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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Speech: Dancing Your Way to Success

I've spent a couple weeks doing the Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest circuit.  First the club level, then the area level and finally the division level, where I placed third with this speech.  Admittedly, that's not much of a circuit, especially when you consider there is only one higher level anyway.

The purpose of speech was not to win a contest, although it did win at the club level.  It was second at the area level, but the 1st place winner was unable to compete at the division.  No, the real purpose of the speech was to break through my personal boundaries and be more expressive and less introverted.  I think I accomplished that goal.  I still need to practice my speech technique though.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Thoughts: Dedication and Purpose

The other day I was discussing with friends the topic of purpose.  "How do I find my life's purpose?" was posed as the question that day.  One person responded, "What would you sacrifice your life for?  That's your purpose."  I thought about that, and it didn't seem quite right for me.  Sacrificing your life is a one time event, and can be done with little thought or preparation.  Stepping in front of gun for your child or wife is relatively easy to do on impulse, and it doesn't really solve the problem that your family is in danger (unless the criminal in the scenario is using a muzzle loader and has only one ball.) I said. "Perhaps a better criteria would be this: What would you crawl your way out of the grave for?  That's your life's purpose." 

What in life would you refuse to go to your grave over; that you would fight to stay alive for?  I think that's a purpose.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thoughts: A Card Stock Lightning Rod

I was thinking about a scratch off lottery ticket that I recently bought.  On the surface it seems to fulfill a simple desire, that is, a date with that fickle mistress, Easy Money.  Some people say that Easy Money is bad for you, that money can't buy happiness.  I disagree.  I think you just need to take Easy Money to the right store.

I think there's more to the lottery ticket than just money.  I think many of us feel impotent, or powerless, in our lives.  We feel that we're not part of the machinations of the universe.  Our presence in the world is unnoticed.  Winning something from an anonymous lottery ticket gives us a little dopamine rush of importance.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thoughts: Death by A Thousand Cuts

At our recent Toastmasters Leadership Institute, also known simply as officer training, we discussed some of the reasons people leave Toastmasters.  Although the numbers vary from survey to survey, about 70 percent leave because they don't feel their needs are being met or the club is indifferent to their needs.  About 10 to 20 percent find a different way to learn public speaking. Others leave because they have personal issues with other members, some move away, and some pass away.

I think there's one reason that is often ignored.  I call it the death by a thousand cuts.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thoughts: The Lie of the PUA

If you're a guy and you've ever had trouble getting a date and turned to the internet for help, you've probably run across some of the materials and sites available from some of the Pickup Artist (PUA) gurus out there.  There's a plethora of them, from the Mystery Method, David Deangelos's Double Your Dating (or Eben Pagan's DYD, I'm not sure what his name really is)  to Real Social Dynamics, The Art of Charm, and literally dozens more.  The one thing they all have in common is they want to sell you something, and it ain't cheap.

I'll give them credit, they do offer some interesting advice on social skills, but there's one big lie, or a huge sin of omission, that they don't tell you.  Quite simply, you don't really need their help in many cases, and in some cases their instruction is absolutely worthless.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Speech Video: Evolution of Not Self 2

It can be very informative to see how a speech evolved from its first iteration to the second.  This is a version of the Not Self speech I gave at our club level International Speech contest in 2011.  If you watch the initial version, you can see how the speech improved.  My vocal variety is much better, and I don't come across as sad and pathetic as the first time.  Yes, practice makes perfect, and I won at the club level but I only took third place in the area contest.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thoughts: Somebody Agrees With Me!

If you thought my post about Danger and Insane Lyrics was off the wall, then I feel compelled to point out that somebody agrees with me.  That somebody is a fringe artist by the name of Paul Thorn, who was interviewed by NPR recently.  Consider this quote from the interview:
"...with all the mainstream music today being - when men singing, you know, they're whining and crying about, oh, please come back and I'm nothing without you. [could he be referring directly to David Guetta? -rhetEric] And when they say I'm nothing without you, I always think, well, no wonder she left because you're nothing.  You know, if you have something to bring to the table, she wouldn't have left."
Indeed, modern men, and especially teenage boys, don't understand that they need to bring something to the table in a relationship.  If you don't, then you become, in the words of Kezia Noble, "bland, forgettable, and replaceable."

Paul Thorn's music might not be for you, especially if you're mainstream, but I have to appreciate what he thinks about mainstream music.  Paul is definitely on my play list now.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Speech: Telepathy in Modern Society

My latest speech (March, 2012) follows the theme of mental programs I started with Buttons.   Once again, this a topic that cannot be adequately addressed in 8-10 minutes, the recommended time for an after dinner talk (The Entertaining Speaker, project 5).

