Be willing to be BAD… – the right Disposition…


We are in the throes of it now… one tournament after the next. So how’s your disposition during competition?

Here’s what Seth Godin says is necessary when in pursuit of a new venture, goal or project…

“Be willing to be bad at it before you are good at it.”

Yes, this is the best mindset when pursuing things of value.

During this part of the competitive season you are studying, preparing, writing, re-writing, and practicing. You have begun to collect ballots and learn where you rank compared to other competitors. It is critical to remind yourself of the VALUE of improving your communication skills.



Value the ACTIVITY


Once you remember how important these things are then you will appreciate the up’s and down’s of your journey. You will be free to be ‘bad’ before being ‘good.’ And then, because you know how valuable your pursuit is, you will get BETTER.

Have a talk with yourself, and keep going! Remember the VALUE of good speaking skills.

During competition your disposition will make all the difference. Let it be a good one.

You have nothing to prove…


You have nothing to prove, everything to share.

Take a deep breath. Release. Relax. Repeat…

You have nothing to prove, everything to share.

Operative word #1 – “prove”

Merriam Webster: “to show that (someone or something) has a particular quality, ability, etc.

Speakers who try to ‘prove’ something are already at a disadvantage because they perceive a battle in which they must take a defensive position. This includes the desire to defend a title or duplicate a particular level of performance. As soon as speakers believe that they must uphold a certain image or fulfill certain expectations, they are approaching the communication process in the wrong way. They have become central, and the proper focus on connection with the audience by sharing a meaningful message is compromised.

Operative word #2 – “share”

Merriam Webster:  “to let someone else have or use a part of (something that belongs to you)

The more that communicators can think of themselves as “sharers,” the better. Sharing springs from caring about both the audience and the message. Speakers who share, offer their stories, their encouragement, their information — trusting that valuable lessons will be received by those who listen. The speakers see themselves merely as channels to carry their messages.

Dale Carnegie taught a similar lesson when he would metaphorically refer to the difference between a window and an exhibit as he trained new speakers. He insisted that the best speakers should think of themselves as windows that let the light of their messages shine through as they speak. Otherwise, a speaker who feels like he is ‘on exhibit” will be tempted to prove something to himself or to his audience members. Beware.

Yes, I understand that debaters think in terms of proof, evidence, and substantiation. Good for them. SHARE that information. Speakers are more resilient and robust mentally when they enter the communication process from a strong position of sharing. Share what you have prepared, what you have predicted, and what you have practiced and polished. You will prove your points best by sharing what you know.

For those of you who are already struggling with inner doubt and frustration, pause. Before you become rattled and think that you must prove something – get out of your own way.

Relax and repeat…

You have nothing to prove, everything to share.

CARE, then Share


Here is a dynamic truth from Michael Port, a bestselling author, former actor, and speech trainer…

“In a speech, one of the most important things that an audience needs to know is that you know the way the world looks for them,” says Michael. “And you know how it could look — and it could look a lot better. So we are trying to take them on a journey to what is better. When you meet somebody, let’s say you’re networking together, it really makes a difference if they believe you understand the way the world looks to them. And in the development of that relationship, if you are helping them see the way the world could look, well then that relationship can develop very powerfully and positively over time.”

Can you believe this? A good speech is not a “data dump.” It does not just transfer information. Effective speakers consider how they want their audience to FEEL when they are done speaking. You cannot be satisfied with merely approaching your audiences in terms of what they need to KNOW.

Here the age-old proverb, typically attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, applies…,

The audience never cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This is how Michael Port’s insight applies. Can the audience truly believe that you know how their world looks? Do they subconsciously trust that you genuinely care? If not, modify your message.

To build trust we must adjust. We cannot afford to tell audiences all that we think they need to know. They must feel that we understand their world, and that our message is applicable to it. Then we can gently move them from seeing their world as it is to what it could be.

So ask yourself two questions as you prepare your platform, as you refine your message, as you craft your delivery…

What does my audience currently feel about this topic?

What will they feel after hearing my message?

For example, rather than decry that “Problem X resulted in more than 3 million deaths over the past 20 years,” put a “face” on your facts. Tell us about “Ziggy” and how his/her family was specifically impacted by Problem X. Present your information in a way that your audience FEELS the injustice that hurt Ziggy and trusts that you care too. Numbers, statistics and figures never speak for themselves. Make sure that all data is directly applicable to your audience and pertinent to similar conditions in their lives.

The message we share must show that we care. This dynamic is essential – a non-negotiable in effective communication.

The “Mouth” is Mightier than the Pen – research out of University of Chicago is profound!

This June 27, 2015 article from The New York Times reports a fascinating study conducted by Dr. Nicholas Epley, a behavioral scientist from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. He writes, “The closest you ever get to another person’s mind is through their mouth.”  This brief article is worth a thorough read in order to understand the importance of spoken language (vs. text-based communication) in business and in life. Dr. Epley’s findings show that we sound smarter than our thoughts look.



