Zen and the Art of Bicycle Riding

Tour de FranceAs the Tour de France peleton rolls through the Alps towards the final stage on the Champs Elysee this Sunday, it’s worth remembering there are other ways in which a bicycle can be ridden. It’s not all high-speed descents of Alpine passes and 100-mile dashes through the French countryside.

Mark HarrisMark Harris is as far from the Lycra-clad racers as he is from the average carnivorous American. As I noted back in February, he has attached a blender to the rear wheel of his bike and is touring the country living off the land on a diet of raw green smoothies.

He has posted a wonderful poem to his blog on The Art Of Transcendental Bicycle Blender Touring which communicates, from the heart, how bicycle touring can liberate us from the concerns of everyday life:

What goes in the bicycle blender is wild and raw,
It is immediate and distinct, unblemished by names,
It goes in at the top, and whirs all the way down the mountain.
It reaches the valley, smooth and creamy,
Having acquired the essence of taste.

The bicycle blender tourist has nowhere to go,
Each moment is a drop in time,
Somehow the mountain descends and rises up again,
With each undulation of the landscape
More names are forgotten

When the bicycle blender heads up the mountain
Much effort is required.
When it coasts down the other side,
There is only ease.
Effort and ease are thrown in the bicycle blender too,
Before long they can’t even be told apart.

But the real magic begins
When the bicycle blender is put in reverse.
Pedaling backwards up the mountain slope,
Eyes wide open, not knowing where anything is,
Green Smoothie is spewed out, over everything,

By the top of the mountain every seeming separate thing,
Has been coated through and through with Green Smoothie,
So that substance itself is a delicious and refreshing drink.

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Guest Posting: How to demolish your fear of public speaking in 4 unconventional steps, by Philip Pape

Philip PapePhilip Pape is an author, software engineer, public speaker, and life-hacker who helps smart people obliterate obstacles to success. He shares specific strategies for helping you succeed through the unconventional art of confidence at HowToAttainSuccess.com. This post originally appeared on Philip’s blog and is posted here with his express permission. Follow Philip on Twitter: @philip_pape.

On the last day of my internship, I called in sick. I had successfully navigated the technical challenge of a software engineering internship in a major corporation, but I couldn’t stomach what I had to do next.

They were asking way too much of me.

Fear. Anxiety. Loss of breath. The symptoms of my affliction were palpable.

What was I so afraid of? An awful performance review? A meeting with the CEO?

Nope. I was afraid of giving a 15 minute presentation. In front of just 10 people.

That’s right. My boss asked me to deliver a culminating speech about my time as an intern. But I just couldn’t do it due to a crippling fear of public speaking. The choice was obvious: I called in sick.

Maybe you’ve been held back in your career by shyness. Or you’ve experienced this visceral, do-anything-to-get-out-of-it fear:

Right before I speak, my heart starts pounding, breath is short, and the fight or flight response is in full swing. The only thing that stops me from running away is I would be even more embarrassed than just doing it.
— User on Hacker News

Being famous doesn’t seem to spare anyone, either. The last thing you want is this awkward Michael Bay exit:

That story about calling in sick? That was 15 years ago. This year, I was a finalist in a Toastmasters humorous speech contest. How did I go from calling in sick because of speaking to looking forward to speaking in front of hundreds of people, all while absolutely enjoying it?

The typical advice by so-called “experts” on conquering this fear is to “talk about your passion” or “know your audience” or–my favorite–“practice, practice, practice!”

The problem with this conventional advice is that it (a) doesn’t address your core anxiety and (b) lacks concrete strategies and tactics. Sure, over the long-term, you absolutely need to practice if you want to hone the craft of speaking. But it doesn’t solve your immediate problem.

You’re looking for SPECIFIC STEPS you can take to utterly demolish your fear of public speaking.

This guide will teach you 4 unconventional steps to do just that–so you can vanquish your nerves, think on your feet, and speak with self-confidence.

Step #1: Tell a story about just one thing

Lots of speakers get hung up on presentation delivery, which leads to anxiety, which leads to the inevitable feeling of wanting to jump off the stage before speaking.

Your brain is exploding with thoughts of “should I do this” and “what if I do that”, which scares the hell out of you. You’re experiencing:

  • Information overload. You get overwhelmed by too much data.
  • Style overload. You focus on delivery instead of the key message.
  • Decision overload. You’re paralyzed by too many decisions–the paradox of choice.
  • Knowledge overload. The Curse of Knowledge cognitive bias that you already know so much about the topic, it’s impossible to imagine not knowing.

The unconventional secret is that you don’t need to be polished, poised, smooth, charismatic, smart, talented, or even speak English well. In fact, you will have an advantage by deliberately not focusing on these.

