Thursday, January 30, 2014

Got predictions?
























Starting around the New Year we get to listen to lots of predictions. Some seers claim to see, know, and tell all.

California Psychics has a one-minute YouTube video commercial titled Tomorrow Starts Today which at 0:40 shows the phrase Satisfaction Guaranteed.

But, when you look at the fine print they really claim very little.  Check out the Terms & Conditions web page which contains their Satisfaction Guarantee. The title of the very first paragraph is:

“FOR ENTERTAINMENT ONLY”

The following four paragraphs are titled ACCEPTANCE PROCEDURE, PRIVACY POLICY, OUR SERVICES, and RULES OF SERVICE. Then comes their sixth paragraph titled Our Satisfaction Guarantee, that hilariously begins by disclaiming:

“We don't guarantee that our psychics' predictions will come true, but we do our best to ensure that you enjoy the reading.”

Last September I blogged about Disclaiming Responsibility. A poster with the California Psychics disclaimer might look more like the following:





















The crystal seer was adapted from an image at the Library of Congress, and the blindfolded couple came from a VD prevention poster at the IHM.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A speech is not the same as an essay




















James A. Winans (1872 - 1956) said that:

“A speech is not merely an essay standing on its hind legs.”

Hamilton College has a web page about Spoken vs. Written Language that briefly discusses how oral language differs from written language. It has that quote, minus the word merely. The version with merely comes from page 17 of a 1931 book, A First Course in Public Speaking by James Albert Winans  and Hoyt Hopewell Hudson.

There’s a shorter version attributed to William Norwood Brigance:

“A speech is not an essay on its hind legs.”

mentioned by Stephen Boyd in a web page titled May I Quote You.

























A page from an essay needs pleats before it can stand up. 

The image of a Kodiak Bear came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Too many clichés can be terrifying!














On January 23rd Doug Savage’s Savage Chickens had a cartoon that began with the three clichés and punchline I’ve shown above. Look at The Easy Life to see the terrifying hybrid image he came up with to illustrate that punchline. It might have been inspired by the Eat Me and Deathmobile float shown in the movie Animal House.

Does your speech have too many clichés?

Images of the carrot cake and sardines in a barrel came from Wikimedia Commons, and the apple pie is from the National Cancer Institute.

Friday, January 24, 2014

British survey done for hypnotherapist Joseph Clough found the top five phobias were heights, spiders, social situations, confined spaces and crowds. Flying was sixth, and speaking in public was seventh
























Back on June 9, 2008  an article in the Daily Mail titled From Spiders to Open Spaces, the Fears That Make Millions of Us Shudder reported some results from a British survey of phobias in a sample of over a thousand people commissioned by celebrity hypnotherapist Joseph Clough. They mentioned that:

“The most prevalent is fear of heights, or acrophobia, affecting 28 per cent of those polled, followed by arachnophobia, or fear of spiders, which afflicts 22 per cent."

But, they didn’t mention percentages for the rest of the top ten. On June 15th, in an article titled Our Phobias Are Reaching New Heights, the Mirror News listed the top ten, but without showing percentages. 

A press release on June 1, 2010 at 10Yetis provided the percentages I’ve shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). Dying was eighth, germs were ninth, strangers were tenth, and vomit was eleventh. But, they didn’t give a percentage for open spaces. Neither did other press coverage on the media page at Mr. Clough’s web site.   

This survey is another one to bring up when someone tells you that public speaking always comes first. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Don’t just get on the bandwagon! Find your own speech topic and approach




















It’s easy to get into a rut, and pick a stale speech topic or point of view. Here are some suggestions for getting more creative.


Look someplace great - either very big or very small
















Don’t just do a wide open Google, or Bing, or Yahoo web search. (On Google you can limit to Adobe Acrobat files by adding filetype:pdf).

Look at the huge, free PMC (PubMed Central) database of almost three million biomedical and life sciences full-text magazine articles. A keyword search there on “storytelling” led me the the article about the Giant Inflatable Colon that I blogged about on January 15th. That keyword also led me to some articles on stories told by family physicians I blogged about last August.

Don’t just look around on the open web. Go to the web site for your public library. Then search in their databases for magazine articles. Use your library card as the key to unlock a better collection of information. Those databases even have subject indexes.

