16 Jan Britney Gengel–Please be Alive

By: Laurie Schloff

Usually I am glad when there’s an empty seat next to me on a plane. Yet when a mom with a beautiful smile apologized for taking the middle seat, her spirit was so warm, I didn’t mind at all. As TV camera people came down the aisle to film her just sitting there. I said “You must be famous.” She told me that she was going to meet her daughter, a student at Lynn University in Florida, who had just arrived in Haiti with a student group called “Journey of Hope to Haiti”. An hour after checking into the hotel, the earthquake hit. I instinctively said, “You’re Britney’s mom.”

I had heard her husband on the radio that morning praising God and that all he wanted was Britney in his arms. They had been told she had been rescued, was in a helicopter, perhaps on its way to the nearby Dominican Republic. They had not talked to her or seen a picture and didn’t know if she was physically hurt.

Going through a personal earthquake of emotions, to a destination of unknowns I was amazed by CherylAnn’s ability to show such grace and cheer on the outside. This was a communication under pressure lesson for me and one I will pass on to clients –and myself.

I felt protective of CherylAnn, flying through the clouds to hold her daughter. We both watched CNN in fear., I gave her some juicy fruit and movie magazines. She told me that Britney dreamed of being on TV. I said that as a speech coach, I’d help her in any way and for her sure to be debut as a guest on The Today Show on Monday . CherylAnn turned to say ” See you on Oprah!” as she departed with her husband and their two teen boys to reunion with their little girl.

But this morning, the world and dear mom, CherylAnn, were told that there had been a mistake and that though eight Lynn University students arrived in Fort Lauderdale last night, Britney was not one of them.
It is now a Journey of Hope for the world, CherylAnn and her family.

Britney Gengel, please be alive.

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Laurie Schloff
laurie@speechimprovement.com

02 Dec The New Boss-Dynamo or Dudsville?

by Laurie Schloff,
Senior Coaching Partner

Hal Gordon, a member of The Professional Speakers group on LinkedIN provoked my thinking about what style of leadership is working well these days.

Mr. Gordon prompted us to reflect on the November 12 issue of the Economist, which included a fascinating article on “The Cult of the Faceless Boss.” According to the article, the recent economic downturn has caused companies to reject flamboyant CEOs in favor of executives described as “humble, self-effacing, diligent and resolute souls.”

If this trend continues, says the Economist, it is only a matter of time before somebody writes The Management Secrets of Uriah Heep: be ‘umble, be ever so ‘umble.”

The Economist deplores this trend. “In general,” says the article, “the corporate world needs its flamboyant visionaries and raging egomaniacs rather more than its humble leaders and corporate civil servants.”
What style of boss behavior do you think we need in these times?
Is it possible to be ever so humble and dynamic at the same time?
Do you know anyone who fits the bill?
Send us your thoughts.

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Laurie Schloff
laurie@speechimprovement.com

20 Nov THE TALKING AMERICAN TALIBAN

I have been coaching speakers of all kinds, from all walks of life, from every continent, from every age bracket, from every economic strata, and from every social class for more than 45 years. I have coached through times of peace and times or war. I have coached on topics of great and grave public consequence, and on topics of intimate and personal concern. I have coached speakers of the highest public personality and purpose, and speakers whose purpose in life was survival. I am a teacher. I am a coach. I am a guide. I am a motivator. I am a listener. I am a professional. I am very concerned.

The current level of speaking and listening regarding the expression of opinion on matters in the public domain, including opinion about people in the public domain in our beloved country is alarming, very alarming. Those people in the “public domain” whose individual career, personality and income is fed by the attention and commentary, good or bad, pleasant or putrid, are not my concern. Those people whose courage and commitment to the service of other human beings puts them into the “public domain” are my concern. Chief among these currently is our President of The United States of America, Barack Obama.

Now, I am quite aware of, and accepting of, the need for public criticism of public politicians, especially The POTUS. In fact, public criticism of The POTUS is a constructive part of the democratic process. Criticism of public policies, programs, and philosophies is an essential contribution to be made by the loyal opposition, no matter which party is in power. Such criticism is also very valuable when it comes from the “public”. It is also part of the democratic way of life that we cherish.
It serves as a valuable contribution to ” The American Way”. So, why am I very concerned?

