Laugh ‘Till Your Sides Hurt

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I’m sure you’ve heard about this study – the one that says children laugh 300 times a day…and adults only 4!!!  Now there’s no real proof of this, but let’s be honest .  It is obvious that kids laugh a lot more than we do. 

I started thinking about this last Friday when I competed in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest.   The results??? I placed second.  I won’t lie – it was disappointing.  After all, I did want to win.  Why else would I be in a contest if I didn’t want to take first place?  But I learned a lot – I really did!

As I reflected on my speech, I couldn’t be happier with it.  During the seven minutes I spoke, the audience was captivated.  They were sitting on the edge of their seats, laughing out loud, certainly exceeding their quota of four laughs for the day.

Now, I don’t consider myself a funny person, but for some reason this speech hit a nerve.  That’s when I realized that even though I didn’t win the contest, I did win in the hearts of those who listened to me.  There could have been someone in the audience who was facing a challenge in their life, and for one brief moment, I helped them forget about their problem.  For one brief moment, I was able to ease their pain.  And for that I am totally grateful. 

So I’d like to give you a gift now.  I don’t have a video of my speech, but I do have a link to a comedy act that made me laugh out loud.  Of course, you may have to be a little older to identify with this, but I think it’s hysterical.  And maybe it will help to brighten your day.  Enjoy:

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I Need a Vacation!

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I swear I was all caught up.  My emails were under control, the pile on my desk was diminishing, and I felt like I was finally getting my head above water.

Then BAM – out of nowhere – came a new list of “things to do.”

Now, I’m not complaining.  A couple of days ago I competed in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest and won.  I’m absolutely thrilled.  The competition was fierce and they really kept me on my toes.  Now I will move onto the next level to compete again – in just six days!  That means I will be calling club members for evaluations, changing and enhancing my speech, and practicing, practicing, practicing.  All that in addition to the work I already have scheduled this week.

So I’m trying to stay in control – to quiet those noises in my head.  The ones that make me feel anxious and discombobulated, like I’ll never get everything done on time.  So to help me, this is what I’ve decided:

I will work on one thing at a time!  I will block out all the distractions that surround me and focus on only what I need to get done. 

It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.  Those distractions are so tempting; so much more fun than focusing on my task at hand.  So I promised myself to shut off everything that dings and buzzes and rings.  Only once my project is done will I even begin to look at texts and emails and social media.  I refuse to venture down that dark hole that consumes so much of my time.  By the end of this week, I WILL have an amazing speech written and give my best “performance” in the contest on Saturday. 

Then – I’m going on vacation!  If only for a few days I’m taking a time-out and celebrate my efforts.  And, yes, to get caught up on all those emails!

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Jaw Dropping, Captivating Storytelling

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In my last two blogs, I shared the importance of storytelling and specific ideas on where to find your stories.  So now that you have the idea, and your story is written, how do you bring it to life? How to you actually tell it so people will want to listen.

Here are a few ideas:

One trick is to engage all your senses – or at least some of them.  That means, tell your listener what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste and what you feel.  This last one can be what you feel inside, like an emotion, or what you feel physically, like a hard bench.  By engaging the senses, you invite your listener into your world and make them actually feel  your words.

Another technique is to use dialogue.  Here’s an example – see if you can tell the difference:

My brother stepped out of the phone booth and told me that Mama said we could go on the

roller coaster.


My brother stepped out of the phone booth, looked at me and said: “Guess what, Nancy, Mama

said yes, we can go on the roller coaster.”

Take a minute and say those two examples out loud.  You will definitely notice a difference.  Creating dialogue makes your story more exciting and more engaging.

And then there’s the Power of the Pause.  When you want to create suspense or need your audience to sit up and take notice, PAUSE. It works every single time.  A word of caution here – it will seem like an eternity to you, the speaker.  But the most dramatic lines are delivered with a longer pause.  One thing that helps me stay on track is to silently count to three in my head before I deliver the punch line or dramatic statement.

If you would like to see some of this in action, check out the story I told when I won the Chicago District 30 International Speech Contest.  I finished in the top 100 out of 30,000 competitors, and it was my storytelling techniques that helped: Mama Told Me Not to Come. It’s a hoot.

Well, look at this – time has flown by.  I have a few more tricks and tips to share with you on storytelling, so I hope you’ll join me next week.  I promise it will be well worth your time.

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Lessons Learned From the Big Stage: #3 Extend a Hand


I learned so many lessons from competing in the International Speech Contest, and I promised to share three with you through my blogs. Well, today it’s time for the third and final insight.

It’s really hard to pick only three. So I know there will be future blogs with more lessons learned, but for now, here it is – the most powerful “aha moment” I had throughout my six month journey to the big stage.