Or go look at the Alltop Speaking digital magazine rack of titles for the five most recent blog posts from about 80 different places. The title for this post was inspired by a post on Susan’s Blog.  

Look at the web archives for Toastmaster and NSA Speaker magazines. For example, the November 2013 issue of Toastmaster has an article by Denise Graveline on Speechwriting Secrets. Denise blogs as The Eloquent Woman, which is listed at Alltop Speaking. 


Find something local




















Last April I saw a newspaper article about a memorial honoring Jesus Urquides, a Mexican-American pioneer. Over at the public library I found Max Delgado’s 2006 book Jesus Urquides: Idaho’s Premier Muleteer. There is a wild story about how he once used a cluster of 35 mules to carry a six-ton coil of wire rope for an aerial tramway 70 miles from Challis over the mountains to the Yellowjacket gold mine. (The mosaic shown above is on the Capitol Boulevard Bridge in Boise).   


Flip things over














Instead of a “How-to” speech, do a "How-not-to” speech. My first  blog post on flip charts was Don’t be a “Flip Chart Charlie.”

Louis L’Amour wrote a whole bunch of novels about cowboys in the old American West. Then he once went completely out of that formula. Louis flipped things from West to East (Siberia), from cowboy to Native American, and from old west to the present, and created Last of the Breed


Pick a different viewpoint































Take a very long or a very short view of things. What does an extreme close-up view of the frost on my car roof look like? The lens on my decade-old Nikon Coolpix 995 camera can swivel (for things like self-portraits), so I pointed it downwards,  sat it on a piece of 2”x4” lumber, set the self-timer, and used a flashlight for side lighting. I expected mainly to see hexagonal ice crystals, but there were also lots of rectangles. The area shown is about half the original image, and is only about 0.3-inch wide.     


Find a different graphic




















Speaking of self-portraits, the most “far out” one I know of (shown above) was taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover. The cartoon of a bandwagon came from the Library of Congress web site, and is from way back in 1896.

UPDATE

Under Find something local I mentioned a newspaper article about Jesus Urquides. I looked up more information, and on February 5th I blogged about Mules over mountains - a wild mining story from old Idaho.

Monday, January 20, 2014

My fifteen seconds of fame over at Forbes.com












Yesterday at Forbes.com Micah Solomon posted an article titled A Professional Keynote Speaker Reveals All (Including Why Professional Speakers Need Pants).

In one sentence he meant to say that (my underline):

“No poll has ever shown that Americans are more scared of public speaking than they are of death.”

But, that’s not what he said. Instead it was that:

“No poll has ever shown that more Americans are scared of public speaking than they are of death.”

That second claim is rubbish, and so I commented that it was, and named three surveys which showed that (Bruskin 1973, Bruskin-Goldring 1993, and Roper 1996).

Next he replied that I should go look at Snopes.com, and I replied that thread mentions my research and blog posts. 

Then he replied by bringing up a difference between a “commonly mentioned” fear and a “worst fear”, and quoted a July 2012 press release about Dwyer and Davidson’s magazine article that I’d already discussed in May 2012. I’ve discussed both types of surveys in a post titled Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear.   

Finally when I quoted his original sentence, he realized that it indeed was rubbish, and changed it.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Survey done before last Halloween for Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in London found women’s top five fears were losing family members, being buried alive, speaking in public, dying, and fire




















Note that public speaking wasn’t first. When the Daily Mail reported about it on October 30th their headline was:

“Is public speaking a fate worse than death?
Most women are more scared of public
speaking than they are of dying”


Why did they follow the two-decade old Seinfeld joke about the third and fourth fears on the list? They were lazy and rephrased the first sentence of the October 23rd press release on the 72Point Digital Hub which said:

 “Women are more worried about speaking in public than DYING.” 

















































The press release said there was a survey of 2000 adults, and listed the top 88 fears for women shown above. (Click on either table for a larger, easier to read view). Another version at www.72point.com on October 30th also has links to press coverage they got worldwide. 

The headline for the press release claims that:

“WOODEN ICE LOLLY STICKS, CHICKENS AND
BEARDS AMONG MODERN DAY FEARS AND PHOBIAS”


Both chickens (#61) and beards (men with beards #65) are in that top 88 fears list, but ice-lolly (Popsicle) sticks are not. So why are sticks worthy of mention?

