Writing, speaking and writing more

speaker art

I enjoy writing, and thank goodness I do because that’s how I make my living today. I’m grateful to be working with wonderful clients on challenging assignments, and I’m always learning new things.

I also enjoy working with speakers on their presentations. This gets at my “roots” in terms of education and experience. I was a debater in high school and college, and then went on to pursue a Master of Arts in speech communication. In graduate school at the University of Arizona, I taught public speaking classes as a graduate teaching assistant, and coached debaters on the debate team. We traveled to tournaments at universities throughout the western U.S., including California, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, all by car, from Tucson. (This is undoubtedly why I relish being by myself in a car today, listening to music I enjoy, or just spending quiet time).

Following graduate school I entered the world of health care marketing and public relations, an amazing (yet unexpected) career path that allowed me to leverage my communications skills. I believe my communications background helped me absorb the fundamentals of marketing in a distinctive way. From a communications perspective, health care marketing functions including relationship-building, promotion, increasing awareness, patient acquisition — they all made sense to me. Learning all I could about marketing and public relations was invigorating. I continued to teach public speaking on a part-time basis at area colleges and universities.

Regardless of the setting — the classroom or the boardroom — good communication skills are vital. When you’re asked to speak in front of a group, how do you feel? How do you get started working on your presentation? Here are a few of my best tips on becoming a more effective public speaker.

  1. It’s all about the audience. Who are they? Why are they listening to you? Audience members will be asking themselves “What’s in it for me?” In other words, why is what you have to say so important? Before preparing your speech, answer this question first. That should lay the groundwork for organizing your main points.
  2. Begin with the end in mind. Consider this: at the end of your presentation, what is the most important thing you’d like your audience to remember? Is there some action you’d like them to take? Working “backwards” from your conclusion should help you develop the main points of your speech to support your conclusion/call to action.
  3. Speak in terms your audience can understand. This should make perfect sense if you’ve followed the first point outlined here. As a speaker, you don’t get “extra points” or increase your credibility by using jargon (the specialized language of a professional, occupational, or other group, often meaningless to outsiders). “Cognitive dissonance,” for example, might be understood by psychology-savvy listeners or communication theorists, but at the very least, if it’s necessary to use words likely to be unfamiliar to your audience, define those terms.
  4. Visual aids should complement what you have to say, not “replace” you.  For any presenter, visuals shouldn’t become the speech. A speaker should command an audience’s attention, not a bunch of busy slides with special effects that make listeners dizzy. More isn’t always better. I don’t have a problem with visual aids, just how they’re used. Another tip: if all you’re going to do is throw up a bunch of slides and read them out loud one by one, then why are you there as a “speaker?” Just make hard copies of your presentation (or give me a link to the presentation online). There’s no need for me to listen to you. I can read your “speech” later. Good presenters engage audiences by connecting with them verbally and visually, adding information, providing examples, and relating stories that illustrate or amplify key ideas that may be depicted visually.

Now back to writing. In the past week, three people who know I’m a “corporate” writer have asked me if I’ve ever thought about writing a novel or short story. That’s next on my list.

Take time to care

Holding Hands with Elderly Patient

Years ago I was working in a hospital in a marketing/PR role. One morning I received a call from a head nurse on a medical unit. She asked if I was available to come to the floor to translate for a Spanish-speaking patient and her husband. (As I came to realize, word spreads quickly when you speak Spanish, especially when your facility serves a significant number of Hispanic patients and families.)

It wasn’t a good time. I was busy, working on a marketing plan. What an annoying interruption. Grudgingly I made my way upstairs.

The patient I came to see had just been admitted and was violently ill. (To be specific, she was vomiting, and seeing someone throw up is enough to make me want to throw up. Fortunately, I didn’t.)

I chatted with the patient’s husband, using my rusty Spanish skills. I had learned to speak Spanish in Spain as an Air Force brat in elementary school, and although I was a Spanish minor in college, not speaking Spanish on a regular basis meant my language skills were woefully inadequate. I was able to pass along some information to the nurse about the patient’s symptoms.

As I departed, I apologized to the patient’s husband for my less-than-adequate Spanish. I thanked him and wished him and his wife well.

“Your thank you is with God in heaven,” he replied in Spanish, managing to smile faintly.  I understood that much.

Really? I was surprised. He was kind and gentle, and I had entered his world at a time of crisis, feeling irritated because I didn’t have the time to help this man or his wife.

I think about this encounter occasionally, and usually the memory surfaces when I’m in a “poor me” frame of mind. I’m glad it does, because it helps me reconnect with the things in life that are most important.

Through my years of experience working in hospitals, the most satisfying accomplishments were when I helped patients and family members directly – not as an administrative person, or a marketing professional, but as someone who could interact with patients and families at a personal level.

My “thank you” from a patient’s grateful family member is something I’ll never forget. I thank this family for their kindness of spirit and patience.

Operation Rock the Warrior concert benefits military heroes

An amazing group of young musicians, Melted Vinyl, rocked Whisky a GoGo in Hollywood on Saturday, March 8 at a special fundraising event for the MARSOC Foundation, a nonprofit organization providing support to U.S. Marines Special Operations soldiers and their families. A great event for a great cause. My nephew Derek is one of the beneficiaries, along with other MARSOC heroes and families.

The story behind Operation Rock the Warrior