In this speech I reference an editorial from Toastmaster magazine, in which the author implies that a person can put feelings of offense in other people through his actions.  The most highly educational part of this speech was going back and researching that article and rereading it.  It turns out that my recollection of that article was highly flawed.  I had synthesized a memory of that article based on a fusion of several articles and news reports at the time.  I was attributing to an article something that was never said!  (I won't link to the other articles, as they will definitely push buttons for many people.) The lessons?  Never trust your memory, and do your research.

(hands to temples...close eyes) Seriously? None? Let me try again. How many telepaths do we have here today? (hands to temples...close eyes) OK, just one. Thank you for being honest.

By now some of you are probably scared. A telepath in our midst? Be afraid, be very afraid.

Let’s face it. There are plenty of people who fear telepaths. Many of these people believe themselves to be victims of telepaths. These people are convinced that somebody is poking around inside their heads and making them do things, think thoughts and feel emotions. They might not admit that a telepath did it, but essentially that’s what they are claiming; somebody is putting strange thoughts and feelings into their heads.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Speech: The Drollery Coefficient

I can't believe I haven't posted this humorous speech yet!  It's one of my favorites, but it requires some knowledge of economics and U.S. politics.

I was planning to present a humorous speech, so I decided to speak on economics. Now I know most of you think there’s nothing funny about the economy. I suggest you watch CNN when the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Ben Bernanke, or our Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, testifies to Congress. You just have to realize everything they say really comes down to, “It’s not my fault!”

As an engineer I like to think I bring a unique perspective to economics, an inherently technical field. To the independent observer, I’m more like an engineer poking inside a broken office copier; you have to wonder what, if anything I really know.

Like engineers, economists are highly educated, well-versed in math, and like to poke around in very technical things. It’s too bad the economy is a lot like the broken copier, and you have to wonder if the economist poking around inside it really knows what’s going on.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Speech: Buttons

Toastmasters projects limit most speeches to 5-7 minutes. This limit provides an opportunity to practice oratory under a time constraint, and gives more opportunities for speeches at any given meeting.  The major disadvantage is that it fails to provide enough time to explore a topic in depth.  This is my most recent speech of February 2012, and it really could have been explored in much greater depth.

On August 18th, 1994, Commander Michael Baker reclined in his seat in the cockpit of the space shuttle Endeavor on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. After months of stressful training, he's waiting for that final moment of liftoff to start the mission. As the main engines ignite his heart starts racing. He can feel the vibration in his bones and he involuntarily tenses up, much like the shuttle assembly which stretches and bends under the forces, as it waits to be released and leap into the air, a phenomenon the engineers call the "twang". T minus, 5, 4, 3...and suddenly...silence. Commander Baker's heart suddenly increases again as he literally sees red all across his control panel. At 3 seconds prior to irrevocable commitment to launch, the computer found an error, and shut down the main engines.

Now consider Hector, as he drives along the freeway, enjoying la musica as it blares from the custom speakers in his low rider. He doesn't see the SUV merge into traffic a little too fast nor does he see the sudden shift in cars as they deftly adjust to avoid a minor collision. All he sees is a BMW 535 cut him off in traffic. Hector es muy furioso. He's just suffered an insult to his beloved car, and also to his manhood. Hector keeps a gun with him, as he's learned any inner city latino needs to command respect. He chases down the BMW and fires two shots into the side of the bimmer for good measure before being satisfied and speeding off.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thoughts: Dangerous and Insane Lyrics

I can't help myself.  I love a catchy pop dance tune, even if it's the same tunes the teenagers are listening to.  A good dance tune helps me achieve a state of bliss, even under the worst case of duress.  As I once said to fellow Toastmaster at a district conference, "You just can't feel bad when Mr. Saxobeat is playing."  Try it, I dare you.

I guess I chose to never grow up, or maybe since I don't have children, I haven't used music as a generational divide between myself and my nonexistent kids.  I seem to have evolved my tastes as the music industry has evolved. OK, maybe "evolve" isn't quite the right term.  In any case, there's several current songs that have caught my attention and get me moving, even if nobody else ever gets to witness the flailing that passes for dance in front of my stereo.  In particular Without You, by David Guetta, sticks in my head for more than one reason.  Here's an example of the lyrics:

I can't win,
I can't reign,
I will never win this game,
Without you, without you
I am lost
I am vain,
I will never be the same
Without you, without you

I love this song; the great beat, the European influences.  There's one problem.  The lyrics are dangerous and insane.