Check out the results of this Stanford experiment from the book Made to Stick:

Almost no correlation emerges between ‘speaking talent’ and the ability to make ideas stick…The stars of stickiness are the students who made their case by telling stories, or by tapping into emotion, or by stressing a single point rather than ten…A community college student for whom English is a second language could easily outperform unwitting Stanford graduate students.
— From “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath

Stories, emotion, and simplicity are massively more important than presentation at getting your idea across. And those things are much easier and less nerve-wracking to tap into than so-called speaking talent.

So keep it simple! Pick just one thing and talk about it from the heart, like you would over lunch with a friend.

Action Steps:

  • Write a story. Something you’re passionate about. Think about a favorite memory with your family or friends, and write about the people there, what you did, and how you felt. This is real-life, built-in drama.
  • Tell the story: in front of a mirror, by yourself in front of a camera, or in front of your spouse or best friend.
  • The next time you give a presentation, just tell a story about one point and appeal to the listener’s emotions. Forget about style!

Takeaway:
No matter how alluring you are, the typical, bloated, meandering speech will get crushed by one compelling story any day, no matter how the story is delivered.

Step #2: Take an improv class to fake fearless

If you’re standing in front of a crowd, act as if you already have confidence. Walk chest high, chin up, and breathe deeply (more breathing in Step #4). Imagine the audience is there to beg you for your autograph.

Teddy Roosevelt writes in his autobiography:

When a boy, I read a passage [in which] the captain of some small British man-of-war is explaining to the hero how to acquire the quality of fearlessness. He says that at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that he course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he were not frightened. After this is kept up long enough, it changes from pretense to reality, and the man does in very fact become fearless by sheer dint of practicing fearlessness when he does not feel it.

Easier said than done, right?

Here’s how: take an improv class. Nothing will get you to act fearless and build tons of confidence 4 more than being put on the spot. Look at this Reddit comment:

I consider myself good at public speaking and I’ve been on TV a few times to talk about engineering. It’s a practiced skill not something you are inherently good at, many people never put in the practice and just assume they are bad.

Best advice is to take an improv class, as it gives you lots of on-the-spot practice and also helps teach you how to “fake” emotions and what to do if you have to improv (slide show stops working, slides are in the wrong order, etc.)
— Reddit, TBBT: Joel

Action Steps:

  • Go to Google Maps and search for “improv classes” near you.
  • Sign up for a minimum 4-session class for beginners.
  • Attend the class and learn to fake confidence to become confident.

Takeaway:
Even if you’re scared to death, pretend you’re not by using what you learn in an improv class. You’ll “become fearless” by faking fearless.

Step #3: Use the “Broody Hen” technique

You’ll love this technique. Introverts will eat this one up. This is what I call the Broody Hen technique.

ChickJust like a hen broods (sits on) and hatches her eggs, you sit on your topic and hatch the most amazing ideas from the safety of your comfortable, private space.

Abraham Lincoln wrote his most memorable speeches this way, not once practicing in front of others before it was go time. Lincoln became best friends with his material, but more importantly relied on this introspective, private ritual of brooding and hatching–rather than practice–to deliver his speeches with supreme confidence:

He thought over his talk for days, thought over it while walking back and forth between the White House and the war office…he wrote a rough draft of it on a piece of foolscap paper, and carried it about in the top of his tall silk hat. Ceaselessly he was brooding over it, ceaselessly it was taking shape.
— Dale Carnegie

After one of these brooding periods, Lincoln stayed at a tavern in Illinois. Upon waking up, his first words were, “This government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free.” Now that’s a line.

Action Steps:

  • Buy a small Moleskine notebook and carry it with you at all times.
  • Schedule time every day just to brood–set your alarm 30 minutes earlier if you’re freshest in the morning.
  • During your “brooding” time, write down notes, fragments, and lists in your notebook that relate to your talk.
  • Keep writing your ideas down whenever they occur, any time of day or night.
  • Let the ideas marinate and “hatch”–the longer the better (at least 1 day if possible).
  • Go through your notes and pick the best ones for your presentation.
  • Arrange, revise, re-write, and edit into a final speech.
  • You now have such an intimate understanding of your topic, confidence won’t be an issue.

Takeaway:
The “Broody Hen” technique is guaranteed to take the edge off those nerves like a fine snifter of well-aged whiskey.

Step #4: Shut up (or, perfect the pause)

Pause. Breathe. Pause some more. Repeat.