In front of EYEBALLS – how to practice!


How are you practicing? Let us count the ways…

Everyone is now in the throes of competition. Tournaments have been occurring one after the next for many weeks and months. So, here’s a note about your final at-home practice and polish sessions before the national tournaments ensue…

Be sure to rehearse before an “audience” even at home. Running lines alone in your bedroom or even aloud before the bathroom mirror all by yourself is not the same as delivering in front of faces. Do not tell yourself that you are truly rehearsing unless you are giving your speech before the eyes of another living, breathing soul.

Real communication takes place from one human being to another – it is a dynamic exchange. The exercise of delivering a speech in front of real people will prepare you for the way it will feel when all eyes are on you. This type of “in-your-face” practice will create a scenario like the ones that occur before the judging panel that will be watching during competition rounds.

Many times students have told me, “I don’t know what happened, I went blank” or “I forgot my new revised part” or felt “lost” during their presentation. When I ask what they think happened, I often hear, “I don’t know. I knew it and have been practicing a lot.” Then I ask the differentiating question: “Who did you practice for?” Often I receive blank incredulous looks that beg for further explanation. It is then that I resume my rant, encouraging students to present their speeches in front of others when rehearsing. In this way speakers will be more accustomed to receiving the gaze and attention of onlookers.

We’ll be watching you… if you let us. Please do.


A Note to Coaches – How to Give CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM Effectively – Part 2


Now for the other side of the coin…

Coaches and parents must consider the best ways to offer feedback.  What do we say, when do we say it, and how should it be said?

We have already determined that no one really enjoys being criticized. Young forensic speakers are facing fears that many of us adults have never overcome ourselves. Nevertheless, we have been communicating longer than any adolescent and have had considerably more time to develop our sensibilities about the communication process. What a privilege to help them do the same.

Here are a few tips to help guide any critique session. Before offering advice or criticism, we must ask…

Is it warranted? Do we really need to say anything? I recommend beginning with questions like, “What did you do well? What are the strengths of this speech? What still needs work?” Have the students begin with their own evaluations. This is the best way to guarantee that they are developing their personal instincts about communication. In addition, you will be able to discern what they are ready and able to hear during this particular evaluation. It may be that no additional comments are warranted from the coach at all, especially if the students are able to discover, assess, and correct themselves.

Is it timely? Consider the timeliness of your feedback. Are the students already too fatigued to hear you? Has a session run long? Have they been forced to listen exclusively and not been able to offer their own insights about their performance? Are too many corrections being offered? (I recommend only 1-3 suggestions during any given critique.)

Is it solicited? Does the student WANT your feedback? If not, then do not offer it. The trick will be to avoid acting hurt or wounded if your input is not welcome at the time. Caution – do not take this personally! There are so many thoughts and feelings occurring in the young speaker. Wait. Pray. Let the students “own” their decision to defer and receive criticism from someone else at another time. Move on.

Is it specific?  Aim to hit a definite target, not dispense insights like the wild spray of pellets from a shotgun. A single, clearly articulated perception is far better than lots of sweeping generalizations and dissatisfied observations.

Is it helpful? Have you actually proposed a solution? If you notice that the speaker needs to change course or make specific corrections, be sure to provide suggestions. Nothing is more frustrating than for a student to hear, “Something is wrong, but I just can’t put my finger on it.” As coaches, we must point the speaker to new resources or provide a fresh resolution.  With this is mind, we will keep our own observations in check and be less likely to casually express dissatisfaction. We hold ourselves accountable when we are sure to provide remedies as well as render criticisms.

Is it balanced? Finally, it is best to verbalize things that we like as well as what we think needs improvement. Without both kinds of insight, the evaluation will be lopsided and carries the potential of feeling painful to the student. Many personal development experts recommend inserting critical comments between opening and closing positive observations. Some call it the “Oreo cookie” approach. The critical “filling” will be more digestible when surrounded by the sweet, sincere praise of things the evaluator identifies that are already being done “tastefully.” (Yes, I risk overdoing this metaphor!)

There you have it. Critical feedback should be warranted, timely, solicited, specific, helpful, and balanced. When it is, students will communicate all the better, all the more quickly.

Thousands of years ago, Paul of Tarsus and two young comrades, Silvanus and Timothy, penned an epistle to a church in Thessalonica where they included helpful guidelines that can still easily be applied to those of us who coach budding orators today. They wrote,

“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

As the New Year launches and tournaments continue in full force, I hope that we will labor to be patient with the timid and meek among us – even those who outwardly seem to exhibit confidence and bravado. Seth Godin says, “Deciding to lead, not manage, is the critical choice.” (Tribes, 44) If we are able to forego managing students and instead lead and guide them by providing sincere, inspirational insights, there is no limit to the powerful influence that their “voices” will have in the coming generation.