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Public Speaking 101: stage use – Stage Left & Stage Right

Many beginner Toastmasters see their speech from their own point of view, both in how they talk and how they use the stage.  With practice, speakers learn to see and hear (and deliver) their speech considering the audience’s point of view.  Before explaining how that works, it is helpful to understand the terminology.
Stage Left  &  Stage Right
House Right  &  House Left
The term “House” or “Stage” is in reference to what you are looking at.  So if you’re in the audience, you are looking at the stage.  If you’re on stage, you’re looking at the house.  (And if you’re one of my whitewater paddling friends, you already know River Left and River Right is the perspective as you look down river.)  Here is a video explaining it:

Read the full article about it here.

Now how do you use this info?  Most cultures read from left to right and observe the passage of time going from left to right.  So for clarity to your audience your story should follow that flow.  So if you are talking about an event that came first, you would stand or point to Stage Left.  As you refer to events through time, you move across the stage to Stage Right.  You may make several trips through time this way and your story may come to a conclusion in the present which you would come back to front and center to deliver final the message.


Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Toastmasters Pathways Program(updated 2018-Mar-26)

Have you signed up for the new Pathways program yet?  Did you already choose a path and start preparing to do your Ice Breaker speech?  You might even intend to be the first person to complete DTM under the new program, yes?

On the other hand, are you one who might be stuck trying to decide which pathway to select?  Wondering — maybe fearing even — what projects await when you commit to a choice and unlock your first Pathway; uncertain if it is really the right one for you? No worries, I have what you are looking for.  Read on.

Right about now you may feel as if you’ve been thrown into the movie “Divergent” and now you must choose what faction you will join, hmm?

Or like the young wizard Harry Potter, you don the sorting hat at Hogwarts School of Wizardry whispering “Gryffindore? Hufflepuff? Ravenclaw? Slytherin?”

Some Toastmasters may find solace that during the first 30 days after you have selected a Pathway, you can change your selection.  But that doesn’t make it easier to decide which path to choose and it doesn’t help understand what each pathway contains. For that matter, having 30 days to switch doesn’t really help because you can’t see what all of the projects are that lie ahead.  You can only see the projects of the current level you are on.  The projects for the next level are not revealed until you complete the projects of the level your are on and unlock the next level (and your Vice President of Education has processed it.)  This can be quite frustrating for those of us who thrive on seeing the “big picture”.  As Morpheus explains it in The Matrix…

Not being one to accept artificial limitations imposed by others, I set out to discover what I could about each pathway in the new Pathways program.  And for the sake of my fellow Toastmasters who demand to know more, I will share with you what I have discovered.

Toastmasters has published these descriptions of the 10 pathways:
You might also read this guide that was published.



Within each pathway there are 5 levels.  Applying the gaming metaphor to this (and yes, Pathways is definitely the gamification of the Toastmasters program), each level has several missions (projects) to complete before unlocking access to the next level.  Each level has a mix of mandatory and elective missions to be completed.  The details are as follows:

Level 1:  3 Required missions (projects) – These are the same for all paths
Level 2:  3 Required missions – These vary by path
Level 3:  1 Required mission and choose 2 electives
Level 4:  1 Required mission and choose 1 elective
Level 5:  2 Required missions and choose 1 elective

That is a total of 14 missions to complete to finish a pathway.
Complete 2 pathways to earn DTM.
Special thanks to Frank T. Storey, DTM from District 18.
Checkout his website for comprehensive more info.  It even shows all 59 projects currently available.  Scroll to the bottom of this page and view the .PDFs 1-4 posted.  I would link them directly here, but he is constantly updating them.


The following table contains a list of the mission titles and which Pathway each applies to.  Special thanks to Ann DeMarrais and Kenneth Karru-Olsen for their work compiling this list!


Hopefully this offers a bit of help in deciding which pathway to take.  The differences between the various pathways does not appear to be as significant as I had expected.  Yes, it would be nice to have more details of each project, but at least this is a start.  I will post more details as I find it.  I encourage you to share the link to this article and to post what you have learned about Pathways in the comments below.

