Minding our Ps and Qs: The Legacies of People and their Quotations

I have spent much of June editing an anthology of quotations for use by public speakers.   It is a joy.   I am immersed in the wit and wisdom of those of great renown – from Aristotle to Zig Zigler – each of whom offers us the chance to feel connected to the human journey by relating their timeless sentiments and keen observations about life expressed in fantastically “user-friendly” snippets.   Quotations are their legacies and we avail ourselves of them with impact and pride when we speak for work, in our communities and our places of worship.   And as we remember them, their words resonate with our listeners.   Quotations from the titans of the arts, world affairs, sports, literature and other distinctly human endeavors work like magic; the right one can instantly focus an audience or change the mood in the room.  Over the twenty-five years I’ve worked with orators, the use of quotations has been bankable for making us sound smarter than our experiences and more educated than our degrees.  Their pearls do more than adorn our remarks; they contribute to the precision and reception of our messages.  The sparkle of their eloquence polishes our own.  Quoting those who came before us is a win-win-win exercise.

I am also grateful for the good humor of my family, friends and associates during this project as my enthusiasm occasions me to send them the quotations I deem pertinent to whatever they enjoy, feel or might be doing this summer.  My girlfriend received Marilyn Monroe’s priceless, “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”  My cousin opened an email that shared the Sicilian proverb, Only the spoon knows what’s stirring the pot. And my beau and fellow empty-nester was the recipient of Mr. Roger’s, “Parenting forces us to get to know ourselves better than we ever might have imagined we could.  We’ll discover talents we never dreamed we had … and as time goes on, we’ll probably discover that we have more to give and can give more than we ever imagined.”  On my LinkedIn page I have called for and received my colleagues’ most cherished quotations. Their participation is an exciting and unexpected plus to my already enjoyable work.

But there is another gift this project has brought me.  And that is the realization that what we mere muggles say – here and now – in our lifetimes, in our private lives – has the potential to resonate with future generations and with deeply meaningful consequences.  This summer has been rich for me with my family “quoting me back to me” with appreciation.  Last month, I was in an awkward spot when a friend asked me for help at a time when my own deadlines and commitments were pushing the limits of feasibility.  Yet, I was uncomfortable saying a flat out, “no.”  It was my twenty-one year old daughter who, in sensing my unease, jumped in and said, “Mom, ’no’ is the most important word in an adult’s vocabulary.  The ability to say ‘no’ when we are overburdened is the very reason we can later say ‘yes.’”  She sounded so mature.  And I said as much.  And she replied, “You taught me that.  You say it whenever I am overwhelmed with school and work and need to recharge.”

This week, my brother made me ecstatic when he quoted me from a day of tremendous significance for him some twenty-one years ago.  He had come to my (now late) husband and me to share that he was gay and about to come out to the family.  He expressed concern about how life would go for him and I said (as he quoted me back to me), “Your life will be wonderful because it will be honest.”  In response to my brother’s concerns about how the family would take his news, my husband—without hesitation—said, “If there is anyone who doesn’t support you or brings negative energy, just let them step-aside.“ Twenty one years later my brother is successful in every respect and a genuinely happily married man and sharing with me the maxims that made such a difference to him as he navigated the unchartered waters of the last two, very significant decades.  I am so grateful I said what I said.  I didn’t just think it.  I said it out loud.  I spoke and he heard me.  That is effective communication.  And it made a difference for someone I love.

Given my work on the quotations anthology, the irony is not lost on me that two giants – Dr. Seuss and Bernard Baruch – have both had the following words attributed to them: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  I will continue my professional due diligence and get to rightful source of that sage phrase, but here, first, I note that my late husband’s expression of that axiom is what made an indelible and pivotal impact on my brother’s personal journey.  That’s a legacy.  That’s the kind us muggles can leave so they remember us, so they quote us, and so they feel confidently connected to the journey larger than their own – while we are here and then when we are gone.