Silence is the most powerful content in any speech. A solid, deliberate pause in your delivery:

  • Ramps up audience anticipation
  • Enhances the credibility of the speaker
  • Commands attention and respect to heighten authority
  • Ensures listener attention–a psychological equalizer

Pause before you speak. Pause between sentences. Pause between words. You can’t do it enough. Even if you think you’re pausing too often or for too long, you’re not.

To make it easy to pause, I like to use a speech hack called the Stanza Strategy.

Winston Churchill said that “every speech is a rhymeless, meterless verse.” In poetry, a group of lines (Churchill’s “verse”) is called a stanza. With the Stanza Strategy, you write out your speech like a poem, with very short lines–creating frequent pause points.

Here’s what a stanza looks like:

My heart from the hum of a humming bird
To the steady beat of a drum it spurred
My nerves slowly disappear
Everyone is listening including the rear
— Paige Fitzgerald

Action Steps:

  • Write out your speech in your favorite text editor.
  • Hit the Enter key after every 5 to 8 words, IGNORING punctuation.
  • Add a blank line between every sentence or paragraph. This is a stanza.
  • Practice in front of a mirror. Make sure to PAUSE after each line and LONG PAUSE after each stanza.
  • Deliver your speech this way, and you’ll come across as extra confident.

Takeaway:
Pausing is an awesome way to slow it down, take a breath (literally), and calm those nerves. Which translate to–you guessed it–more confidence.

Final Thoughts

Put these steps to use and you’ll be far ahead of the pack when it comes to speaking confidence. Let the community know what you think in the comments below. What’s holding you back? Have you tried any of these techniques, and did they work for you?

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Book Review: The Speechwriter, by Barton Swaim

In a book that is in part the machinations of The Good Wife and in part the political farce of Yes Minister, Barton Swaim shares insights he gained into the life of a speechwriter during the second term of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

Mark Sanford The author of The Speechwriter does not dwell on the series of unfortunate events that led to the downfall of the governor of South Carolina. For those who need to validate the details, it’s all in Wikipedia.

In the end, it was all part of the rich tapestry of American political life: a moralizing public figure is betrayed by peccadillos that would not be worthy of comment in many countries. However, the public delights in destroying, if only temporarily, the careers of its leaders. Sanford survives to live out his term, leaving the speechwriter to edit his form letters and remove references to ‘family’, ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’ and, of course, ‘Argentina’.

This speechwriter’s lot was not a happy one. Swaim captures the arc of his career in excruciating detail. From initial enthusiasm and surprise that he was to become the chief wordsmith to a sitting governor where ‘the idea of turning phrases for a living seemed irresistible’, to despair at his lot and envy of the janitorial staff in the government buildings who were happy just checking lightbulbs for a living. He dreaded going into the office and the strain of the job was almost unbearable.

What went wrong?

The Speechwriter After an all-to-brief honeymoon period, Swaim discovered the ‘stark difference’ between the charming public persona of the governor and the realities of dealing with the man in private. His boss has a unique relationship with the English language that deeply offends the writer with the PhD in English. He copes by creating a list of stock phrases that mimic the ‘voice’ of the man he’s writing for. He uses phrases such as ‘in large measure’ and ‘frankly’ to pad speeches, op-eds, letters and other written communications that are an endless demand on his time. As is typical, he’s responsible for much more than speeches. He regularly produces four or five options of each speech for the governor to review, and learns to keep one in reserve for the times all his written drafts are thrown back at him.

The governor berates him with requests to re-do speeches ‘again’ and returns drafts with terse demands that they ‘need work’. Despite his best efforts, he’s often the butt of withering scorn.

However, Swaim has the insight that none of this is meant personally. He highlights the sheer volume of communication a politician must generate, and points out that people

…don’t know what it’s like to be expected to make comments, almost every working day, on things of which they have little or no reliable knowledge or about which they just don’t care.

Cork Bored

The need for the governor to heap abuse on the speechwriter had nothing to do with being hurtful:

For him to try to hurt you would have required him to acknowledge your significance. If you were on his staff, he had no knowledge of your personhood … he was giving vent to his own anxieties, whatever they were. It was as if you were one of those pieces of cork placed in the mouth of wounded soldiers during an amputation. The soldier didn’t chew the work because he hated it but because it was therapeutic to bite hard. Often I felt like that piece of cork.

That is not what I meant, at all

As a record of the daily life of a speechwriter this account rang all too true. My own experience in corporate America has often mirrored the account Swaim presents of speechwriting in the political arena. The one major difference being that very few corporate leaders have to communicate as frequently as politicians. However, there can be the same demands for endless revisions, fact checking of obscure points and navigation of outsized egos as Swaim describes. The role of speechwriter as alchemist, ploughman, and motley fool has not changed since attendant lords, full of high sentence, advised princes of power in Medieval times.