Important secret detail about upcoming IamLUG conference in St. Louis next month

Lotus IBM professionals, have you made plans to attend IamLUG? Perhaps you never get to attend Lotusphere / IBM Connect because it’s so expensive for the travel and the conference fee?  This is your chance to get all of the meat of the Big conference without all of the fluff.  You won’t get an evening trip to one of the theme parks.  You won’t have all the hoopla and grandeur of the Opening General Session or the intellectual entertainment of the Closing Session.  But you’ll get all the same great, useful insightful presentations from many of the same speakers.  And the cost is…


You just have to get there.  Costs would include travel to/from St Louis, a ride from the airport to the hotel, Room for 2 nights at $100/night. (Split it with someone else attending and that’s $50/night!) Eat cheap while you’re there and you can get 2 days of intense professional development for next to nothing.  Throw in the extra day of TackItOn sessions for just $500 and you get a complete trip of 3 days of training for a fraction of the cost of IBM Connect.  Do whatever it takes to be there.  When it comes to conferences outside of Lotusphere/IBM Connect, it doesn’t get any better than this.  Did I mention many of the same speakers who presented at IBM Connect this year will be at IamLUG sharing all the now-released version of Notes 9 Social Edition?

Actually, there will be at least one new presenter: me.  Yes, for the first time I will officially have my own microphone.  In the past, you may have seen me at a mic in the audience at Lotusphere/Connect, asking pointed questions during the “Ask the Product Managers” session or  in the “Ask the Developers” session when I was made an honorary developer and brought on stage, handed a laptop, and put to work.  Well I finally decided to put my mouth where my blog is, to step up to the podium and give back to the community live and in person. I’m diving in with both feet too.  I submitted two abstracts and they were BOTH accepted.  This will be a true test of my Toastmasters training.  If you’re in the audience, be kind, please.

Both sessions are on system administrator topics.  The first session, “Be a Domino Detective: Hunting the Gremlins” is all about finding the problems hiding in your systems.  I am so lucky to be sharing the stage with Kim Greene, a seasoned presenter!  She will be hunting the gremlins that are constantly at work gnawing at your system’s performance while I will be hunting the ones that are quietly lying in the shadows, waiting for the worst time to jump out and bite you.  I’m hoping this session will be both fun AND educational.

The second session, “What’s in it for me? How Your Life as an Administrator will Improve When Your Company Moves to the Cloud” is intended to provide a bit of insight into what you can expect as a system administrator if you migrate to IBM SmartCloud for Social Business.  Really, the cloud can be your friend, not the end of your career.  Speaking of friends, I will be co-presenting this session with my longtime friend and administrator of a broad range of systems, Greg Walrath.  I look forward to seeing you in the audience!

This user group conference has grown dramatically in just 4 years.  Most of the speakers you have seen many times before and know them for their expertise.  IBM will even be there presenting an entire track on Social Business. This one is truly becoming one of the biggest and best.  I am humbled to get a chance to share time at the podium among such rock stars in our profession.  It will be fun!  See you in St. Louis!

Slideshare: 5 Tips for presenting to Executives

Everyone is a salesperson. Understanding this one fact could have the biggest impact on your career advancement.

Check out this article and short slideshare presentation on presenting to executives.

Whether you know it or not, whether you want to be one or not, you are a salesperson.  Don’t think so?  Ever had a job interview?  You were selling yourself.  You might find yourself in a meeting discussing a new project.  You had to sell your idea or opinion.  How about at home where you need to convince your partner the family needs a new car?  Shoppers coming to visit your garage sale?  Yes, even though your official title may never come close to salesperson, everyone finds themselves in situations of selling on a regular basis.

I think I.T. professionals are particularly challenged by this.  We are accustomed to working with computers.  They are predictable.  As Spock would say, “pure logic”.  So dealing with the unpredictable nature of people can be frustrating.  If you fit this description, set your Javascript manual down for a few weeks and pick up a book on marketing.  You might be surprised that there is actually logic to the concepts.

There are two books I particularly like that cover this subject: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini and Neuromarketing: Understanding the “Buy Buttons” in your Customer’s Brain by Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin. (Terrible title, but great book).  These books combined have a wealth of insight.  These books and slideshare on the topic will help you understand where executives are coming from and how to give them the information they need in a manner that will maximize your impact and value.

Grand Canyon: Final Preparations are complete!

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Previous Post: The Story Begins

Thursday evening, October 20.

