Impromptu Storytelling for GavinYou are surrounded by inspirations and life lessons and may not even know it. For example I recently learned three key concepts to improve my impromptu storytelling when Craig, my fiction-writing friend, told me about his Bluetooth bedtime stories.

Craig can be in his car or traveling afar when he calls his three and a half year old grandson Gavin for his nightly bedtime story (pictured above). These ten-minute tales are told over the cell phone and contain the three Cs: chapters, conflict, and cues.

Add More Chapters
Children’s books have a beginning, middle, and an end, but you can continue an existing story and add the next chapter or be creative and jump to the middle of the story and begin a new chapter. The setup can be super short, “Superhero Sam is vacationing in Spain when he hears a cry for help…” and shazam! you’re in the middle of your story.

Or you can pick a story, any story. In Craig’s case he asks, “What would you like to hear tonight Gavin?” The agenda ranges from "tell me about jellyfish" to "tell me about a little boy who got hurt and his Mommy saved him." Craig treats these as a Toastmaster's "Table Topics," in which the speaker is challenged to give an impromptu talk about a spontaneously assigned subject. With a little practice you’ll develop your ability to organize your thoughts quickly and respond to the request.

Add More Conflict
One of the best parts of a story is when something is wrong – also known as conflict. Why? Because you might know how you’d resolve the sticky situation, but you’ll be captivated by how and what the hero will do to be triumphant.

So pick a problem, any problem. Craig concurs. “If I fail to provide enough conflict for his taste Gavin will say, ‘...but then there was a problem...’, and he'll introduce a volcano, or a pillow monster, or a ghost or ‘a guy throwing socks.’" Then Craig must work these conflict elements into the tale, which keeps him on task telling high quality stories. “Gavin's assignments are unpredictable and sometimes tough, which challenges me to create a small work of fiction on the spot.”

Add More Cues
To keep everyone involved on their tall tale toes, asking for input is ideal. These cues incorporate a higher level of interactivity and satisfaction. Your listener(s) can contribute sound effects and descriptions, too!

• "What sound did the sawfish make when it called to you from the ocean?"
• "And what do you think he found behind that closed door?"
• "Tell me, Gavin--what did that monster look like?"

I send my thanks and gratitude to Craig for sharing a few personal tidbits and the three key C concepts: chapters, conflict and cues. It has improved my impromptu storytelling and I hope it helps you too.

Craig Strickland is a writer with more than 25 years experience who’s credits include two nationally distributed books (Scary Stories For Sleepovers #8 and Scary Stories From 1313 Wicked Way) and dozens of short stories in published in anthologies including, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Noir, Portents, Terminal Fright, Blood Review, Bronte Street, Air Fish, October Dreams acclaimed Canadian publication On Spec.


Once Upon a Skype by Michael VarmaA tornado of technology has turned storytelling, for business and pleasure, towards webinars, seminars, and Skype. Whether you’re training sales people in Pennsylvania or sharing a bedtime story with kids in California, you need to know how to best communicate and engage your audience across a computer or tablet screen. 

My wife’s cousin Matthew, for example, emailed us a picture of his two boys, Cory and Derek, completely captivated by his laptop, which displayed their grandmother 700 miles away reading to them from her vast collection of children’s books. 

Below are three tips on how you, too, can earn an audience’s rapt attention while broadcasting on the internet.

Once Upon a Skype by Michael VarmaAct it Out
When you tell a story in person you’re animated and your expressions are full of emotion. Do the same thing during your face-to-face video call. 

You may miss a smile or a laugh on the receiving end due to camera, microphone, or speaker positions, but rest assured those normal visual and audio cues are still there. Continue on as if your audience was in the same room and you will come across professional and confident. 

Add Atmosphere
Show an image to illustrate your point or play music in the background to add more atmosphere. If you’re telling a ghost story you can dim the lights, wear a cape with a hood, or even play spooky soundtracks while you talk. 

Try speaking in character voices, or use a cowboy hat and a Southern drawl to bring the Wild West to life. Subtle cues like these enhance the listening and viewing experience of a bedtime or adventure story. 

Ask for Help
Skype is essentially interactive TV so get your audience involved. Show the book and ask open-ended questions about the pictures on the page, take turns reading sentences or discuss the moral of the story.

A key question to ask is, “What did you like most about today’s story?” and you’ll have immediate intel on what worked well. In a short order you’ll master the art of portable vid screen storytelling. 

There are many benefits beyond family bonding time and beams of enthusiasm from your children when you call out, “It’s Skypetime!” 

  • Create positive memories for grandparents, parents, and children. 
  • Entertain children while parents do exciting things like washing the dishes.
  • Encourages early bedtime allowing guilt free adult conversations with parents.

Cousin Matthew sums it up nicely: “Just try and name an app that will answer your questions, move the picture in closer on demand, does characters voices, and will get a second book all upon request?! Skypetime gives our kids interaction on their terms in their way with a nice visual element and our grandparents give a gift that will last longer than any care package.” 

Bonus Recommendation: Record Your Calls*
Imagine having bedtime stories being read to your kids by your parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents. You can create future family comfort and blessed keepsakes.

*Legally you’ll need to inform participants the call is being recorded.

What Skypetime storytelling tips can you share?

Tasteful Toasts for Irish FolksLast year Ireland’s population was 6.4 million and 42 million United States residents claim Irish ancestry (thank you Wikipedia). In the big scheme of things, I suspect I’m about 2% Irish affording me a peck on the cheek and at least one green beer this St. Patrick’s Day.

While there are hundreds of Irish toasts to raise your mug to, my years of patrolling pubs revealed rainbows of tall tales and a pot leprechaun limericks, riddles and jokes. Below are some choice clean green comedy to share that might get you a free pint from Shamus:


Irish Toasts

May the roof above us never fall in,

and may we friends beneath it never fall out.

You’re my best friend and like a four leaf clover:

hard to find and lucky to have.

May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light,

May good luck pursue you each morning and night.


Leprechaun Limericks

There once was a young man named Sean,

 Whose wish came from a sly leprechaun,

 To be surrounded by dough,

 Was what he wanted, so,

 In six months he was born as a fawn.

There once was on leprechaun

Who lived in a stump on my lawn

He had hoarded much gold

Hidden safely, I’m told

For he feared that someday it’d be gone


Irish Proverbs

A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures.

Your feet will take you where you heart is

What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.

You'll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.

You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.


Irish Jokes

Reilly went to trial for armed robbery.

The jury foreman came out and announced, "Not guilty."

 "Oh my!" shouted Reilly. "Does that mean I get to keep the money?"

Two Irishmen were getting ready to go on a camping trip.

First one said, "I'm taking a gallon of whiskey just in case of rattlesnake bites. What are you taking?"


An Englishman walks into a pub and says, “I’ve got some great Irish jokes.”

“Before you start,” said the big bloke in the corner, “You need to know I’m Irish.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll tell them slowly.

An Irishman was flustered not being able to find a parking space in a large mall's parking lot, "Lord," he prayed," I can't stand this. If you open a space up for me, I swear I'll give up drinking me whiskey, and I promise to go to church every Sunday." Suddenly, the clouds parted and the sun shone on an empty parking spot. Without hesitation, the man said, "Never mind, I found one."

“How far is it to the next village?” asked the American tourist.

“It’s about seven miles,” guessed the leprechaun, “But it’s only five if you run!”


You can download and print this two-side sheet of Tomfoolery (pdf 691 kb) to aide your memory.


Your Turn: What’s your favorite Irish toast, leprechaun limerick, riddle or joke?  

2014 Magic SquareI remember laughing in class after hearing the classic question: “What would you do if you could not fail?” I thought, That’s silly, at some point in time everyone fails. I can learn from my and other people’s mistakes, so failing can be transformed into a good thing. But I played the instructor’s game and quickly realized the exercise was designed to motivate me beyond my fear of failure and to act. While his challenging question jumpstarted my brain into action, I found more freedom and success from a difference workshop that featured the concept of the magic square.

When I imagine my life is like a magic square, then every direction I travel is in the right path. Whether I go up, down, left, right, diagonal, or fly to the four corners, I will reach the right destination. Try it. Add any four numbers from the magic square – up, down, left, right, diagonal or the four corners – and see what you get.

To me, this means I’m always in the right place at the right time with the right number to make magical things happen. If I work hard towards any of my 2014 New Year’s resolutions and give 501 percent then I have five different winning solutions.

I cannot fail.

True, sometimes it might take me longer to realize the right path. I might focus on the obvious left/right, up/down, and diagonal options and overlook the less obvious –like the four bottom right or four center squares. Success often comes from the most unlikely places.

The magic square method proves we are not alone. We are part of an intelligent solution –a piece of the puzzle within the bigger picture. In a word: teamwork. As Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

To offer a real-world example, when we celebrate life’s events, (We Bid You Good Cheer) the recipient(s), the party, the audience and quite possibly a tasteful toast can be parts of your magic square. The words said in loving tribute, a.k.a. the toast, is your contribution to the winning combination and will help enhance the evening’s festivities moving us along the right path.


Your turn: How can the lesson of the magic square help you?

Write Your GoalsBecoming a self-motivated dynamo is easy as one, two, three and generates three glorious benefits: clarity, confidence and charisma. We’ll do this together. Get a blank piece of paper and pen – I know, so “old school” – but this allows you to read and write as we go step by step.


1. Write down your goals.

Merchandising mogul J.C. Penny said, “Give me a stock clerk with a goal, and I will give you a man who will make history. Give me a man without a goal, and I will give you a stock clerk.” Let’s make your history. Get your goals out of your head and on paper so you can see and read what you want. This gives you immediate focus and clarity.