Lisa Bernard is editing an anthology of quotations, proverbs and aphorisms for Cue Card Communications (www.CueCardCommunications.com) and wants to know, “What quotation, adage or proverb speaks to you?” 

Viva Voce! Liberation at Last from the Tedium of Your “Written” Work

Did you schedule your Viva Voce?   Got your date?   Great!   Now let’s stop worrying and start talking.   Yep.  In the first post on Viva Voce I proffered the notion that you “write” your thesis for the “experts” but “tell” the story of your journey to “all.”  Writing and speaking are two distinct media—one written, one oral.   So let’s start talking – literally.  Take out your mobile phone and select a recording app.  Now go ahead, speak up.   I know you feel self-conscious and you likely don’t appreciate the sound of your own voice.  That’s unfortunate, but neither an excuse nor an obstacle to skillful preparation of your Viva and that begins with “talking up” the story of your thesis and getting it recorded.   You are converting here from scientist to storyteller, researcher to narrator.   And you know how powerful a narrator can be.  Think Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption and March of the Penguins.

Start Talking and Taping.   You may feel some anxiety about this.  That’s normal.  It was Sally Ride who said, “When you’re getting ready to launch into space, you’re sitting on a big explosion waiting to happen.”  You are about to be launched into your liberation from the tedium and intensity of your highly sophisticated research and writing and you can sense it.  You have license now to exhale and simply tell the story.   Where to begin?   Start with an Introduction, an orientation of about six sentences to acquaint the listener with this project.   And be bold in this Introduction.   State clearly who you are and the title of your work.  Share your motivations for your research.   Credit the people whose work inspired you in the first place.   Be gracious.   Speak about those who guided you along the way.  Thank them for their roles and contributions to your progress and ideas.   Begin the story about the day you realized what you would explore for your thesis.   Remember that exciting moment?   Describe it with enthusiasm.   Outline the plot.   Name the characters involved in addition to you.   Provide just enough detail to make it clear why this line of inquiry had your name on it.

Next, share your Methodology.    Make a clear affirmation describing your approach.   Elaborate a bit, but use your judgment about just how much more you need to tell people given that there will be a Q&A session during which you can provide more information and details if listeners want them.

Then it’s on to the fun stuff – your Results.   State your findings in language that non-experts can absorb.  Sounding like Sheldon Cooper won’t help and sounding like the guy or gal next door goes a very long way when the community already knows you’re smart.   And don’t skimp on the humor.   Most projects have bumps and bad days and setbacks that are comical in retrospect.  Don’t be shy about sharing these vignettes as they are humanizing and make your message more memorable.   Here, too, elaborate on your findings – again, using your judgment as to how much more to share as the Q&A provides time for elaboration.

Finally, bring your listeners to the end of your “story.”  Resolve the plot.   Summarize.   Put your hard work into perspective and among the works that define your field.   Take your earned place in your discipline.   Consider that your thesis is like the first book in your trilogy.

Transcribe and Translate.   Why record yourself?   Your recording is to your words like a glass jar is to fireflies.   You can capture them and examine them at your own pace.   If you examine something recorded and can do better, let it go.   When on the other hand something comes out of your mouth and sounds good, you got it and can TRANSCRIBE it.   Yep, type it up.   Type up your spoken English, the language that all in attendance at your Viva can appreciate.

Then review your transcript.   Comb it for each and every scientific, field-specific piece of jargon or phrase from your discipline’s lexicon and highlight them all in yellow marker.   Then translate the highlighted into spoken English for those at your Viva who are not experts in your field.   Be a “simultaneous translator” similar to when we bring a friend or colleague to a family event.   Somebody uses an expression in the family tongue which is unfamiliar to a newcomer or outsider.   And so we politely translate, sometimes with a stage-whisper, frequently with a wink, always with a smile.  We do it in a way that they feel welcomed to the fold, not excluded as outsiders.