My one beef with the book is that it lives up to its subtitle as ‘A Brief Education in Politics’ and is too short. Mark Sanford has since gone on to be re-elected to Congress for South Carolina’s 1st District. Just as much of the intrigue of The Good Wife happens after the initial fall, so I can’t help but wonder what sort of a book the current speechwriter to Congressman Sanford might write. A sequel surely awaits.

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Guest Posting: I Could Never be a Speaker, by Alan Stevens

This information was written by Alan Stevens, and originally appeared in “The MediaCoach”, his free weekly ezine, available at www.mediacoach.co.uk.

I Could Never Be a Speaker

I beg to differ. Everyone has the capacity to be a good speaker. I have worked with hundreds of nervous presenters, and never had a failure yet.

Great TipsThe single most important aspect of professional presenting is to understand your audience. Far too many speakers prepare and deliver their words of wisdom without giving a thought to what the audience want to hear. The professional speaker always starts by finding out as much as possible about the audience, their reasons for being present, and their motivating factors. This can be done by talking to the meeting organizer, but is better dealt with by talking directly to prospective audience members themselves.

Once a speaker understands their audience, it is then time to decide on the key message to be delivered. Another common error is to try to impart too much information. It is essential that the core message of any speech can be summarized in one sentence of around twenty words. Discouraging as this may seem, if an audience member is asked the day after hearing a speech “What was the speech about?”, and they can remember the core message, the speech will have been a great success.

Thirdly, speakers need to remember that they are not just deliverers of information. There is a story from Ancient Greece about a speaking contest between two great orators. At the end of the first speech, the audience rose and cheered the speaker, calling out “What a great speech”. At the end of the second speech, the audience rose and shouted “Let’s march on Sparta!”. The hallmark of a truly great and professional speech is not changing a person’s point of view, but changing their behavior.

Lastly, speakers need to consider the way in which they present. There are no absolute rights and wrongs here, but experts agree that there are some things you should never do, such as:

  • Start badly
  • Fail to understand equipment
  • Put too much on each slide
  • Patronize the audience
  • Use bad graphics
  • Turn their back on the audience
  • Speak inaudibly
  • Use jargon
  • Run out of time
  • End poorly

In summary, you need to prepare, practice and perform properly. You can do it!

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Toastmasters Announces Speakers for 2015 Convention in Las Vegas

Caesars PalaceToastmasters announced an impressive lineup of speakers for its 2015 International Convention, to be held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Aug. 12-15. Thought leaders with backgrounds in mentoring, entrepreneurship, entertainment, law, comedy, accounting and more will share their insights and expertise. Attendance at this annual event is expected to exceed 2,000 people.

“We’re excited about the diverse group of dynamic and inspiring speakers at this year’s convention,” says Mohammed Murad, Toastmasters 2014-15 International President. “Each presenter is highly regarded and proves by their own examples how important leadership and communication skills are to achieving success.”

Patricia FrippPatricia Fripp will deliver the keynote presentation during the Opening Ceremonies on Wednesday, Aug. 12. Fripp is an award-winning keynote speaker, business presentation expert, sales trainer and in-demand speech coach to executives and celebrity speakers. Meetings & Conventions magazine named her “One of the 10 most electrifying speakers in North America.” She delivers high-energy, high-content and dramatically memorable presentations.

Muhammad_YunusWorld-renowned economics professor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus will be honored as the recipient of Toastmasters’ 2015 Golden Gavel award. The prestigious award is presented annually to an individual distinguished in the fields of communication and leadership. Yunus joins an illustrious list of Golden Gavel honorees that includes Walter Cronkite, Anthony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Robin Sharma and John C. Maxwell.

Other expert presenters include:

Judy CarterJudy Carter, Author of The Comedy Bible – a bestselling book on how to turn problems into punch lines. As a child with a speech impediment, Carter found a way to turn being laughed at into a standup career. She has performed on over 100 TV shows and was nominated for Atlantic City Entertainer of the Year.

Tim GardTim Gard will present Laughter Becomes You, where he will teach the audience how they can use humor in their presentation to connect to any audience. Tim has spoken at more than 2,000 events worldwide from Texas to Tasmania and was selected by Meeting Planners Magazine as one of the “best speakers ever seen or heard on the main stage.”

Darren LaCroixDarren LaCroix, 2001 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking. Darren travels the world demystifying the process of creating powerful presentations. With his inspirational story “from Chump to Champ,” he shows people that anything is possible if you are willing to learn and have the right mentor.

