Category Archives: Public Speaking

Troy Toastmasters Club

I’ve seen statistics that show people fear speaking in public more than they do death.  I used to be one of these people.  I learned this lesson first hand several years ago, when I was the best man and had to give a few words and toast at a wedding in front of a few hundred people.  This was the first time I was ever in front of that large of an audience, with the attention solely on me (even if it were for only a few moments.)

While preparing I felt pretty confident, I knew the material, most of the audience and wasn’t really too nervous about it, that is until 30 seconds before I was handed the microphone.  My heart sunk, my hands trembled and I eecked out a horrible display of public speaking, full of filler words and disorganized thoughts.  In hindsight, there was a clear lack of appreciation for true “preparation.”  That was a valuable lesson for me, as I sat down and tried to calm my nerves, trembling, trying to drink some water, I vowed to never embarrass myself like that again.

From there, I went on to read several books about public speaking, I even took a class at a community college in the evenings to learn about the discipline of public speaking, preparation, research, outlines, etc. Needless to say, I’ve improved.  My confidence in speaking publicly has also improved.  That’s not to say I’m a polished speaker, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve overcome the first of many barriers – I no longer fear it more than death.

Speaking, communication, negotiation, whatever you want to call it is a fundamental skill in today’s society.  Being an effective communicator is crucial to your own success, credibility and influence you have with your peers, friends and even family.  In my role, (and active community involvement) I get asked from time to time to do talks on various subjects, inside and out of my organization – each of which I draw from my experience; sure I still get nervous, but after each I gain in experience and confidence making each future talk more manageable and in some cases I even look forward to them.  One day, I may even hope to give a talk at a TED conference!  Shoot for the stars – right!?

I, like you, have probably heard of Toastmasters, but until recently didn’t know all that much about them.  A good friend of mine, Danielle (@ddelonge) of Davenport University – helped to motivate me to check out a local Toastmasters here in Troy, MI.  The Troy Toastmasters, Club #2357 (Area 23, Division E, District 28) – meets weekly at 11:45 each Thursday at Dupont Automotive (950 Stephenson Hwy, Troy, MI, 48083.)  This group (to me) was the exact venue to help keep me engaged, further developing my speaking skills, as large gaps (and busy schedules) can prevent me from practicing and the TM group (along with Danielle) provides a positive support system – much like a workout friend.

Not having had exposure to other Toastmaster clubs, I can only assume they all as well run as the Troy group is.  If you’re looking for an outlet to increase your confidence speaking publicly, increasing your verbal (and non-verbal) communication skills, confidence and all the benefits that come along with it, I HIGHLY recommend you check them out.  The group has well balanced experience, with very polished, experienced speakers, as well as total beginners, starting at step 1.  The group is highly organized, with distinct roles & responsibilities to ensure each and every meeting is good use of your time, getting everyone involved, and most importantly introducing you to the benefits of becoming a good speaker – both through positive reinforcement as well as constructive criticism.

The Troy group also has access to excellent facilities, from a large auditorium stage with stadium-style seating (for large, formal speaking engagements) to conference rooms (where most presentations occur.)  Formats include several timed, structured speeches, to one-minute intros and table topics, as well as debates – getting you full exposure to all different types of communication formats and environments – which will surely help you increase your confidence while preparing for you next big presentation – hopefully I’ll see you there!

“The mission of a Toastmasters Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.  We have fun in the process.”

Detroit – While I was away..

TEDxDetroit bootleg.

Poetry Slam champion and award winning singer/songwriter D Blair brought the house to its feet in a standing ovation. His poem ‘Detroit (While I Was Away)’ was awe-inspiring.

Looking forward to TEDxDetroit!

The area’s leading creators, catalysts, entrepreneurs, artists, technologists, designers, scientists, thinkers and doers will gather on Wednesday, October 21st to share what they are most passionate about — positive ideas for the world from Detroit.  For more info, visit:

TED is an annual event where the top minds in the world share, connect and inspire. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design — three subjects that, collectively, shape our future. The event draws CEOs, scientists, creatives, philanthropists and extraordinary speakers including Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Frank Gehry, Sir Richard Branson, Philippe Starck and Bono.

You can view hundreds of other interesting an engaging TEDtalks from extraordinary speakers like Al Gore, Jill Bolte Taylor, Seth Godin, Elizabeth Gilbert and Tony Robbins at

Are CIOs Suffering from Technology Presbyopia?