The text of the press release mentioned even more fears that weren’t on their list (positions for those which were are shown in parentheses):

“The top fears cited in the survey were losing family members, followed by being buried alive and then speaking in public.

However the survey did uncover a whole list of weird and wonderful phobias including wooden ice lolly sticks(?), chickens(#61), feet(#62) and men with beards (#65).


Some women confessed to having an irrational fear of peanut butter sticking in their mouths (#77), while others can’t bear the feel of polystyrene(79), woolly jumpers (#78) or cotton wool (#83).
 

Other weird and wonderful things guarantee to make some women shudder include bubble baths(?), people on stilts(?) and balloons popping(#59).

The study shows a large number of women are freaked out by things like the sight of blood(?), horror films(?) and scary television(?).”


Ripley’s Believe It or Not! London didn’t bother to briefly post about this survey on their own web site until November 14th, and curiously they didn’t link to the 72Point posts.   

The KEEP CALM poster came from William Louis.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Riding Shotgun - the Master of Ceremonies Should Protect the Speaker
























At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas famous director Michael Bay was supposed to help Samsung introduce a new product. It didn’t work out as planned, and instead he blogged:

“Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome Curved 105-inch UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing.

But I’m doing a special curved screen experience with Samsung and Transformers 4 footage that will be traveling around the world.
 

Michael”

Watch this video of how it went:




Lots of speaking coaches have commented about Michael’s performance, or lack thereof on this huge, unfriendly stage. On the digital magazine rack at Alltop Speaking they included:

Shari Alexander-
High-Pressure Presentations: Diagnosing Michael Bay’s Performance Bust

Diane Diresta -
Don’t Let What Happened to Michael Bey Happen to You
(and don’t spell the name of your subject wrong in the title)

Rich Hopkins -
3 Ways I Would Have Helped Michael Bay Prevent Speaking Armageddon

Jezra Kaye -
How to Learn from Michael Bay’s Public speaking Panic Attack

Nick Morgan -
Your Worst speaking Fear Realized: Michael Bay Meltdown

John Zimmer -
Five Lessons from Michael Bay’s ‘Meltdown’

In Hollywood westerns, the armed guard who sits next to the driver of a stagecoach for protection is “riding shotgun.” It’s his (or her) job to defend the driver and coach.

Rather than talk meltdown, I’ll note the emcee, Samsung’s Executive Vice President Joe Stinziano, could have saved the day but really didn’t. Joe could have pulled a copy of the teleprompter script out of his coat pocket and handed it to Michael. Or, he could have asked Michael if he thought that new curved-screen TV was an exceptional product.

Michael looked anxious and threatened as soon as he walked out, like he was going to be the Red Shirt  guy in a sci-fi movie or TV show. That’s the unimportant character who gets killed off at the start of the show, like in a Family Guy parody of Star Trek:

“Captain Kirk: 'All right men, this is a dangerous mission. And, it’s likely one of us will be killed. The landing party will consist of myself, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Ensign Ricky.’

Ensign Ricky: ‘Aw, crap.’ ”


The image for Riding Shotgun came from Wikimedia Commons.
     

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Do you hear what I hear?




















Maybe not. Don’t assume that your speech audience understands your every word. You might want to use some different words when you repeat a point or summarize. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a modegreen as:

“A word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung.”

In December 2013 the Snopes.com web site had a page about The Red and The Mondegreen with misheard lyrics from Christmas carols including the opening line:

“Joy to the world, the lord has gum!”

Was that regular or sugar-free gum?

I just got another illustration of just how far off some listeners can stray. When the Master Calls the Roll is a song about the Civil War on Rosanne Cash’s new album The River & the Thread. You can watch a video of it performed live here or listen to the studio version here.

When I did a web search for the lyrics, I found many sites had copied the same silly version. Here’s the second half, with ten misheard words or phrases coralled inside square brackets:  

"Chorus 2:
[Know] Though the season may come
[Know] Though the season may go
Beware the storm clouds gather
Take [heat in warm of soul] heed dear mortal soul
When the master calls the roll
 

But, can this union be preserved?
The soldier boy was crying
I will never travel back to her
But not for lack of trying

It’s a love of one true [heart at last] hearted lass
That made the boy a hero
But a rifle ball and a cannon blast
Cut him down to zero

Oh Virginia [once] whence I came
I’ll see you when I’m younger
And I’ll know you by your hills again
This [town] time from six feet under

Chorus 3:
[Know] Though the season may come
[Know] Though the season may go
[A man is] What man has torn asunder
[But someday we may know] Will someday be made whole
When the master calls the roll

Final chorus:
Though the storm clouds gather
Let the union be made whole
When the master calls the roll.”