2. Write down specific goals.

Look at your list and edit each line to be specific. The more detailed you are the better. Here are a couple of examples of how to modify your list.


Good: I want to lose weight.

Better: I will lose 12 pounds.


Good: I want to save money.

Better: I will save $140.


Good: I want to give a tasteful toast.

Better: I will say a tasteful toast for Bob’s birthday.


E.B. White, American author best known for English language style guide, The Elements of Style, and Charlotte’s Web said, “I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.” With minor practice you’ll skip step two and get-it-all-done in step number one, which reinforces clarity and builds your confidence.


3. Write down due dates.

“Goals are dreams with deadlines,” is a quote from Think and Grow Rich author Napoleon Hill. Adding a simple target due date feeds your instinctual need to achieve and succeed.


Better: I will lose 12 pounds.

Best: I will lose 12 pounds by March 15th (1 pound a week).


Better: I will save $140.

Best: I will save $140 a month ($5 a day).


Better: I will say a tasteful toast for Bob’s birthday.

Best: I will say a tasteful toast for Bob’s birthday on July 20th.


Review your list and prioritize based upon the earliest due date. Look at item number one and write down the first three actions you need to take in order to complete this goal, then do items one, two and three.


Clarity and confidence are intangible feelings that grow out of achievement, which translate into charisma that will manifest in the way you walk and talk as you complete each step in reaching your ultimate goal.


Follow the above write steps and you’ll be in the right place at the right time and be a winner!


Related Articles:

Pick One and Get It Done

Find Your Focus and Win Your Game

New Year’s Nuptials


Your turn: What goal are you going to focus on and follow through to completion?

Kermit the Frog as SantaI admire and follow the philosophy of Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, which is, “There can be inspiration and fun in everything around us.” That’s why at every holiday party I’m prepared with a few family friendly riddles.


Between Santa, snowmen, and sugar cookies there’s a lot of good clean comedic material to launch a laugh-fest. If Kermit the Frog can avoid hazardous humor then you can too.


Yes, this type of humor might cause eyes to roll due to silly puns but I’ll bet a few candy canes you’ll repeat some of these lines at your office or home in the next few days.


Below are my hearty holiday humor lines that can be used in any presentation.


Why did the gingerbread man go to the doctor?

Because he was feeling crummy.


What do snowmen eat for breakfast?

Frosted snowflakes.


What nationality is Santa Claus?

North Polish.


What do you call someone who doesn’t believe in Father Christmas?

A rebel without a Claus.


What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?



How much did Santa pay for his sleigh?

Nothing, it was on the house.


What kind of music do elves like best?

“Wrap” music!


Why are elves so depressed?

Because they have low elf esteem.


What do you call Santa’s helpers?

Subordinate Clauses.


Why does Santa like to work in his garden?

Because he likes to hoe, hoe, hoe!


Remember the four stages of life:

1.  You believe in Santa Claus

2.  You don’t believe in Santa Claus

3.  You become Santa Claus

4.  You look like Santa Claus


Harry LorayneI used to feel embarrassed and socially inept when I forgot people’s names until I learned that 90 percent of healthy adults forget names. Yay, I’m normal. But as a magician and frequent public speaker I can meet up to two hundred people in a week and want to greet them by name when we meet again. In my quest to get better at this, here’s what I’ve learned.

Memory expert Harry Lorayne (also a master magician) is the world's foremost memory-training specialist and the author of The Memory Book, which topped the New York Times bestseller list for more than 50 weeks.

Lorayne’s memory training method “has worked for literally millions of people all over the world for decades!” says Harry. Prominent people like New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Alan Alda, Mel Brooks and many others his system to acquire a better than photographic memory.

Here are six ways to win the name game. 

Get it right the first time

I was guilty of this in the past. My problem was not paying proper attention and didn’t fully hear their name when I initially met them (storage). This made it difficult later to recall their name when I next saw them (retrieval).


1.  People love the sound of their own names, so don’t be embarrassed to ask them to repeat it or even spell it. You’ll actually flatter them if you do.
      a.  Look into their eyes when learning their name.

      b.  Silently repeat it three times to yourself.
      c.  Use their name at the beginning and end of the conversation.

2.  Link their name to an occupation, hobby or distinguishing facial feature. Adding an alliteration to assist, so if you’re introduced to a Mrs. Trish Chambers with prominent cheekbones, think “Cheekbones Chambers” or if she’s a cute chef then remember “Trish the Dish."

3.  Most people are visual learners, which explains why we rarely forget faces but often forget names. When you associate names to ridiculous pictures, your mind’s eye permanently stores this information for immediate recall. For example, if you want to remember the name Barry Stein, visualize a tiny dog burying (Barry) a huge beer stein (Stein) in the ground.

Get Up to Speed

As you get up to speed with proper storage techniques you might occasionally forget a name. So how do you ask a person’s forgotten name without offending them? Here are three ways of asking.


4.  Tactful: “Can you remind me of your name?”

5.  Funny: “I’ve drawn a blank – early senior moment – your name is…?”

6.  Clever: “You look like my cousin Amy, but you’re not her. Your name is…?”

You’ll see immediate results employing any one of the three storage techniques and the three retrievals are polite and appropriate in any setting. Train your brain and form better habits for remembering names and you’ll win the name game.

*Bonus* Party Time Tips

Whenever possible take the lead and offer your name first and the guest will reciprocate. Here are a few opening lines:

-  “Hi, I’m Michael, Barbara’s husband.”

-  “Why don’t you introduce yourself to Pam?”

-  “Have you met my brother, Steve?”

Your turn
: What memory tips and tricks do you use?

Chicken IdolWith nearly 10,000 people following my monthly blog, I’m frequently asked to speak and present at various events. Many of the workshops, seminars and evening engagements include a “winner, winner chicken dinner,” which tickled my funny bone.


At a June luncheon I told an impromptu chicken joke which produced a hearty chuckle. The next mealtime talk I told two chicken jokes and the laughs lingered. Forget American Idol, I was quickly becoming a rising star on Chicken Idol.


I’m happy to share some of my best chicken material. I prefer clean corny (punny) humor, which matches my hammy delivery style. Use these one-liners and my favorite chicken joke at your own risk.


-  Scientists agree that a chicken crossing the road is called “poultry in motion.”


-  My nephew confirmed his chicken cross the playground to get to the other slide.


-  Beethoven disliked chickens because they keep chant, ''Bach, Bach, Bach.''


-  You get the best chicken jokes from a yolk book.


-  It is easy for baby chickens to talk because talk is cheep.


-  Chickens will never get rich because they work for chicken feed.


-  Mathematicians theorize chickens cross a Mobius strip to stay on the same side.


-  Parents don’t want chicken farms near schools, so pupils don't hear fowl language.


A chicken walks into a library and says to the librarian "book, book, book," so the librarian gives the chicken three books and it walks out.

Ten minutes later, the chicken walks in again and says "book, book, book," so once again, the librarian gives the chicken three books and it walks out.

Ten minutes later, the chicken comes back in and says "book, book, book," so the librarian gives the chicken three books and it walks out. But this time the librarian follows the chicken.

She follows the chicken across the street into the park and watches it hand the books one at a time to a frog. The frog put on his glasses and said, "readit, readit, readit."


Your Turn: What’s your favorite chicken joke?  


Have the Courage to ComplimentPraise is powerful and under the right circumstances it can be transformational unlocking the human potential. You might think I’m exaggerating the effects of a simple and sincere compliment, but evolution and science is on my side.

Why You Don’t Compliment

Our brains are wired to pay more attention and give more weight to negative experiences as opposed to positive ones. Cavemen and women learned to stay safe from daily dangers (a.k.a. negative and life-threatening experiences) and have evolved to meet new social fears emerged. Here are the top three excuses for why you don’t compliment:

-   I’m shy.

-   They already know.

-   I don’t know what to say.

I’ll override these objections in order: 1) Compliments are a low risk and offer high returns, which is an excellent way to overcome your shy social anxiety. 2) Most people love to hear how well they did and often rarely receive positive feedback. 3) You’ll learn how to give a compliment in less than a minute in a few paragraphs.  

Benefits of Compliments

Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Compliments will boost the confidence, self-esteem and respect for both the giver and receiver. Simple positive feedback can truly be all that stands between someone being successful and giving up. Beyond the basic feel good factor, here are the top three reasons to praise:

-   Encourage strugglers to achieve.

-   Reinforce learning a new task.

-   Strengthen relationships.

Offering an accomplished person a compliment can lead to self-improvement and finding a mentor. “I really enjoyed your presentation today. How did you get so comfortable with public speaking?”

How to Give a Compliment

Without delay, here are the steps to take in order to provide a heartfelt compliment:

1.   Pick a person. It can be a coworker, mailman, secretary, boss, teacher, stranger, friend or enemy. Use their name as it conveys respect and because most people appreciate hearing their own name.

2.   Find a feature. Characteristics can be concrete or intangible like a smile, sunny disposition or hairstyle. If your praise is vague, it can sound insincere so be specific.

3.   State with sincerity
. Only give a compliment when you actually mean it otherwise it will fall flat. Unearned praise is false flattery and can be perceived as manipulation. Honest comments ring the bell of truth and are valued above all.

Examples of compliments:

“Barbara, that’s a lovely blue coat you’re wearing.”

“Pamela, I admire your ability to provide insightful editing.”

“Steve, I appreciate you support more than Santa appreciates chimney grease.”


Courage to Compliment Challenge

I challenge you to compliment a different person every day this week.

