Um… Watch Yourself!

After appearing live on Providence’s leading local digital news and information network, I watched the video footage of myself with news editor Kate Nagle on GoLocalProv.com, and I self-assessed my presentation skills. I managed to tell a good story… yet… um… oh, that um word… and just like a little kid, I was unable to finish one sentence or complete thought before diving into another… all of which I attribute to nervous energy… excited nervous energy… which hopefully serves a purpose, because I was super excited to appear with Kate and convey my passion for The Jester & Pharley Phund.

35 years ago, I took a class in Corporate Communications at the Tuck School of Business. There was one particular learning activity… in which each student took a turn to stand and give a speech… while observant classmates were assigned to provide feedback on one aspect of the presentation. Below are the aspects I recall:

Eye contact – Was I looking at my audience? On TV or video, this means looking into the lens of the camera and, occasionally, the eyes of the interviewer, as opposed to averting the gaze downward or off into nowhere… Eye contact is critical for engaging an audience.

Posture, Poise and Positioning – Was I standing up straight or was I slumped over? Was I swaying nervously back and forth? Good posture conveys confidence in oneself and in one’s topic. Purposeful pacing can be effective when space allows… walking among the audience to enhance engagement. When speaking before a still camera, however, its important stay positioned well within the frame of the lens.

Pacing of Voice – Was I speaking too fast or too slow? If one speaks too fast, people may be unable to process the information. If one speaks too slowwwly… people may get sleepy and inattentive.

Projection and Clarity of Voice – Was I speaking loudly and clearly enough? Because, if one speaks too softly, the audience is unable hear… and if one mumbles, the information is lost.

Facial Expression – Did my face express my excitement or my concern about my topic of choice… or did I appear bland and disinterested in my own topic? An expressive face helps to create an emotional connection with the audience.

Hand Gestures – Were my hands moving dramatically, like an Italian, or were they held rigidly in the fig leaf position? Gestures animate the storytelling.

Um – How many times did I utter um in the conversation? How does one overcome the um? Practice helps. Video-taping the practice for self-assessment is even better. When busyness allows little time for practice, one must simply try to be more conscious of the ubiquitous um and summon a pause instead of an um…. A pause of one or two seconds provides listeners with a moment to process the spoken words… and allows the speaker’s message to penetrate minds more deeply.

Um, which sounds like hum, is certainly better than uh, which sounds like duh. It is also better then er, which sounds like a mistake. Strong public speakers work hard to eliminate these annoying little words, so that listeners can focus more clearly on their message. Um, hum, hmmm… I seem to possess the nervous energy of a bee, however, I also possess an intense amount of passion… I speak from my heart… I speak my own truth… unvarnished and sometimes infused with a few ums… which I’ll continue to work on eliminating from my vocabulary.

For educational purposes only, read this blog again and imagine replacing every dot-dot-dot (pause) with an um, or… better yet… watch my GoLocalProv interview, and consider giving to The Jester & Pharley Phund.

Game Boy

On February 19, 2017, our Jester, Neil Fachon, crossed over into another realm. The first condolence letter to arrive was from Neil’s friend Trey, whose mother, Gail, was our home care nurse. Trey captured memories of Neil’s love of game play in a long letter. He placed the letter inside a note card. On the face of the card was an original photograph Trey had taken of flowering dogwood. The image was fitting, as every spring a dogwood tree would bloom outside the bedroom window where Neil sat at his computer.

Although Neil and Trey grew up in different towns and attended different schools, they had a friendship that began with recreational soccer when they were grade-school age and continued on into their college years.

So, what does one say or write to a bereaved family? How does one find the right words? Trey just allowed the words to flow and filled two folded sheets of lined paper, with his neat all-caps style of handwriting. His thoughts and memories poured out onto the pages in a fluid stream of consciousness…