All the gear is laid out and ready to be packed into the truck.  We’re finally ready to start the adventure.

gathering the gear

Gathering the gear

Actually this story began October 10, 2008.  I was leaving to go on my first Grand Canyon adventure when my 9-year-old daughter begged to go with me.  “No honey” I said,  “not this time.  I need to check it out before I bring you.  But I promise I will take you the next time I go.”  I had been on the waiting list for 12 years before I got my 2008 permit.  That was the last year before the National Park Service switched to a lottery system for awarding permits. (You can apply for a permit too.  See the National Park Service website for details: )  I had no idea I would win a permit through the lottery just 2 years later!  Well, I promised Ariel I would take her the next time I went, so at age 12 she’s going to get the opportunity of a lifetime (and she will get out of school for 2 whole weeks!)  I will be on the river for 3 weeks and away from home for a full month, but 2 weeks is long enough for her.  She will take out near the halfway point, at Phantom Ranch, the only place where it is possible to hike out from the river once you’re in the Canyon.  Her mother will take her home from there.  I cleared it with the school the day after I won the permit.  I will be working with her teachers to get as much of her work done beforehand as possible.  The rest she will make up when she returns.

Though my October 25, 2011 launch date was awarded in February 2010, I couldn’t commit to going on this trip until April of this year.  That left only 6 months to assemble a team of 14 more people (a permit is for 16 people), help them prepare for the trip, get the group equipment rented, the menu secured and a shuttle to/from the river with an outfitter, not to mention doing all the personal preparations for me AND Ariel.

The most important part of being a trip leader is selecting a good team.  Having only 6 months to do it made building the team even more difficult.  At least 6 people had committed to the trip only to have to cancel later.  One person even had emergency surgery.  The final members were added to the trip less than a month before the launch date.  It’s going to be interesting.  I would normally take more time and get to know everyone better before inviting them on an expedition like this.  Group harmony and teamwork are critical to having a successful and enjoyable trip for everyone.  Only one person from my first trip is able to go this time.  No surprise.  How many people can get 3+ weeks off from work, much less do it twice in 3 years?  So I’m working with a whole new team.   This time I am relying on the judgement of the members I already know to make good choices about the people they recommend. There was a lot of “well I have a friend who knows someone who might like to go…”  But from the discussions I have had with everyone, I’m comfortable with the team.

It has been an intense 6 months, but I believe all of the planning and preparations are finally complete.  The crew is set.  The outfitter has received our final payment for the equipment rental (4 x 18′ rafts, kitchen equipment, groover, meals for 21 days for 16 people and other miscellaneous gear and shuttle service to/from the river.)  The trip itinerary is complete with our target campsites and planned hikes while on the river.  The emergency contact plan is set for all trip members. The truck is prepped and ready with a fresh oil change, new roof rack, and new stereo.  Ariel’s gear is ready including new gaskets for her dry suit, a new sleeping bag, a hard case and a custom dry bag for her cello (yes her cello is going too!).  I have a new dry box for my violin.  My friend Steve, who plays violin for the Seattle Symphony and has rafted the Canyon 23 times(!) with a string quartet, even told me of all the best places to play our music, effectively an acoustical map of the Canyon.  I borrowed a video camera (mine was damaged on the previous trip.)  Logistics for hiking out to meet Ariel’s mother have been set.  There will be no way to communicate with her once we set off from Lee’s Ferry until we are face-to-face at the South Rim trail head 9 days later.  The refrigerator and pantry at home have been emptied of all perishable foods.  I even got a haircut.  There was much more to prepare the group and myself, but you get the idea.  It’s not as simple as a weekend getaway with the wife and kids.

Tomorrow morning I will be giving a speech at Toastmasters, go to work to wrap up loose ends, then leave early to get Ariel after school and head out of town.  Oh, wait.  It’s 10:00 PM and I still have to load everything into the truck!  Guess I’ll have to finish preparing for my speech while I load up.  Tomorrow the rain is supposed to come.  Looking forward to putting Seattle in the rear view mirror.

Loaded and ready to go

Loaded and ready to go!