1.  Your Spouse or Significant Other

2.  Family Member

3.  Close Friend

4.  Work Associate

5.  Local Business

6.  Restaurant Staffer

7.  Complete Stranger

Make magic in less than a minute by giving a genuine compliment and create an everlasting smile. 

Your Turn: What compliments have you recently shared?  



Proper Praise for an Extended Tasteful ToastLast month I received a question, “Michael you tell us, ‘Remember the rhyme and you’ll do fine,’ but sometimes I want to say a little bit more at a celebration. How do I figure out what to say?” Always thrilled to receive requests – a.k.a. fan mail (in my mind) – I’m equally happy to share the five key questions for proper praise for an extended tasteful toast. 

The most successful toasts are inspirational and praise the honoree’s meaningful contributions to their family or community. Discovering the right material to use is easy when you know what questions to ask.

Prepping for Proper Praise

   1.   What qualities make this person great or worthy of praise?
   2.   What is his/her source of power or inspiration?
   3.   What debt do we owe for his/her efforts?
   4.   What lessons can we learn from his/her actions?
   5.   What is his/her place in history? 


It’s best to ask family, friends and co-workers these questions about the honoree days or weeks before the event to prepare my material. Here are some tips from award-winning journalist and editor of the book, Kauai Stories, Pamela Brown. 

In-Person Interview Techniques*
My initial inquiry, “What in-person interview techniques can you share?” was answered by a query of her own, “If you were being interviewed, would you rather feel like you’re chatting with a reporter or being peppered with questions?” Point taken, so have a list of what you want to talk about but flow the conversation as if you are talking with the person normally. Next?

Set the Scene: Meet in a quiet place where your interviewee is comfortable, like in their home. Ask that there be no distractions so you can both concentrate on your conversation.

Record Your Interview: Your conversation will flow more smoothly and you’ll be more present and will enjoy it more – and when you’re enjoying it more, the person you are interviewing will tell you more about memorable times.

Be Interested: The more you want to learn, the more your person will want to share. In my experience, as soon as I say, “I’ve got all the information I need,” and reach to turn off your recording device, your person will say something wonderful that you are going to want to capture, so keep recording until you are out the door.

Once you’ve transcribed your interview, you’ll want to extract one to three examples that best illustrate the rich character of the person you want to praise.

Kauai Stories

Keep to the winning Tasteful Toasts formula (be brief, be bold, be done) and you’ll have beautiful outcome.

*Kauai Stories is filled with rich personal stories culled using the above interview techniques. Special thank you to Pamela Brown for her expert contributions.


Your turn: What actions have you recently praised? 


Tasteful Toasts DoublespeakLast month my brother Steve and I went to see famed actor, comedian and magician Harry Anderson perform at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif. You’ll remember Anderson from his American television sitcoms: an eight-year stint as jocular Judge Stone on Night Court or as con artist “Harry the Hat” on Cheers. A talented talker of doublespeak, Anderson’s performance prompted me to warn you of how silver-tongued speakers can scam you into buying something that seems to be a good deal but is truly bogus. The best defense against this trickery is to expose their secret language.


What is doublespeak?

Doublespeak is the name for language which makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, and the unpleasant attractive. It deliberately deceives, disguises, distorts, camouflages, misleads, inflates, circumvents, and obfuscates. Confused? A few examples will clear things up.


Politicians, publicists and the press are the kings and queens at spinning stories:

  • Airplanes don’t crash, they have “uncontrolled contact with the ground.”
  • You’re not unconscious during surgery, you’re just in a “non-decision-making state.”
  • Hospitals don’t have people that die, they have “negative patient care outcomes.”


Job seekers write creative career titles on resumes:

  • Janitors are “Custodial Engineers.”
  • Car mechanics are “Automotive Internists.”
  • Elevator operators are “members of the Vertical Transportation Corps.”


Defrauders escape through legal loopholes by emphasizing the first and last key words:

  • They buy and sell “solid fools gold.”
  • They use the best “genuine faux leather.”
  • They only import “real counterfeit diamonds.”


None of these people are lying to your face: they are telling you the truth with verbose verbiage to communicate a specific message.


Defend yourself from doublespeak by learning to listen to all the words that tumble and mumble out of mouths. Be mindful and study the incoming message instead of just mentally “sitting back” and believing all you hear.



Your turn: What doublespeak terms have you heard?  

Tasteful Toasts 3 Ways to Maintain Your MotivationI’m envious and occasionally jealous of people who have a single-minded focus and boundless energy towards their personal and professional projects. How do they find the time to get it all done? Are they eating special super-foods? Can I learn to be just as successful? I discovered all high achievers from bodybuilder, actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger to actor, singer and dancer Hugh Jackman to motivational speaker Tony Robbins always have help getting to the top. I’ll share a few of their secrets.

I’m not going to tell you the same ol’ transcendental stuff like, believe in yourself, follow your passion and remain positive. While those are good and true, you must have a goal to pursue then you can apply any one of these three practical ways to maintain your motivation.

Find a Friend

Tasteful Toasts 3 Ways to Maintain Your MotivationYou can don your Superman cape and go it alone, but why? When you find a friend, not just any friend, but someone that is willing to work with you as you tackle each baby-step to your ultimate goal, then you develop a powerful support team.

While on his quest for the world’s top bodybuilding titles, one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s training partners was Franco Columbo. “I knew that he [Franco] was the training partner who could weather the ferocious workouts necessary in the coming year,” said the muscle man. Schwarzenegger went on to win the Mr. Universe title at age 20 and the Mr. Olympia contest seven times.

You can also have more than one friend working with you. Schwarzenegger has several other men including Dave Draper, Ric Drasin and his life-long mentor Reg Park.

Mentor Me

Tasteful Toasts 3 Ways to Maintain Your MotivationHaven’t done it before? Scared? Terrified? Find someone who has completed the job successfully and ask for assistance. Again, you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, you’ll be more productive and avoid pitfalls when you have the right mentor for guidance and advice.

When Hugh Jackman, PEOPLE magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” – my wife made me add that – was asked to host the Academy Awards (the Oscars), he sought out advice from veteran hosts Steve Martin and Billy Crystal. “I’ve always said ‘yes’ to the thing I’m most scared about then I work through it with someone more seasoned than me,” Jackman explained. Being a stand-up guy he offered his advice to the next year’s host Seth MacFarlane.

If having a mentor is good enough for X-Men’s Wolverine, then it’s good enough for you.

Reward Yourself

Tasteful Toasts 3 Ways to Maintain Your MotivationAfter each milestone is completed, take some time to pat yourself on the back. Yes, there’s more work to be done, but a little break and reward will keep your spirits up.

Master motivator Tony Robbins believes when you complete a task and reward yourself, you’re one step closer to your goal and you feel good about it. Repeat often. Robbins says, “It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.”

When I’m finished with this article I’m treating myself to lunch…at In-N-Out Burger. Thanks, Tony.

Now let me answer the questions that started this piece:

Q: How do they find the time to get it all done?
A: Set a single, specific goal. This article will help: Pick One and Get It Done.

Q: Are they eating special super-foods?
A: Not really, but they typically eat a proper balanced diet and exercise.

Q: Can I learn to be just as successful?
A: Absolutely.

Your Turn: How do you maintain your motivation?  

Tasteful Toasts Air Force OneYou never know when you’ll be whisked away on Air Force One to have dinner with the President of the United States, important diplomats and visiting dignitaries, so it’s important to always listen to your mother, wear clean underwear and be prepared with a tasteful toast.

When addressing government officials and their VIP entourage you might feel a little pressure regardless if the setting is casual or formal. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and start an international incident and, well, because you’d love to be invited back to the White House.

Fortunately you can rely upon previous presidential prose to ease your anxiety. Use their finely crafted words to present touching sentiments that will well received. Here are a few brief excerpts by past and present leaders that can be adapted for your inaugural reception:

Let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.” 
– Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America

Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself, and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country but to its character.”
– George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States of America

Let us shape the hope of this day into the noblest chapter in our history.”
– Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America

Write on our hearts these words: ‘Use power to help people.’”
– George Bush, 41st President of the United States of America

We must do what we know is right, and do it with all our might.”
– Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America

These quotes will resonate with every person because they all imply one thing: you make a difference. I truly believe that you are always in the right place at the right time to make a positive difference. You don’t have to solve the entire problem, but merely move it forward for the next person to lend their expertise and move it forward.

Data source:

Your Turn: What wise words would you share when you visit the White House?  

Tasteful Toasts Birth Mirth

Birthdays happen every year          

You can toast with pithy cheer

Take your time

Learn one line

It’s a precious souvenir

Far too often I hear tributes that sting like the spank on your tush the day you were born. Yes, I’m referring to old age jokes. For example:

- “The twinkle in your eye is the reflection of the sun on your bifocals.”

- “You’ve seen it all, done it all, and can’t remember most of it.”

- “Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them either.”

- “A benefit of being older is that you’re safe from being kidnapped.”

- “In a hostage situation, you are likely to be released first.”

While those lines might be funny (and possibly true), I have found saying something a bit more tasteful and witty can provide more memory mileage for a treasured moment.

Here are my top ten birthday one-liners to better celebrate your milestone:

10.  We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
9.  Statistics show that the people who have the most birthdays live the longest.

8.  You are only young once, but you can be immature for a lifetime.

7.  Think of hot flashes as your inner child playing with matches.

6.  You’re not 40, you’re 18 with 22 years of experience.

5.  Growing old is mandatory but growing up is optional.

4.  You’re like a fine wine; you get better with age.

3.  Age doesn’t matter, unless you are cheese.

2.  The older the fiddler, the sweeter the tune.

1.  It is better to wear out than to rust out.

I believe in celebrating your birthday…all week, month or even an entire year. It’s important to have twinkles in your wrinkles. As Mark Twain once wrote, “Wrinkles merely indicate where smiles have been.”