Dana LamonDana LaMon, 1992 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking. Blinded at four years old, LaMon is a retired judge and has been a professional speaker and author since 1991. He has spoken to audiences from Asia to South Africa, including more than 35 U.S. states.

Alex MalleyAlex Malley, Alex’s bestselling book, The Naked CEO, was borne out of the success of his popular mentoring community (thenakedceo.com), and combines his candid, real-life stories with practical career and life guidance. He is the CEO of CPA Australia, as well as a TV host and blogger for The Huffington Post. Malley was recently was invited to join an exclusive group of global leaders to become a LinkedIn influencer, where he shares his leadership and career insights via regular blog posts.

Marilyn TamMarilyn Tam, Formerly CEO of Aveda, president of Reebok and vice president of Nike, Marilyn is a speaker, author, and founder and executive director of Us Foundation. Inc. magazine ranks her as one of the top 100 leadership speakers in the world. Her life is an inspiring example of what can be achieved when following one’s dreams. She grew up as an abused and neglected child in Hong Kong, and left home as a teen to come to the United States alone. By following her life mission, she achieved international business and humanitarian success.

To learn more about the 2015 International Convention, Aug. 12-15, and obtain a complete schedule of events, including the Opening Ceremonies, Education Sessions and the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, visit the event webiste. The public is welcome to attend.

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Guest Posting: HARO — A Speaker’s Secret Weapon, by Mickie Kennedy

Mickie Kennedy founded eReleases PR back in 1998 when he saw how hard it was for independent startups and businesses to achieve really quality PR. For more, download some of Mickie’s free ebooks and whitepapers.

HARO: A Speaker’s Secret Weapon, by Mickie Kennedy

First of all, congratulations on being one of those people who don’t melt into a quivering pool of fear in a corner when speaking in public. Even though I’m a veteran PR guy, public speaking has never been my thing — I rate speaking in front of a large group of people as being just slightly more frightening than death.

As a public speaker, you know already that what you have to say brings value into people’s daily life. In order to build your business, you have already done the usual networking, chamber of commerce, local rotary type of events and now you want to go further.

So while I may not be the best at standing up at a podium and exuding confidence and inspiration, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to getting attention and leads to flow my way. My favorite, the easiest one? The FREE service called HARO (or Help A Reporter Out).

HARO LogoHARO is a service set up to connect reporters with sources, whether it’s getting a quote, gaining expertise on a subject, or just soliciting opinions. As a source, you sign up to receive three emails daily from lists of reporters who have requests. If you have any knowledge about a request, send the reporter an email. Your answer creates a greater awareness of you as an authority on the subject. It also gives the reporter the opportunity to follow-up with you if a similar story comes along.

The tips for writing a great response to a request are similar to what you already practice as a public speaker:

  1. Title/Subject Line
  2. You already know that having an imaginative or insightful title to your talk can create interest in what you have to say. The same holds true for subject lines in your responses, make sure that they catch the reporter’s eye.

  3. Expand, Don’t Fill
  4. Reporters are busy people and they don’t have time to read fluff, so keep your response well-written, but brief. You will lose the reporter the same way you would lose an audience if you keep adding words.

  5. Don’t Expect Experts
  6. If the request involves complex theories or uses industry-specific jargon, explain it simply. You wouldn’t expect your audience to be experts, so treat the reporter with the same respect.

  7. Tell Them About You
  8. As a public speaker, you usually share a brief bio in your introduction. For the request, include your bio at the end with a link to your website and your contact information.

By using HARO correctly and persistently, you can build your brand and your authority on the subject which will lead to future speaking opportunities. Be sure to follow HARO’s rules and don’t spam, share or be rude to the reporters. That’s a good way to get banned from the service.

Has HARO worked for you as a public speaker? Let us know in the comments.

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Rap on Trial, Charis Kubrin

2105 Cicero Award WinnerCharis Kubrin, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, U.C. Irvine, is a renowned specialist in criminology and law. In this TEDx talk she shares with passion and mastery a story of Rap on Trial that elucidates the fundamental issues our society faces in relation to freedom of speech, liberty, equality and justice. This speech was written with the help of Barbara Seymour Giordano and was awarded the 2015 Cicero Speechwriting Award for a controversial or highly politicized topic. The full text follows and a video of the presentation is at the end of this posting. It is reprinted here with express permission.

Rap on Trial, Charis Kubrin

Have you ever been given a set of facts, and based on that evidence, come to a conclusion that made you believe you were absolutely right?

A few years back a defense attorney contacted me to ask if I would be an expert witness in a case involving an aspiring rapper who had been charged with making a terrorist threat. This would be my first official expert witness case — so I jumped at the chance! And as a Professor of Criminology as well as a Rap Music Scholar… I could hardly wait to share my expertise.