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Previous Post: The Story Begins

140ConfNW Speech Transcript: Using Your Social Media Network to Make You a Genius

On May 19, the 140 Characters Conference was hosted in Vancouver, WA. The focus of this conference was on social media and how it fits into business. The format is unique and in my opinion, brilliant. Rather than having a bunch of breakout sessions and hour-long speeches saturated with hundreds of Powerpoint slides, the audience was kept in one venue and blasted with short 10-minute presentations in rapid-fire succession. Time was managed with great precision. Due to the short time permitted for each speaker, their presentations were distilled down to the essence of just a few points. No fluff, no boredom. Just intense content. If a topic came up that wasn’t interesting to you, that’s OK because you knew it wouldn’t last long. The short presentations also allowed for nearly 70 speakers to have their voice heard in just one day. Coincidentally, this closely followed the format used in Toastmasters. Surprising it took this long to get implemented outside of Toastmasters. I expect we will see a lot more of it in the future. I would like to see a separate track added to Lotusphere that followed this format. It would be a great venue for rising talent with low risk and I think a better format than Speed Geek.

Here is a short video by Jeff Pulver, responsible for 140 Characters Conferences:

There was an additional dimension to this conference: Twitter. This made the conference truly interactive. Some thought it distracted from the presentation, but I think it added to the experience. (In fact, it’s exactly what my speech was about.) The best points of a presentation were often immediately tweeted and retweeted, inherently adding emphasis to the points found most relevant by the audience, much like a tag cloud. It was really cool to go back and see all the quotes from my speech echo around the room and the world via the Internet and gave me excellent, immediate feedback. I can see Twitter becoming a bigger part of live presentations in the future as well. This was done at Lotusphere 2011 with great success.

For the hearing impaired, here is a transcript of my speech.

“How many of you actively participate in social media? How many of you REALLY know what Social Media is? What is media? Media is any form of mass communication. Radio, television, newspapers, books, even the guy standing on a soap box in the middle of town square, shouting out to anyone who will listen.

Today we have a new soap box. It is the Internet. It’s facebook, twitter, youtube, Foursquare, biznik, Linkedin. It’s blogs, wikis, forums, webcasts. It is any digital means that allows your voice to be heard by the masses. But one crucial difference from other media is that social media is interactive, it’s a two-way street. This is also the key to making you a genius.

My Dad was a brilliant man. One day we were having one of those Father-Son talks and he said to me: “David, The secret to being a genius is having the answer before they ask the question. Now you may have learned the answer 5 years ago or just 5 minutes ago. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you have the answer when they need it.” Powerful words for an 8-year-old to hear! But in that wisdom lies the power of social media and your social media network.

I have been in the computer industry for 26 years.
26 years ago… if I couldn’t figure out an answer or get it from someone in the cubicles around me, then I didn’t get the answer.
10 years ago… there was a simple knowledge base website and a discussion forum for the software I used where people could post a question and someone else might post an answer. There were many more questions than answers.
5 years ago… things began to change. there were many more people on the forums and a few people were starting to blog. I started to get answers.
2 years ago… There was a quiet explosion in social media. My social media network began growing exponentially.

Today… My linkedin Network alone has over 100,000 2nd degree connections. A first degree connection are the friends I am connected to. Second degree connections are all of their friends. And those connections can put me in touch with over 5 million more people around the world.
I am in contact with thousands of professionals in my industry via my social media network.
I can rely almost exclusively on tweets and blog aggregators to guide me to news relevant to my work.
My Mom asked me: “David, what’s a blog aggregator?” I explained “it’s a website where I can go to a single source to find out what everyone is talking about. Mom said: “Oh, you mean like Aunt Ruth!”

Thanks to my social media network, it is a very rare event that I encounter a question or problem at work for which I cannot quickly get an answer. We all have this potential. This is really nothing new. You’ve always had a social network. Soap boxes have been around for centuries. It’s just that the Internet makes those connections more visible and more accessible. The amount of information we have access to today is mind-boggling.

Many people view Social Media as a marketing tool, but it’s so much more than that. Your social network can turn you into a genius more brilliant than any individual could ever be on their own. The year 1897 was a pivotal year for mankind. That year Thomas Young died. He happens to be considered the last man to know everything known by humanity at the time. Today it’s hard to imagine knowing everything about one topic, much less everything about everything.