Related articles:
Hazardous Humor
Tasteful Wedding One Liners
One Liners for Lovers

Bonus Stephen Wright Joke:

Last week the candle factory burned down;

Everyone just stood around and sang Happy Birthday. 

Your turn: What are your favorite and positive birthday jokes, quotes or one-liners?

Leadership and Communication Expo Chair Bob Dietrich (left) with Facebook expert Michael Varma are all smiles at the sold-out Leadership and Communication Expo in San Diego, Calif.After teaching a workshop at the sold-out Leadership and Communication Expo in San Diego, Calif., I had an epiphany. You can use the same five Facebook posting techniques to keep yourself energized about your New Year’s resolutions. My session, Facebook for Fun and Profit, listed five ways to engage website viewers to click-and-order or visit your brick-and-mortar place of business.


Here is an excerpt from the workshop that I’m providing you for free:


Posting relevant and compelling content on Facebook maintains your current fans and encourages others to “Like” you. An immediate connection can be made with your audience through a photo with happy smiling people and a simple succinct sentence about the image. Facebook is all about F.A.C.E.S., which is a good acronym for remembering what types of pictures to post (page five of the handout - PDF 876 kb).


What Engages Viewers?Fun.

A picture of people having fun is the number one motivator. You’ll hear, “That looks like fun. I want to do that, too.” Find a picture or create a vision board of people succeeding in a similar project.


[Fun photo: my dad and sister offering a tasteful toast at my 10th wedding anniversary party.]



Actions are stronger than words – cliché but it elicits powerful memories to move you to act. Watch video clips of people achieving your target goal


[Action photo: my friends and the second couple I married as a wedding officiant.]



A person with strong character can alter the ambience of an event. Surround yourself with positive people who affect your mood (lift you up without dragging them down).


[Character photo: my wife’s cousin, Tom, goes by the nickname “Bubba” – enough said.]



Photos that elicit emotions enter your head and heart. You’ll become an unstoppable force and reach your goal when encouraged by a favorite photograph of a loved one or cherished event.


[Emotion photo: the first couple I married were head-over-heels in love – see The Magical Minister – Bubba is groom’s father.]



Winners inspire success in others. “I want that” and “I can do that” quickly transforms into “I believe it,” and “I will achieve it.”


[Success photo: Daniel Rex, the Executive Director of Toastmasters International presenting the Distinguished Toastmaster award to Michael Varma.]


Choose one or all five ways to follow through in February and I’ll see you in the winner’s circle.


Your turn: What part of F.A.C.E.S. most motivates you to action?



Barbara and Michael Varma Celebrate 2013

Every January you read dozens of articles on New Year’s resolutions, everything from how to eat right, exercise, and balance the work/home life. But all are missing a vital piece of information.


I’ve even written a few articles that were printed in newspapers and circled the globe online and yet I, too, overlooked the basic ingredient every successful person knows: Pick one and get it done.


My wife (Barbara) and I recently updated our Home Wish List for 2013. It’s in Excel (because I’m such a nerd) and it lists all the things we want to do to make our house a home. For example, we want to get new floor lamps, put up crown molding and paint an accent wall in the living room. You might call it just another Fix-It or a Honey Do list – we have those, too—but the Home Wish List is geared toward things we’d like to get done this coming year.


Currently our “homework” roster has 37 items listed. Ambitious? Overwhelming? Yes and yes, but I'm sharing a simple secret to get it all done. Millionaire motivational speakers and authors, Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy among them, all recommend the same thing: prioritize your list then pick one and get it done. Focus on the single task and follow through until it’s completed.


Does it really work? Absolutely. When you identify one item to work on, all the other stress and pressure vanishes. Staying on course is much easier. For example, for years I’ve wanted to update my website ( and share lots of free content and begin branding all my products under one name. During the December holidays I worked on one page at a time and within days I had more than 30 pages posted.


Want more proof? Our previous Home Wish Lists has a running tally of more than 80 accomplishments. We did get new floor lamps, put up crown molding and paint that accent wall. That makes Barbara very happy and you know that fabulous saying, “A happy wife makes a happy life.” We also did it within budget, which makes a happy hubby.


What’s next in 2013? Transform my products to ebooks and share with you on iTunes. I know I’ll be successful because I’ll follow the rule: pick one and get it done.


Your turn: What goal are you going to focus on and follow through to completion?


Related Articles:
Resolutions Worth Their Weight in GOLD
Find Your Focus to Win Your Game
Learning by Example


Tasteful Anniversary Toasts 1

Marriages that last seem to receive less attention than high profile, short term break-ups, but I believe the media has it all wrong. I'm taking a stand and showering attention on the simple and good things in life, after all good things last the longest.

My friend Luby and her husband Bob just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. What can you say about a couple of crazy kids that married on the steps of Avalon Community Church on November 10, 1962, on Catalina Island, Calif., and returned fifty years later to renew their vows on the same church steps?

Here’s a copy of my toast that attendees said, “That was a wonderful” and "Fabulous.":

Tasteful Anniversary Toasts 2

Good Afternoon, my name is Michael Varma and I met Luby more than ten years ago at a Toastmasters meeting.

Luby is our resident celebrity. She a triple threat: she acts, she sings and can tap dance her way out of a question she doesn’t want to answer.

And we’re here to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary to Bob. Fifty years is quite an achievement. Most folks don’t make it that far.

Britney Spear’s first marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander lasted 55 hours.

Kim Kardashian's second marriage to New Jersey Nets forward Kris Humphries lasted a mere 72 days.

But those are marriages that didn’t make it. How about other celebrities that are still together?

Hollywood sweethearts Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are still together, but it’s only been 24 years.

My wife and I have been married for a little more than 10 years and know I adore my wife more today than when got married. (Honey, did I say that right?)

Luby and Bob, you’re at 50 years. That’s five times more love than I’ve yet known. I’m in awe and offer this anniversary toast.


You are blessed from above

With devotion and love

 I have a good notion

 To second His motion

 We bid you good cheers

 Partners in love for many more years

When Luby was asked what was the secret to her marriage, she offered a favorite quote, “Love creates a marriage and after several years, the marriage makes love.”

That’s a really good line. I probably use that in the future.

Your Turn: What great lines can you share?


Tasteful Toasts - June Wedding

Kirsten and Chris Wallace 07/07/2012 with the 
Magical Minister (that's me) at the top of the steps.

Toasting to the three Cs of a successful marriage.

On Saturday, July 7, 2012, I had the honor of marrying Chris and Kirsten Wallace, a shy, young couple who didn’t want the spotlight, didn’t want to have a long ceremony and didn’t to say (or write) their vows. They made it clear to me the only lines they wanted to say were, “I do.” All went well and I’m sharing and adapting a portion of their non-traditional ceremony as a brief and tasteful wedding toast: The three Cs of a successful marriage:Communicate, Compromise and Compassion.

To have a happy, healthy and long successful marriage you only need to remember the three Cs. The first C is Communicate. Telling your partner what you don’t want, is good.Telling your partner what you DO want is better. You must articulate your wants, needs and desires.

 Think about your wedding. You had to make many decisions and offer many opinions. Did you get everything you wanted? No, not everything, but you did get most everything, which leads us to the second C.

The second C is Compromise. Getting your way all the time is not fair to your partner.

When you compromise things can turn out better than what you initially had planned. A good example is Thanksgiving. Will you go to Chris’s family gathering? Will you go to Kirsten’s family gathering? If you work it out right, you’ll get two free dinners!

 Keith and Shawn, Sam and Jill [parents of the bride and groom] there will be some times in the future where Chris and Kirsten will want to spend their holidays alone and that’s fine, too. They will want to make new memories. That leads us to the third C.

 The third C is Compassion. As you join together in marriage, you are bringing together two different families with different thoughts, ideas, opinions and that’s where you share your compassion. The two of you probably agree on many points. That’s why you’re getting married, but some family and friends may have different opinions. And that’s okay, too. And that’s where we come full circle back to communication.

 That circle is a strong bond and it’s easy to remember because it is in the form of a ring that you will wear every day of your life. As you promise to communicate, compromise and share your compassion with each other, we promise the same. Congratulations.

Your turn: What’s your recommendation for a fourth C?

Learn how to ward off ghosts and goblins before taking the stage.

Halloween is a good time to be scared, but a bad time to have the hebejebesbefore you stand up at a party and give a toast. If you feel the tension creeping into your shoulders or your stomach tightening up it's time to relax and regain your composure. I offer three simple tricks that produce sweet treats to soothe the soul for a short soliloquy. 

Trick #1 – Listen to your favorite song or radio program.
Treat #1 – Music truly calms the savage beast whether it’s in your head, heart or tummy. I take advantage of today’s technology and have two categories of tunes on my smart phone that I can listen to at a moment’s notice. First up is my piano bar playlist. This set has more than 50 songs I love to sing. Spooky spirits and negatives nerves are vanquished  and I’m in a fantabulous mood well before the first chorus. Second is a set of NPR’s comedy Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me! podcasts. I can laugh and test my news knowledge while figuring out what's real and what’s made up by the cast of comedians.

Trick #2 – Breathe and be Brilliant.
Treat #2 – This simple two-step process of quickly inhaling through your nose for three seconds then exhaling through your mouth for six seconds releases nervous energy. It puts you back in command of your voice with more control, power and energy. I have done this on my way to the microphone when all eyes are on me. It appears that I am merely collecting my thoughts before I begin my toast.

