The Art of Speaking  

Words are like matches

When you play with words, your meaning could go up in smoke.

By John Cadley

I was in a men’s clothing store recently when I happened upon a display of shirts marked “performance flannel.”

I was sorely tempted to ask a salesperson, “What time does the performance start?”

I didn’t, of course, and not just out of courtesy, but because I spent 33 years as an advertising copywriter creating the same sort of catchy phrases.

My friends joked that I lied for a living, which I did not. I simply dipped the truth in sugar. You must admit that “performance flannel” sounds better than just plain “flannel” and, while it doesn’t sing or dance or juggle flaming torches, it does, by keeping you warm, perform its duty as a flannel shirt. Close enough.

It is unfortunate, however, when someone tries to dip the truth in sugar and misses the bowl entirely. I saw an example of this on a billboard for a convenience store that read: If you don’t love our coffee, it’s free.

This seems to assume that if their coffee tastes like crankcase oil, I’ll like it better if it’s free, because people like anything that’s free, right?

In fact, I’ll be so be grateful for their generosity I won’t accuse them of trying to poison me. Or … what if I like their coffee but don’t really love it. Half price?

If “performance flannel” is legitimate, so too is “trained psychiatrist.” A trained psychiatrist sounds good, but if you’re untrained you’re not a psychiatrist, you’re my neighbour, who will be happy to diagnose what is wrong with you — not to mention the entire human race — free of charge.

In the same category, we find the “factory-trained technician,” which I can only take to mean that a technician trained in a factory is somehow more qualified than one trained elsewhere … like a classroom, maybe?

And what of this pandemic? If anything calls for sugar coating, it’s a worldwide plague that forces you to spend 24 hours a day with your children.

To make it more palatable, we refer to these times as “challenging,” “uncertain,” “trying,” or “unprecedented” —words that conjure images of warriors fighting gallantly in a great struggle, even if it only means wrestling a senior citizen in the supermarket for the last roll of toilet paper.

For politicians, of course, sugar coating is baked into the job description. It’s a legislator’s job to tell voters what they want to hear. If by some strange coincidence it happens to be true, that’s a bonus.

On the other hand, a politician must always appear to be telling the truth lest she or he lose the trust of the people who don’t want to hear it.

To accomplish this act of linguistic prestidigitation, a pol will frequently begin his or her remarks with “Make no mistake” or “Let me be clear.”

This positions the speaker as a true statesman who is about to take a definite stand on some issue whether the audience likes it or not — which, of course, they do because 27 focus groups have said so.

Another way of putting it might be: “This seemingly bold and risky position I’m taking is no mistake because my exhaustive demographic research makes it clear you’ll love it.”

As you might imagine, the medical profession faces special challenges here. Certain clinical diagnoses are best not stated bluntly lest the patient add panic disorder to his other maladies. Would you rather have a nice cholecystectomy or hear your doctor say, “Your gallbladder’s shot. I gotta open you up and pull it out?”

On the other hand, there are certain occasions when a patient might like a little more information. Case in point: The results of my latest physical exam indicated tersely that it was “unremarkable.”

Now, this is a good thing — my physician found nothing of concern — yet I somehow felt slighted. When a person my age gets a clean bill of health, it’s pretty remarkable, and I think “remarkably unremarkable” would have been a fine way to say it.

I don’t sugar coat anything, especially when it comes to transgressions against my beloved English language. For example, when someone references a large number as “hundreds and hundreds,” it is incumbent upon me to reply, “That’s one hundreds too many.

“Hundreds includes all the hundreds there are. If I bought a carton of eggs would I say I purchased eggs and eggs? Really? Let’s think before we speak.”

Does that make me sound like an irascible old prig? Tell me. And don’t sugarcoat it.

John Cadley is a former advertising copywriter, freelance writer and musician living in Fayetteville, New York. Learn more at www.cadleys.com, and toastmasters.org.


You think that's funny?

By John Cadley
Toastmaster Magazine

It’s one thing to write a humour column, and quite another to write a humour column about humour.

The latter requires that you not only make people laugh, but that you explain why they’re laughing in the process.

No mean feat, yet this is the task before me.

Curious readers, assuming I’m an expert, have written asking how the dynamic of humour works. Luckily, I define “expert” as someone who is an expert at convincing people they’re an expert.

Here is my expert opinion: If people laugh it’s funny; if they don’t it isn’t.

I know that sounds simplistic, but if your witticisms merely elicit a chuckle or chortle, the listener doesn’t get the considerable health benefits of a good, hearty laugh:

  • Increased oxygen to the muscles
  • Heightened endorphins
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Stress relief
  • Burned calories
  • A feeling of social connection to those with whom you are sharing the laugh.

You may think this type of laughter sounds like ha-ha-ha or ho-ho-ho but, physiologically speaking, those two sounds are quite unnatural for humans to emit.

