COACHES & MENTORS, Part 2 – A Word to Students

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We have already looked at the need for coaches to find their own coaches during the competitive season. Yes. Coaches coach even better when they are coached too.

Now a word to students in training…

Don’t go it alone. None of us are ever too skilled or too experienced to have outgrown the need of a mentor. The mark of a superior competitor is his or her ability to remain teachable.  Some of the most highly decorated competitive speakers and debaters that I have ever coached tend to interrupt critique sessions and blurt, “Don’t tell me what you like, coach; tell me how to get better.” They do not just want validation; they want to be trained and coached. They are like sponges who long to drink up the counsel and insights of others. Good for them.

I personally look for mentors everywhere. Success Magazine happens to be a place where I have found several.  Each month it provides on-going training with interviews, articles and CDs from world renowned experts. I always learn something when I plug-in with an open mind and open heart. This month, an interview with Jack Daly was especially enlightening. Here’s what this 20-year veteran sales expert and trainer himself has to say about coaching…

“If at any stage in life you don’t have a coach or coaches then you are missing out… someone that can weigh-in with an objective eye and give you course direction; someone that you can lean in on and tap their previous experiences that quite frankly might have been going down the wrong path or into the pothole – that person that can fast forward you along in your career because of the experiences that they have had; someone that holds you honest; holds you accountable so that you do the things you say you will do. On the personal side of my life I have 5 coaches or ‘board of directors of my life’ who meet with me 4-6 times a year, one-on-one, and painstakingly go through my goals line-by-line to make sure that I am doing what I said I was going to do. There isn’t a month that goes by when one of these coaches/mentors is not holding my feet accountable. Then when I know that I have these individuals vested in my success then I see myself get up every morning and say, ’I’m going to be held accountable. I want to do this anyway, but now I’ve got an extra raising of the bar. As a result, I need to bring my game!’”

Now it’s your turn, competitors. Bring your game. Choose someone to learn from this year. Be accountable to a coach and work together to take your skills to the next level.  ‘Breathe in’ in the inspiration that your coach offers and soak up his or her guidance. Your relationship with a coach who cares about your success and improvement will make this season of competition a good one and this season of life… great!


COACHES – Everyone needs a mentor!

cheer_pom_pom_sticker__22023It’s about to begin. The onset of the 2014 – 2015 year of competitive speech and debate is now upon us.

So here’s a word to all parents and coaches – find a mentor.

Perhaps you will be responsible for coaching, instructing and mentoring others this year in forensics.  Be sure then to keep your own tanks full. Take time throughout the year to learn from someone who holds a similar role as you. Talk to that person; pray with that person. Learn while you are helping others learn. If you admire trainers from history who are no longer with us, read their books, memoires or diaries. Stay on the hunt for nuggets of inspiration that will keep you motivated. If not, your own tank will run dry and your resources, which could otherwise benefit others, will be depleted. Fill up and hold tight to your own mentors.

And then know this…

As coaches and instructors we will never have all the answers. There will be many times that we need to throw away our play books and metaphorically set down our “megaphones.”  Sometimes our students will not be able to hear us and we may even be uncertain about what to say. Relax. Refocus. Instead, pick up your pom-poms and be the cheerleader.  Great coaches have nothing to prove; they have everything to share.

Here’s how William Arthur Ward, an educator and motivator himself, once put it (this is a precious quotation that was written on the inside of a card I received this summer from one of my students):

“The mediocre teacher tells

The good teacher explains.

The superior teacher demonstrates.

The great teacher inspires.” 

“Inspire” comes from the Latin, inspirare, meaning ‘to breathe in.’  As we ‘breathe in’ and stay inspired ourselves, we will be able to do much more than tell, explain, and demonstrate. We will actually give ‘air’ to others while they tackle challenges in the coming year. Good coaches have chosen their own coaches so that maximum growth can occur while everyone learns together.

Let’s all choose well and breathe in!  I’m rooting for you (and shaking my pom-poms!)



MORE & MORE Questions – Approaching a Platform


Writing a platform, or self-written rehearsed speech, seems like a great option. Of course it does. Of course it should. It is!