Trick #3 – Wet your whistle and sip a half cup of water.
Treat #3 – When you remain hydrated you can prevent dry mouth syndrome. I always have a bottle of water handy especially when I’m scheduled to speak. And even though my toast will be less than three minutes long, I can sip the rest of the water and clear the cotton cobwebs that might form.

Typically only one of these tricks is necessary to halt the hobgoblins.

Bonus – Three Halloween Toasts:

Black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,

 May luck be yours this Halloween.

* * *

Halloween is sure to fright

 Goblins scream throughout the night

Monsters chase you to the house

The kids are back – save your spouse

* * *

There's a goblin at my window,

A monster at my door.

The pumpkin at my table

Keeps smiling more and more.

Your turn: What are your tricks and treats for toasting?

Tasteful Toasts - Dad Toasting

You want to say a few words at the wedding, but you’re stuck on what to say. Fortunately there is a simple recipe to follow to help guide you through the process to write a touching toast in 10 minutes or less.

Start by introducing yourself by name and how you know the bride and or groom. Never assume everyone knows who you are – there will be extended family members, signficiant others and a whole host of friends that will benefit from this relation information. For example, “Good evening, my name is Michael Varma and I’ve been Jeff’s golfing buddy for the last 12 years.”

Describe one to three observations you’ve made while the couple was dating, Yes, this is the sincere touching part. Before and after comparisons frequently are well received (see #1 below). Choose from the top ten prompters and examples listed below – replace he/she with the bride or groom’s name.

1.    Before he/she met you, he/she ___________. Now he/she ___________.       Before Michael met Barbara, he didn’t have a clue about Angel’s baseball, but now he knows Don Sutton was her favorite pitcher, all the current baseball stats, and even has purchased season tickets.

2.     I knew he/she was in love when ____________.I knew Barbara was in love when she baked him an apple pie…from scratch.

3.    When he/she met at __________, I knew __________.When Michael met Barbara at the Magic Castle, and that’s all he talked about for the next three days, I knew he was marrige bound.

4.     Because of you, he/she sees the world __________.Because of Michael, Barbara sees the world as a bountiful playground.

5.     You are such a part of him/her that when you're gone he/she __________.Barbara, you are such a part of Michael that when you’re gone he becomes homesick.

6.     He/She looks forward to laughing and __________ as you __________.Michael looks forward to laughing and Jazzercising as they dance down Main Street USA at Disneyland.

7.     I watched him/her ________, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.I watched Michael and Barbara caretake their parents, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

8.     When you ____________, he/she saw you for the _____________ person you are.Michael, when you took Barbara’s cat to the vet, even though you were allergic to fur and sneezed for three straight days, Barbara saw you for the gentle and caring person you are.

9.     He/She shares ___________, so together you can ___________.Michael shares his popcorn at the movies with Barbara, so he can have an excuse to touch her hands.

10.  Your ___________ has shown him/her how to be___________.Barbara’s generosity has shown Michael how to be more giving.

You can customize the middle a bit more by expounding – just a tad – and provide a few relevant and humorous details.

To conclude, raise your glass and offer a brief blessing (aka Tasteful Toasts). It can be as simple as “Cheers” to “To a long happy and healthy marriage” to my personal favorite:

Your marriage makes a perfect start
For every life is a work of art
Paint a picture filled with bliss
Treasured in your lover's kiss
Wedding vows are truly strong
May yours last forever long

Your turn: What additional prompters can you share?

For a long time I believed accidents were always going to be in my future. Frequently I’d find myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, once I was stopped at a red light and observed a car crash and another time, while out for a morning jog, a bicyclist wiped out fifty feet in front of me. Why was I a witness to so many painful accidents? Then I had an epiphany, what if I’m actually in the RIGHT place at the RIGHT time and the right person with the right skillset to provide assistance? – afterall, I had emergency medical training. I discovered that I’m not alone in this type of forward thinking.

Assess the AreaMy friend Barbara Higgins is a fabulous photographer who captures special moments in a nanosecond. While shooting her Newport Beach Reflections series, she was walking on the pier and saw a couple being married with a few onlookers crowding around. She briefly assessed the area and noticed the bride and groom’s reflections in the lense of beach binoculars. Barbara was in the right place at the right time with the right equipment and skillset to snap an award winning photo (see above). 

Some folks claim she is incredibly lucky, but I know she has honed her ability to assess the area and see what others have overlooked. “I’ve learned to survey the scene.” says Barbara. “I’ve done it for so long that now I’m natrually observant.”

Change the FocusThe question, “Why is this happening to me?” can be interpreted two ways: as a victim or a victor. In my initial scenarios I was being a Negative Ned whining about the collisions and calamity I saw until I changed my focus and relalized I could be a Positive Paul and provide assistance.

  • Victims complain, “Bad things always happen to me.
  • Victors ask, “What can I do to make this situation better?

This is a dressed up version of the classic question, “Is the glass half full or half empty?” but I’ll take it one step further and ask, “Regardless if the glass is half full or half empty, fill it to the rim!”

Take ActionEvery day you and I have many opportunities, in our personal and professional lives, for fixin’ our stinkin’ thinkin’. Start small and follow Nike’s motto: Just Do It. Barbara Higgins agrees, “I still have to get the camera up pretty quick, focus and press the plunger before I lose my chance. Yes, I miss a few shots, but I get more than I miss.” 

To be completely candid, I have not always found that simple solution when I ask, “What can I do to make the situation better?”, but I know it’s out there. Each of us have unique talents that will make a difference when we decide to ACTAssess the Area, Change the Focus and Take Action.

Your turn: How have you fixed some stinkin’ thinkin’?


Learn what to do after you forget something or someone important.

I stood embarrassed like a monkey’s uncle on the stage at a family celebration when I forgot to formally acknowledge my cousin David’s engagement to his sweetie-pie Amy. Fact: every speaker, from emerging emcee to professional presenter, will encounter a lapse in memory and forget to mention something or someone important. These times of forgetfulness – known as senior moments to the older generation and brain farts to the younger – can be reduced to a minimum, but never completely avoided (see Murphy’s Law). Learning to bounce back from a blunder is a crucial skill to master. The following fundamental formula leads to success and will take your FARForegive, Acknowledge andRebuild.

FORGIVE Yourself

When you make an omission, which I call “Ginko Goofs” – named after the great memory aid ginko biloba, accept the fact you made a mistake and forgive yourself. The more you say “I’m perfect” or “I never make a mistake” means you’re in true-blue denial and your pending ginko goof will be gigantic.

It’s vital to release the self-imposed guilt, which is easier to write than do, but I was finally able to let it go…the next day. I can’t change the past, but I can fix the future.

ACKNOWLEDGE the Ommission

Had I realized my gaff, I would have politely acknowledged my ommission and made amends. A simple and effective explanation of, “My adrenaline was pumping so fast that my brain short-circutted like Homer Simpson: Doh! I forgot to recognize my cousin David, who’s adrenaline is pumping harder and faster because Amy just said ‘Yes’ to his proposal. Amy, please pardon him for any mental malfunctions that might occur in the next 72 hours.”

But I didn’t grasp the depth of my ginko goof until much later. Double Doh! No way to fix my faux pas infront of family and friends. David and Amy must have felt unappreciated or unimportant when the exact opposite is true. What to do?

REBUILD the Friendship

The top question to answer is, “How can I rebuild the relationship after I falter?” Simple and direct tends to work best, so I called my cousin and apologized. David said, “It's all good. I think everyone has forgotten someone during a speech at one time or another.” Classy.

Another option is to give special attention to the person(s) after the fact. Ask yourself, “Where’s the opportunity in the mistake?” Besides, a life without a few ginko goofs is, well, boring.

Your turn: How have you overcome a ginko goof?

Giggles that started a joyful marriage.

One of the joys of writing articles is when readers send me success stories, giggle generating jokes or videos like the Waffle Wedded Wife clip, which you can see on my Tasteful Toasts blog website. It’s a good reminder that you can still have fun when you flub a line.

The Gospel About Giggles

Laughter IS the best medicine. Need proof? The following is a list of the top ten fascinating fun facts from reputable institutions around the world regarding mirth’s medicinal qualities:

1. There are 18 different kinds of smiles – the most common is the smile of enjoyment.

2. Thirteen muscles are used to smile, but 47 are required for frowning.

3. You have to smile nearly a quarter of a million times to make one wrinkle.

4. You can stimulate your heart and lungs and improve breathing capacity by laughing.

5. Laughing one hundred times a day is equal to ten minutes of rowing.

6. Fifteen minutes of laughter equals the benefit of two hours sleep.

7. One good belly laugh burns off three and a half calories.

8. Laughter causes endorphins to be released, similar to a joggers’ 'high'.

9. Laughter releases feelings of anger, fear, guilt, anxiety and tension.

10. Laughter is contagious.

Two additional fun facts – my favorites – are 1) the average adult laughs 15 times a day and 2) children laugh about 400 times a day. I think I’ll follow the example the kids are setting for us.

In the case of the Waffle Wedded Wife video, there is a moral to the story: when you make a mistake, acknowledge it and move on. Everything will turn out fine.

Your turn: What gets you to giggle?

I recently read a wedding speech book that promised readers how to get laughs, but in my humble opinion, it was geared more for roasting the couple than toasting newlyweds.

Wedding toasts should be positive as this is a new life for the couple. Remarks can still be funny. Read my opinion about Tasteful Wedding One-Liners.

