I read the news today, oh boy…

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh.
— The Beatles, A Day In The Life

I’ve made a decision to avoid reading the news for the rest of 2016. This might strike some as an eccentric, even foolhardy, decision. After all, things are happening in the world: a Presidential election is underway in the USA, Brexit in the UK, conflicts in Syria, refugees in the Med.

The News book coverI’m inspired by reading the provocative book The News: A Users Manual, by Alain de Botton which suggests a number of reasons to treat the ‘news’ with caution. In a trenchant analysis of the news de Botton not only takes issue with the selectivity and bias of the news in the usual way of political critique from various quarters, he raises fundamental questions about the philosophical underpinnings of the activity of reporting and editorial control:

The news may present itself as the authoritative portraitist of reality. It may claim to have an answer to the impossible question of what has really been going on, but it has no overarching ability to transcribe reality. It merely selectively *fashions* reality through the choices it makes about which stories to cast its spotlight on and which ones to leave out.

The news knows how to render its own mechanisms almost invisible and therefore hard to question. It speaks to us in a natural unaccented voice, without reference to its own assumption-laden perspective. it fails to disclose that it does not merely *report* on the world, but is instead constantly at work crafting a new planet in our minds in line with its own highly distinctive priorities.

As important as the stories the news covers, claims de Botton, are those stories that are not considered ‘newsworthy’:

…the cloud floating right now unattended over the church spire, the gentle thought in the doctor’s mind as he approaches the patient’s bare arm with a needle, the field mice by the hedgerow, the small child tapping the surface of a newly hard-bolied egg while her mother looks on lovingly, the nuclear submarine patrolling the maritime borders with efficiency and courage, the factory producing the first prototypes of a new kind of engine and the spouse who, despite extraordinary provocations and unkind words, discovers fresh reserves of patience and forgiveness.

So as an experiment I’ll be cancelling my FT subscription, avoiding the TV, unplugging from social media and turning off radio bulletins. I’m not completely alone in this, as I’ve discovered others who have made the same decision, some many years ago. Instead of reading and watching the news, I’ll be paying more attention to the ebb and flow of the tides, phases of the moon and birdsong.

I hope to fill the evening hours considering the Dharma, perhaps reading Proust for the first time, or tackling an epic like the Mahabharata or The Bible.

I might blog as the experiment unfolds, but you won’t find me on social media as I ease into the experience of this fast from the headlines de Botton has enjoyed:

We need relief from the news-filled impression that we are living in an age of unparalleled importance, with our wars, our debts, our riots, our missing children, our after-premier parties, our IPOs and our rogue missiles. We need, on occasion, to be able to rise up into the space of our imagination, many kilometers above the mantel of the earth, to a place where that particular conference and this particular epidemic, that new phone and this shocking wildfire, will lose a little of their power to affect us — and where even the most intractable problems will seem to dissolve against the aeons of time to which the view of other galaxies attests.

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A conversation with Bob Lehrman

On Thursday September 1, members of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted a conference call with with renowned author, speechwriter and professor Bob Lehrman.

Bob LehrmanRobert A. Lehrman served as Chief Speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore and, in 2004, as Chief Speechwriter for the Democratic National Committee during his more than three decades of experience writing speeches. His 2009 book, ‘The Political Speechwriters Companion‘ is one of the best books I’ve ever read on speechwriting, period. He’s an editor of the new book ‘Democratic Orators from JFK to Barack Obama‘ (Palgrave/Macmillan 2016) and authored the chapters on the oratory of J.F.K. and Barack Obama.

Bob has written for political figures, celebrities, heads of nonprofits, and corporate CEOs. He created and co-teaches the political speechwriting course at American University, speaks often at other campuses, conferences, and associations, on the topic of political speechwriting, and has conducted four workshops in Hanoi for Vietnamese diplomats. Author of a number of award-winning novels, and many articles for publications like The New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Politico, Bob has a B.A. from Tufts University and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he studied with Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Yates.