The only person who can make them is Santa Claus, and he can only do one. What’s more, an alternating ha-ho-ha-ho laugh is actually physically impossible. (Don’t test me by trying or you’ll end up in the emergency room with a compound fracture of the funny bone.)

On the other hand, ho-ha-ha and ha-ha-ho are within our capabilities, requiring the contraction and relaxation of 15 facial muscles, constriction of the epiglottis, and stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle which raises the corners of the mouth. The people who tell us this are gelotologists—scientists who study laughter.

I understand they don’t laugh much, not because they are humourless but because they’ve heard “Hey, nice move with your zygomatic major!” one too many times.

So you see, laughter is quite an accomplishment, and there are so many kinds. Contagious laughter, for instance, is when you literally laugh at laughing. One person starts, then another, and pretty soon 50 people are howling at … what? Nobody knows.

We also have maniacal laughter, indicating psychopathology; cackling, veering toward the occult; and diabolical laughter, which is as funny as an exorcism.

Etiquette laughter is another variety, employed when something is not funny to spare the feelings of the person who thinks it is … and nervous laughter, used when you’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t laugh.

Further along the continuum we find uncontrollable laughter, which can actually be fatal; the “snort,” which could result in passing food through your nose; and canned laughter, generated by a machine to create the impression that real people are laughing at something real people would never laugh at.

Physically, you can burst out laughing, crack up, dissolve, convulse, end up in stitches, or “laugh your head off,” proving that one person’s amusement is another person’s medical disaster.

Finally, there’s laughter from being tickled, which, technically, is not laughter at all. It is a conditioned response to being touched by another, which, to the primal brain, can signal either affection or aggression. Not knowing which, the hypothalamus hits the laugh switch as a signal of submission.

Your “laughter” is actually a way of saying “I give up. You win. Take my stuff.”

You see, then, that laughter is a funny thing, not all of it funny. The only kind that “checks all the boxes,” as we say these days, is the belly laugh. This is the real thing, the kind that produces all the benefits with no known side effects. If you’re going to laugh, this is the one you want.

The way I laugh from the belly is by reading about the Darwin Awards, given to real people who prove they are somewhere at the back end of the evolutionary chain by committing an officially documented act of astounding stupidity.

One recipient was a man who placed a $20 bill on the counter at a Louisiana gas station and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash register, the man pulled a gun, demanded all the money, and fled.

His take amounted to $15 — $5 less than the $20 he had left on the counter, thus accomplishing the amazing feat of losing money in a robbery, while presenting law enforcement with the question: Is it a crime to give somebody money at gunpoint?

That man is funnier than I will ever be.

John Cadley is a former advertising copywriter, freelance writer and musician living in Fayetteville, New York. Learn more at www.cadleys.com. This article appeared in Toastmaster magazine. To learn more about Toastmasters, check https://www.toastmasters.org or Kelowna AM Toastmasters.

5 common Zoom mistakes

By Wade Paterson 

In 2020, many of us were introduced to Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms.

While this technology is helpful in allowing us to maintain business and personal relationships via video meetings, there are a few common mistakes many people continue to make on these platforms.

Below are the Top 5 Mistakes Speakers Make on Zoom Calls (and how you can avoid them).

Mistake #1 – Not Looking at the Camera

Eye contact is one of the most important skills of a polished public speaker. Effective eye contact keeps the audience engaged and makes everyone feel included in the presentation.

So how the heck do you make eye contact through a computer or phone?

While it may feel awkward, it’s important to look directly at the camera when speaking on a Zoom meeting.

Even though you can’t see the eyes of your audience, they will have the feeling that you are looking directly at them, which will help keep them engaged with what you are saying.

It’s OK to glance at the screen to see others’ reactions and facial expressions from time to time, but you want to be looking at the camera at least 80% of the time.

Mistake #2 – Swivelling in Your Chair

When you’re sitting in front of the computer all day, a comfortable swivel chair is a much better option than a chair that doesn’t move at all. But when it comes to a Zoom meeting, the opposite is true.

A common mistake speakers make on Zoom calls is swivelling in their chair as they speak, which is distracting for the audience.

One thing you may want to consider is keeping a stationary chair somewhere in your office. When it’s time for your Zoom meeting, you can substitute the swivel chair for one that doesn’t move.

If this isn’t possible, you’ll have to make a mental note to sit still with good posture, because we often swivel without even thinking about it.

Mistake #3 – Not Understanding When to Use the Mute Button

Perhaps the most common mistake people make on Zoom calls is not understanding how (and when) to use the mute button.

This is one of the first things you want to familiarize yourself with if you’re brand new to Zoom, because if you don’t mute your microphone when someone else is speaking, any background noise from your surroundings could be incredibly distracting for everyone else on that call.

On the other hand, if you’ve muted yourself and someone asks you a question, you want to quickly be able to unmute yourself to answer without hesitation.

Of all the mistakes, this is likely the most common, and the most important one to avoid.