I had the honor of seeing Andre’s presentation in person a couple weeks back at the CIO Executive Summit | Detroit (in Dearborn.)  If you are remotely interested in technology and the increasing speed of innovation, this talk is worth it’s weight in gold – very “TED” esq.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Every recession of the past few decades has spawned massive restructuring of technology and an abundance of opportunity when the inevitable rebound occurs. Special Olympics International Global CIO André Mendes sees a veritable maelstrom of change sweeping us into the next generation of innovation, with life-changing consequences for people worldwide. In this inspirational keynote, Mendes envisions a near future where culture, business and technology are tightly intertwined and virtually indistinguishable; where societies are forever altered and where technology serves as a guidepost for a “higher level of reality” in the fast-evolving world of the 21st century.

TEDxDetroit Invitation

Just received confirmation for attendance to TEDxDetroit – the area’s leading creators, catalysts, entrepreneurs, artists, technologists, designers, scientists, thinkers and doers which will gather on Wednesday, October 21st to share what they are most passionate about — positive ideas for the world from Detroit.

If you haven’t applied, better hurry up – this invitation only event is filling up fast!  More details can be found:

Much thanks the @Charlie, Curve Detroit and the whole crew for helping to bring this awesome event to Detroit!

How to talk technology to humans

My first session at CodeMash was the pre-conference Weds night – a panel about promoting tech to “others” (being clients, business associates, managers, etc.)  The converstation started off initially from a consultant perspective, touching on the challenges in promoting newer “edge” technologies to decision makers/execs who aren’t yet familiar and/or vested in their current offerings.  One story referenced how clients would specifically seek out java or .net applications – before even discussing the business requirements.  The panel agreed this was the wrong approach.  Understanding the requirement should come first, then align the most appropriate technology to solve the specific need.  It shouldnt be technology first, problem second. Seems to make sense. 

Next came a comment about devs not being “consultants” – however, the panel disagreed.  Devs are constantly “selling”, albeit internally, they are still speaking to, persuading or recommending improvements – and this is nothing different.  Joe went on to add, he believed Thought Works to be doing it right – hire the smartest most capable people and the technology will follow, in other words, if a company must standardize on a platform, leave it up to the dev to implement the most appropriate language.

Agile also found its way into the converstion, as agile adoption has been mixed, especially in bigger organizations, and in some cases its actually being done wrong.  Agile is about feedback. how you deliver it is as important as what you deliver.  One recommendation was to be a “virus” start small, independatly, write unit tests, techniques will get noticed in productivty, quality, etc – others (worthy) will notice, ask questions, experiment.  After unit testing, implement version control/automated builds and eventually continuous integration (CI).  Use index cards/stickies in your area to define work (“stories”) – keep tasks small, focused, you’ll get more done faster.  Evaluate pair-programming..

Techniques included selling your ideas is easier than selling yourself.  lead by example (even if quietly).  Interested, passionate devs will follow.  they took a survey and asked people with cool jobs to raise their hand – 80% went up.  They went on to add, (i believe according to a piece from Dave Thomas) – attendees were in the top 10% of their field.  which makes sense, those seeking out to better themselves do tend to advance more often. 

When promoting a new technology, never under-estimate how boring you can be.  You may have already sold them, let others absorb the info and ask questions.  Other “sales” tips included: match body language, replicate verbal buoyancy, match speech speed and get to know people and what motivates them.

Lastly, they ended with how to drive change when consistently facing deadlines.  First off, (per agile) nothing should take more than 6 months to put into produciton.  Ala SOA, de-couple, break things into smaller tasks, this also enables adopotion of multiple technologies by isolating functional units, which helped to clarify how/when you choose to change technologies (from current to latest/greatest).  There is no single answer, sometimes what you doing makes sense.  if the technology you are using is still effective, there may be no need to change?  Try to find the right technology for the task, emphasis simplicity – to do so you obviously need to stay abreast of the latest flavors.  Start with a little at a time.  Play with things in your spare time, make time if need be.  A 2 hour window can even yield productivity with newer edge technologies.  Lastly, get help from the community, read blogs, ask questions.

Not bad. So far, we’re off to a good start.

Crains Detroit Newsmaker of the Year

Detroit needs entrepreneurs, and he’s put serious money into getting them started,   that’s why Dan Gilbert is Crain’s 2006 Newsmaker of the year. For those of you not familiar, Dan Gilbert is the chairman and founder of Quicken loans.  Mr. Gilbert is also the majority owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, employs over 5,000 people through several of his businesses, one of which (Quicken Loans, Inc.) was ranked a top 15 “Best Place to Work” in America by FORTUNE magazine for the past three years and ranked the #1 place to work for technology employees in the United Stated by Computerworld Magazine two years in a row (2005 & 2006).