I was going to summarize the topics we discussed on the call, but Rob Cottingham did a great job capturing this in an awesome Sketchnote:


(Click to enlarge)

To listen to the first half hour of the call, click on the podcast icon below.

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NSA September Event: Make Your PowerPoint Slides Sizzle

Mike RobertsonThe Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association (NSA/NC) welcomes Mike Robertson to the Bay Area on Saturday September 10.

Mike is an author, gifted storyteller, and has more than 20 years of graphic design experience. He views his PowerPoint presentations as works of art, designed to entertain, inspire and dazzle audiences through his humor, insight and artistic approach to the visuals which accompany his words.

In his opinion, blaming PowerPoint for boring slides is like blaming the paintbrush for a lousy painting. His workshop will give you dozens of ways to transform your own slides into works of art that will delight your audiences and help them retain your information much longer.

Here’s a couple of examples of his work showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of slides.

Mike Robertson PPT Design
Mike Robertson PPT Design

The event is being held at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay, 223 Twin Dolphin Drive, Redwood City, CA 94065.

Click here to register.

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128 Words to Use Instead of ‘Very’

Thanks to Luke at Proofreading Services for creating this very interesting (OK, OK, captivating) infographic:

128 Words to Use instead of Very

Click here for full-sized view.

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Toastmasters Announces Speakers for 2016 Convention in Washington, D.C.

Toastmasters 2016 ConferenceToastmasters announced an impressive lineup of speakers for its 2016 International Convention, to be held at the Marriott Marquis Washington, D.C., Aug. 17-20. Ten dynamic speakers will share their insights and expertise on a variety of topics. Attendance at this annual event is expected to exceed 2,200 members from around the world.

“We’re pleased to present speakers who will offer their unique perspectives into the importance of leadership and communication and how this relates to achieving personal and professional success,” says Jim Kokocki, Toastmasters 2015-16 International President. “These world class speakers will create an engaging and inspiring experience for our audience.”

Ed TateEd Tate will deliver the keynote presentation during the Opening Ceremonies on Wednesday, Aug. 17. Tate is a successful trainer, author and executive known as “the speaker who energizes, educates and entertains.” His Fortune 500 clients include Hallmark Cards, Johnson & Johnson and the Project Management Institute. He understands and has experienced firsthand that strong leadership is critical during times of change and chaos.

Tony BuzanMind Mapping creator and memory expert Tony Buzan is the recipient of Toastmasters’ 2016 Golden Gavel award. The prestigious award is presented annually to an individual distinguished in the fields of communication and leadership. Buzan joins an illustrious list of past Golden Gavel honorees that includes Muhammad Yunus, Walter Cronkite, Anthony Robbins, Zig Ziglar and Robin Sharma.

Other expert presenters:

Anne BarabAnne Barab is a Toastmasters Accredited Speaker and personal excellence expert who helps people learn how positive or negative beliefs affect their personal and professional success. Barab will present I Had a Life Plan but the Magnet Fell off the Fridge, where she will teach attendees three easy steps to retrain their brains to think positively.

Michael NotaroMichael Notaro is a Toastmasters Past International President, as well as an attorney, entrepreneur and educator. He will lead The Benefits of Service Leadership, an interactive panel of Toastmasters Past International Presidents and International Directors who will discuss how international leadership has changed their lives.

Rochelle RiceRochelle Rice is a Toastmasters Accredited Speaker and nationally recognized speaker, author and educator with a passion for empowering lives through movement. A former professional jazz dancer, Rice is the author of Real Fitness for Real Women and Size Sensitivity Training, Programs and Environments. Rice will lead How to Become an Accredited Speaker with co-presenter Sheryl Roush.