Reach out to help others…
Pay it forward…
Turn around to extend a hand…

However you want to phrase it. I’m sure this is nothing new for you. In fact, I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before. But for me, this was the first time I could actually feel it in my soul. The first time that I got chills when I thought about giving back.

I continue to be amazed at the outpouring of support I received. There were so many people, some that I barely knew, who spent their time and energy to help me craft the perfect speech for the contest. They truly wanted me to succeed and would do whatever they could to help me along the way.

So now it’s my turn. To turn around, extend my hand, and pull others up that hill that sometimes seems so steep and so daunting. It’s now my turn to pay it forward and offer my expertise, time and energy to do what I can to make someone else’s life a little easier.

And I have to admit, it’s a good feeling. It almost feels like there’s a wave rising up inside of me, waiting to burst forth simply for the pure joy of giving.

I really wanted to end this blog with an inspirational quote that captures the impact of giving back, but I couldn’t find any.  Do you have one you can share?  Think of it as a small way of “giving back.”


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Lessons Learned From the Big Stage: #2 Stop Tearing Your Hair Out!

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Lesson #2 from competing in the International Speech Contest: How do I gain control and prepare for something when I don’t even know who’s judging me?

That’s what I had to figure out as I made my way to the big stage of the International Speech Contest. You see, in this event, there are international judges who will decide if I am good enough to be given the title of the Best Speaker in the World. They had all the power. So how was I going to prepare my speech to impress them and make them pick me?

I was driving myself crazy!!!

How do I dress? What words will impress them?? How can I make them sit up and notice me over the 97 other speakers competing???

Then hit me….I can’t control them. So why am I beating my head against the wall? Why am I focusing on the things I can’t control?

So I took a deep breath, and little by little, I began to take the steps that would lead me to being my own champion. I picked the outfit that I was comfortable in; I wrote the speech that I wanted to share with my audience; and I made sure that I was a winner in my own eyes. Then I practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more with the speech that came from my heart. When I walked off that stage after the contest, I knew I had done it my way, win or lose.

And isn’t that all we can ever do??? Just take a deep breath and focus on the things we can control. The rest is up to fate, or whatever you want to call it. Whether we are preparing for one of the biggest events of our life, or simply trying to get through the day, take one step at a time. Some days, maybe only a baby step. But you are in control and you keep moving forward. You choose the best path for today. And in the end, it doesn’t matter what others think. In the end, you are the only judge that matters.

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Lessons Learned From the Big Stage: #1 Make it Short and Sweet

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Looking back on my experience of competing in the International Speech Contest, I realize that I learned so many lessons. Valuable lessons! And I’m convinced they will help me get closer to my goals, and get closer to what I want, both at work and at home.

So, I’d like to share with you the top three skills I walked away with to help make life a little easier.

First – make your message short and sweet. In other words, get to the point – No Fluff! And this goes for both the written and the spoken word.

In this day of Twitter, Snapchat and so many others, you wouldn’t think this would be a problem, but it is. Your message has to be short, but is it clear? Does your audience, the person reading your message, actually understand it?

When sending emails, text, tweets – you have only the written word to depend on. You cannot include your tone or emotion to help the reader understand what you truly mean. Because of this, it is reported that emails are misinterpreted up to 50% of the time. Check out this amusing video on the misinterpretation of the written word:

So, as I prepared for my competition I became very aware of making my message clear with as few words as possible – the right words! I had to be sure that I was clear and concise and left my audience with a strong, inspirational message.

For example, during one part of my speech I was talking about my brother, Tom, and the gap in our ages. This was a very important part of my story. I started by saying:

“I was ten years old at the time. My brother, Tom, was twenty.”

For the sake of time, clarity and delivering more of a punch, I changed it to:

“I was ten years old, Tom was twenty.”

The same point was delivered with clarity using fewer words. I didn’t lose the meaning of my message.

Now that the contest is over, I find that this has carried over to my everyday life. My emails are more concise, my texts are clearer, and my blog – Oh Well. I guess I’m still working on that!

I’ve run out of room here for the other two lessons learned, so stay tuned next week. I’ll share with you another technique that will help make life easier.

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That’s All Folks!

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I didn’t expect it.

But there I was, standing in line at the Starbucks in the Washington DC airport. And I begin to cry. People around me must think I’m crazy. But it’s a minor breakdown – and it will pass soon.

The Toastmasters International Speech Contest is all over now. Out of 30,000 speakers competing, I’ve advanced to the final 98. Yes, I’m left standing with 1% of the greatest speakers in the world. We all started this journey over six long months ago. There was so much hard work, so many rewrites of my speech, and so many people who gave their time to me. But that’s all behind me now. And I don’t have a physical trophy to show for this last round of the contest.