Note that they got the final "Though" correct, but didn't think about whether all their preceding "[Know]s might be wrong. 

The 1901 image came from the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

An outrageous prop for a serious purpose - the giant inflatable colon




















In the United States cancer of the colon and rectum (colorectal cancer) is the fourth most common type of cancer. In 2013, 143,000 people were estimated to be diagnosed with it. The National Cancer Institute has a detailed publication on What You Need to Know About Cancer of the Colon and Rectum that you can either read or download.  But, discussing this topic is indelicate. What was needed is a change of perspective provided by seeing a huge but easy to use prop - the giant inflatable colon.   


Watch this Associated Press video about one appearing in Miami, Florida last March.

Walking through an inflatable colon significantly increased people’s knowledge, intention to get screened, and comfort in talking with others. Diana Redwood and co-workers at the Alaskan Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) in Alaska surveyed 880 adults for an article published last year in Preventing Chronic Disease magazine titled Giant Inflatable Colon and Community Knowledge, Intention, and Social Support for Colorectal Cancer Screening. You can also read or listen to an interview with Diana from December 2013 where she also talks about dressing up as Polyp Man.

ANTHC has two inflatable colons. Nolan the Colon, the giant one is 32 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 14 feet high. He cost $6000, and weighs about 160 pounds. They also have a smaller mini-colon, Nolan Junior, that’s ten feet long, and eight feet high and wide. It was designed to use in smaller venues. Both inflatables were built by Landmark Creations of Burnsville, Minnesota, which is about 15 miles south of downtown Minneapolis. An article about Landmark and their inflatable colons says they’ve built about a hundred of these unusual props. Who would have guessed there were that many of them around?  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Visualize failure and then plan for success
























That’s what retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says about handling fears (like that of public speaking) in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. It’s very different from what life or speaking coaches tell you about just visualizing success - because he’s been a test pilot.

In a 43-minute interview with Victoria Derbyshire on December 12th, 2013 at BBC Radio 5 that you can download or listen to, she asked him what he had  learned from being in space that helped him cope better on earth. Chris replied:

“Actually it’s not in space. That’s why I titled the book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. As of last December I’d been an astronaut twenty years. I’d been in space twenty days. So, an astronaut’s life is on earth, and occasionally, very rarely, we fly in space. The real lessons, a lot of them, at least from a personal point of view, are of course, developed and honed and learned and repeated on earth.
 

I would say the main one, maybe, that is of use to people is how do you deal with fear? Most people live their lives in fear, rational or maybe even more probably irrational, and they deny themselves a whole set of opportunities or maybe a whole section of life because they’re afraid of it, whatever it might be. Traveling to a certain place, or committing to having a family, or public speaking, or spiders, or something that you’re irrationally afraid of. 

I ride rockets. (Victoria: And you’re afraid of heights!) Well, yeah. But, how do you deal with that? How do you not let a fear dictate what you’re gonna to do with your life? And, the coping mechanism that, I tried to make it some sort of simple throwaway phrase in the book, but basically, um, Visualize Failure. Don’t visualize success. And, when I say visualize failure what I mean is, why are things gonna go wrong. Cause things, you can visualize success, but that doesn’t really help, cause things always go wrong. So, visualize failure. Do it in advance. It’s how we stay alive as astronauts.

But, if you can actually get to the core of whatever it is you’re planning to do, something simple. Getting to a job interview on time. Let’s look at the ten most probable failures. The alarm won’t go off, or my car will break down, or there will be a traffic jam, or whatever, I’ll freeze up, I won’t be prepared, I’ll spill something on my shirt. Simple things. But, visualize your most likely failures, and then have a plan. OK, this is what I’m going to do if this happens, this is what I’m going to do if this happens. This is why this is gonna work. And, you can apply it to something as prosaic as a job interview.