So as soon as I received the evidence, I immediately got to work. Now, the entire case came to trial as a result of these 6 short lines of text — and here’s how they read:

glock to the head of
SEND $2 to . . . . paypal account
if this account doesn’t reach $50,000 in the next
7 days then a murderous rampage similar to the
VT shooting will occur at another prestigious
highly populated university. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!

OK, admittedly these words sitting on the page all by their lonesome make it pretty darn easy to jump to a conclusion about what this rapper was up to, right? And I’ve got to admit that when I read these words for the first time, even my gut reaction was — this guy is so guilty!

But I knew from my years of research that you can’t pass judgment until all the evidence has been reviewed.

So I began by trying to figure out how these words had landed in the hands of the Southern Illinois University campus police. One day while on patrol, the campus police spotted an abandoned car, searched it, and found typical college student possessions inside — along with a piece of paper inconspicuously tucked between the driver’s seat and the center console.

On one side of the folded up paper were the 6 lines of threatening text. And when you flipped the paper over, there were line after line of what appeared to be rap lyrics—such as:

let them booty cheeks hop, so
Pop it mami pop it
I’ma do it like this daddy
follow that thang to da ground when she drop it.

(Probably not a song destined for the top 40, right?)

The minute I saw these rhyming rap lyrics on the opposite side of the threatening text — I had a sneaking suspicion that this college student was not a plotting terrorist, but most likely an aspiring gangsta rapper.

However, that’s not how the police saw it … these 6 lines of text were enough evidence to get a search warrant, and comb through the defendant, Olutosin Oduwole’s, campus apartment. Inside they found several other notebooks filled with his violent and misogynistic rap lyrics and… a handgun.

As a result, the police charged Oduwole — a college student with no prior convictions — with attempting to communicate a terrorist threat. While Oduwole admitted to the gun possession charges, he adamantly denied he was a terrorist planning to carry out acts of violence. Oduwole stood by his story that the text was simply notes for a new rap song.

In preparation for testifying, I reviewed hundreds of pages of evidence from Oduwole’s notebooks —

As I painstakingly analyzed the notebook evidence line by line wading through stanza after stanza of misogynistic and violent lyrics, I would land upon an occasional random page — notes from class, a letter to a girl, and the terms of the rap contract Oduwole one day dreamed of landing.

After careful review of these notebooks I came to the conclusion that Oduwole was unequivocally NOT a terrorist. He was just a wanna-be rapper whose offensive and shocking lyrics were — out of a fear of terrorism — being completely misinterpreted.
Trial day arrived and after months of research on this case, I was ready to share my findings — that is, until I entered the courtroom and stood face to face with an all-white, middle-aged jury. It was 2011… I could barely believe my eyes.

But despite the lack of diversity, I was sure the evidence would prevail. So when I took the stand, I spent two hours educating the jury on the finer points of gangsta rap — for example, in the rap world the more violent the lyrics, the more respect you’ll have in the rap community. And the more misogynistic and violent your music? Well, the more songs you’ll sell. Considering the business, it was no surprise that Oduwole’s lyrics portrayed a violent persona and the glorification of guns — both of which are staples of gangsta rap.

I also pointed out that not all lyrics rhyme or flow — and that the 6 lines of text that the prosecution had rested their case on could be what’s referred to in the music business as an “Intro or Outro” — or unrhymed spoken words that either introduce or conclude a song to give it more edge or make it more memorable.
In my professional opinion, the 6 lines of text were most likely ideas or concepts for a song, or… were the Intro or Outro to a song — not a terrorist threat.
When I left the stand I was completely confident that I’d gotten all my points across and compellingly delivered my ideas.

And in just three short hours — the verdict. Guilty.

Oduwole was sentenced to 5 years and immediately whisked away to prison.

I was completely stunned. How was the jury unable see the truth?

For weeks I replayed the case over and over in my mind — how was the prosecution’s argument more persuasive than my highly researched evidence?

And then it dawned on me — while I had presented the cold, hard facts…the prosecuting attorney dialed up the courtroom emotion and played to the jury’s fears. At one point he actually slammed down Oduwole’s gun on the witness stand, leaned in close, stared me dead in the eye, and asked, “Now does THIS GUN change your opinion about what is written in the 6 lines of text?”

It was in that moment it became clear how the prosecution swayed the jury — emotions trump logic every time.

And the power of emotions lead me to this question — would this case be the same if the defendant was white?

I mean think about it —

STUDENT + WHITE MALE + RAP = WANNA BE RAPPER

But if you add GUN to the equation, well… that white student has lost his way, and needs counseling.