Rerecord and Rehearse.   Record your revised Viva and again transcribe this now polished version.   Then rehearse – aloud.   If you are presenting in a standing position, practice your Viva out loud from a standing position.   If you will be seated, practice aloud from a sitting position.  You breathe differently depending on your body’s position so to get accustomed to the way you feel as you breathe and share your story as well as the sound of your own voice as you narrate.

How many rehearsals?   About a dozen, including two dress-rehearsals in the attire you will wear for your Viva.   You will feel more confident when groomed, dressed and accessorized like a professional.  What to do with your recording?  Listen to it as often as you can between rehearsals.   Work your wiring:  just as you learn songs by hearing them over and over and singing along, you can internalize your presentation by hearing it as well as telling it repeatedly.   You’ll know your Viva presentation and can deliver it as well as the guests at your celebration will serenade you with “For s/he’s a jolly good fellow … that, nobody can deny!”   They’ve heard and sang it often enough to deliver it right on cue when you enter the room after a successful Viva.

This post is second in a series of three that began with “Viva Voce!  Now Doesn’t that Sound Nicer than ‘Defending Your Thesis?’”   Stayed tuned for the third and final piece, “Viva Voce!  Conducting  Your Q&A with Confidence.”   The series is an adaptation of a two-part workshop Lisa Bernard conducted in April 2013 for seniors in the Program of Neuroscience & Behavior in the Department of Psychology at Barnard College at Columbia University. 

Please, Call Me a “Pansy” Anytime

You may even add “little” and “purple” as adjectives before the insult.  Or is it really an affront at all?  To be sure, when I was a kid and someone called another kid a “pansy” it suggested they were “weak” or a “pushover.”  Perhaps “cute” but lacking any real mettle.  As an adult I realize what a misnomer this is.  Tending to “my little purple pansy” this year has changed my view of the class and the connotation of the word.

My little purple pansy was a rescue of sorts from one who had less than a green thumb with her.  She was hanging in a basket without full sun exposure.  Half of her was blooming beautifully and healthfully while the other side was like the dark side of the moon-shriveling and drying up.  So I staged a friendly intervention with a wink and a nod from the homeowner.  Off we went to my deck where her future buddies, sage and basil, were blossoming and welcomed her happily into the neighborhood.

My little purple pansy plant flourished with full summer sun warming her each day and the rain bathing her much of last fall.  When I harvested my basil and sage for pesto in late August I was grateful for the enduring beauty this little pansy plant brought to my balcony.  Purple is a buoyant color and she indeed rose above the paler shades of my condo and the deep greens of the trees alongside my deck.  I just loved looking at her.  And I was so I impressed at how she grew even as temperatures fell.  One night I brought her inside concerned that the drop below freezing would be too much for her.  Turns out, she wilted.  So I breathed-in deep, said a little prayer and put her back outside.  She was blooming and robust by my first sip of coffee that next morning.

Late this January on a Monday morning Mother Nature hurled her first snow balls at us and I remember the moment I realized that my little purple pansy was outside all alone to brave the nasty chill of the sleet that was falling fast.  She was on my mind in an important appointment I had and on my mind when I dashed up to prepare my horse for the change in weather.  She was on my mind when I entered and exited my session all the time being careful not to reveal to my client my worry that would seem so silly in the context of our serious work.  I drove home as fast as slippery roads would allow and ran into my condo and over to the deck.  There she was, covered in snow.  I felt terrible, even guilty.  I knew when I left that morning that I had forgotten something.  The forecast was spot-on but I blew it with my little purple pansy.  You know the story of the winter of 2015.  She was buried in snow like the rest of us.   I put her out of my mind with pseudo-comfort stemming from the notion that pansies where “annuals.”  Heck, they’re just nice to look at.  Good for garnish.  Not meant to last.  They’re even edible.   You can “have ‘em for lunch.”

