Social Media and Communication Infantilization?

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I love infants.  When my friends with small children post photos on Facebook I giggle and hit the heart button.  And when I see babies in person I can’t help but interact with them.  I make faces to elicit reactions and I am amazed that they understand gestures and language.  If they’re nine or ten months old I ask them, “Where’s mommy?” and they point to their mother.   It’s a marvel that their feelings and knowledge are expressed without words and it is remarkable that we adults interpret them accurately and respond accordingly.  At their first cry after naptime we ask “Are you hungry?”  And as we approach them with a bowl, bottle or breast they reach to us – eyes wide and hands outstretched.

Late in 2017, I made an observation that gave me pause:  On some social media platforms, my feelings and reactions are expressed as though I am an infant – that is, with pictoral facial expressions to symbolize what I “like” or “love” or what makes me feel “sad,”  “happy,” “angry” or “shocked.”  Don’t get me wrong, it works for some media and in some situations.  A smiley face is sufficient for expressing that you’re genuinely glad your buddy’s power returned after a storm.  Enough clicked.  As an adult, however, it isn’t enough to “make a face” in most situations and relationships.  And as social media offer alternatives to face-to-face communication and live social and professional engagement, some possibilities and concerns are worth noting.  Are we becoming accustomed to “reacting” rather than “interacting” and “responding?”

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With my students, I’ve noticed a shift over the last two years.  Among those raised in societies such as the U.S. with ready access to the internet and social media, more seem to be “spectators” than “participants” than in earlier generations.  They “watch” my lectures and interactions with other students and are uninclined to participate – to exchange their ideas and feelings beyond, “I like it.”  Or, “it’s good.”  They may smile and nod their heads, but they hang back from the articulation of their assessments even after encouragement from me and prodding from their peers.  I cannot help but wonder why this is happening.  Sometimes I have a sense that I am the first live authority figure to press them to articulate clearly their thoughts and feelings.  Sometimes they don’t have the vocabulary to express the nuances of their sentiments and impressions.  Many confess that they don’t read – for school, to keep up with current events or for pleasure.  That certainly can stunt a vocabulary and limit one’s conversance on an issue.  Together, they’ll zap an undergraduate’s confidence and the development of original ideas.

Lately though, seeing many coeds go immediately to their phones and tablets during break and as class ends,  I wonder how long they’ve been voluntary and friendly hostages to social media platforms – platforms that may be conditioning them to be passive in their learning and to “react.”  You know this drill; view a post and be cued: “Like and share if you agree.”  That’s social media-speak for “pass along someone else’s viewpoint” – an anemic substitute for individual expression.  And “reacting” flies in the face of  Effective Communication 101:  Don’t react – respond.  A reaction is an uncensored, involuntary and immediate emotional release.   A response is a judicious decision about when and how to behave and speak.  Children react.  Adults respond.

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Marry that to the trend in my undergraduates away from primary source research – that is, the avoidance of face-to-face interviews and in-person visits when investigating speech topics.  These missing pieces in their due diligence put them in a one-down position from the get-go compared to their contemporaries who actually have a probe, look, smell, taste or listen for themselves.  Reliance on social media outlets for information puts a wall between students and the gold mine of empirical research.  Increasingly I find myself saying, “Let’s get out of our chairs and from behind our tablets,” to some blank stares.  For them, it might as well be an online course with a student to instructor ratio of 1000:1.

What’s the dynamic at work here?   It seems that while communication technologies continue to evolve, human nature hasn’t changed a stitch.  We muggles are attracted to appliances that make things easier for us and social media platforms and mobile devices square with our appetites for simplicity and accessibility.   Yet – and here’s the root of the paradox – we humans also long to express ourselves as individuals.  We crave being heard and understood by others.   And we aspire to feel confidant when we speak with and in front of other people.  Reality check: only actual live face-to-live face interaction satisfies these needs over time.

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Nonverbal cues like nodding, a pat on the back and eye contact impact us synergistically.  And verbal clarification in interviews and questions from live audiences help us refine our messaging and clarify our content – key ingredients for the superpower known as confident communication.   Knowing that we are being heard is gratifying.  Validating what we know and identifying what we’ve yet to learn feed our confidence – at any age and at each level of development and maturation.

So looking forward – literally – in 2018, let’s not allow social media to walk us backward or hinder our growth.  Let us avoid the infantilization of our communication.  Effective communication is our super power as human beings.

Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels, in their places of worship and as keynoters. She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college-level courses on oral communication.  She has slowed down fast-talkers, turned “uhmers” into smooth-speakers and moderated accents from Brooklyn to Beijing – all to develop confident communicators.  Lisa has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and today manages Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a consulting firm that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at (203) 293-4741 or LisaBernard@SecuritySpeak.net and like her firm at www.Facebook.com/PodiumTime.

 

 

 

 

 

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Make Your Message Memorable: Speak “Synoptically” This Season

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Calling all panelists, presenters, keynoters and hosts!  It’s October and conference season is upon us!  Are you ready?  Are you confident?  Is your message memorable?  At the risk of over-simplifying, my suggestion for making the points in your presentation more resonant will help not only your listeners remember your words of wisdom, but also help you to deliver them without notes and with greater confidence.  What’s the tip?  Speak your main points synoptically.  Crystallize your key content into sentences that are crisp, comprehensive and companionable with the human ear.   Listen as you say aloud the following examples.

Talking gets the appointment; listening makes the sale.

When it comes to retirement, if you fail to plan then you are planning to fail.

Content, digital, social media and more: marketing is still everything and everything is still marketing.

Hear it?

A dash of rhetoric will enhance the sound of your synoptic phrasing.  Select a device that is consistent with the tenor of the point you are making.  If it’s light and playful then alliteration is a candidate: Today, there’s a bounty of botanicals to beat the winter blues and blahs!  Is your point comprehensive?  Try chiasmus for that “final-word-on-the-subject” sound:  Distance learning is the future of education and the education of the future.”  Is your presentation revelatory?  Juxtaposition works naturally: New research shows that small talk plays a big role in long-term negotiations.  Is your point counter-intuitive or complex?  The simplicity of rhythm and rhyme will be welcome: Be curious not furious when you encounter hostility in a meeting.  Whichever device you deploy, a synoptic affirmation of your key points prepares your audience perfectly to hear your illustrations, elaborations and substantiations in the development of the points you make.

My fellow orators, when we convert our main points into phrases our audiences can quote, we benefit as well.  We internalize our lines faster and easier so we rely less, if at all, on notes at the podium.   These boost our confidence in our messaging and presentation skills.  Recall how extemporaneously without notes and assuredly the following were delivered as you finish these indelible and synoptic phrases yourself:

” My fellow Americans, ask not what you country can do for you, ask  …”

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one  …”

“Give me liberty or  …”

I wish you each a season of speaking that promotes your ideas, analyses, businesses and books to your personal best and with maximum benefit to our society.   Viva voce!

A professional speaker and communications coach for over 25 years, Lisa Bernard now offers master classes in Audience AnalysisPreparing and Conducting a Professional Q&A Session, and Extemporaneous Public Speaking.  She is currently President of Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a speakers bureau devoted to her passion – the intersection of oratory and international affairs.  Her experts address audiences on matters of cyber, national and global security matters.  This follows her 20 year tenure as President of Word of Mouth, Inc. a full-service communications firm based in Westport, CT, that provided speech-writing, accent modification, interview prep, media training and customized seminar services in listening skills, meeting management and public speaking to clients worldwide.  Lisa began her communications career with the founding of Foreign Affairs Speakers Bureau in 1989 in New York City.  She is the author of a series of affordable and self-help guidebooks called NOTES from the PODIUM and still devotes one day a week to teaching at the college level in her hometown of Queens, NY.  She can be reached at (203) 293-4741 or at LisaBernard@SecuritySpeak.net.   Like her firm on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/PodiumTime.   Learn more about her work at http://www.SecuritySpeak.net and access her expertise at http://www.CueCardCommunications.com and via her blog, Security Briefs at http://www.SecuriITyBriefs.Blogspot.com.

 

 

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

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

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When my children were toddlers and getting rowdy I would certainly set limits and reprimand 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 stated 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 theses.”  Yikes!  Just the sound of it makes my stomach hurt and my heart race and I “defended” my thesis thirty five years ago.  Sounds like you’re going to the dentist and need to grab your sword and put on your armor.   And it begs the questions, “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.

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Let me be clear that I mean in no way to diminish the significance or implications of this 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  1) a researcher 2) motivated to explore an unchartered area 3) using a particular approach 4) that produced certain findings.  Yes, it’s a story you tell in four parts.

“Simply” is a useful notion for preparation of your viva insofar as people outside your area of expertise attend and may make use of your findings.  We present our theses findings to a wide audience so those 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 – even before your supervisors and the experts in your field.  Why?  Because for the experts there is the written document, replete with details and composed in the lexicon of the field or discipline.