On the other hand, if you swap out black male for white it adds up to this:

STUDENT + BLACK MALE + RAP = HEADED FOR TROUBLE.

And if you add GUN, well … then he’s certainly = A THUG, DESTINED FOR PRISON.

It’s been three years since I testified in the Oduwole case — and since then I’ve wondered…is he the only aspiring rapper this has happened to?

Knowing the system failed this young man and sent him to prison for terrorism troubled me to the core — and thankfully, I was not alone.

The verdict drew widespread scrutiny from first amendment rights’ attorneys, journalists, musicians, and academics alike. There were op-eds featuring this case, including several by an assistant professor at the University of Richmond who specializes in rap and hip hop culture.

Within short order this professor and I joined forces and discovered that rap lyrics are showing up with alarming regularity as evidence in courtrooms across the country — in fact, our research has uncovered hundreds of these cases.

And what’s so crazy is that it’s virtually unheard of for musicians outside of rap to have their lyrics introduced as evidence against them in court — not for rock, not for punk, not EVEN for heavy metal.

Over the last year my colleague and I have publicized our research findings — and just last month, we wrote a brief to educate the Justices about gangsta rap for a rap lyrics case that will soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In all our work, we argue that rather than treat rap music as an art form, in these cases prosecutors portray rap lyrics as autobiographical — in other words, they want the jury to believe that these rappers are just sharing the stories of their lives.

The trouble with labeling rap as autobiographical is that the characters being portrayed in rap music are often nothing like the actual artists.
Seriously, if rappers were guilty of even the tiniest fraction of violence they project in their music, well, we’d all be in really big trouble.

And in some cases like Oduwole’s, the lyrics themselves are the crime — being positioned as an imminent danger to the public. But no matter the prosecution’s tactics, introducing lyrics as evidence in court…almost always results in unfair prejudice.

Unfortunately, this fact isn’t always clear to judges and juries —
In case after case, the results have been devastating for the accused — defendants have been found guilty and sent off to prison.

But why?

In an experimental study, a social psychologist presented two groups of diverse subjects with an identical set of violent lyrics.
The first group was told the lyrics came from a rap song, and the second… from a country song.

What was discovered was the first group — who was told they had rap lyrics — found the words to be more threatening and dangerous… compared to the group who was told they had country.

Even though the lyrics on the page were exactly the same, each group likely had preconceived ideas about both types of music — country is made by good-old southern white boys while rap is made by urban black criminals.

So essentially what happens is… by the prosecution playing with the jury’s preconceived notions about rap music, they also tap into race — which ratchets up public fear and reinforces old and new stereotypes about young men of color as inherently dangerous and threatening.

Which leads me to this —

Are these increases in rap trials just another sign that racism in this country is alive and well? And how many more false convictions and acts of violence — against our own people — will it take before we say… enough?

For me the tipping point will arrive when we admit as a country that we’re still playing out old racial stereotypes. Then — and only then — is when we’ll begin to heal from our collective and historical wounds. We have to remember — and never lose sight of the fact — that our nation and its people are one; indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

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5 Tips for a Wedding Toast

Wedding ToastWith wedding season approaching, happy couples from around the world are preparing to walk down the aisle and begin their lives together. Wedding season also marks the time when friends and family will be asked to give a toast to celebrate the occasion. For many, it may be the first time they are being asked to speak publicly, and, although it may be in front of friends and family, it can be an intimidating experience.

Toastmasters International, the global organization devoted to communication and leadership skills development, offers these five tips for delivering a memorable wedding toast:

  1. Be prepared. Know your material and try to avoid reading. Include an opening, a body and a conclusion.
  2. Identify yourself. Open with a brief explanation of your relationship to the couple before beginning the toast.
  3. Use humor and creativity. Entertaining stories and anecdotes are appreciated by the audience, but avoid telling potentially embarrassing stories or using offensive language.
  4. Get personal. A toast should be original, heartfelt and customized for the occasion.
  5. Stand; lift your glass and say, “I’d like to propose a toast.” Pause to allow guests to shift their attention toward you and give them time to lift their glasses. Be sure to lower your glass to about waist height.

“It’s important that the person delivering the wedding toast is confident, poised and moderately brief,” says Mohammed Murad, Toastmasters 2014-15 International President. “The most memorable messages come from the heart, are light-hearted and focus on wishing the couple well on their joyful journey together.”

Click here to watch a Maid of Honor using the five tips above as she delivers her wedding toast. In addition to toasting advice, Toastmasters offers many public speaking tips. To practice your toasts or speeches, find a Toastmasters club near you by visiting www.toastmasters.org/findaclub.