DEAR MR. FACHON, MRS. FACHON, AND EVIE,

I WOKE UP THIS MORNING AT ABOUT 7:45 A.M. AND JUST LIKE ANY OTHER DAY, I CHECKED MY EMAILS, LOOKED AT THE NEWS, AND PEEKED AT MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT. I STARTED SCROLLING DOWN MY HOME PAGE, STOPPED SCROLLING ABRUPTLY, AND SAW “A WISE OLD SOUL HAS RETURNED HOME… NEIL PASSED AWAY JUST AFTER 7 P.M. LAST NIGHT.” OVER THE PAST 6 MONTHS OR SO, I HAVE BEEN GETTING CONSISTENT REPORTS ON NEIL’S WELL-BEING (NEIL WAS THE FIRST ONE I STARTED CHECKING IN WITH, AND THEN LATER MY PARENTS WERE UPDATING ME)…WHEN I SAW THAT FACEBOOK POST (HAVING ALREADY KNOWN NEIL WAS NOT DOING WELL AND WAS IN HOSPICE CARE), I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO REACT. I WAS SAD, DISTRAUGHT, PERPLEXED, AND FRUSTRATED WITH MYSELF (FOR NOT HAVING BEEN ABLE TO HELP, BEING HERE IN PENNSYLVANIA). HOWEVER, IN THE MOMENT, I DECIDED TO BE CONSTRUCTIVE AND TO BROWSE OVER MY HISTORY WITH NEIL. FOLLOWING IS A LIST OF SOME OF THE BIG THINGS THAT HAVE STUCK WITH ME: PLAYING DODGEBALL WITH NEIL’S FRIENDS AND NEIL IN THE BASEMENT OF THEIR HOUSE ON ASHBROOK RUN, PLAYING H-O-R-S-E WITH THE BASKETBALL HOOP OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSE (NEIL WAS ALWAYS VERY TALENTED AT IT; I WOULD SOMETIMES TELL HIM IT WAS LUCK, BUT HE’D KEEP MAKING THE SHOTS), PLAYING RECREATIONAL AND COMPETITIVE SOCCER WITH NEIL (INDOOR/OUTDOOR) THROUGHOUT MY YOUTH (NEIL WAS ALWAYS A TEAM PLAYER; ALWAYS ONE TO PASS THE BALL AND GIVE SOMEONE ELSE A CHANCE), PLAYING SOCCER FOR PRACTICE IN OUR BACKYARDS, GOING OUT FOR SOME SAILING ADVENTURES ON “QUANTUM LEAP” IN POINT JUDITH POND (NEIL WOULD ALWAYS LOVE TO PLAY HEARTS (AND OTHER CARD GAMES WITH ME IN THE CABIN AND SEE IF HE COULD “SHOOT THE MOON” AGAINST ME), PLAYING “BACKYARD SOCCER’ WITH ME ON HIS COMPUTER (WE WOULD ALWAYS BE OVERJOYED AND OVERCOME WITH LAUGHTER WHENEVER WE SCORED SOME ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ GOALS), PLAYING POOL IN MY BASEMENT (WITH LIMITED ROOM TO MAKE A SHOT AND WITH SOME BENT POOL STICKS – NEIL DIDN’T WORRY ABOUT THOSE SMALL THINGS; HE WAS JUST GLAD TO BE DOING SOMETHING FUN FOR BOTH OF US). THOSE ARE SOME, BUT NOT ALL, OF THE MEMORIES THAT HAVE DEFINED MY FRIENDSHIP WITH NEIL. HE WAS ALWAYS A LEADER, ALWAYS AN ACTIVIST, ALWAYS ATHLETIC, ALWAYS A TEAM PLAYER, ALWAYS THOUGHTFUL, ALWAYS BOLD AND ADVENTUROUS, ALWAYS STRONG, ALWAYS PASSIONATE, ALWAYS FORGIVING, ALWAYS CHEERFUL, ALWAYS CLEVER, ALWAYS ABLE, ALWAYS WELL-READ, ALWAYS A FIGHTER, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY TO ME, ALWAYS A FRIEND. EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS A TIME WHERE ADVENTURES LED US IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS, THERE HAS NEVER BEEN AND NEVER WILL BE A TIME WHERE I HAVE FORGOTTEN OR WILL FORGET NEIL, AND ALL THE JOY AND HAPPINESS HE HAS BROUGHT TO MY LIFE THROUGH OUR FRIENDSHIP. NEIL WILL FOREVER BE WITH ME IN SPIRIT. I WOULD LIKE TO SINCERELY THANK ALL OF YOU FOR LETTING ME KNOW AND BECOME FRIENDS WITH SUCH A CARING AND GENUINE MAN. I WOULD LIKE TO GIVE THE MOST SINCERE OF CONDOLENCES TO EACH OF YOU. WHAT GIVES ME COMFORT IS KNOWING THAT NEIL’S LIFE AND EVERYONE’S MEMORIES OF NEIL SHALL NEVER FADE. EACH PERSON WHOM NEIL HAS TOUCHED IN HIS LIFE WILL BRING NEIL IN SPIRIT WITH THEM IN THEIR EXPERIENCES AROUND THE WORLD. NEIL WILL BE LIVING VICARIOUSLY THROUGH EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US. JUST BECAUSE NEIL HAS PASSED DOES NOT MEAN THE CELEBRATION OF HIS LIFE IS OVER. RATHER, THE CELEBRATION OF HIS LIFE HAS MERELY HIT A NEW PHASE, ONE IN WHICH MEMORIES OF HIM AND WITH HIM WILL LIVE ON FOREVER.

BY YOUR SIDE IN THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS,

TREY 20 FEBRUARY, 2017

This letter brought immediate comfort and some laughter. Trey mentions “SHOOT THE MOON” and ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ GOALS. Shooting the moon is what one tries to do when dealt a really lousy hand of cards in the game of Hearts. It’s risky, yet fun. One plays to win all the hearts and the queen of spades. He who successfully shoots the moon is the biggest winner. If Neil’s life was just a game, shooting the moon was the best metaphor to describe his approach to that game.

Neil was named, in part, for Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to step on the moon. At the time of his naming, we were unaware that the name Neil means champion. He had a strategic mind, which he used to his advantage in competitive chess and tennis, however, he was game for any game.

Neil’s playful spirit reflected the rhyme from a favorite story book, The Jester Has Lost His Jingle: “But one was still happy and bubbled with joy, for he played with life as you play with a toy.” We continue to honor Neil, by raising funds in his memory to The Jester & Pharley Phund. which delivers Jester books, dolls and joy to pediatric cancer patients and other children facing a wide range of other serious life challenges.