Afraid of “Blanking Out” When Speaking Publicly? Three Tips for Recovery and the Silver Linings They Bring

Nervous Woman Holding Microphone

In my thirty years of representing and coaching public speakers at all levels I’ve seen few actually “blank out.”  Five, to be precise.  That’s five people out of approximately five thousand.  It’s rare and therefore highly unlikely you will “blank out” at the podium.  Think about it.  You’re asked to give a talk, deliver a speech, present on a panel, teach a class or facilitate a workshop because you are an expert on the subject matter.  And you’re anxious about messing up so you prepare your content meticulously and practice your delivery not until you get it right, but until you can’t get it wrong.  You own it.  Yet, you fear “blanking out.”  Take comfort in knowing that the pause you come to in your delivery before the audience is just you temporarily losing your train of thought.  And for that, I recommend three remedies that not only work to reroute you back to your message, but arm you with confidence, boost your rapport with your audience and enhance your reputation as an expert who is sophisticated yet approachable,  humble and larger than any one glitch.

Humor works well with formal addresses before audiences of over one hundred. Recently I saw Theresa Caputo – the Long Island Medium – live before an audience of 3000.  Before she began channeling, she gave a twenty-minute speech to orient the audience and introduce herself.  At one point, she paused and exclaimed, “I forgot what I was going say.”  And then she immediately followed that up with a smile and in a bellowing voice declared, “You think it’s tough talking to dead people; try giving a speech to thousands of the living!”  The audience roared with applause and by the time it ebbed she was back on track and, it seemed, more beloved for her humility and humorous handling of her own faux pas.  Tip #1  Prepare a humorous comment in advance of your talk – just in case.


Asking the audience for help is thrice nice.  In hours-long classes, small workshops and all-day seminars in which I take questions as they arise, I sometimes lose my place.  Simply asking the audience, “Where were we?” – while scratching my head and saying “Yikes!” for emphasis – invites students and program participants to contribute and help me out.  That not only gets me back to my prepared remarks but also reignites a feel-good synergy between us.  People like to be helpful and when someone can help a speaker gone silent, it engenders compassion and dispels the awkwardness we experience when a speaker struggles alone in the spotlight.  As a practical matter, it also prompts the group to revisit their notes and that review of the material is reinforcing of my message.  All in all, it’s a win-win-win.  Tip #2  Practice asking sincerely for the assistance you need to get back on track – just in case.


Quoting someone of renown goes a long way in reminding ourselves and the audience that speaking before a group is a stressful endeavor for any human being – even the highly educated, empirically successful and very experienced.  When preparing to address mature audiences, I practice saying with a wide smile “I am thinking now of Roscoe Drummond who said, ‘The mind is a wonderful thing.  It starts working the minute your born and never stops until you get up to speak in public.’  Take a deep breath with me, will you, as I retrieve my mind from its coffee break!”  Be mindful of those who paved the way in this medium – from Aristotle to Mark Twain to Tony Robbins –  their perspectives on stumbles put ours in very good company.  Tip #3  Borrow the eloquence, wit and stature of one who resonates with your audience and call them in as a life line by quoting them.  Have handy that apt quotation – just in case.


Remember, prepared speakers can’t hide their preparation.  Audiences sense it and know when a presenter has selected content with care and skill and when a speaker has practiced for a smooth delivery – even if a hiccup sneaks in.  And, at the end of the day, you are boldly doing what 80% of people report is their number one fear in life.  That brings you support and respect.  Rather than magnify an “imperfection” in your delivery by melting down or apologizing or leaving the stage, let it work for you and for your audience.  Graciously and skillfully turn it into an opportunity for a show of humor, humility or the words of the titans who have generously shared both with us.

Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels and as keynoters since 1988. She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college courses on oral communication.  She is President of Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a speakers bureau that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at and follow her firm at


Speaking of Commencement Speakers …

It’s time to start planning.  High school, trade school, college or university, commencement is a big deal and a big day for graduates, their families, faculty, administrators and alumni.  Whether you’re inviting a commencement speaker to your 2018 ceremony or whether you’re invited to be the commencement speaker, it’s time to consider your approach.  Here are a few fundamentals of graduation speech success.


A meaningful commencement message is more than just a few words of generic advice from a person of note.  A rich address will account for the personality of the graduating class – its unique qualities and make-up.  High school principals, headmasters, guidance counselors, college advisors and university deans have a solid sense of this.  Some classes are especially service-oriented.  Some are notably global in their outlook.  Some have clear scientific, humanitarian or patriotic inclinations, exceptional artistic talent or demonstrated leadership acumen.  Graduating classes have varying compositions – demographics that may be defining.  And graduates have different plans for their near futures such as public, military or community service, travel, endeavors in the arts or entertainment, employment in industry, business start-ups, entrepreneurship, further education, marriage and/or seminary and so on.

If you’re reading this because you are on the committee responsible for selecting the 2018 commencement speaker, offer insights into the Class of 2018 in your initial letter of invitation to your speaker.  Give her or him a head start in the due diligence a skilled orator will conduct.  And if your choice of commencement speaker is new to this type of address, it’s all the more reason to offer some subtle guidance on how to get started.  If you are reading this because you are invited to deliver a commencement speech, use the above to guide your initial due diligence.  Principals, headmasters, grade advisors and deans will welcome your inquiries and enjoy acquainting you with the Class of 2018 and sharing the characteristics that make it special.  They know well that connecting with the graduates will go a long way in making you and your message memorable.


Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels and as keynoters for over twenty-five years. She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college courses on oral communication.  She is President of 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 and follow her firm at






Social Media and Communication Infantilization?


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?”


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.


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.


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 and like her firm at






Make Your Message Memorable: Speak “Synoptically” This Season


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   Like her firm on Facebook at   Learn more about her work at and access her expertise at and via her blog, Security Briefs at



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 ( 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?”

Businesswoman Addressing Delegates At Conference

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.


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.


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 and like her firm at

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.