I put her out of my head, but not my heart.   Once the snow started to melt this March and the tippy-top of the black handle on her hanging basket came peeking through my heart skipped a beat.  As the sun and warmer temperatures melted away the snow the more I found myself becoming irrationally hopeful that she was there.  I looked out there for her every single day.  But what little creature could have survived Mother Nature’s relentless assaults this winter?

Turns out, my little purple pansy is alive and well!   Yep, I Just stepped out on my deck, mouth open, eyes wide and there she is.  Greens fill her basket and that little purple bloom is intact.  I can’t stop smiling!

This has me thinking about those of us who have been through so many seasons and exposed to both harsh and loving treatment.  Humans and Mother Nature have been cruel, kind and indifferent.  Sometimes we flourished.  Some parts of us withered.  Sometimes someone benignly neglected us or we tried an environment that didn’t facilitate our growth.  But none of that dooms us or seals our fate – not if we are “pansies.”  We may appear buried or disposable to some, but underneath— if we’re true to our nature—we are both in bloom and looking forward to the next season.  Call me a “pansy” anytime.

Viva Voce! Now Doesn’t that Sound Nicer than the “Oral Defense of your Thesis?”

When my children were toddlers and getting rowdy I would certainly set limits and reprimand any bad behavior – but I did it in Italian.   I found that especially in public it sounded so much more pleasant and was in fact much more effective to warn, “Non toccare!” instead of “Don’t touch that!”  And “Sta’zitto” said with emphasis sounded much more polite than, “Be quiet!”   Somehow my kids understood my admonitions more clearly and reacted faster and more favorably to them when spoken in Italian.   And it didn’t put them on the defensive.

Turns out, the same thing is so when it comes to degree candidates who find it the time of year to schedule “the oral defense of their thesis.”  Yikes!  Just the sound of it makes my stomach hurt and my heart race and I “defended” my thesis years ago.  Sounds like you’re going to the dentist and need to grab your sword and shield and put on your armor.   And it begs the question, “Defend it from what?”  Defend it against whom?

Doesn’t it sound kinder and gentler to say, “viva voce?”  In Italian this means “in live voice” and in Latin something akin to “with living voice” or even “by word of mouth.”   In fact, viva voce is what most of the world outside the United States calls the oral defense of one’s thesis.  Europeans call it “viva” for short and it connotes a live and lively exchange in good spirit between the researcher and the attendees.   And this makes sense because it better describes both the process of preparing for, and objectives of, this very special face-to-face meeting between researcher, faculty and community.

Let me be clear that I mean in no way to diminish the significance or implications of this necessary, focused and catalytic academic event.  Instead, I offer this fresh perspective to ease the unnecessary stress that seems to accompany the scheduling of and preparation for this occasion.   By thinking “viva” instead of “defense” you can begin to orient yourself to your role as teller of the story of your thesis.   You can begin to prepare excitedly your viva to be the best it can be for what it is.  And simply put, your viva is the sharing of your story as a researcher motivated to explore an unchartered area using a particular approach that produced certain findings.

“Simply” is a useful notion for preparation of your viva insofar as people inside and outside your area of expertise attend and can make use of your findings.  We present our thesis findings to a wider audience so others outside our disciplinary expertise can also benefit.  We will see that it is helpful to regard the “other” audience at your at your viva – the lay audience – before your supervisors and the experts in your field.  Why?  For the experts there is the written document, replete with details and composed in the jargon of the field or discipline.

So let us not make more or less of your upcoming viva voce, the live voice to be given the story of your research and findings.  Schedule your viva.  Finish writing-up your thesis.  Then we can focus on translating the written work into spoken language others can understand and appreciate.  We can then focus on telling your story clearly and comprehensively so adults in and outside your area of expertise can apply and make use of your findings as you earn your place among experts.

Make sense?  If so, check-in next month.  I’ll begin sharing my step-by-step guide to preparing a viva from Introduction to Q&A.  Write me if you have any specific questions that can’t wait.