So it really has become all about who you know, not what you know. Your true genius comes not from the knowledge you have, but from the knowledge you have access to. It is the IQ of your social media network.
Much like the scene in ‘The Matrix’ where Neo downloads the knowledge of Kung Fu or Trinity learns how to fly a helicopter. It’s “Just-in-time learning”.

This will become so relevant that one day employers will consider the value of your social network and how adept you are at navigating it in their hiring decisions. In fact, that day is already here. They already look at your facebook page and your Linkedin profile. They read your blog. My blog has helped build my credibility and opened opportunities I would not have had otherwise.

Another big difference between social media and traditional media is that everyone is equal on the internet. I have a friend who was born with a birth defect. It is difficult for him carry on a normal conversation. People avoid him in public. Yet people flock to read his blog.

Among the variety of people in my network are senior executives from companies like IBM. I met one of them at a conference recently and when I introduced myself, he said: “Yes, I know you. I read your blog.” Wow, It really made me think about what I write!
On the Internet, we are all equal.

Earlier I mentioned that Social media is interactive. It’s all about sharing knowledge. Today I contribute answers to those forums. I post comments on others’ blogs and I have a blog of my own. Hopefully I contribute to the genius of others’ social media network. It’s called “Sending the elevator back down.” By all of us contributing to social media, we can make each other a genius.

That’s my soap box. Let’s get social!”

Public speaking tip for presenters at Lotusphere and elsewhere

Eight months ago I joined Toastmasters.    I will never be able to watch a Lotusphere session (or any other presentation) the same way again.  Did you ever wonder what it’s like to present at Lotusphere?  On the positive side it must be rewarding just to be selected.  You’ve been chosen by IBM as one who stands out among your peers.  On the other hand, giving a presentation is challenging and even more so when presenting somewhere like Lotusphere in front of your peers where you are expected to be the subject matter expert.   More people fear public speaking than anything else, even more than dying.  For most technology experts, their expertise lies in the technology, not in public speaking.  They may give presentations just a few times a year.  Even without the fear of public speaking, it is difficult to be good at it without frequent practice.  Imagine if you only administered your servers or wrote code a few times each year?  Quite a challenge.  So as you watch their presentations, keep that in mind.  It’s not easy.

On the other hand, if you find yourself speaking at Lotusphere or anywhere else for that matter, consider this:  you’re already an expert at your subject matter.  So if you’re trying to improve the quality of your presentation, you’ll probably get the biggest return on investment of your time by honing your communication skills rather than your topic competence.  There are a few speakers out there like Chris Miller and Mat Newman, who have somehow mastered the techniques AND know what they’re talking about.  But for the rest of us, it takes lots of practice and feedback.  And I have stumbled upon what I think is the best venue for this.  It’s Toastmasters.  If a Toastmasters club meets somewhere near you, join it.  Toastmasters is one of the very best paths to develop good communication skills that you will find.  Toastmasters is an international non-profit organization of people who want to improve on their communication and leadership skills.  It’s a fantastic way to minimize your weaknesses in public speaking in a positive, supportive, and fun environment.  You will uncover things like

  • How many times do you say ‘uh’, ‘um’, ‘so’, or ‘you know’ while giving even a short 5 minute presentation?
  • Do you commit “death by Powerpoint” (or Symphony Presentations)?
  • Do you ramble on without pauses for emphasis?
  • Talk monotone without any inflection or energy in your voice?
  • Are your slides packed with text and complex graphics?
  • Do you read your slides to the audience?
  • Do you use gestures and body language and make use of the whole stage or do you lock yourself in behind the security of the podium and stand motionless?
  • Do you read from a script (e.g. Open General Session!) or worse, do you try to memorize your speech?

You get the idea.  Whether you are currently a presenter or aspire to become one, until you have mastered all of the skills (and even the best speakers practice to improve), you should practice and get feedback from people who know the intricacies of public speaking and can help you can improve. (I’m not talking about the feedback forms at the end of the sessions.  They mostly cover content, not delivery, and the observers are not watching with a critical eye for communication skills, they are there to learn the content.)  Toastmasters is a great place to do this is.

I have been in Toastmasters for less than a year and while my peers in the club give me great praise and support, I learn every time I give a presentation or evaluate someone else giving theirs.  If you think you’re good enough already, check out this list of famous people who are in Toastmasters.

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