If you asked somebody to describe what the song is about, you might get a response along this line: 
"This guy got dumped by his girlfriend.  He was obviously in love with her and now he's absolutely crushed.  It's kinda romantic."  
How is this either dangerous or insane?  This is exactly how many of us have come to interpret romance.  It's romantic when you love somebody so much that you're distraught if they leave you.  I'll bet that if you asked a bunch of young men, a large percentage of them would agree.  (If they listened to David Guetta, that is.)  For many years, far too many years, I would have agreed.  There's a much better way to interpret what the song is about:
"This guy got dumped by his girlfriend.  He was obviously in a dysfunctional relationship with her.  He had no identity of his own and used her to provide meaning to his life instead of having a sense of self.  Now he's showing signs of emotional immaturity, the exact kind of immaturity that probably doomed his relationship from the start."
It doesn't sound so romantic now does it?  When you realize what's going on, it sounds like borderline insanity.  I should know, I was there once or twice.  The first time was in college, and the second about 7 years ago.  I'm surprised any of my friends put up with me.  I was in a sad state.

I'm reminded of the movie "Hitch", when Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, played by Will Smith, tells us about his first love in college, how his heart was broken and he basically went out of his mind like the lyrics describe.  There's a scene where young Hitch pounds on the window of the car his ex is riding in with her new boyfriend.  "Tell me what I did wrong, I can fix it!" Hitch cries.  The new boyfriend leans over and tells him, "Dude, you're doing it right now."

Being emotionally crushed by a girl (or a guy) reflects an immature mental state, yet this is what we're presenting in the media.  Yep, dangerous and insane.

Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if teenagers were raised with good mentors who could teach them how to deal with their emotions and establish self-respect.  Good mentors are hard to find, especially when the parents probably didn't learn these skills themselves and were left on their own to learn the hard way.

Unfortunately, my parents didn't have the knowledge or skills to help me along.  As it was, I didn't even enter the dating scene until I was in college, where my emotional immaturity didn't help matters one bit.  Throw in one particularly messed up girlfriend, and the stage was set for the remainder of my fiasco filled dating life up until now.

Damn you David Guetta and the rest of the musical bards of dysfunctional dating.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Speech Video: Not Self

Here's a speech I did as a test speaker for an evaluation contest back in the fall of 2010. I discuss Steve Andreas' concept of Not Self, in which a person defines his or her self concept in terms of things he or she is not, and how it applied to me. I later took this speech to our International Speech contest, but didn't make it past the area contest. This was my 1st Advanced Communicator speech (my 11th speech overall) and more importantly, the first time I got outside my club and spoke to different people and a larger audience. I didn't mind baring my soul to strangers; little did I know there were a few people there who I probably didn't want to get so open with. It worked out for the better though.

For some reason I can't remember, I had decided that the only way to really improve was to be able to watch myself on video. That is very true. Uncomfortable, but true. Despite having five verbal evaluations of my speech that day, there were things I didn't realize until I watched the video. For one, watch how I move awkwardly from side to side. A large part of that is due to my weight. (There's a good incentive!) Another is that my voice doesn't have nearly the vocal variety that I thought it did. And finally, I seemed pretty sad and pathetic in the speech, but I didn't intend the speech to come out that way at all.

I highly recommend that anyone who wants to speak better watch themselves on video. Nowadays almost any digital camera or even phone has a video mode, so use it on yourself.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Speech: Things I Have Learned

Here's another speech I gave at Toastmasters:
Several years ago, a coworker introduced me to a newspaper called Investors Business Daily, or IBD. The publisher of IBD has a set of 20 rules for investing success. These are rules based on lessons he has learned over many years of investing. Not only does he espouse these rules, but everyday in the paper he goes into more detail on how one of these rules can affect your everyday life. He records his lessons, shares them and reiterates them daily.

I realized my investing style is different from his, and his rules don’t always apply to me. But I realized that I do in fact have my own set of rules. I decided to write them down, and after reading them over, I realized that when I follow my own rules, I am successful. When I don’t I’m not.

Why stop with investing lessons? One day I realized there are many lessons, or rules I learned about life in general that were worth writing down and making sure that I follow. I’d like to share a few of those with you today.

The very first life lesson I remember learning was in my first apartment. I learned that when you run out of dish washing machine soap, liquid soap is not a viable alternative. If you don’t know why, feel free to try it; it’s very entertaining.

The kitchen is full of practical lessons. Never fry bacon in the nude for one. Someone even wrote book with that as the title. Never take your contacts out after dicing jalapenos. There's no book for that.

Not every life lesson comes from practical experience. I’ve learned that when the weather forecast calls for clouds and a chance of thunderstorms, I should carry an umbrella. Some things happen only rarely or hypothetically. For these, you can rely on movies to teach lessons. When the forecast calls for meteor showers with a chance of alien monsters, always wear comfortable shoes, because there’s a good chance you’ll be doing some running throughout the day. Also, I’ve leaned from the movies that when you slam and lock the door on an axe wielding psychopath, you probably shouldn’t lean against the door. (He does have an axe after all.)