Sheryl RoushSheryl Roush is a Toastmasters Accredited Speaker and the CEO of Sparkle Presentations, Inc. She has presented more than 3,500 keynotes and seminars globally. Her book Heart of a Toastmaster, was named Best Anthology by the International Book Awards upon release in 2014. Roush will lead How to Become an Accredited Speaker with co-presenter Rochelle Rice.

kelly swansonKelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, motivational speaker, comedian and author. She will present You. Your Story. Make an Impact. Master the Art of Connection and Engagement through the Power of Story, where she will share her journey and explain how the power of story can help speakers engage with their audience on a deeper level.

Manoj VasudevanManoj Vasudevan is a leadership coach and management consultant with more than two decades of experience working with major multinational companies in Asia, Australia, North America and Europe. He will present Are you ready to lead? Leadership Lessons from the Mousetrap, an education session dedicated to helping attendees develop and enhance their leadership skills.

John ZimmerJohn Zimmer is an international speaker, trainer and lawyer. He has worked at a major Canadian law firm, the United Nations and the World Health Organization, and is now a full-time professional speaker. Zimmer will present Improv(e) your life!, where he will teach attendees about the principles of improv and how to apply them to their daily life.

To learn more about Toastmasters’ 2016 International Convention, Aug. 17-20, and obtain a complete schedule of events, including the Opening Ceremonies, Education Sessions and the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, visit the event page. The public is welcome to attend.

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Announcing: A Conversation with Bob Lehrman

Bob LehrmanAs the U.S. Election Season heads into the final stretch, the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable is pleased to announce a timely conversation with renowned author, speechwriter and pundit, Bob Lehrman.

We’ll be hosting Bob on a worldwide conference call at 11:45am (Pacific) on Thursday September 1, 2016.

Robert A. Lehrman served as Chief Speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore and, in 2004, as Chief Speechwriter for the Democratic National Committee during his more than three decades of experience writing speeches. His 2009 book, The Political Speechwriters Companion is one of the best books I’ve ever read on speechwriting, period. He’s an editor of the new book Democratic Orators from JFK to Barack Obama (Palgrave/Macmillan 2016) and authored its chapters on the oratory of J.F.K. and Barack Obama.

Bob has written for political figures, celebrities, heads of nonprofits, and corporate CEOs. He created and co-teaches the political speechwriting course at American University, speaks often at other campuses, conferences, and associations, on the topic of political speechwriting, and has conducted four workshops in Hanoi for Vietnamese diplomats. Author of a number of award-winning novels, and many articles for publications like The New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Politico, Bob has a B.A. from Tufts University and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he studied with Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Yates.

The call is open to anyone interested. There’s no charge to attend. Here’s where you can find dial-in & RSVP information.

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California Dreaming

SFMOMAThere’s a shockingly misinformed review of the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the Weekend FT. The article, Westward, look, the land is bright (the title taken from a line in an an obscure 19th century poem) is written by the cosmopolitan architect Thomas Sevcik. While I can’t comment on his claims about the overall quality of the art on display in the new museum, or quibble with the cultural shift to the West Coast from the East in the U.S., there’s no way to overlook the ridiculousness of four of his ideas.

The end of art fairs

Sevcik anticipates the time when  ‘the West Coast-driven digitalisation of the art market makes art fairs obsolete’. Despite initiatives such as the Google Art Project, to properly appreciate art you still have to be able to eyeball it up close. Buyers and sellers like to sip wine and be seduced by expensive art in a face-to-face setting. Despite the success of Amazon, people still attend the Franfurt Book Fair and flock to Hay-on-Wye. A couple of years back, Jan Dalley wrote in the FT on the paradox of performance: despite digialization people still like to meet in person.

You need a humanities education to collect art

Central to Sevcik’s article is the power of money to influence art. The fact that the highlights of SFMOMA were gifted by the founders of the Gap clothing stores is consigned to a sidebar. Sevcik wonders if the titans of tech will buy art, in contrast to the East Coast plutocracy that included bankers who ‘collected art because many of them had a humanities education’. Perhaps these guys did take a few art history classes on their way to economics, finance and accounting degrees. But that does not mean everyone with a tech fortune studies nothing by computer science in college. Steve Jobs famously audited calligraphy classes at Reed College. Many of the most successful (Ellison, Zuckerberg, Gates) never actually finished college. When not collecting racing yachts Oracle’s Larry Ellison has an appreciation for Japanese art and culture.