This post is the first of a three-part series adapted from a workshop Lisa Bernard conducted in April 2013 for degree candidates in the Program of Neuroscience & Behavior in the Department of Psychology at Barnard College at Columbia University in the City of New York.

Do U have a Signature “Textyle” 2?

Yesterday morning my daughter called worried that something happened to me. Why? I didn’t respond to her early morning text. We routinely exchange morning greetings via text. We’re both early risers and get a lot done at dawn percolating right along with our coffee. So when her screen was blank she noticed. All was, in fact, well. My cell phone was simply charging after being drained of battery after a long day the day before. Her worry was palpable and got me thinking about how much we have each developed patterns in our texting which I call “textyles.”

Some themes are resonant of other channels of communication. Take silence, for example. If we normally speak on the telephone with someone at a particular time of day, say after work or before bed and there is no call, we feel the absence and the silence sends a message. It may be ambiguous but it is a signal. Anger? Danger? Mishap? Same seems true for texting. When we exchange texts with someone at the same time each day and there is a break in routine, we feel the absence and it is conspicuous. We keep checking for that little blinking light. Are they okay? Is our relationship okay?

And like other channels of communication, our interpretations and responses are often person-specific. If my former boyfriend didn’t text me later in the evening before bed I knew he dozed off on the couch. I was reluctant to text him first as he is a light sleeper and can be easily disturbed by the ping of an alert. When he awakened, however, my “silence” would prompt him to respond with his signature blend of curiosity and humor. He’d text me something like “Knock-knock.” In similar circumstances my daughters would likely write, “Everything okay? xox“ Different approaches but one thing in common: Each of them always uses proper grammar and spelling if it is at all possible. If, in fact, I see my daughter’s text with a typo in the middle of the afternoon and no correction in the next text, I know she’s very busy at work and texting hastily. If there was a typo in my boyfriend’s text on a frigid winter morning I knew he was out with his dogs but without his gloves.

One’s textyle is so distinct that it becomes obvious when there is an imposter using someone’s phone. My heart stopped for a nanosecond when a text came in from my daughter’s phone number but it was not her textyle. It read, “Hi there Mom.” Creepy. “Hi there” is not her parlance. Nor would she include the “Mom” specification. Then I recalled that her roommate likes to play practical jokes and suspected she was behind the prank text. I was correct. That alien textyle was my first clue.

Like hearing someone’s voice, the “tone” of a text can suggest attitude as well. I texted my daughter twice this morning each time in a different mood. My first message was spirited and fun and communicated my pride in a job well done. It had a salutation, a photo and a lot of exclamation points: “Hi sweetie, I painted the banister all by myself!!! xox” The next was serious and reflected my business persona: “What’s your student ID number? I need it to send in your tuition check. Xox” Both had my kisses and hug signature but each reflected a different mood. My guess is that if either of my daughters received a text from me without my signature “xox” they’d sense something was off—either with me or between us.

When we first text folks and don’t know their textyles we may be surprised at the difference from their face-to-face, phone or email styles. One of my warmest, most affectionate gal pals stopped me in my tracks the first time she texted me back to confirm a get-together. I was so excited to see her and about our plans that my text included my signature “xox” plus an exclamation point and a ;). She wrote back, “KK.” KK? Uh-oh! Was this subtext? I do catch myself sometimes trying to “read between the lines” of texts. It seems to be about as accurate as translating poetry from one language to another –hardly a science. Of course, when I saw my girlfriend she was smiling, tactile and as receptive as ever and all was indeed well between us and with her. Her “KK” shorthand was just her “work-day textyle.”

I imagine the above applies 2 u 2, 2 some DgrE. Do you ever read between the lines of texts? Does it work 4 u? It B Gr8t ;) and works 4 me if u write and share. Lol! xox

Is Transparency Always Beneficial in Business?