Platform speeches give us the opportunity to talk about what is important to us. But lo! As we approach a platform, more questions must be asked and this is the perfect time to ask them before the competitive season launches. Where does a speech writer start? How does someone choose a topic?  How can young speakers truly connect with an older audience and deliver a meaningful message?

Here are some guidelines as you begin to ask these questions and many more. We will start by asking questions that lie at the very core of any speech. The following elements have to be considered from the onset.

Will your speech be…

CURRENT? – having direct bearing on relevant matters; pertinent

COMPELLING? – having a powerful and irresistible effect

CREDIBLE? – worthy of belief or confidence; believable

In addition, it is best that your topic be born from your own core interests, values, or aspirations. Then you are sure to have the passion and enthusiasm that every speaker needs in order to connect with others.

As you begin to narrow down a topic, and  your coaches  concur that your message will indeed be current, compelling, and credible, here are other questions worth asking regarding content:

Do I have a clear thesis and restricted focus for this speech? A good thesis takes a position that will be defended or explained throughout the speech.

How can I be trusted with my message?              

  • What is my personal connection to the topic? Remember a good speech is never just a report.  Again, the audience must believe that you the speaker are truly interested in your topic and invested in your message.
  • Have I included sufficient credible information from others? Evidence from experts and advocates will help support your thesis throughout the speech.

What has the audience heard too often if they are familiar with a particular platform event?  If you will face judges this season who have already heard countless speeches on “subject X,” remember that your responsibility will be to deliver something that is absolutely original and unique, if you want it to be competitive.

Is there a difference between what the audience would like to hear and what they need to know about my topic?

What will my audience already know or think they know about my topic? Once again, your information will have to address any preconceived notions or misconceptions about your topic.

What NEW information will the audience learn from my speech?

How will my speech be memorable?

Will the audience have any other expectations? This includes all of the criteria stated on the ballots from your particular speech league. Review them often while writing your actual speech.

Not only is it wise to ask questions during the speech writing process, it is essential. The good answers to these questions will lay the groundwork for a platform speech packed with purpose, power, and persuasion. Revisit your questions and answers often throughout the process. Then craft your message carefully – make it meaningful and memorable.



WHICH, HOW, WHAT, WHY? – Reasons that will keep you motivated all year


Questions. We all have them.

Answers and reasons. We all need them.

Here’s why…

[ree-zuhn] –

  1. basis or cause for some belief or action
  2. a justification or explanation of a belief or action
  3. mental powers concerned with forming judgments
  4. good sense
  5. sound powers of mind

Before entering competition this year, before making any specific decisions about each speech, take time to answer the following questions. The reasons behind each answer are critical. They will be the basis, justification, and explanation for all the work you are about to do.

We must ask…

WHICH event(s) do you want to compete in this year?

HOW will competing in that event(s) better help develop you as a communicator?

WHAT message do you want to send with each speech?

WHY is your particular speech topic or interpretive selection personally important to you?

Answer these questions based on sound reason. Count the cost now. Of course you will discover more questions and develop more answers along the way, but these particular questions are critical in helping provide rationale and purpose for the preparation and practice that await you.

Washington Irving said it like this:  “Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.” 

God has given you a sound mind, a great mind. So don’t just ‘wish’ for success in the year ahead; work for it. Now is the right time to answer a few hard questions because those answers will be the REASONS to stay on track in the thick of competition.

Think carefully and take the next step based on good  ree-zuhn.


The Importance of Small Talk

This CNN article provides Debra Fine’s top tips for conducting everyday conversation.  Her book The Fine Art of Small Talk is worth having in your library too. As a former engineer herself, she provides pragmatic how-to’s for this necessary skill.  The article opens with this startling statistic:

“A study at the Stanford University School of Business tracked MBAs 10 years after they graduated. The result? Grade point averages had no bearing on their success — but their ability to converse with others did.”

Read more here…


SEEK AND YOU SHALL FIND – Beginning the Journey


Recently we’ve talked about “inching along” during the off-season and the importance of training our voices every season. Diligent efforts have a cumulative effect and garner great results. We all get better (at anything) one small step at a time.