I am concerned, disappointed, embarrassed, frightened, and angry about the type and amount of vitriol and sleazy speech we are hearing about The POTUS. No, not because I am a registered Democrat. I am not. No, not because I voted for Obama, and that is none of your business. Commentary and criticism have turned into condemnation and threats. The current spate of racial epithets and curses spewed about our POTUS and supported and justified with quotes from the bible have risen to a frightening level. I am hearing and seeing what can only be referred to as the American Taliban. It is made up of those who use religion as a basis for their remarks. Isn’t that exactly what the Taliban and Al Qaeda do when then try to justify their vile and murderous treatment of other human beings by citing the Koran? There is no difference. The fact that these members of the American Taliban are “citizens” of this country does not give them the right to threaten our POTUS.

As disgusting and un-American I believe this type of speech to be, I am a defender of the right to free speech, which we cherish in our country. However, it seems to have reached a new low, a low that I cannot recall over my 45 years as a speech coach. Of most concern is the fuel that it puts on the fire within those persons who are not able to self contain their dislike of others and who look to responsible leaders for guidance on how to express their dislike. Of special concern is this propensity for using religious justification and citations from holy books to explain and claim the right to do harm both physical and psychological. It has reached a pitch that cannot be ignored. These American Taliban members must not be ignored. They are not just a bunch of crazies. The are not just ” on the lunatic fringe”. We have always had those among us. This new brand of mongers come from and are supported by those who would be seen as “respectable” citizens. The fact is, they are hiding in plain sight. They are as dangerous as the Taliban found in foreign countries. They are the religious zealots on the right and the left.

I am writing these words to urge each and every person who loves America, who loves the freedoms we have, who loves and respects the separation of church and state, who sees the horror and pain that has been inflicted in the name of religion, to speak out. Do not simply ignore these people. Do not write them off as crazies. They are dangerous. We have had too many Timothy McVeigh’s in our lifetime. Be a good citizen. Exercise YOUR right to free speech. Do not be afraid to defend the freedoms so many have fought and died for. Whether you like his politics or not, defend The POTUS. Defend the Presidency. It is representative of the American way of life. Be part of that life. Be the loyal opposition. In this case, oppose the vile and degrading comments that are being made about our President, our Presidency. Help protect, preserve, and propagate the productive speech that has made this great country what it is.

Dr. Dennis Becker

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Dennis Becker
dennis@speechimprovement.com

26 Oct WE SEE RUDE PEOPLE

by Laurie Schloff/Senior Coaching Partner

Bravo to columnist and author of the new book I See Rude People by Amy Alkon. Fed up, she invoices telemarketers for interrupting her evening peace, and makes considerate calls to tell others they lack consideration.  I was shocked to find that Amy lives in California.  We communication professionals in the Northeast thought that perhaps the cold well….made people cold.    Seems like there just isn’t motivation for minding manners anywhere.

All people want good relationships and a safe, pleasant community.
So,why are we creating a surly civilization?  Amy Alkon thinks it’s human nature.   Amy, I (respectfully) disagree on this point.

As a career observer of why people may not always choose the right words, I want to explore why most of us are, at least at times, not on our best behavior.  Understand the causes and then we’re ready for the cure.

So here we go with some reasons Why We See Rude People:
1. Values Issue—Being kind isn’t emphasized or rewarded.
2. Impulse Issue–Not having much control over emotions, especially when there are few consequences
3. Skills Issues–Some don’t have the words, tone or demeanor to act more kindly
4. Empathy Issue–Trouble understanding impact of behavior on others

Let us know your reasons for rudeness.  Then we’ll move on to what to do about it.
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Laurie Schloff
laurie@speechimprovement.com

14 Sep ALL TOGETHER NOW: TAKE A DEEP BREATH

by Laurie Schloff/Senior Coaching Partner


World peace is getting harder to imagine.  It seems that there’s a daily news headliner about losing it.

Kanye West just jumped on the stage and grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift in the middle of her acceptance speech at the Video Music Awards to announce who HE thought should have won.

Come on Kanye, a lot of us are bonkers about Beyonce too, but somehow we learned it’s just not nice to grab awards away from winners at ceremonies.

On September 12, Serena Williams told the judges at the 2009 U.S Open that she didn’t like their call. “You can take this (expletive) ball and stuff it down your (expletive) throat.”