Of course not. We know this from the extreme scenarios. You use your cell phone in the bathroom. Probably better not to let on where you are when you email your client from that private “office.”

Yet “transparency” is still cresting as the way to operate in business and this is worrisome. Just this fall, I have seen and experienced a few situations where it might have caused unnecessary harm. It seems that when we allow and seek transparency we run the risk of miscommunication about our intentions and abilities. And I don’t mean the obvious blooper when your employer sees a photo of you holding a bottle of vodka and dancing atop a table in a restaurant after you call in sick. I am referring to the stand-up, ethical and professionally responsible behaviors in which we engage but the virtues of which transparency can actually cloud.

Take my weekly ritual of devoting an hour to reading up on a topic about which I know little. I have been doing this for years as “continuing education” of sorts for my ghostwriting of speeches and coaching of respondents in employment inter views. Staying abreast of ideas and trends in fields as diverse as retail, finance and education have each paid off when that email comes in with someone from that field in immediate need of my services. I have some sense of their subject matter, and combined with the intake and subsequent research, I can move expeditiously to meet their needs.

Last month my ritual had a most direct impact on mine and my client’s success. It was positively serendipitous. On Monday afternoon I took my Wall Street Journal and my lunch to the farm where I board my horse. I set him free to graze in a field as I sat and ate and read a section of the paper called “C-SUITE” which is devoted to the “pressing issues for CEOs, chief information officers and others in the C-suite” as the Journal describes it. It was interesting reading but not nearly as interesting as the coincidence that the assistant to a CEO phoned me that very evening with an emergency request – could I help with a speech on corporate culture to be delivered that same week? Yikes! It was already Monday night. On Tuesday I teach two three-hour classes and commute from CT to NY to do so. No time for an intake until Wednesday and another client was counting on me to finish her projects that week as well. My response to her: “Absolutely. I was just thinking about this subject earlier today.” My lunch-time excursion and exercise in fact left me with my brain already parked in precisely the right lot for this assignment. But what would have happened if a fellow boarder had posted and tagged a photo of me on Monday afternoon? In other words, what would the transparency of my study habits have suggested to my client? Imagine the image: I am in jeans in the middle of the day sitting in a field reading the newspaper. Hardly looks like “work.” And it certainly could have called into question my credibility if I shared verbally the fact that my work schedule for the week was already crowded.

These days with our digital footprints guiding much of the due diligence our business associates conduct, the risk of being misunderstood is real. Personal posts on Facebook are just a click away from our professional activities on LinkedIn. So, while transparency can indeed be valuable for the confidence it engenders and the credibility it inspires, transparency may erode both if it is not managed well. Like communication, to be effective, transparency must be timely, purposeful and mindful of the audience – today, a global one with access to quite a bit of information about our personal, professional and private lives absent context for it.

Get to the Point! How to Make Your Point Clearly and Memorably in any Meeting, Speech, or Interview

For years I have shared with my clients and students that the best way to know what you need to say in your speech is to understand what your audience needs to hear. Switch sides of the podium. Put yourself in your audience members’ seats and consider their perspective. What do you see that they don’t? How can they hear, absorb and digest your message comfortably? Through the years, I have realized that with just a bit of tweaking, you can use my format for reaching an audience for making a point in a meeting as well as in an interview. Let’s begin by reviewing my fail-safe method for making each key point in a presentation.

1. Affirm your point succinctly. Be bold. Make them think, “Gee, I never thought of it that way.” Be confident that your assessment will be new to them as they did not do all the research and reflection on the topic as you did. Nor do they have your angle on the material. Hence, you are going to see something in the subject matter that they do not. Key points naturally “wow” the audience.
2. Clarify or nuance your point. Spell out what you mean.
3. Illustrate your point. Give listeners a simple example to which they can easily relate.
4. Elaborate on the point. Tell them more. From your clarification and illustration they’re getting it and are poised to hear and absorb more.
5. Substantiate your point. There comes a time when a thoughtful listener will wonder, “How do you know this?” A skilled speaker is prepared to support his or her thoughts with data from dependable sources.
6. Reiterate your point. Realize that when folks are listening they do not have the opportunity to reread, review or rewind the message as with a book, DVD or recording. Effective speaking requires the repetition of key points.