I haven’t run into an axe murderer yet, that’s hypothetical, as are the aliens. On the practical side I’ve found a rule from engineering worth remembering. Never press the on button, if you don’t know where the off button is. In other words, never start a process if you don’t know how to end it. This rule has profound implications. It applies to engineering, society and even applies to people. On a societal level, don’t start a war you don’t know how to finish. On a personal level, don’t trigger a behavior if you don’t know how to stop it. The rules I’ve learned about people are probably the most important ones I’ve learned.

I think there is one rule that is near the root of all rules for dealing with people. A smarter man than me once described it like this: The veracity of any proposition is inversely proportional to the benefit gained by making it. In other words, the more a person has to gain, the more likely they are to lie. I never believe a salesman, a politician. They have too much to gain by lying.

There’s a corollary to this rule. When somebody declares they have the “truth” you should see a big red flag warning there’s no truth there. The same is true of the word “trust”. Any person who says “trust me” is not to be trusted. Any person who claims to be non-judgemental is actually very judgemental, especially of those who disagree with him. In general, the more vehemently a virtue is emphasized, the less likely that virtue actually exists.

I’ve also learned that speed is the tool of a scoundrel. Quite simply, speed prevents critical thought, and only a scoundrel wants to prevent any thought or debate about idea or action. When someone advocates fast action, whether a salesman or politician, it’s time to become highly suspicious. Few things short of emergency surgery require fast decisions.

Of course, speed is not the only tool of scoundrels. Any technique that hampers critical thought is just fine for the scoundrel. Lately the tool of choice is advocating the safety of the children, because you just can’t argue against that! Unless the person is advocating the use of car seats and seat belts, calling out “for our children’s sake” is another warning sign you’re dealing with a scoundrel.

Sometimes you’re not dealing with a scoundrel. Perhaps you simply want to evaluate two sides of a debate. In that case, my advice is to look for the hate. My rule is that the side that supports hate is inevitably wrong. The tricky part is finding the hate in the reasonable argument. Hate can be well reasoned, but it is hate nonetheless. It can hide behind religion, subversion of freedom, or the exercise of subtle power against a group of people, but hate is the major clue that an argument is wrong.

There are a lot of rules that I’ve learned and I’m sure you have some of your own. By all means, write them down for yourself. Repeat them. Live them. Share them.

Remember, if a company called Truth, Inc. tells you to buy their product in the next 5 minutes if you want your child to be safe, then put on some comfortable shoes and start running away. There’s a monster loose. Trust me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Table

I wrote the following for our Toastmasters club's ill-fated newsletter when I was president:
Nowadays social media is everywhere.  Social media has gone from a buzzword to a ubiquitous personal tool.  You can join MySpace, or Facebook for friend and family online social contacts.  Professionals can join Linked In, and research scientists can even join Epernicus.  You can share videos on YouTube or Stickam, and keep everybody up to the minute with your activities, no matter how trivial, via Twitter.  When you’re not at your computer, you can maintain contact from your mobile phone while grocery shopping or buying shoes.  If you want more personal contact, you can send an IM to your spouse, or, if you’re single, even invite a significant other on a date. 
While we marvel at how technology has increased our connectedness, we tend to forget the greatest innovation in social contact in human history:  the invention of the table.
It was the table that first allowed people to come together as a group to share with one another.  The table has taken many forms over the millennia, from a spot cleared on the ground, to a flat rock, a simple wooden structure, to the modern mahogany conference table (which probably includes electrical and Ethernet connectivity built in also.)  The epitome of the table might be the fabled Round Table of King Arthur’s  Camelot.  In any case, the table was, and still is, the place people gather around to share and to talk. 
Ultimately, every important personal connection happens face to face, using speech.  Your Twitter feed and Facebook updates are nothing compared to an actual conversation where people talk to each other.  You can send e-mails all day long among colleagues at work, but the important work happens when people gather around that table to talk.  Have you ever had a formal job interview by IM?  Have you ever gone on a date via an e-mail exchange?  Of course not. 
The art of talking, of speaking well, is not a dying art despite the onslaught of electronic social media.  It is alive and well through the necessity imparted by human nature.  Our important communications and relationships occur through the act of speaking.  Toastmasters have recognized that since the inception of Toastmasters International in 1924.  Although we tend to view Toastmasters as a club where people give speeches, the organization is actually devoted to empowering people to achieve effective oral communications of all types, and to improve speaking, listening and thinking skills.  These are all important skills in the real world to foster personal success, human understanding and the betterment of society. 
When you’re ready to step beyond the social media and improve your skills in a society of real, speaking people, let us know.  We’re here to help.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Welcome to Rhetoric by Eric, or just "rheteric".  This blog serves to share my thoughts on public speaking, oratory, personal improvement and leadership in the tradition of Toastmasters International, of which I am a member.  My thoughts are my own, and not the viewpoint of the Toastmasters Organization.