What separates the dignified from the sore loser?  Keeping your cool and grace.  Forget tennis for now, Serena and head directly to Anger Management Class.

And don’t forget that fiery moment one week ago.  President Obama is giving his healthcare address and Representative Joseph Wilson of South Carolina blurts out “You lie!” when Obama asserted that illegal immigrants wouldn’t receive government covered healthcare.

Did you catch Joe Biden shaking his head with a how did we get to this level of disrespect look?

Reasonable American citizens of both parties agree with the Vice President that it’s rude to interrupt a presidential speech and to insult even worse.

We need to keep our eye on the scary bonding between  irrational citizens who are overtaking town halls, hosting mad tea parties and flipping their lids when the Prez gives a pep talk to the kiddos.

It’s just not good for a society when anger becomes contagious. Venom is too easily spread online and on the airwaves and it’s worrisome.  No matter what your politics, let’s get behind President Obama’s call for civil discussion and a calm manner.

Let’s hear your thoughts

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Katie Ackerley
katie@speechimprovement.com

11 Sep Obama’s Healthcare Speech

By Senior Coaching Partner Dr. Dennis Becker
President Obama gave an impassioned presentation  on the topic of Healthcare Reform.  We have been monitoring and critiquing his speeches and speaking style from  the outset of the primaries.  We have reviewed and commented on many, many of those speeches and press conferences, etc..  This  speech had  some of the same techniques and cadence.   But, in this speech I heard and saw something different.  Yes, he had the same articulation prowess.  Yes, he had the same powerful use of language.  Yes, he had the same air of confidence.  Yes, he had the same control of the moment and the audience.  Yes, we saw the usual dynamism of a good speaker.   But, this time, I saw more.  This time I heard more.  This time I saw and heard the President  use many more “color words”.  These are words which any speaker emphasizes in a slightly different way than other words.  Those words add “color” the otherwise black and white sound of the speaker.  Mr. Obama often depends on his exquisite use of language and his precise skill at presentation.   He is very good.  Whether you like his politics or not, most reasonable people will agree that Mr. Obama is a very good speaker.
His use of “color words” was carefully applied.  We saw most of it in two places in the speech.  We heard  “color words”  used effectively in the first 10 minutes of the speech.  We heard “color words” used effectively  again in the segment that referred to the late Senator Kennedy.  To me, that was the most touching and poignant part of the speech.  The addition of this “color” to his speaking style was a positive.  It helped him seem more human and less robotic and practiced.
It was also interesting to note that he showed his comfort in using the media, in this case TV,  to his benefit.  He looked directly into the camera, at us at home, seven times.  Each time he was referring to  “Americans”, “Seniors”, etc.  It was a very effective use of the camera.
Finally,  he handled the very rare and unexpected outburst from a Republican attendee who shouted out “you lie!”.  He handled it very well.  Basically, he recognized it with a glance in that direction and went on, unshaken.   This was one of President Obama’s best deliveries of a speech.
One closing thought on a slightly different topic:  I watched the speech on CNN.  Unfortunately, the  program was hosted by Wolf Blitzer.  This  intelligent and experienced newsman continues to have one of  the most distracting, unprofessional, and unattractive speech habits.  It is his constant use of  the vocalized pause, “uh”.   Mr. Blitzer, pleeease learn control this awful habit.
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Dennis Becker
dennis@speechimprovement.com

01 Sep I FEEL VERY SORRY FOR THEM

by Senior Coaching Partner Dr. Dennis Becker

Today I heard  another one of the ultra conservative talk show stars talking about Ted Kennedy’s funeral and the things that people said as part of the eulogies.  Oh, yes, I do refer to them as “stars” because I have to believe that is their desire – to be seen as some sort of media star or public figure which gives them the call to fill the airwaves with vitriol an childish, schoolyard name calling….but ,I digress…