Here are a dozen of my favorite one-liners for lovers – perfect for weddings, anniversaries or other romantic celebrations:

1. Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke. ~ Lynda Barry

2. Love is a game that two can play and both win. ~ Eva Gabor

3. Love means nothing in tennis, but it's everything in life.

4. Love must be as much a light, as it is a flame. ~ Henry David Thoreau

5. You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.

6. We’re here to celebrate the love match, pure and simple:
    Barbara is pure and Michael is…a very nice guy.

7. Anyone can catch your eye, but it takes someone special to catch your heart.

8. Love is not singular except in syllable. ~ Marvin Taylor

9. The first time he saw her swimming in the sea he thought she was worth wading for.

10. Live each day as if it were your last, and each night as if it were your first.

11. Love one another and you will be happy; it's as simple and as difficult as that.

12. If you’re smart, you’ll always have the last word; if you’re wise you won’t use it.


Bonus – brief marriage jokes:

If love is blind and marriage is an institution, then marriage is an institution for the blind. Which leads me to my next question, if love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?

Your turn: What’s your favorite one-liner for lovers?


“I don't like the way I sound.” is a common complaint I receive from timid toasters followed by, “And there isn’t anything I can do about.” Wrong. You can quickly and easily transform potential shame into brilliant fame when you learn how to breathe.

What Goes Up

Audiences tend to tune out talkers when they hear high-pitched voices. The sometimes schrill sound is associated with being apprehensive, anxious or afraid. There are a few infamous exceptions like Victoria Jackson, Fran Dresser, Richard Simmons and Mike Tyson who can get away with the squeak, but most listeners can only tolerate the whine in small doses.

If you rarely stand up and speak before a crowd you may feel nervous or rushed – real or self imposed – and your body will respond with a tiny squirt of adrenaline, which forces your body to take a short breaths before you speak causing your “normal” voice to turn up, high and tinny. 

Must Come Down

When you harness your lung’s language you will be able to produce the tone you desire. There are many different deep breathing exercises to counter act the adrenaline and I this two-step techinque is my favorite.

1. Breath in quickly through your nose and fill your lungs for three seconds.

2. Exhale through your mouth and push up with your stomach muscles for six seconds.

I prefer this method because it can be completed in secret. I do this before I take the stage or on my way to the microphone –even when all eyes are on me. It appears that I am merely collecting my thoughts before I begin.

This simple two-step process also releases nervous energy and puts you back in command of your voice with more control, power and energy.

Yes, breathing is basic, but it’s frequently overlooked. Proper air exchange is essential for the occasional toaster or professional speaker and an easy habit to learn. Once mastered you will control the flow of oxygen naturally allowing you to breathe and be brilliant.

Your turn: What breathing techniques do you like to use and why?


Leprechauns are lucky, that’s for sure, but who do they search for to capture their fairy fortune? Nobody. These harding work elves discovered to be lucky simply offer one (or all four) magical well wishes related to the universally accepted symbol of good luck; the four-leaf clover: hope, faith, love, and luck.


DC Comic’s fictional Superman has been portrayed by many a man including Christopher Reeve and although not a leprechaun – or having a lick of Irish in him – he often stated, “Once you choose hope, anything's possible.”

  • When the World says, give up, hope whispers, try it one more time.
  • All it takes is one bloom of hope to make a spiritual garden.
  •  Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist who had a dream and preached, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” Your internal belief – mental, spiritual or gut instinct, will drive success.

  • Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.
  • A little faith brings your soul to heaven, but a lot of faith brings heaven to your soul.
  • Faith can move mountains, but don't be surprised if you receive a shovel.


Theodor Gisel, also known as Dr. Suess, wrote, “You know you're in love when you don't want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” Of the 46 children’s books he wrote, all kept the universal theme: "love one another."

  • Let your love be like the misty rains, coming softly, but flooding the river.
  • Love is like a wild rose, beautiful and calm, but willing to draw blood in its defense.
  • Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.


American television and radio host Larry King says, “Those who have succeeded at anything and don't mention luck are kidding themselves.” I believe King’s quote is true and that you’re always the right person, in the right place, at the right time and have the proper skillset to make a magical moment.

  • Luck is when opportunity knocks and you answer.
  • Luck never gives: it only lends.
  • Luck is the by-product of busting your butt.

You can waste years looking for leprechauns to try and steal their pot of gold or you could spend less time and follow their lead and find your own fortune. Learn to be Lucky and generate your own luck and offer your own tasteful toasts.

Your turn: What have you done to become lucky?

Tasteful Toasts - Win Your Case

My cat excused me from jury duty.

Truth be told, I actually like jury service, but I was scheduled to deliver a dear friend’s eulogy in the middle of the proposed trial dates. I decided to share specific facts about myself that I calculated would free me, temporarily, from my civic duty.

Imagine the four walls that surround you form a courtroom. The judge is sitting on his bench, I'm in the jury box directly in front of you because you are one of the attorneys – you choose: prosecution or defense.

I was perspective juror number nine of a domestic violence case beginning the voire dire process. The judge requires each perspective juror to stand and answer ten questions. I only needed three to be pardoned: Name, marital status, and children.

“Thank you, your Honor, my name is Michael Varma. I am married, have no children but I do take care of a 19-year-old arthritic cat."

The judge asked, "Is it your cat or your wife’s?"

“My wife's.”

"And you take care of her cat?"

"Yes, I kind of married into the family."

And that's all it took. A few minutes later I was excused from jury duty. Just in case you don’t understand, let me help you connect the dots.

Who is my primary audience? By a process of elimination, it’s nobody in the jury box. The judge? Good guess, but no. He’d be considered my secondary audience. It's you, the prosecution and or defense attorney.

What kind of case is this? A domestic violence case. Some guy allegedly got drunk and allegedly beat up his girlfriend.

And what kind of perspective juror am I? I’m a married man that takes care of his wife's 19-year-old arthritic cat which makes me...whipped? Pathetic? No, it makes me a sympathetic juror.

Do the attorneys want me on the jury? No.

Do I get out of jury duty? Yes!

When you define your target audience you can create a classic win-win scenario. In my true tale, the attorneys win by removing a person that might feel negatively about his client’s actions and I win by escaping jury duty.

Your turn: What did you say to your audience to win your case?

Tasteful Toasts - Find Your Focus

I recently attended a mystery writers workshop where authors shared their dirty little secrects for producing a ploethora of pages. Several described elaborate writing rituals of being in sacrosaint chairs with morning stimulants – coffee, tea, jelly beans. A few explained how they play a fifteen minute game: Write a thousand words in fifteen minutes or less, then get a reward. I revealed my trade secret for winning life’s games by using these handy three lines: Goal Line, Outline and Deadline.

Goal Line

American Football is simple in concept. Carry the ball across the goal line to gain points and win. All the players understand the purpose, are filled with passion for the game and motivated by awards, fame or money whether it’s salary or future endorsements.

To write a mystery novel, Tasteful Toast or any other project, follow the same steps, which are similar to constructing a vision board. What is your overall goal? Write an award-winning blockbuster thriller-mystery novel. Why? Because you love suspense stories and want to be independently wealthy and see your book made into a movie. Dream BIG!


To reach the endzone the quarter back (that’s you) must have several plays to go the distance. While you can complete one hundred yards in a single hail mary pass, most football games are won by inching along ten yards at a time.

Most project, writing or otherwise, will have an outline – some more detailed than others. I’ve noticed the most successful people have a written outline opposed to, “I’ve got it all in my head” authors. Once the hashmarks are on paper there’s a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and pride. Often there is a need to edit. Adjustments are good and move the entire process forward.


Football is a game with a definitive timeframe. The referee helps administer four quarters lasting fifteen minutes that provide additional motivation – an urgency to beat the clock. Deadlines move the ball (and the world) toward the goal line. Newspaper reporters must meet or beat a deadline to file their story of who won the Super Bowl by a specific time or it won’t make the front page.

Whodunit’s have a ticking clock, too. A race against time or it’s curtains for someone. And if you don’t have a deadline for the next item in your outline, you’ll miss out on the victory dances from first down to touchdown.

My favorite Vince Lombardi quote, “The price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal is worthwhile.”

Find your focus and establish your three lines: goal line, outline and deadline. Put your game face on and work on the first three items listed in your outline and soon you’ll be crossing the finish line.

A New Year’s Toast:

Every year it comes around
Resolutions can be found
Have a vision, have a dream
It's easier than it seems
Avoid the worry, avoid the fear
Time to get yourself in gear

Your Turn: What are your New Year's goals?

Tasteful Toasts New Year Nuptials

New Year’s resolutions are all about making a promise to new beginnings, both to yourself and to the one(s) you love. Whether it’s spoken words sealed with a kiss or a written contract signed and witnessed, you pledge to modify your lifestyle. I offer three tips and toasts to jumpstart your New Year’s nuptials.

Write it down.

Write a realistic list, large or small, of your aspirations. Avoid vague goals like, “I want to save more money.” Be positive, definitive, and include a target due date to help motivate, “I will save twenty-five dollars a week, for the next three months, starting January 1.” You’ll net a cool $300 by the end of March and gain a bankable new habit.

Here's to your health this New Year's night,
Wishing your future is wealthy and bright.

Take immediate action.

Determine the first step necessary to achieve your goal and do it now! If saving money is your ultimate goal, take twenty-five dollars out of your wallet now and set it aside. Don’t have it? How about five bucks today and every day for the next seven days? That’ll equal thirty-five dollars a week and you’ll exceed your goal.

Avoid the worry, avoid the fear
Time to get yourself in gear!

Follow through daily.

