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.

Utter Don’t Mutter – What’s Your MOTTO?


The word “motto” is derived from the Latin muttire, meaning “mutter” and Italian motto, meaning “word” or “utterance.”

The dictionary actually defines it as “a maxim adopted as an expression of the guiding principle of a person, organization, city, etc.”

I highly recommend that you and your club choose a motto to live by this year. When everyone else is muttering and murmuring, have an inspirational maxim ready to roll off your lips. Let it represent the guiding principles and philosophy of your club as you train and compete.

For more than a decade, as a club director I would launch each season with a new motto. I spent time every summer listening for themes and mantras that I heard in the media, read in books, or noticed on ad campaigns. I was on high alert, searching for a catchy slogan that my competitors would be able to adopt as their own.  Our motto would serve as a source of  inspiration during the highs and lows of rigorous competition.

Here were some of our favorites…

 “Enjoy the journey (not just the destination)”

“It’s not the triumph, but the struggle”

“Be hardy”  (Louis Zamperini’s Unbroken story)

“Just one more degree” (212 makes it boil)

“Rethink Possible”

Interestingly, many clubs, teams and corporations rally around mottos and use them as part of their identity. Even Jessie Pavelka, a fitness expert and one of the new trainers on this year’s Biggest Loser gave this insight in a recent People Magazine interview,

Every successful team has a strong motto.Finding motivation is a huge issue in itself, so Pavelka and [the other trainer] Widerstrom have taken it under their belt to create a slogan with their teams to stay dedicated. “I tell my team to ‘Take the body and the mind will follow,’ says Pavelka. “I tell them to commit to five minutes – that’s it – and then the mind will catch up with that.” 

So what’s your slogan?

When competition feels daunting and the demands of speech and debate seem too taxing, it will be easy for all of us to grumble and complain under our breaths. Instead, why not have words on the tip of our tongues that will unify, encourage, and motivate?

Choose a motto with a message. Then don’t just mutter, but UTTER your mantra and embrace its meaning all year long. Echo it with your coaches, repeat it to your club-mates, and then tell it to yourself as often as you need.

This year… say your motto; pray your motto; display your motto!


A Word to WINNERS – How to Speak Like a Champion

Trophy Winners Celebrate Sports VictoryFor many speech and debate students and their coaches, the months of May and June mark the end of the competitive season. National tournaments conclude and final rankings are determined. Here’s what I have noticed over the years…

When someone “loses,” others speak for him/her – a lot. Fellow competitors, parents, friends, and even strangers begin to interject all sorts of sentiments. They erupt with voluminous reasons and tidbits like,

“It’s okay. You’ll do better next time.”

“This was your first year after all.”

“This is such a subjective sport, and you’ve had a great season. Don’t worry about it.”

“Did you see who you were up against? You did great considering the circumstances.”

These utterances are understandable. Of course we want people who we’ve been rooting for to come out on top. So, when we sense that someone we care about is met with disappointment, we may even forget momentarily that in competitive forensics there really are no losers – ever. No matter the rankings, anyone who attempts to improve their communication skills will be a winner in the long run, in the game of life.

But I digress. Here is the more delicate issue that is often overlooked. What should a champion sound like after a win? I have just illustrated how others often will speak for those who do not come home with a trophy, but part of our human nature is fascinated with winners. We all wait to hear (with subconscious scrutiny, I might add) from those who take top honors and earn the title of “champion.” Everyone has witnessed this to some degree in athletic arenas, where within seconds of a win, sportscasters race to secure interviews with the victors. The whole world wants to hear what they have to say.

So, a word to all 2014 speech and debate champions:

Speak with brevity, grace, and gratitude. Others will want to know how you feel, how you trained, and how they can become like you in the future. You will be questioned and complimented, sometimes when you feel ill-prepared to respond, and yet because you are now a recognized public speaker, expectations will be high. Therefore, you must speak from the heart with genuine appreciation. Be sure never to deflect, dismiss, or deny a compliment. They are gifts. True modesty allows for a simple “thank you” which will never be perceived as arrogance if it is spoken sincerely. After that, just be sure to live in such a way that we will keep rooting for you in the years to come.

With winning comes much responsibility. Congratulations!

Be sure you know how to spell SUCCESS – Goal Setting

How-to-Spell-SuccessIn 1967 Aretha Franklin had the whole world spelling “r-e-s-p-e-c-t” in her hit R&B song. It was catchy, clever, and unforgettable.

On the forensics front, prior to the national tournament we must make sure we know how to spell ‘S-U-C-C-E-S-S.’ How about a memorable acrostic that would help students and coaches do just that?