Todays verbal bully was Laura somebody or else.  I’m sure she would like me to use her name.  That’s truly insignificant.  What she said is more bothersome, and should be more insulting to everyone who cherishes the kindness that humans of all races and cultures show to one another during times of pain,tears, and suffering…times like the death of a loved one…ah, I digress again…
Todays insensitive and inaccurate bullying was about what President Obama said  as part of his eulogy.   She accused the President of “politicizing” this sad event.  Todays whining claimed that President Obama urged us to honor Ted Kennedy’s memory by passing the Healthcare  legislation that Kennedy had fought for during his life.  First of all, and as usual, that is not true.  I heard the entire eulogy , listened to it twice, in fact, to be sure of what I was hearing.  He never urged such a thing.  But bullies, verbal of physical, don’t care much about accuracy or truth.  They shape it to fit their form of bullying.  So, in effect,  todays whining and bullying  was not much different than any other day, or any other schoolyard, by any other common bully.
I feel sorry for them.  I really do.  As a communication coach,  I feel sorry for their inability to be more productive and  more friendly toward those who may see things differently than they do. I feel sorry for their insistence on showing a fist rather than an open hand.  I feel sorry that they can’t rise above  schoolyard posturing . The simple fact that they can earn or buy time on  radio or tv to draw attention to themselves and stir the passions of those less informed or less capable of understanding the complexities of legislation and politics is weak justification  for using their “star” role to step on the solemn proceedings of a funeral, anybody’s funeral.   It would be nice to hear some answers to our problems rather than simple minded accusations and insults.  Who does that really help in the end?
On the other hand,  I guess these are the type of people who my grandmother was talking about when she told me,  “it’s easier to tear down a cathedral than it is to build a dog house”.
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Dennis Becker
dennis@speechimprovement.com

27 Aug Communication Lessons from the life of Senator Edward Kennedy

by Senior Coaching Partner Laurie Schloff

It is difficult to say goodbye to such a larger than life communicator as Senator Edward Kennedy. When greatness passes away from our midst, yet lingers in our consciousness, our team pauses to ask, “What did we learn about greatness and communication from this man? What lessons can we pass along to our families, clients and ourselves?” Here are three to ponder:

1. Focus on Others, Not Yourself.

Tribute after tribute describes Senator Kennedy literally showing up in a friend or citizen’s time of need. Recently, Mayor Tom Menino of Boston had knee surgery. His first phone call upon arriving home was from Senator Kennedy. “Why are you worried about me?” asked the mayor. “I’m worried about you!” You don’t need to be a large and famous man to have a large heart.

2.Be Dynamic and Emotional.

Senator Kennedy had a loud, over the top style, different than the poetic strength of Bobby or the poise of JFK. He hugged and patted. He was effusive at eulogies (and he gave far too many of them) and persuasive even to those who disagreed with him. John McCain said “If you want something done in the Senate, call Teddy.” Like many speakers, he was best with the passionate delivery of memorable lines like these from his 1980 political convention after losing the nomination to Jimmy Carter: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die”

3. Be Resilient.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Senator Kennedy taught us that we have to work on being resilient in order to deal with life’s cruel blows and frequent letdowns. Recently, I came across a young woman who was devastated to learn that her boss thought her follow through on projects was inadequate and she was having trouble coping emotionally. Get over it! We must work as hard as possible to develop emotional muscle without becoming a tough person, to achieve as we grieve. Let your cause, your passion, the lessons you’ve learned from your losses keep you going strong until the day you die.

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Katie Ackerley
katie@speechimprovement.com

27 Aug Remembering Senator Edward Kennedy

by Dr. Dennis Becker, CEO, The Speech Improvement Company

When Robert Kennedy was murdered, like a lot of people, I was devastated. To me, he represented the most hope for bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots in our society. Of course, I was particularly impassioned by his fight for the civil rights issue. He had the ability to both reach out and to point the way at the same tie. His communication prowess was an inspiration to me and my work as a Communication Coach.

At that time, I was also President of the New England Speech Association. On behalf of the association and as a citizen, I wrote a letter of condolence to Bobby’s brother, Edward (Ted) Kennedy. I’m certain that he received many, many such letters. To my amazement I received a personal reply from Teddy (as we all came to know him). It was a warm letter, thanking me for my expression and and encouraging me to carry on what his brother (s) stood for. He signed it in ink, Edward Kennedy.

He and his brothers John and Robert will always be a living example of why and how important it is for all of us to learn to speak and listen to others, especially those who are different and less fortunate than ourselves. I will continue, in my life, to carry their example of good communication.

Here are some inspiring words Ted spoke at his brother Robert’s funeral in 1968, which so resonate today:

“That is the way he lived. That is what he leaves us.

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:

“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

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Katie Ackerley
katie@speechimprovement.com