The media is based in LA

Throughout the article, Sevcik conflates Los Angles, San Francisco and Seattle. At times he talks about the “West Coast” as a whole. Then he gets it spectacularly wrong on LA:

Most of the TV series we like so much, and virtually all globally relevant movies, are invented, written, developed and managed in Los Angeles.

Don’t tell this to Woody Allen or the Coen Brothers, the people of Michigan or Louisiana. Indeed, it’s been noted that Hollywood continues to flee California at an alarming rate.

We’re all about to become polygamists

OK, up to now the article has made some points that can be argued either way (maybe a majority of media does originate in LA; perhaps, given their wealth, tech titans don’t invest in as much art as others; and Bill Gates’ Seattle mansion does have digitized art on display) but in assessing the current ‘West Coast lifestyle’ Sevcik goes completely off the rails:

New West Coast lifestyle ideas, from questions about robots, cyborgs and space travel, to the legalization of polygamy (soon to come?)…

Say what?

I can only suspect this is either a wishful Freudian slip on the part of the author, or a typo on the part of an FT editor smoking the substance whose legalization might soon come but has nothing to do with outdated Mormon marriage practices.

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A Conversation with Sanjay Nambiar

Sanjay NambiarOn Thursday May 5, members of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted a conference call with freelance speechwriter, author and publisher Sanjay Nambiar.

Sanjay is a veteran speechwriter and award-winning children’s book author. He has written speeches for CEOs and executives in a wide range of industries, from finance and technology to education and non-profits. Past clients include executives at Toyota, Comcast, and CBS among others.

He also has written several award-winning children’s books. In addition to being a speechwriter and author, Sanjay also is the CEO of SDPH Media, the company behind the multimedia global brand platform for the Super Duper Princess Heroes.

The focus of our conversation was Sanjay’s recommendations for building a freelance speechwriting business as well as his role as an author and publisher (something he has in common with other speechwriters such as Mike Long — playwright — and Justina Chen — young adult fiction author).

Sanjay reviewed the ways he built his client list that started with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click ads. He also talked about the advantages and disadvantages of options such as Upwork (formally eLance), cold calling and mailing. He shared effective networking and referral techniques. We also discussed his publishing business.

To find out more, click on the podcast icon below to hear edited highlights from the call where Sanjay shares tips on building a freelance speechwriting business.

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Improving Communication is Key to Closing Millennials’ Workplace Skills Gap

ToastmastersIt’s universally acknowledged that employers seek applicants with strong speaking and writing abilities. Despite being highly educated and armed with technical skills, many millennials lack the soft skills to compete in the workplace. A survey by the Hay Group revealed that 80 percent of employers are struggling to find graduates with the soft skills they need. Communication is the most in-demand soft skill in most industries, including engineering, finance, healthcare, information technology and sales.

Soft skills are defined by Oxford Dictionaries as personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. In addition to communication, organization, writing, leadership, problem solving and customer service are among the most desired soft skills in nearly every occupation.

“Job seekers with a good mix of both technical and soft skills will have the best prospects right out of college,” says Rosemary Haefner, Chief Human Resources Officer of CareerBuilder.

To help develop soft skills, millennials and all prospective employees are encouraged to focus on ways they can build the skills they lack. An effective method of developing communication and leadership skills is to join Toastmasters International. Toastmasters offers a supportive setting where people can improve these skills through practice and become more confident communicators and stronger leaders.

Corporate Clubs

Nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies offer in-house Toastmasters clubs, including Apple, Bank of America, The Coca-Cola Company, Google and Microsoft. These employers have found the Toastmasters program to be an effective staff development tool that benefits their organization.