Mistake #4 – Using a Virtual Background

Some people may disagree with me on this point, but I’m going to say it anyway: it is a mistake to use a virtual background on a Zoom call.

The Zoom virtual background feature allows you to display an image or video as your background during a Zoom meeting.

While this option seems ideal from a branding perspective (or to hide clutter stacked behind you in your office), from a psychology standpoint, virtual backgrounds take away a layer of trust from your audience.

When you use a fake background, others on the call may subconsciously question what you are hiding.

In my opinion, you’re better off cleaning up the space behind you and letting others see you in your natural environment.

Mistake #5 – Forgetting About Traditional Public Speaking Skills

Even though your meeting is virtual, it doesn’t mean you can’t use essential in-person public speaking skills such as: body language, vocal variety and speech structure.

If you’re telling a story that requires hand gestures, bring those hands up into the view of the camera to utilize body language. Speak loud (or soft) to emphasize a point. And if you’re giving a full presentation, make sure it has a beginning, a middle and an end.

By avoiding these 5 common mistakes, you will come across as a professional, virtual speaker.

If you’re interested in learning more about being an impactful communicator, head over to my YouTube channel.

Wade Paterson is a champion public speaker with Kelowna AM Toastmasters.


Talk away your fear


Reasons to Join Toastmasters

By Wade Paterson

Have you been thinking about joining a Toastmasters Club, but you’re not sure if it’s the right thing for you?

Below are five reasons why I think you should consider joining Toastmasters.

Reduce Stress Associated with Public Speaking

I joined RE/MAX of Western Canada as a social media/communications coordinator in 2014. A few months later, I learned I had to speak to a group of 60 new RE/MAX agents for 30 minutes at our monthly sales associate orientation events.

Although I had been told I was a good public speaker, the idea of speaking in front of this group every single month gave me anxiety.

I joined the Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club (we meet at The Royal Anne Hotel in downtown Kelowna every Thursday morning at 6:45 a.m.) with the simple goal of reducing that stress.

Within three months, I noticed a significant reduction in my own anxiety. The bonus was that I was sharpening my public speaking skills at the same time.

Ditch the Umms and Ahhs

One of the most common weaknesses of an inexperienced public speaker is the addition of “umms” and “ahhs” to their speeches.

Why do we use these words between sentences? Because it feels uncomfortable to allow silence to fill the gaps. Although it may feel awkward for the speaker, it doesn’t feel that way for the audience. In fact, silence between sentences is easy to listen to; crutch words such as “umm” and “ahh” are distracting.

Each Toastmasters meeting has an Ahh Counter, who makes note of each speaker’s crutch or filler words, then delivers a report at the end of the meeting. Before Toastmasters, I didn’t realize how often I would say “umm,” but attending these meetings has helped me almost completely eliminate that crutch word from my speech.

Body Language and Vocal Variety

The way a message is communicated can be broken down into three percentages:

  • 55%
  • 38%
  • 7%.

The 55% represents body language; the 38% represents vocal tone; the 7% represents the actual words we say. That means 93% of a message is communicated non-verbally.

At Toastmasters, there is a heavy focus on purposeful body language and incorporating vocal variety to keep the audience engaged. Each speaking role has an evaluator who points out what the speaker did well, and what the speaker can improve upon.

Become a Better Listener

One of the most surprising things I discovered about Toastmasters is beyond becoming a better speaker, I became a better listener.

As I mentioned in the previous point, every speaking role is evaluated; therefore, when you sign up to be an evaluator at Toastmasters, you are forced to listen intently in order to give constructive feedback to the speaker.

Throughout my five years as a Toastmaster, my listening skills have strengthened. I am more focused in one-on-one conversations, and I get more value out of listening to other speakers.

It’s Like Going to the Gym

This last point is perhaps better categorized as a reason you should continue going to Toastmasters, even if you’ve been going for several years.

Pretend that you had a gym membership for six months in 2015, then you stopped going altogether for the next five years. The result would likely be that you got into decent shape in 2015, and have since regressed from not working out since then.

Public speaking is similar. Time and time again, I have seen new Toastmasters join our club with little confidence, then, after six months of consistently attending meetings, they evolve into polished speakers.

I have also witnessed people leave the club after reaching a certain proficiency, then come back as a guest a year or two later. While they are still a stronger speaker than they were before attending any Toastmasters meetings, they are far weaker than the level they were at when they were attending regular meetings.

Although my attendance record is far from perfect, I fully intend to be a Toastmaster for years to come.

If you’re interested in learning more about being an impactful communicator, head over to my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTEVBsx27Ub6vv0gu6ARsAg?view_as=subscriber

Wade Paterson is a champion public speaker with Kelowna AM Toastmasters.

More The Art of Speaking articles

About the Author

The mission of a Toastmaster Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment that offers every member the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.

There are eight Toastmasters clubs in the Central Okanagan.

For more information and/or to find a club near you, check http://www.toastmasters.org.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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