Yes, I already know all the encouraging words that people will say:

You are a winner for getting this far
You did a great job and we are all proud of you
You are a better speaker and a better person because of this experience

My head knows all that. But my heart feels tired and rejected. You see, it was more than just a contest to me. It was exposing myself to the world, stepping out of my comfort zone and risking failure. It was accepting help from so many people and wanting to make them proud. It was taking a chance to see if I was “good enough.”

At first I try to hold back the tears and rationalize what has happened – and why it happened.

Then I decide to just let it be. You know what? I’m sad and I’m disappointed and I’m discouraged. And I decide to feel all those emotions and any others that may surface. I decide to embrace them and just let them happen. With time they will pass and I will rise, once again, stronger than ever.

Over 20 years ago, I saw a banner that said:

Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are.

20 years ago!!! And I still remember that saying today. So I decide to put it into practice. I will wrap my arms around all those crappy emotions, let the tears fall, and just plain feel. And I will be ok.

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What is Your Fight Song?

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It’s finally here!

Today I leave to compete in the International Speech Contest in Washington DC. It’s been six months of preparing, practicing and sometimes panicking to craft the perfect speech and deliver it all in seven minutes. If I go just one second over, I am disqualified. And that would be the greatest loss of all – to beat myself.

So I practice and practice and practice some more. And when I feel like I can’t do this speech one more time, I practice it again. My goal is to be the best I can be. I’m not even thinking about my competitors because it’s not about them, and it’s not about me – it’s about my audience. This is my chance to make them laugh, to inspire them, and to make a difference.

I will share the stage with some of the greatest speakers in the world. And when I do feel that self-doubt creep in, I take a deep breath and tell myself this is where I am meant to be. All the stuff, good and bad, that has happened in my life has brought me to this moment. My goal is to stay “present,” to have fun, and to enjoy this new experience.

It’s not easy. I am stretched beyond my comfort zone. But I once heard that every time you do something new, it becomes easier and easier with time. The task has remained the same, but YOU have become stronger.

This is my chance to become stronger. It’s my time to pay back all the people who have supported me, helped me and loved me. I am here because of them.

And as Rachel Platten says in her song:
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

To be continued……

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A Sincere Thanks

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I am so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I’ve received from my family, friends and strangers.

I started my journey to compete in the International Speech Contest last February. Yes, that’s over five months ago. Since that time, I have delivered my speech to over 25 different Toastmaster clubs for their feedback. With each group, my speech got better and my message got stronger.

People I don’t even know gave me their time, their good wishes, and in some cases, even gifts. One lovely lady gave me a four leaf clover pin to wear for good luck during the competition. Another friend actually made me a card with my name and World Champion of Public Speaking right under it. Absolutely amazing!

Since my Toastmasters club is a three hour drive – ONE WAY – from my home, I have to figure out where I’m going to stay for the night. And in most cases, I stay several evenings to make the best use of my time.

That means my husband spends a lot of time alone, my brother graciously opens his home to me each and every time, and my friends adopt me for an evening so I can enjoy some much needed “time off”.

Why do I tell you all this? For one reason only…

This whole experience has changed me in a way that I never saw coming. I started this journey to win a contest – that’s all. In the process, I have met some amazing people who have warmed my heart. I’ve gotten closer to the people I love, and have made friends out of strangers. People I never really knew before rose up to help me.

In the process, I have become a better friend – even to those who don’t really know me. I have stopped saying: “sorry, I’m just too busy now” and replaced that with “how can I make your life easier”. It’s made my life lighter. That’s right. I actually feel like I can breathe easier, and smile from my heart.

So I guess there’s no real “lesson” for you in this blog post. Just a huge thank you for your support, for reading my blog, and for being a part of my life.

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What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

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When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Me? I wanted to be on stage. It didn’t matter if I was singing, or dancing, or acting, I just wanted to perform for my adoring fans. I used to put glitter in my hair and prance around our living room, thanking my audience for their applause.

This was even reflected in my choice of toys. While my girlfriends played with baby dolls that they could feed or change their diapers, I was captivated by Barbie. After all, she had a beautiful long evening gown, a gold brocade coat with fur cuffs, and a MICROPHONE!!! At seven years old, I had found my calling in life.

Well, this past weekend got me closer to that childhood dream than I ever imagined possible. You see, I’ve been competing in a series of speech contests for Toastmasters. In the category of International Speech Contest, I took first place at the District Level. Now I’m off to Washington D.C. in August for the finals. As a professional speaker, this is a huge honor.

Being on that stage and delivering my speech seemed so right. I felt like I had finally arrived and am truly living my passion. Sounds corny, huh??? But I’m ok with that because I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. It only took me six decades to get there!

So – what do you want to be when you grow up? Where has your journey taken you? I’d love to hear all about it.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering – Yes, I still have my original Barbie doll. She is a constant reminder of never giving up.

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