Consistency is the key to success. Look at your list every day and determine the next step you need to take and, well, take it. If it’s five bucks a day or three today and seven tomorrow, follow through, daily. Each incremental success brings you closer to your overall goal.

Fifty-two weeks of fortitude,
Affords me much gratitude.

You can enlist the support of friends and family. They, too, might have similar goals and you’ll become a mutually supportive, encouraging, and winning team.

Tasteful Toasts Dinner Toasting Tradition


After having a fabulous day, or even a stressful one, reconnecting with your family can lift spirits and energize one and all – an excellent reason to increase the frequency of a family toast beyond the annual Thanksgiving meal. It’s a lesson we can learn from our past, repeat in the present in order to make a brighter future.


The Greek Philosopher Epictetus (AD 55 – AD 135) offered, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

If rejoicing is done only once a year, many-a-wonderful triumphs, small and large, would be easily forgotten.



When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around,” said famed country singer Willie Nelson.

Being openly thankful all year long adds value to your life and sharing even the simplest experiences make us all feel a little closer.



Start the tradition of a family toast once a week – your choice of day, and let them know what you’re thankful for. Fill a pitcher with your family’s favorite drink then clink.

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.” - Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)

Your turn: What is your favorite family toast?

Tasteful Toasts Tongue Twister

Count Dracula had a noticible foreign accent and Frankenstein mumbled. Both could have improved their speaking abilities and been less frightening if they had practiced saying a tongue twisters before greeting others. Speaking with proper enunciation, articulation and at a comfortable rate of speed for your presentation style can calm your nerves, improve the quality and clarity of your speech, as well as fully engage your audience.

Tongue twisters are frequently used in speech therapy for adults, foreign language students, and children to help overcome the four main articulation disorders: Substitutions, Omissions, Distortions and Additions – a.k.a. SODA.

Try the following twisters to test and tame your tongue – it’s therapeutic!

The Rules

To get the most out of your tasteful Halloween tongue twisters:

1. Say each tongue twister slowly, pronouncing each word clearly and correctly.

2. Pick two or three tongue twisters per day and repeat slowly three times each.

3. Gradually say the tongue twisters faster, stopping if you trip over words.

Substitutions (R, V and W) – Sounds of a letter replaced for another, like “w” for “r” in “wabbit” for “rabbit.”


  • Rabid rabbits ran around the rugged rocks.
  • Vernon Vampire visits various vampires virtuously.
  • Werewolves watch witches wandering in the woods.

Omissions (B, D and H) – Sounds in a word that are completely omitted, like “han” for “hand.” 

  • Brad Bat bit bad black bran bread.
  • Dracula digs dreary dark dungeons.
  • The headless horseman hunts with horrible howling hounds.


Distortion(G, S and TH) - Incorrect sound causing a frontal lisp, as in “sip” for “ship.”

  • Giant, green, gross goblins ghoulishly giggle.
  • Spiders spin spacious webs in spooky houses.
  • He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.

Additions (F, M and P) - Extra sounds/syllables added to the word, like “animamal” for “animal.”

  • Frankfurters fried in fish fat taste fresh and fine to Frankenstein.
  • Many mournful mummies moan for their mommies.
  • Professional pumpkin pickers are prone to pick the plumpest pumpkins.

Did you tax your tongue until it twisted? Terrific! The next time you tell a tongue-twisting tale, think of Tasteful Toasts.

A puzzling word tribute to the one you love.

Tasteful Toasts Anniversary Anagrams

There are hundreds of ways to show your love and as a professional presenter, magician, and enchanted husband I offer these anniversary anagrams to my wife, whom I cherish. Please adapt and share this tribute with the significant person in your life.

an·a·gram (an-uh-gram)

An anagram is a word cipher game where you rearrange the letters of a word or phrase to discover a secret message. And since my wife is a writer, I’ll begin with a literary example: Rearranging “A decimal point” to create “I'm a dot in place.”

Marriage is a journey where you write your own adventures one day at a time, like the pages in a book. Coincidentally “filling a novel” is an anagram for "Falling in love."

From her current mystery novel, one of her characters might say in, "You one valid girl" translates to, "I love you, darling."

And as we pursue our hearts desires, together, I support her with all that I can. Some would say I’m “A dream loan-giver,” which is an anagram for “Love and Marriage.”

We’ve been together for more than a dozen wonderful years and people ask us what is our secret – I call that type of person a “Life admirer” which is our secret anagram for “Married life.”

Some would say, “Hmm! A cavalier,” but that’s just an anagram for “Michael Varma” and I’m “the married man,” which translates to “I'm her darn mate!”

That’s my “Tasteful Toasts” article or “stout fast tales” for the month.

So, when you’re “In Love,” – an anagram for “Live on” – I recommend you continue to do so with passion.

[Many thanks to for making me look like a genius.]

Your turn: Share your favorite anagram or tasteful tribute to the one you love.


Tasteful Toasts Wedding One Liners

Remember the two golden rules to pack a loving punch.


Adding humor to a wedding or anniversary party is always welcome, but it requires that you follow the two golden rules: tell good cleanjokes and jest in favor of marriage. This can be a tall order because most wedding wisecracks are far from wise. Even the great comedic legend Milton Berle said, “Marriage is a great institution, but who wants to live in an institution?” Below are my top ten picks of tasteful wedding one-liners that can be personalize by replacing bride, groom, husband or wife with the actual people’s names.

1. A good wife will always forgive her husband when she's wrong.

2. A husband is not a yes-man; when his wife says no, he says no.

3. Why did the groom cross the road? Because his wife was on the other side.

4. The most effective way to remember your wife's birthday is to forget it once.

5. The best way to get your husband to do something is to suggest that perhaps he’s too old to do it.

6. Love is blind but marriage is an eye-opener.

7. Marriages are made in heaven, but the details are worked out on earth.

8. Single people are looking for a prize; married people find a reward.

9. To error is to be single, to get married is divine.

10. “Husband and wife” is an anagram for “Fun was had in bed.”

Even these top ten one-liners can pack a punch depending on the size, age and culture of your of your audience. Use your best judgment. If you’re still in doubt then leave it out. Go toward the white wedding light and you’ll always be right.

Bonus – a brief marriage joke:

A man walks up to a gorgeous woman in a large grocery store and says, “Excuse me but, I’ve lost my wife somewhere here in the market, could you talk to me for a few minutes?” “Why?” she asks. “Well, whenever I talk to beautiful woman my wife suddenly appears out of nowhere.”

Your turn - share your favorite tasteful wedding one-liner, today! 


Tasteful Toasts Movie Magic

Learn the three “A”s that make a magical marriage

It takes more than good communication to create the magical marriages seen in the movies. Wedded bliss is a combination of several movies genres: romance to attain love, comedy to induce laughter, and action to partake in life’s adventures. Read the secret scripts of the three “A”s: Attention, Attitude and Action to celebrate many wedding anniversaries in the future.


A quote from the screenplay Shakespeare in Love: “The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.” To pay attention to the large and dreams in your mate’s heart and mind demonstrates a regard like no other. This level of thoughtfulness and understanding can forge a bond to last a lifetime.


A winning attitude comes from the movie Good Will Hunting: “It doesn't matter if the guy is perfect or the girl is perfect, as long as they are perfect for each other.” Like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the husband and wife fit together perfectly – each completing the other’s picture. When she, the social butterfly, and he, the event planner, combine their talents they become the cosmic couple.


In When Harry Met Sally viewers heard: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Such moments are vital to take action. When’s the perfect time to pop the question? Now. And like the characters in that movie, you’ll have your ups and downs and challenges that test the heart, but only when you seize the opportunity will you hear that magic word, “Yes.”

There are no minor roles in your life’s movie. Everyone from your immediate family to your friends and acquaintances plays a significant part; each one pushes you forward on your journey. And if you pay attention, keep a positive attitude, and take immediate action you’ll – you know it’s coming…live happily ever after.


Tasteful Toasts Backyard Broadcast

Three tips for wedding toasts at an outdoor venue.

Backyard weddings can be intimate and less costly but sometimes come with a legion of logistics. A primary concern is sound. Indoor venues have walls to amplify voices and music giving guests clear sound, but the great outdoors requires microphones and speakers. Take heed of the following tips to ensure the newlyweds and witnesses can hear your well wishes.

Tasteful Toasts Backyard Broadcast

Hour of Power

Arrive at least an hour early to test the equipment and acoustics, both frequently overlooked – often due to event day errands (and excuses): You need to pick up black socks for the groom, tissues for the bride, the minister from the airport, or you got stuck in traffic.

I was the officiate and emcee for a couple last July, and by design I arrived two hours early. My time was well spent; about twenty minutes adjusting the microphone volume and rearranging speakers into “the cone zone” (see below) before lending a hand with the decorations to fill in for absent helpers.

The Cone Zone

For outdoor venues speaker placement is critical. You’ll need to take advantage of the speakers’ natural amplification. Be sure that the speaker output, which travels outward like a cone or triangle shape, is faced towards the audience from the corners of the area so that the sound is focused to the center of the seating arena (see picture above).

I relocated the speakers from the floor of the alter to opposite sides of the yard, in lieu of stands, placed them on top of tables because sound travels out and down. An additional benefit to the speaker separation is an unobstructed view of the bride and groom – plus there’s less chance of someone walking in front of the speakers and cause feedback.

Manage the Microphone

Speak into the microphone. It seems a given, but people get excited and start talking with their hands, which can accidentally move the microphone. Then your audience hears every third word – if they’re lucky. Pay attention to the basics and you’ll be you looking and speaking like a pro.