Nope. It didn’t work…

S = Speak?

U = Utter?

C = Count the…

C = Cost? (oh brother)

E = Exercise?

S = Strive?

S = Suitcase? (huh?)

Not success. Fail. Acrostic FAILURE! Sigh…

Thankfully, there is no real need for a literal spelling of success. Let me say it like this.

We all realize that the tangible accolades at a national tournament have merit (i.e., ranks, titles, medals, or trophies). After all, this is a competitive venue where students have worked hard and want to perform well. Nevertheless, even though these awards are worth striving for, none of them should ultimately define true success.

Here’s a recommendation. Prior to the tournament, coaches and competitors should set very specific goals that fall under two simple categories.

Personal Goals – these will include specific objectives that you hope to achieve related to personal growth. Is there another competitor/coach that you have admired all year and would like to finally meet? Do you struggle with ‘small talk’ in the hallways outside of competition rooms? Is it time to hone conversational skills and learn to meet/greet others in a casual manner? How many new email addresses would you like to come home with and thereby expand your network? Will you interface with the tournament director and express your gratitude? There are countless other examples.

Performance Goals – these will include specific objectives related to events. They should help competitors target particular improvements that have been pinpointed on previous ballots or help them incorporate ideas that they have received from coaches/parents throughout the year. Things like better times, ranks, audience connection, and overall improved performance related to ballot criteria.

WRITE DOWN THESE GOALS in advance. Then, by the end of the tournament, you will know whether or not you have accomplished what you set out to do. When you meet your goals you have been successful.

This is a great way to define success, whether or not you know how to spell it!


A Simple Protocol – Don’t “Tag” the TAG!

Name tagThis is the 15th consecutive year that I have attended a national speech and debate tournament as a coach with some of my own children, students or both.  It is a privilege to be there and always one of the best opportunities to learn more about competitive forensics. The tournament begins with a simple protocol.

During registration, at the onset of any tournament – not just at the national invitational, each competitor is outfitted with a nametag. Sounds easy enough, but in the last several years I have heard endless questions and comments about this item. Here’s my take.

DO NOT MENTION YOUR NAMETAG AGAIN ONCE YOU HAVE PUT IT ON.  At the beginning of your speeches, do not begin by asking, “Do the judges mind if I remove my nametag?”  I repeat, do NOT say this. Do not ask the judges for anything, especially a favor regarding your nametag. Judges only have a couple of minutes to record your name and arrange their ballots, and you only have seconds (maybe less!) to make your first impression.  Here’s a Forbes article with more startling stats on first impressions: Link  

If for some reason you fear that your nametag will cause someone harm (unlikely) or that it will create some sort of distraction during your speech (plausible but not probable), then quietly remove it without comment (be sure this is necessary), or just tuck it into your blazer/suit jacket without incident (preferred).

There is NO reason to draw undue attention to your nametag.  Instead, feature your message! Work solely to deliver a sincere, interesting, memorable speech.

Whew! I feel better now having got that off my chest (unlike my nametag, which quietly rests there).

Caution – Don’t Overdo It

A few of these entries have addressed the issue of applying adequate practice prior to competing at the national level, but I must also address the danger of “overworking” a speech.  We must NEVER SOUND REHEARSED, affected, or like we are on “auto-pilot.” It is easy to fall into rhythmic, overly-rehearsed patterns at this place in the competitive season because competitors actually have said their speeches hundreds of times! Beware.

If you fear this is the case, and you are not delivering from an honest, heartfelt place – here are a couple of suggestions. Sit down.  Try giving your speech, or portions of it, to someone at the kitchen table. This should reinstate a conversational quality to your delivery. Another idea is to discuss your “message” or “moral” with someone you trust, and do not use any language from your speech or script. Refocus. Be sure to keep caring about the essence of your message. Imagine in your mind’s eye your audiences and why you want them to hear it, even though the audience may primarily be judges, fellow competitors, and handfuls of visitors in the room. You have worked hard to develop these speeches and earn your bid to Nationals.  Return to your “first love” [remember the reasons for composing these speeches months ago] and render your messages genuinely.

Here’s one of my favorite exhortations from Dale Carnegie in his book, Public Speaking for Success, [a great read for this summer, by the way]

“If you speak in public so that the people hearing you will suspect that you have had training in public speaking, you will not be a credit to your instructor. To be truly effective, you must speak with such intensified and exalted naturalness that your auditors will never dream that you have been trained. A good window does not call attention to itself. It merely lets in the light. Good speakers are like that. They are so natural that their hearers never notice their manner of speaking, they are conscious only of the message.” p. 153

Be those windows and let in the light!