So let us not make more – or less – of your upcoming viva voce.  Schedule your viva.  Finish writing-up your thesis.  Then we can focus on translating the written work into spoken English that all in attendance can understand and appreciate.  Then we can focus on telling your unique story clearly and comprehensively so adults in and outside your area of expertise can make use of your findings as you earn your place among experts.

Make sense?  Good.  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.

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Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels, in their places of worship and as keynoters.  She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college-level courses on oral communication.  She has slowed down fast-talkers, turned “uhmers” into smooth-speakers and moderated accents from Brooklyn to Beijing – all to develop confident communicators.  Lisa has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and today fuses her first and second careers at Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a consulting firm that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at (203) 293-4741 or LisaBernard@SecuritySpeak.net and like her firm at www.Facebook.com/PodiumTime.

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.

 

MEETINGS
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.

Affirmation:
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.

 

SPEECHES
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.

Illustration:
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.

Elaboration:
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.

INTERVIEWS

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.

The Final Word on Eulogies

Death takes people by surprise. Even when an elderly or infirm person passes we are shocked by the news. Funerals, therefore, unlike other ceremonies, aren’t scheduled far in advance and the eulogy is one ceremonial speech that is often prepared in haste and as the bereft speaker is experiencing an exhausting combination of shock and sadness.

Yet, amid this distress, it is the noble man or woman who accepts the responsibility of composing a final, formal statement of praise to the decedent. It is the noble man or woman who accepts the responsibility for articulating thoughts and feelings at the time others report that they “just can’t speak.” It is the noble man or woman who accepts the responsibilities of “saying a few words” just when others insist that words are insufficient to describe their loss or the meaning of their lost loved one’s life.

In point of fact, speech offers us a lot in this saddest of situations. A eulogy is actually a tribute in words to an individual at the time of his or her death, and the informed eulogizer can provide and find some much-needed comfort and guidance using language. While the challenge is great, the format and components of the eulogy offer direction and relief. You see, effective eulogies follow a very particular sequence in both preparation and delivery. As the decedent’s next of kin, clergy and undertakers each assume their traditional roles and responsibilities for observance of the death rituals, so can the eulogizer adhere to a long-established process of eulogy preparation and delivery.

Getting Prepared: Collect the Key Components

The eulogizer begins by gathering facts, acknowledging feelings and reviewing history as these are the three ingredients that combine to form an effective eulogy.

First, find the facts. List the facts of the death. Where did this happen? At what age did s/he pass? What circumstances surrounded the passing? As a eulogizer, you report the facts of the death.

Second, specify your sentiments. Identify two or three characteristics or personality traits about the decedent that account for your feelings. For instance, if you describe your late aunt as thoughtful and generous, note the illustration that she never once in twenty-eight years missed sending you a birthday card and it was each and every year the very first card and gift you received. If you describe your late great uncle as punctual to a fault, recall humorously the time that he arrived at the maternity ward before you did to deliver your child. As a eulogizer you share your own observations and sentiments as you reflect on the charms of the person lost.

Third, view the future through the lens of the past. Recall the personal history of the deceased, identifying the people s/he loved so you can mention them in the eulogy to offer the appropriate condolences. Reflect on the journey s/he took and the activities, roles and principles that characterized the decedent’s life. As a eulogizer your words move the mourners forward, pledging to keep alive the deceased’s values through specific acts.

Crafting the Eulogy: Rely on a Five-Step Format

Equipped with the facts about the death, feelings about the decedent and his or her personal history, you as the eulogizer are ready to weave them together in your own style and voice. The order and excerpts below will give you a model and feel for this.

1. Explicitly acknowledge the death. It is the responsibility of the eulogizer to articulate the facts of the sad news unequivocally and early in the eulogy.

It is said that the Lord works in mysterious ways. This seems true today as we gather to pay our final respects to a very young man. It is indeed a mystery why and how a twenty-two year old athlete–a college basketball superstar–could collapse on the very court where he typically exhibited excellent health and a prowess far above his peers. And yet, this is precisely the mystery of the passing of Jay Grabor. This past Monday night, Jay collapsed and died during a home game. We cannot help but ask “Why?” and “How could such a thing happen?”

2. Reminisce fondly about the deceased. One delivers a eulogy if and only if s/he genuinely loved, respected and/or admired the decedent. Accordingly, you might recall the words of the deceased, perhaps a saying he or she often used. You might tell an anecdote, a story that reveals a key characteristic or personality trait you admired.