Dan grew up in Michigan, still lives here and is involved in several current business ventures.  One noteworthy initiative, in November 2006 Dan announced that he had formed and funded ($10 million) Bizdom U, an entrepreneurial academy that opened its doors in January in rented space at Wayne State University.  Bizdom U is a two-year program to teach entrepreneurship to area residents so they can start businesses in the city of Detroit.  Gilbert will pay for students housing, meals and lend them a laptop and blackberry.  Bizdom U will also fund some startups with investments ranging from $25K to $500K with the academy retaining an equity position in the successful businesses in order to provide seed money for more startups.  Much more information on Mr. Gilbert can be found online, just google him for a more in depth background.

A few of us attended this years Newsmaker of the year luncheon at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center.  After a quick bite, Dan took the stage and after a few thank you’s got right into his presentation.  He started off with his company’s guiding principals, he referred to as “ISMS”.  He went on to explain how there are is no “secret sauce” in the success he (and his organizations) have achieved, slighting other organizations with “proprietary success formulas” or more specifically, local auto companies that are struggling to find their way.  It all starts and ends with… Culture, Environment and Philosophy.

Dan went on to explain how his organizations greatly empower its employees to “do the right thing”, challenge one another and how all the little things can add up and contribute toward achieving truly great things.  He then showcased several items employees themselves uncovered, helping the organization become better.  One example was of overflowing dumpsters, a new hire had noticed clear trash bags being used to contain lots of company documents that were over-flowing the dumpsters.  Not only was this unsightly, but the bags made it easy to identify potentially confidential paperwork (which could lead to identity theft) – which ultimately lead to improved shredding practices.

Additionally, Dan breathed life into several other “ISMs” such as:

  • Always raising the levels of awareness – They expect all team members to notice what’s going on around them.
  • The inches we need are everywhere around us – opportunities to make a difference are everywhere, and usually they’re found in the little things.
  • Responding with a sense of urgency is the ante to play – on their team they return all phone calls and emails the same day.  Not just clients and partners, but to each other!  They kill each other with courtesy… and very quickly.
  • Every client.  Every time.  No exceptions.  No excuses – clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • Obsessed with finding a better way – don’t settle.  If its good, make it great.  If its great, lets take it to an even higher level.
  • Ignore the noise – don’t take your eyes off the ball.  Tune out the bad days, obstacles and naysayers.
  • Its not about WHO is right, but WHAT is right – it doesn’t matter where ideas come from, what matters is which idea is the right idea.  Egos (or lack therof) are checked at the door.
  • We are the “they” – there is no “they”. “They” does not exist.  We are the “they”.  One team. United.  All in this mission together.
  • You have to take the roast out of the oven – wrap it up.  Finish the job.  Execute!  Over-analyzing can kill an idea and possibly make you miss an opportunity.
  • You’ll see it when you believe it – do you believe it? Then you can make it happen.  It doesn’t work the other way around.
  • Every second counts – Time, not money, is the most valuable commodity of all.  It can never be replaced.
  • A penny saved is a penny – choose to make your time valuable.  Spend it chasing pennies and you will find pennies.  Spend it on ideas, innovation, developing your talent, design, marketing, technology, and you will find a lot more than pennies.
  • Eat your our own dog food – We should be our companies biggest fans, referring others and providing the best possible products, services and places to work.
  • Simplicity is genius – If Forrest Gump or your 87-year-old Grandfather can’t understand it, then don’t say it. You don’t need to be complicated to be great!
  • Innovation is rewarded.  Execution is worshipped – a great idea is just the first step.  The real magic is bringing that idea to life with great execution.
  • Do the right thing – the high road is not a short cut.  Stick to the highest standard of integrity, without compromise.  And remember, character is what you do when no one is looking over your shoulder! 

In summary, the presentation was very good.  In fact, even an eye opener for lots of us, consistent with other great leaders, many of the things that make organizations successful are well known, discipline and the intent to “do the right thing”  should be enough to overcome most obstacles, even those found in our struggling automotive sector. 

Michigan needs more guys like Dan, more companies that operate by these philosophies and most importantly, an increase in the diversity of job providers. Michiganians have a lot to offer, skilled trades, strong work ethic and passion to name a few. I look forward to the day Michigan can offer an environment worthy of top-notch talent, keeping our graduates here and providing new, thriving industries (other than automotive.)