Affirmation. Clarification. Illustration. Elaboration. Substantiation. Reiteration.


The following is a sample of the above employed as a sales pitch by a wholesale footwear representative in a meeting with the buyer of women’s shoes in a major department store.

This shoe collection is the magnet of the group.
Clarification: It will naturally pull in pedestrian traffic from the mall. Why? It’s rich in detail. This group is colorful and offers so much to look at and to touch.
Illustration: Buttons, buckles, bows, fabrics and flowers – this collection yells, “Try me on!”
Elaboration: Ladies ready-to-wear is simple this year and in these dreary economic times women are looking to perk up outfits with affordable novelties. My own sister shared that she is buying just a few solid-colored moderately priced dresses for work this season and spending most of her wardrobe budget on fun and flirty accessories. Footwear is first in spring accessories.
Substantiation: It’s like basketball Hall of Famer, John Wooden once said, “It’s the little details that are vital; little things make big things happen.”
Reiteration: Let this stylish collection be a magnet for new customers and one you can call your regulars about as well.


The following is a sample of my fail-safe format applied in the body of a lengthier speech.

Affirmation: While no longer our main means of transport in civilian or military life, horses are still very much present in American society, culture and industry.

Clarification: We may not recognize their influence, acknowledge their contributions, or protest their exploitation, but horses are indeed still among us and imbedded in the fabric of American life in ordinary, profound, and even intimate ways.

Take for example, our common language, American English. Idiomatic English abounds with expressions from our relationship with horses as our partners in settling the American West. Ever describe yourself as “saddled” with responsibility? This derives from the heavy leather saddles we fashioned to hold us and our gear when traveling long distances, ranching and herding cattle while on horseback. Has a colleague try to “curry” favor with you? This derives from the use of the curry, a soft rubber or plastic comb with tiny teeth that loosens the dirt out of a horse’s coat and feels to them like a massage. Surely you’ve been told, “Don’t jerk me around!” If horses could talk they might exclaim that as well if we pull sharply on one rein; the horse will turn but that sudden jerky motion doesn’t fee l very good on its mouth and neck and there is a less aggravating and more productive way to get the horse to come around.

Horses are with us in our daily lives in other more tangible ways as well. The average day in my own life reminds me of this. Soft, water-resistant hair from the horse’s mane is what makes up the make-up brush I use to apply my cosmetics and certainly the paintbrush used to apply the color on the walls in my home and office. When I hear the violins playing in a number of songs on my iPod during my morning run, I am reminded of and grateful for the bows that are strung with the coarse hair of horse tails. As I select an outfit for the day I can’t help but see the Polo ponies that have inspired an entire style of clothing and mark mine as designed by fashion icon Ralph Lauren. At that same moment I chuckle that horses are even on Madison Avenue – not just literally pulling the Hansom Cabs in New York City but in the advertising industry. You see, often as I am dressing for the day I look at my TV screen and see two horses pull a trailer out of the mud in a commercial for Viagra. This gets me thinking about all the horses who are actors in film as well as on television. Hollywood horses have appeared in small roles in movies as diverse as Animal House and The Godfather, worked as extras in Dances with Wolves and other epics and some even star in major motion pictures like Black Velvet, Sea Biscuit and My Friend Flicka.