I have coached scores, perhaps hundreds, of young athletes in my years at this university and I can tell you that Jay was one in a million. I met none like him before his time and I don’t expect to find another soul like him ever again. His maturity was as deep as his talent. Once, I summoned a freshman teammate of Jay’s him to my office for a chat. There were problems between him and the other fellows and although things had improved a bit, I thought that a sit down might help things gel. Well, this young boy sits down and starts pouring his heart out about how rough he’s had it ’n all. And just as I’m about to give him some fatherly advice the kid says, “It was a good thing that Jay Grabor had me over to his dorm room for a sit down! Once he and I talked and he took me under his wing, things really started to improve!” My fellow mourners, I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear that. That’s the kind of mature and caring team player that Jay was. Actually, it wasn’t just the way he was with his teammates. It’s just the kind of guy he was. He was like that with the campus community at large.

3. Offer your condolences. A conscientious eulogizer recognizes that others are grieving as well.

While the loss of a son is unspeakable, while the loss of a brother is unbearable, while the loss of a grandson, nephew and all the other roles Jay played in his brief but vibrant life is tragic, know that your pain is felt by peoples near and far. We mourn with you on the campus and in the community and in your neighborhood and all the halls this treasured young man graced. Our memories are now your memories. We share them with you and we pray that in time they give you some measure of peace.

4. Reassure the mourners that the deceased will be remembered meaningfully. It is the responsibility of the eulogizer to make a commitment to continue the efforts for which the deceased lived. These may be the continuation of the decedent’s work or the completion of plans to reach certain goals in the family or in the community.

A wise man wrote that, “true love is eternal.” And Jay Grabor truly loved the sport of basketball and the team he honored at the University of Southington. In Jay’s memory, this team shall go on. In Jay’s memory and for Jay’s memory this team shall prevail. He has forever changed us and it has been for the better. It is a change for the better of these players, for the better of us coaches and for the better of the sport of college basketball itself.

5. State a clear goodbye to the deceased. It is the responsibility of the eulogizer to do what may be too painful for other mourners to do and that is to specifically bid farewell to the deceased. It is the responsibility of the eulogizer to mark the departure from life of the person we knew in life.

In a penalty we do not understand, with a time out that comes out a lifetime a head of it’s time, we all as fans of Jay Grabor, bid farewell to him, a true champion.

Delivering for the Occasion: Lean In and Let Go

In sharing the stories, words and traits of the deceased, don’t shy away from material that will make you laugh and cry. It is okay to get emotional when delivering the eulogy. You won’t be alone. Others will be comforted that you share their many emotions and they will admire you for expressing them nonverbally as well as with words.

It is my wish that your need for this skill-set be minimal. It is my hope that when the need for it does arrive you are equipped with the know-how to guide you through the challenge with as much ease and confidence as such circumstances allow.

Guest or Host, How to Make that Holiday Toast

12530836[1]‘Tis the season we gather for holiday meals and New Year parties with family and friends, colleagues and coworkers. Along with the rich foods, sparking beverages and festive décor is the need to “say a few words” to our guests and hosts. For many, it’s the traditional way we celebrate the milestones we’ve met together and acknowledge those without whom the way would not have been as clear or the journey as meaningful. For the rest of us, it’s the reason we get heart palpitations and tongue-tied!

Getting Started

To begin, let’s all exhale. No matter how little public speaking you have done, you can say more than, “Happy, healthy, merry” when your guests look at you under the mistletoe or your host starts popping corks. And, you can do this with aplomb. It’s just a matter of understanding how to construct, practice and deliver this very special kind of speech. I even have a mnemonic to help you through: T-O-A-S-T. Yep. It’s that straightforward. T. O. A. S. T.

T is for THOUGHTS. One of the reasons we still treasure this centuries-old ritual is that human beings enjoy reflecting on the reasons we are together as a group in the first place. So ask yourself this question: What unites those in attendance at your holiday gathering? Effective toasts include some of that reflection and revealing one’s thoughts is what makes the toast credible. As I prepare a toast to my fellow riders and the owners of the farm where I board my horse, I am organizing my thoughts on the thrill we share for being in and around and a part of nature whenever we are with our horses. I call it “our farm personalities,” the way we dress, behave and interact with the animals so differently than we do elsewhere in our lives. I might offer one or two examples such as sharing an apple with one’s horse or enduring single-digit temperatures just to visit with them. In our day jobs we might never drop our hygiene standards or expose ourselves to the elements. But we do it without hesitation for the horses that are part of our families and so I might share this thought: “As we gather in this warm and cozy and restaurant to feast on much more than carrots, I am reminded that each person here is one who loves and is loved by a horse.”