But, if you actually go through the process in advance. Visualize failure, and what your actions are going to be. You don’t end up feeling, you know, worried or depressed. In fact, you feel more optimistic and confident. Because, you know that, ok, I’ve got plans for all the most probable things that are gonna fail. And, it doesn’t take that much time. But the process is important. And, it’s the only way that, I was a test pilot before, it’s the only way I could stay alive as a test pilot. And, definitely the only way we could ever be successful riding rockets and living in orbit on a space station.”


The image came from Wikimedia Commons.   

Friday, January 10, 2014

A label with four very specific assembly warnings
























We received a box with the warning label shown above slapped on the outside. What made this product so dangerous during assembly?












It’s a 24” wide wooden wall rack with four Shaker pegs. Once it is installed it’s not very hazardous. 

The small parts that could cause choking were the two wood plugs for the screw holes. Those small parts with both sharp points and sharp edges were just a pair of drywall screws for mounting it on the wall.   

But, it came wrapped in a plastic bag and a 1/4” thick, 28” wide by 48” long piece of white foam plastic sheet. They didn’t warn that if you held that foam in front of your face you wouldn’t be able to see where you were going, and might slip, trip, and fall. (Also, if you wrapped a small child up in that sheet, it wouldn’t be safe to roll him down the stairs). 

The separate warnings for sharp points and edges are Too Much Information. They reminded me of an old Sidney Harris cartoon showing the side of a road with two adjacent, geologically specific warning signs that read:

FALLING
SEDIMENTARY
ROCK ZONE


FALLING
IGNEOUS
ROCK ZONE
1/4 MILE


























In a housing development south of Boise I saw the signs shown above. I’ve seen signs with just diagonal red and white stripes at the end of roads before. Presumably there is some “Failure to Warn” case law that led then to also add the SIDEWALK ENDS words on a separate sign.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Do you give a speech or just deliver one?















Do you show up early, meet your audience, speak, and then discuss things later? Or, do you fly in, drop off a standard package, and fly away?

Is your interaction with your audience just superficial like:

"Here’s your pizza."

"There’s your money."

"See you later!"


How much you give will determine whether or not you have a lasting impact.


























What does a speaker with zero audience engagement look like? Imagine a “bungee speaker” who jumps into the room, says some words, and then - sproing - he’s gone. (I got that mental image and sound from a 1994 Dilbert cartoon about a Bungee Boss, and seeing a Slideshare article by Akash Karia. My inspiration for the title was Rich Watts blog post last October 29th).

Images of the Navy pizza guy and bungee jumper came from Wikimedia Commons. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

“Here I am” - From photographic self-portrait to selfie
























In November 2013 Oxford Dictionaries picked selfie as their Word of the Year. That word apparently started in 2002, but self portrait photos go back to a few months after Daguerre announced his photographic method in August 1839.

A selfie is a great way to add yourself to an image for a presentation. It could be of a historical place, a person from your audience, or anything else that will add to the story you’re telling.

The self-portrait of Robert Cornelius in Philadelphia shown above was taken in October 1839. Back then producing a photo took several minutes, so a photographer could take off the lens cap, walk into the picture, and then stand still.

Then photo media got more sensitive and exposures dropped to several seconds. Over a century ago some cameras has shutters activated by a squeezing a rubber bulb (like on a turkey baster) connected by rubber tubing.   

Eventually single lens reflex cameras included self-timers. My first one, a 1981 Minolta XG-M gave me ten seconds to get into the picture. The photo still needed to be planned by setting the focus and lens aperture.














My first digital camera, a 2001 Nikon Coolpix 995 had both a self-timer and a lens assembly that could be rotated, so the LCD viewfinder gave a live view for self-portraits (as shown above).

Now it’s easy to take a selfie, because you can view the resulting image seconds after you take it. You can find guides like David Peterson's How to Take a Great Selfie, or 19 Tips for Taking Pretty Selfies from Seventeen magazine.    






























You even could plan a series of images. For example, I could have added myself to the track at the Golden Spike National Historic Site, and then showed the tie where that famous spike was driven to complete the transcontinental railroad.    

The Cornelius self-portrait came from the Library of Congress.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Demonstration Fail Tale




















In a recent blog post titled Public Speaking-(Using Props)-A Mississippi Mess Jonathan Sprinkles described a mealtime demonstration he tried that didn’t work. He started by showing that an egg sank to the bottom of a clear glass vase filled with water.