Approaching new speeches requires those same sorts of baby steps. This is the time to hunt for platform topics and cut interpretive scripts. They won’t just fall into our laps or magically appear. Coaches are rarely stocked with lists and scripts for the taking. Competitive selections require careful consideration, adequate research, and lots and lots of R-E-A-D-I-N-G.

Over the years, parents and students have told me countless times, “Ziggy [a made-up name] really wanted to do a Humorous Interpretation [or some other interpretive event], but we just couldn’t find one.”

Here’s what I know…

“Ziggy” and his/her family probably just gave up too soon or neglected to give the process enough attention. Finding a good story that can withstand the rigor of competition takes work. Choosing a worthy cut that will captivate audiences and wow judging panels requires a diligent search. My theory has always been that for every 100 things I read, I will probably discover 1-2 ideas that will be great for competition, and even then there is no guarantee that there will be top ranks and trophies.

But here’s what is true…

Behind-the-scenes preparation, research, and rehearsal are the underpinnings of a speech that will deserve to “win.” We must do our homework. If you are on the hunt for an interpretive piece this year, then read literature of merit that has withstood the test of time. Review short story collections, classic anthologies, and lots of notable chapter books. Choose storylines that will resonate with any audience. Make sure the story includes characters that we all will care about and remember that the arc of the story must fall well within 10 minutes.

Here’s how John Steinbeck said it…

“If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen.  And here I make a rule – a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.”  ~John Steinbeck

Enjoy the journey as you choose not only a story that you love but that will be well-loved by others. So… keep seeking and you will find. Begin today.

TRAIN & TUNE – Your VOICE is your instrument!


Here’s what we know…

Weight loss and good health call for rigorous exercise regimens in order to train, tighten, and tone muscles. It’s necessary in order to develop our bodies – our temples.

In the same way, musicians and vocalists run scales relentlessly to sharpen the dexterity of their fingers, strengthen the formation of their lips and improve the overall sound of their instrument or tenor of their singing. Of course they do.

Sadly, however, every one of us possesses an “instrument” which seldom receives adequate practice. This instrument is often neglected and is rarely acknowledged for its ability to be improved or developed. I am talking about the human speaking voice.

Here’s what American classrooms were teaching in the late 1930’s and 40’s:

“The public speaker especially must consider an expressive voice as one of the essential tools of his trade; without it he labors under a severe handicap. A voice which carries conviction, a voice which suggests sincerity, a voice which can be heard, a voice which does not irritate or antagonize the hearers; these are prime requisites for the successful speaker.” ~ Your Speaking Voice by Harrison M. Karr, © 1938.

So true, but how do we start?

The good news is that one of the best exercises for voice development is quite simple. Just do this. Read good literature ALOUD for 5-10 minutes several days a week.

Recitation is a sure method to steadily improve the speaking voice. Learn to build expression, practice vocal variation, boost vocabulary and refine word recognition. Ancient Greek orators spent hours rehearsing their rhetoric aloud. Decades ago American public schools offered classes in elocution. In their stead, we must now create our own systems to improve vocal quality. We can do it by exercising and practicing with our “instrument” for a few minutes each day – out loud.

Here’s a great list of classical works of literature to begin oral reading regimens:


And… here’s a link to a great article describing the value of oral reading, written by Keith Polette, author of  Read & Write It Out Loud!  He highlights the benefits beautifully in the article as well as his book. I highly recommend both:


Now, make a reading chart and then practice, practice, practice for a few minutes each day – just as you would with any other instrument. The human voice is a valuable tool but frequently overlooked and often underplayed.  Your consistent training will steadily improve its tone and your ability to use it optimally in communication.

Train, tune, and track your progress this summer. Then you’ll “play” your instrument best.

Vocal Fry – The New Epidemic

Beware female speakers that you don’t sound “fried.”  Not only does this style of delivery seem insincere and affected, but speech pathologists will warn you of the damage that it is likely to cause to your vocal folds.

This short YouTube clip will demonstrate it perfectly!