Many of these corporate venues welcome visitors from outside the organization, who are not employed there. I was a member of the HP Hilltop Club that used to meet just down the hall from Carly Fiorina’s office in the Hewlett Packard Headquarters building. It was open to anyone who wished to attend. I hasten to add that Carly herself was not a member.

Job Seekers

Millennials looking to advance their career should be aware that visiting a corporate club gives a unique opportunity to network with employees.

“Prospective employees, including millennials, should focus on building the skills that will give them an advantage over other candidates,” says Jim Kokocki Toastmasters 2015-16 International President. “Employers want to hire people who can communicate effectively and work well with others. Toastmasters offers a place to develop and strengthen these skills.”

If your company does not yet have a club, consider starting one. “Forming a corporate Toastmasters club is an effective and inexpensive way to develop, enhance and retain employees,” says Toastmasters Chief Executive Officer Daniel Rex. “We are experiencing record growth as an organization in part because of the large increase in the number of corporate clubs. We expect that trend to continue as the skills we teach are always in demand in the marketplace.”

Finding the Right Club

While they all follow the same structure for meetings, no two Toastmasters Clubs are the same. The members make the club. When looking for a suitable group, it’s a great idea to take the time to visit a number of different clubs. Since there are approximately 30,000 Toastmasters members in the U.S. between the age of 18 and 34 it should be possible to find a club with people of similar interests. The last thing you want is to make your Icebreaker speech on current topics to a room full of retirees.

To find a Toastmasters club near you, visit toastmasters.org/findaclub.

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Book Review: Disrupted, by Dan Lyons

Disputed Book Cover People in Limerick like to point out that Angela’s Ashes is more a story of Frank McCourt’s life in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father than it is about growing up in the Ireland of the 1930s. I’d like to point out that Dan Lyons has written more of a story about one dysfunctional and bizarre company in Boston than any ‘trenchant analysis of the start-up world’ in general.

I can claim to know what I speak of, since I’ve spent my entire career in Silicon Valley and I’m a good decade older than Dan, working in a company where many, but not all, of the employees are half my age. There’s nothing remotely similar to his experiences at HubSpot in the various marketing departments I’ve worked in.

How the mighty have fallen

Perhaps because I did not come from as a rarefied an environment as he did working for Pulitzer Prize winners and interviewing Bill Gates, I’ve never been discombobulated by the generational differences that keep Dan awake at night.

Unlike Dan, I walk to work every day past the Salesforce Tower without thinking of Marc Benioff’s genitalia.

I can converse with younger workers who are the age of my own kids without feeling demeaned by the experience.

I take pride in writing blog postings and managing social media (despite my advanced age…) for the various organizations I’ve worked for.

Bursting the bubble

That said, Lyons does get it right in his broader analysis of the tech world, specifically his telling critique of the well-funded software start-ups that are currently burning through the VC’s cash with abandon. Just this morning I heard a radio program about the dozens and dozens of new companies offering Parking Apps. How many will be around a year from now? These may well become the poster children for the coming collapse of the new tech companies just as pets.com and others were for the first dot-com bust.

Ageism in the software industry

Likewise, he’s got a point about ageism in tech. After all, Mark Zukerberg did say that young people are just smarter and the thin disguise of hiring for ‘cultural fit’ often results in clones of the founders filling the cubes. But just as guilty are the recruiters for trading floors and venture capital companies.


At the end of the day it’s obvious that Lyons was happier vaping cannabis oil on the west coast than eating humble pie back east. He’s one of the gang on the Sony lot in Culver City working with a team that he admits engaged in ‘trading the worst poop-related stories we’ve ever heard, and pitching jokes about enormous cocks’. One can only wonder if the culture shock he experienced at HubSpot would pale in comparison to someone whose not pickled in the same journalistic brine that formed him trying to hold their own in that environment.

Perhaps the best solution would have been for him to bond over a bong with the youngsters in the start-up, ensuring a mellow time for one and all.

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