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Speech Coaching to Simplify Your Job & Electrify Your Executives with Patricia Fripp

Patricia FrippThe Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted Patricia Fripp for a webinar on ‘Speech Coaching to Simplify Your Job & Electrify Your Executives’. A full video recording of the event is available.

Please ignore the terrible delay on my video which makes it seem as if I’m heavily medicated – there is no delay on Ms. Fripp’s video whatsoever. You’ll hear her describe:

  • How she first became involved in professional speaking
  • How she works 1:1 with executives to prep them for an important speech
  • What it takes to launch a freelance speechwriting business
  • What speechwriters can learn from Hollywood scriptwriters
  • How to deal with executives who are boring onstage

and much more…

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Money Talks: Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists

Silicon ValleyHere in California, the rush for wealth long ago shifted from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains where the 49ers panned for gold, to the Sand Hill Road offices of Silicon Valley venture capitalists (V.C.’s).

Legions of young hopefuls pitch their ideas to shrewd investors ready to back the next new thing to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Yet the chances of hitting the big time and getting a V.C. to fund a new company are slim. Thousands of companies present their ideas, few succeed in attracting investors.

Just how slim those chances are, and what it takes to grab the attention of the men with the money, is described in Tad Friends’ compelling profile of the Andreesen Horowitz V.C. firm (known as “a16z”), in the May 18, 2015 edition of The New Yorker: Tomorrow’s Advance Man.

Slim Pickings

Each year, three thousand startups approach a16z with a “warm intro” from someone the firm knows. A16z invests in fifteen. Of those, at least ten will fold, three or four will prosper, and one might soar to be worth more than a billion dollars—a “unicorn,” in the local parlance. With great luck, once a decade that unicorn will become a Google or a Facebook and return the V.C.’s money a thousand times over: the storied 1,000x. There are eight hundred and three V.C. firms in the U.S., and last year they spent forty-eight billion dollars chasing that dream.

With the odds stacked against them, young entrepreneurs have a lot riding on their presentation. Armed with a make or break set of slides, they have just a few minutes in the a16z boardroom to make a good impression.

Hubris

So what does it take for a presentation to succeed? Forget everything the rhetoric books teach about ethos, pathos and logos. It takes balls.

The audience, especially a16z founder and Netscape Navigator inventor Mark Andreesen, are scary smart and don’t tolerate fools lightly.

Andreessen is tomorrow’s advance man, routinely laying out “what will happen in the next ten, twenty, thirty years,” as if he were glancing at his Google calendar. He views his acuity as a matter of careful observation and extrapolation, and often invokes William Gibson’s observation “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed…he asks questions that oblige his partners to envision a new world.

V.C.s are the “arms merchants” of Silicon Valley. They turn ideas into reality. Apple and Microsoft got started with venture money, as did Starbucks, the Home Depot, Whole Foods Market, and JetBlue. Facebook and Google are emblematic of the new age of the Valley, with Facebook literally occupying the abandoned offices of defunct Sun Microsystems.

In this environment, only the boldest presentation succeeds.

Pitch meetings are minefields. If a V.C. asks you, “When you get to a hundred engineers, are you worried about the company culture or excited?,” the correct answer is “A hundred? I want a thousand!” Reid Hoffman, a V.C. at Greylock Partners who co-founded LinkedIn, told me, “I look to see if someone has a marine strategy, for taking the beach; an army strategy, for taking the country; and a police strategy, for governing the country afterward.”

The key is thinking outside the box, way outside.

A16z wants to learn if the founder has a secret—a novel insight, drawn from personal experience, about how the world could be better arranged. If that new arrangement is 10x better, consumers might be won over. Balaji Srinivasan contributed the concept of the “idea maze”: you want the entrepreneur to have spent years thinking her idea into—and out of—every conceivable dead end.

Embracing failure

Despite all the hype and hoopla in the pitch sessions, V.C’s in Silicon Valley have a mixed record of accurately predicting the future.

Of the eighteen firms that V.C.s valued at more than a billion dollars in the heady days of 1999-2000, eleven have gone out of business or have been liquidated in fire sales, including @Home, eToys, and Webvan … The random, contingent way that the future comes to pass is a source of endless frustration in the Valley.

At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game.

It’s fine to have a lousy record of predicting the future, most of the time, as long as when you’re right you’re really right. Between 2004 and 2013, a mere 0.4 per cent of all venture investments returned at least 50x. The real mistakes aren’t the errors of commission, the companies that crash—all you can lose is your investment—but those of omission.

Given the need for aggressive proposals it’s little wonder that many outsiders, such as some Australian tech companies, are intimidated by the attitude adjustment needed to successfully pitch to V.C.’s.

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