the kindergarten. It rolled through the playground without hitting a single piece of equipment. It rolled into the field beyond, then over the baseball field. It continued into the outfield where it reached the edge of a vast puddle of water that occupied the rest of the school property.

And then, carried by wind and what little momentum remained, it floated into the middle of that vast expanse of water.

Now, it occurred to me that I was being bullied. And if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I don’t take well to this. In fact, even as a fifth grader, I had already determined that the best defense against bullies was the rapid infliction of a vast amount of pain.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next. In one corner, me, at 5-4, weighing in at 90 pounds, all skin and bones and wearing funky sports glasses. On the other side, an eighth grader, three years older, 5-8 and 150 pounds. Now cue the Rocky music, as the fifth grader beats the stuffing out of the bully.

It took five adults to pull me off him.

And that’s how I found myself waiting to meet the prinicpal.

So, I’m sitting in the waiting room of the principal’s office with my mother, and my basketball coach
comes out of an inner office. He sees us, rushes over, and says excitedly, “I’m so proud of your son! What a great fight! He’s got an awesome right hook. I didn’t think he had it in him!” In his exuberance, he even gives my mother a big bear hug before he rushes off to his next appointment.

I was floored. I felt like I’d fallen into some parallel dimension, or something.

A little later, the prinicpal called us in. He stared at me for about ten minutes, and I felt like he was scanning my very soul. It was actually probably only five seconds or so, and then he says, “I’ve
checked with everybody involved. I’m just bringing you in as a formality, because it’s expected in a situation like this. You were clearly provoked. But, young man, don’t you make a habit of fighting in my school. I don’t want to see you in my office again.”

That was it. No suspension.

So, why are these movie moments so important to me? Consider this.

My little brother in a moment of total humiliation. I’m sure those of you with little brothers can appreciate this.

My father, in a moment of complete and utter coolness, with the perfect comback.

My parents, my coach, and my principal teaching me that it’s OK to get into a fight, if you pick the right fight. That’s a great life lesson.

I challenge you to look for the movie moments in your life. They could be as simple as a daughter walking down the aisle in her wedding dress, or a baby’s first steps.

Keep those memories alive. Tell stories about them. In the end, they are what life is all about. They’ll give you comfort when you’re old, and they may even become family heirlooms, kept alive and retold by future generations in your family.

Oh, and the girl from the escalator? I caught her. [Holding up my hand and pointing to my wedding ring]

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Video: Crossing the Chasm

My newest video, “Crossing the Chasm,” is now available online. It’s a bent and twisted fable, with a certain amount of humor. It was recorded on January 30, 2013 at a restaurant (Bertucci’s, if you’re that curious). Here’s the official description:

Crossing the Chasm: A mighty warrior on a treasure-seeking quest encounters an unexpected ordeal in which his physical skills, weapons and magical artifacts are useless. What, then, is a warrior to do?

Please let me know what you think of the video. I had a lot of fun writing, and then performing, this humorous fable.

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The Match, Now Available on Video

This is a popular 9-minute speech that I’ve given multiple times in different venues. I had the opportunity to record it at Brambleton Toastmasters on March 19, 2013. It’s a story called “The Match” about a man who engages in a high-stakes wager during the Great Depression in order to earn money to support his family. I had a lot of fun with this story, so I hope you will, too.

It’s also available in HTML and PDF if you’d like to read the full text of the speech.

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