Then he added table salt, which was supposed to dissolve and make the egg float. (His point was that how things work can be different when you make just one change to your environment). But, even after he poured in a whole salt shaker worth the egg still sank.   

Jonathan said that:

“One of the people at the head table happened to be a science teacher. He discreetly leaned over to me when I sat back down and said, ‘Hey, it happened to me my first time, too. Next time, use warm water.’ ”

He warned:

“Don’t ever try something for the first time on stage, especially when you are getting paid. I got big-headed and forgot the importance of testing before I go live. No matter how well you think you know a part of your talk, practice it in the car, in your hotel room, over the phone, wherever. Don’t risk your rebooking on what you think you know.”

What else might be wrong? Maybe just not enough salt. A web page about Floating Eggs in Salt Water suggests using six tablespoons of salt per cup of water.  What else could go wrong? Use a hard boiled egg, not a raw one. You might crack a raw egg if you stir the water with a table knife to make the salt dissolve. 






















More complicated demonstrations have even more possible glitches. A common one is in products with rechargeable batteries, which can drain via self-discharge. (That’s why I have a spare battery pack for my electric drill). Check first, and bring along a charger and a spare.  

The egg image came from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Why don’t we celebrate the new year in downtown Boise by dropping a potato the size of a Subaru?

























Dylan Cline came up with that great idea. He created the grandly named Idaho New Year’s Commission and Grotato. Dylan and his supporters raised money, took $10,000 over to Weiser and had Sharolyn and Chris Schofield build a 16-foot long foam-covered replica of an Idaho spud.

You can watch the KTVB video or look at photos from the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press Tribune.

Boise State Public Radio described the spud as being Subaru-sized. The Schofields previously built the truck-mounted Big Idaho Potato that I blogged about in May 2012.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Toastmasters International got a Christmas present from the New York Times















It was an amusing 2200-word article by Henry Alford titled Ahem, Ummm, Well...(Joining Toastmasters to Overcome a Fear of Public Speaking).

Their intrepid investigative humorist discussed his mostly positive experiences at the New York Toastmasters club located in the city with that name. Mr. Alford commented that:

 “....Most of the group seemed shy and skittish, but a few of the men had the willed steeliness of the motivational speaker or serial killer.”

Surprisingly some of his descriptions of Toastmasters aren’t quite correct. For example he says the person who counts Ahs and Ums at a Toastmasters meeting is called the Grammarian when, of course, it’s the Ah Counter. (Some clubs combine those two roles to Ah Grammarian, which is perfect for obsessives or fussbudgets). He also says that members give prepared speeches that are four to seven minutes long. Eight of the ten speeches in the basic Competent Communication manual are five to seven minutes long. The first Icebreaker speech is four to six minutes, and the last Inspire Your Audience speech is eight to ten minutes. There also are longer speeches in some of the advanced manuals as shown here

After you have read his article you might consider joining Toastmasters, as I did. I found that being in a supportive club environment eventually reduced my fear of speaking to an acceptable level.

You should do more research first though. Henry said he did a Google Search to find a club, which is silly and something you definitely should not do. Instead, go to the Toastmasters International home page, look at the upper left corner, and click on the red FIND a location near you box. In the U.S. you can search by ZIP code and pick the preferred meeting day and time. There are 173 clubs within 10 miles of ZIP code 10016.  84 are open to all, but most others have member eligibility criteria (are corporate clubs). A few others like Bronx Advanced Speakers are specifically for experienced Toastmasters.

Times Toastmasters is the corporate club at the New York Times. That’s why I was surprised some of Henry’s descriptions weren’t correct. Whoever edited the article didn’t even bother to ask their inside subject matter experts, those club officers.

If there are several Toastmasters clubs in your area, you should visit more than one  before you join. Clubs differ, and one might be a much better fit for you than the others. Think about what day and meeting time would fit best into your life. If you’re a morning person, you might prefer a club that meets at 6:00 AM. Or, you might prefer noontime meetings. If you’re a night owl, you might prefer dinner time or evening meetings. Some clubs meet weekly, while others only meet on alternate weeks.

In February 2011 James Feudo posted A Primer for Attending Your First Toastmasters Meeting as a Guest. I suggest you read it. Mary E. Mann didn’t, and freaked out, as I described back in August.  

Carol M. Highsmith’s image of Santa Claus came from the Library of Congress.