O is for Occasion. Memorable toasts make meaningful and specific references to the occasion around which we gather. Rather than saying, “To health, peace and prosperity,” my toast to my family at our Hanukkah dinner this year began as follows: “To miracles—and to those who are faithful enough to acknowledge that they are possible. We are blessed to be here in my new home after so much disruption and transition in the past two years. Like lighting the menorah with so little oil and seeing it illuminated for eight days and nights, we, too, took a chance that what was unlikely might well be possible. And to be sure, our incremental movements did all add up to a safe passage and a fresh and promising new start.”

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A is for Attributes. Specify the attributes of your guests or hosts. Anecdotes accomplish this nicely. Tell a brief story that reveals a talent or quality of your host or guest. In a Christmas party toast to the firm’s cadre of interns, each was heralded for a specific character trait of value to the firm and consistent with the meaning of the holiday. For one, it was going above and beyond her job description, even in matters outside her daily responsibilities. The CEO shared that when Jayne learned that all of the desserts catered for the event contained nuts, and knowing that a number of staff had serious allergies to nut products, she took it upon herself to stay up all night preparing an assortment of festively decorated and nut-free confections for the dessert buffet. And it wasn’t until prodded that she took credit for her delicious and deeply thoughtful contribution to the event.

S is for Sentiment. A toast without sentiment is like lemonade without sugar. In short, let them know how you feel about them. Just like thoughts bring credibility to the party, your sentiments bring the sincerity. In a toast this season my client raised his glass to his hosts, his employers, as well as his new colleagues and shared that “this year was not only a professionally satisfying one, but a deeply gratifying one personally. After a few false starts in my new career, I remember now how really special it is to have coworkers you respect and like and how fulfilling it is to work as a team. I won’t name everyone here like Santa named his reindeer, but I will tell you I do sometimes feel like Rudolph!“

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T is for Tone. The tone of your toast does well to reflect the tone of the event itself. For instance, a low-keyed toast in conversational English is befitting an intimate dinner party. My friend recently began our annual holiday pot-luck luncheon by raising her glass and saying, “To my wreath of strength, my circle of friends. Around this table it’s not just the food that nourishes me. Here our laughter is music and the warmth rivals that of the Yule log.”

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A banquet in a hotel ballroom merits a lengthier toast with more formal language to convey a more ceremonial tone. A friendly, annual holiday gathering with a group of folks who all know one another socially calls for a ninety-second, witty, poignant and forward-looking speech. Note that the constituent components of a toast do not change; there is just more or less material and detail in any given toast and one’s thoughts and sentiments are expressed in language that is more or less formal. My client in the real estate industry hosted a holiday party for 500 agents, brokers, buyers and he began his appropriately formal remarks as follows:

Good evening and welcome. Let us first take a moment of silence to remember those men and women in uniform stationed abroad in service to our country. (PAUSE) It was Simone de Beauvoir who wrote, “The ideal of happiness has always taken material form in the house, whether cottage or castle; it stands for permanence and separation from the world.” Happiness in the form of the home you always wanted make, the house you need to sell, or the transaction you want to facilitate, happiness is my holiday gift to each and every one of you in the coming New Year.

Easy Delivery Does it

What enables you to deliver the toast extemporaneously rather than recite—or worse—read it? Practice! Out loud! This helps you get familiar with the sounds of your voice and breaks the habit of reading. Reading a toast is like swimming in your clothes. It’s doable but both swimmer and spectators feel that something is off. You will feel more comfortable making eye contact with the guests instead of facing down and talking to a sheet of paper. Practice enough to achieve fluency, about ten to twelve times – aloud.  Craft this and practice it out loud to internalize it.  Record yourself on your cell phone. Download the toast to your iPod. Listen to the toast as often as time allows.

Then Raise Your Glass

So as the mistletoe sways and Santa’s bells chime, deliver well-chosen words with rhythm, even rhyme. Speak warmly from the heart, oh toastmasters of mine. And do not omit thoughts from deep in your mind. Do say them loud. Do say them clear. Leave them smiling, even shedding a tear. That’s the true meaning of “holiday cheer.”

To all my readers and your families I wish you the best of this season and a peaceful and healthy 2014.