Substantiation: Over four million Americans are involved through work or ownership with the more than nine million horses in the United States today. Ironically, it is the large industries of horse racing and pharmaceuticals that may offer our most personal connection to equines. Jobs and livelihoods are reliant on the horse racing business through the associated enterprises of breeding, training, insurance and gambling. These account for multi-billion dollar contributions to the economies of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to name a few. But perhaps the most telling example of the intimate connection between equines and the well being of humans is the manufacture and use of PREMARIN, a popular hormone replacement medication available in topical and oral form to post-menopausal women. On the market in the U.S. since 1942, the conjugated estrogens that make up the preparation are collected from pregnant mares’ urine. Today, an estimated two thousand mares in Canada are, for life, stalled and remain pregnant and producing estrogen-concentrated urine as the main ingredient in PREMARIN.

Reiteration :
Because we travel in automobiles these days we don’t have contact with horse grooming equipment, saddles, bits or bridles so we use the lexicon without experiencing the deep horse-human partnership from which it stems. Because horses don’t get invited to Fashion Week or nominated for Academy Awards we don’t celebrate their contributions to the arts, style and entertainment. And because we wager, win or lose money, and fill our prescriptions in a matter of minutes, little if any time is devoted to considering the lifetime of involuntary sacrifice that horses as athletes and industrial recruits make to these ends. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a horse or two contributing each and every day to the quality of modern life you know. They’re still our capable and dependable partners quietly helping move us along in our human journey.


A local journalist asked me the question, “How is it that you went from a career as a Russian-speaking Sovietologist with degrees in Comparative Communist Studies and International Security Affairs to a communications coach?” I giggled watching him eye my diplomas on the wall with a genuinely baffled look on his face. I responded as follows.

Affirmation: It was actually an organic career shift.
Clarification: As a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs I met many experts on foreign affairs—including my professors and noticed they traveled quite a bit to give speeches to audiences of all types. In 1988, I started my first company, a speakers bureau, by offering representation to them. I cultivated a large clientele in academe and did a lot of program development for social science departments using my expertise in Russian and international affairs. My briefings to my speakers were very much a product of listening to my clients—their audiences—describe their needs and expectations.
Illustration: I loved learning from my speakers as they spoke expertly on cutting-edge issues in foreign affairs and to keep them successful, I began analyzing the most effective presentations for common elements. The patterns for success at the microphone were vivid and clear and I shared them accordingly.
Elaboration: Then one day a magazine called me to write an article on public speaking and presentation skills based on my experiences running my speakers bureau. I did and that article produced an invitation for me to give a workshop on effective communication. From there, individuals who attended sought me out privately for coaching. By that point it was 1991 and interest in global affairs was waning with the end of the Cold War. But, my oral communications business was percolating. I read every textbook on communication, closed my agency and devoted myself full-time to what brings you here today.
Substantiation: Speech-writing is my forte because in graduate school I took two to three courses each in economics, history, political science, etc. and we did a lot computer war-gaming. My studies not only gave me the discipline to learn a subject quickly, but the ability to turn out a substantive briefing or report in as little as twenty-four hours. Now I can ghost-write speeches for CEOs and executives on topics from real estate to cyber-security because I can learn the lexicon, get a handle on the issues and organize the message for a lay or expert audience. That’s what I was trained to do as a policy analyst.
Reiteration: In fact, my careers are so related that when I started writing workbooks on communication the series title was “Notes from the Podium,” a play on the title of the Russian novel, Notes from (the) Underground.  It really wasn’t a leap from one career to the next but a nicely paced marathon.


This method of presenting one’s thoughts has served me, my clients and my students well for two decades. It is not only fail-safe insofar as it provides something for every listener, but it is also self-checking. As you organize your thoughts for your next meeting, prepare responses for your next interview or script your next speech, realize that you can check your own words for the necessary ingredients. Did you assert your point boldly? Did you explain it? Did you support your assertion? Did you provide a listener-friendly example? Did you elaborate on it with a memorable vignette or enlightening anecdote? I share this all with you in hopes you will not shy away from making a speech, giving that interview or participating confidently and effectively in your next meeting.