Whether the knot is tied in a courtyard, vineyard or backyard, make sure you know the broadcast basics so that your Tasteful Toasts can be heard.

For more tips and trick about microphones read Acapella Amplified.

The day I met Ernie Weckbaugh, he said, “Michael, never turn down an opportunity to speak…especially if you have a captured audience.” That was one of the many lessons I learned from Ernie, which forced a bittersweet smile on my face as I prepared his eulogy last October. Ever the lighthearted teacher, I can hear his voice, “Instead of offering a chronological presentation of my life, provide some basic facts then key insights that evoke happy, healthy memories and maybe an anecdote or two.”

The Facts
Weckbaugh was a veteran journalist, L.A. Daily News columnist, author and former child actor - a member of the original cast of the Our Gang Comedies (Little Rascals) in the 1930s, and my friend. As the owner and president of Casa Graphics, Inc. and Bestseller Books Publishing, he and his wife Patty, of fifty wonderful years, produced several hundred books for self-publishers. He lectured on small business success, marketing and promotion at UCLA, USC and Woodbury colleges.

An Anecdote (or two)

Ernie could not resist three things in life. First and foremost is his lovely wife Patty – and we know she loved him. She changed her perfect alliteration name from Patty Palmer to Patty Weckbaugh. If that doesn’t say, “I love you,” I don’t know what does. Although, being a Weckbaugh does make her unique.

The other two things Ernie could not resist were a good story and a bad pun. For example: Ernie believed in donating blood. It is a healthy altruistic habit – a planned act of kindness is what he called it, which very few people follow through on. One day when he was providing his bi-monthly donation he had an epiphany.

He told the nurse, “There are only two types of blood donors: pessimists and optimists. A pessimist's blood type is always b-negative; and an optimist’s is b-positive.”

That story netted Ernie a chuckle and an extra pack of cookies. I think that was his real goal. He never met a cookie he didn’t like. No doubt the nurses were on to him.

He also loved helping people tell their own stories by self-publishing books. I recall one tale he worked on in the early 1990s. It was about two Eskimos sitting in a kayak and who were chilly, but when they lit a fire in the craft, it sank, which proved once and for all that you can't have your kayak and heat it, too.

Good clean humor was his trademark. Clean is supreme. Another lesson I learned from Ernest Lewis Weckbaugh.

In Memoriam

I have a simple task for each of you to do on Ernie’s behalf. It’s something very easy. It will take about one hour of your time. And you’ll get a treat when you’re done.

Ernie saved 18 peoples’ lives, a year, for the last 36 years. For non-math majors that’s 630 lives. Like clockwork, every 56 days, Ernie Weckbaugh donated a pint of blood. Each pint can save three lives.

Ernie donated more than 25 gallons of blood over his lifetime and in 2009 was honored by St. Joseph’s Hospital. That’s a whole lot of juice and cookies.

So your mission is, between now and the end of the year, to donate one pint of blood in memory of Ernie Weckbaugh. Maybe, just maybe, it will turn into a happy and healthy habit for you, too.

To Ernie
, and Patty, I offer this tasteful toast:

You are unique
Morals sublime
Character rich
One of a kind


Learn the three components of a tasteful toast.

As a professional magician and frequent attendee of social gatherings, I believe toasting is one of the easiest ways to turn an ordinary party into an extraordinary celebration. I’ve witnessed how a few spoken words can enhance an evening, enchant guests and promote re-telling of stories about the special event, starting with the toast. You, too, can convey your own magical message by learning the three components of a tasteful toast: Be warm. Be witty. Be wise.

Be Warm

In the popular 1970’s television show Fantasy Island, Mr. Roarke, played by Ricardo Montalbán, warmly greeted his guests in order to set them at ease. He’d say, “Good afternoon everyone, I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island.”

We can learn from our history of the mini silver screen. If Mr. Roarke’s simple and genuine introduction worked well for six seasons – 158 episodes – then we can follow the script, too. Address the audience, introduce yourself and provide a sincere welcome.

Be Witty

After the hospitable welcome, people will pause for a few moments to listen for more information. For example, “Dinner is served in the main room. Please take your seats.” In my experience, this is an excellent time to proffer a brief humorous observation.

Below are a few generic funnies:

  • All our guests make us happy; some by coming and others by going.
  • Home: the place where you’re treated the best and grumble the most.
  • Never eat more than you can lift.

Be Wise

Next comes sage advice. What to say will vary depending on the wisdom to impart on the occasion: birthday, wedding, divorce (yes, that’s true!), baby shower, new job, or promotion. Quotes, proverbs, Tasteful Toasts, or writing words from the heart offers a vast array of appropriate remarks.

  • Baby: To the new parents, who are about to enter a “changing” world!
  • Promotion: May the work that you have be the play that you love.
  • Divorce: Always remember that hindsight is the best insight to foresight.

Put it all together and you’ll have three sentences – one warm, one witty and one wise:“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, my name is Michael Varma and I am your emcee for the evening. Welcome to Captain Sunny’s retirement party. He’s a man who knows everything and now has plenty of time to tell you all about it. Sunny, remember it’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years.”

Practice your lines a couple of times to ensure a steady delivery, then let the festivities begin!


Rewards and incentives drive good behaviors, and increase quality and productivity, but frequently no reward is the best reward a person can receive. The other day I was the recipient of that rare, priceless gift and I’m compelled to share my story.

Finders Keepers

While driving to the library to return a book, I came to a stop at a busy intersection and noticed a walking stick lying in the middle of road. The cane’s shiny brass handle seemed to wink

at me. Yes, this falls into the category of corny, but true. I did not hesitate. I put my vehicle in park and before a steady stream of cars could run me down, I retrieved the discarded dowel.

Upon returning home I began my examination. It was a work of art. The wooden shaft had a spiral inlay of twenty-one brass four-leaf clovers with a complementary solid brass duck’s head handle. Affixed to the collar were a military insignia and an American flag. It had a tasteful masculine air to it. My inspection was interrupted by a phone call, which started another series of events: a funeral, a wedding, and a flurry of houseguests.

Sympathetic Seekers

I placed the prized staff in my home office with the best intentions of promptly finding the owner. During my trips to the airport to pick up and drop off family members, I pondered how to reunite the separated parties.

Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolf would place an advert in the evening gazette and within a few days suitors would inquire, but this is high-tech modern day where print media is waning. Should I post a picture on Craig’s List? Facebook? Or maybe a low-tech solution of a “Found Cane” flier on telephone poles would be better. More pondering.

Several days went by and on Sunday morning I rolled out of bed and was determined to find cane’s owner. While still in my pajamas I scrutinized the cane for any further clues and that’s when I saw it. Under the handle was a small white label with a name and address. How did I miss that before? My guilt was reduced, just a tad, remembering the adventurous week I had from dawn to dusk and beyond.

Thankful Peepers

I readied myself for my mission with a quick shower, dressed, ate breakfast and hopped into the truck with MapQuest directions in hand. Exactly one mile away (it turned out) I reached my destination.

A spry senior gentleman came to the door, “Yes, may I help you?” he said. I held up the walking stick and his eyes grew wide with surprise and salvation. “I thought I lost that forever. Thank you.” he exclaimed. “I remember putting my wife’s walker in the car to go to the hospital but when we got to the emergency room my cane was gone.”


There are more than monetary rewards in life, which he did offer and I insistently declined. To receive a heartfelt “thank you” is payment beyond measure. This brings to mind an Aristotle quote: “In the arena of human life, the honors and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities in action.”

Why wait to return a lost possession to lift your spirits? Every day we have the privilege to offer genuine praise for a job well done or a sincere compliment to a co-worker, family member or best friend. Do it today. Give something for nothing and reap the rewards.

A tasteful toast to a planned act of kindness:

May it always be in fashion
To arise and take swift action
When a deed is to be done
Even where reward is none

Follow the three Vs to your pot of gold.

Tasteful Toasts - Learn to be Lucky

Some people seem to have all the luck. They not only avoid the pink-slip parade at work, they receive a promotion with a healthy increase in pay, to boot. Do they have a four-leaf clover hidden in their front pocket? No. These savvy folks have a simple secret. They generate luck by applying the three Vs: vision, valor and vigor.


Every prosperous person will cite a driving force: a vision. The ultimate dream, a heart’s desire or personal pot of gold can only be achieved once a goal has been established. Wanting to retire by the age of 42, becoming a published author or lecturing around the country commanding a five-figure fee are prime examples.

People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” ~ Earl Nightingale

Motivated individuals tend to have more than one ambition and each is clearly defined. A mental, and sometimes physical, outline starts them on their journey.


The next step in realizing a vision requires an act of bravery – to move forward and have the courage to divide that big dream into smaller, manageable actionable work assignments.

I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

You can – and should – ask for help with this chunking strategy. Often you will discover one or more subject matter experts – how lucky is that? – who may guide you through seemingly impossible tasks.


As you encounter insurmountable obstacles – and you will because that’s the reality of life – remain calm, be brave, and continue to ask for help along the way. True “luck” occurs when you recognize opportunities and take advantage of incoming phone calls and emails, visiting family and friends, and other helpful messengers of luck.

"Successful people keep moving." ~ Conrad Hilton

Celebrate the many minor matters you resolve and each major milestone you achieve. Every victory fosters self-confidence and strengthens your resolve, driving you to complete your original vision.

Consider the Arab proverb: Throw a lucky man into the sea and he will come up with a fish. Is he truly lucky or did he assess his dire situation and act boldly in order to survive being tossed into the ocean?

Luck frequently accompanies the men and women employing the three V’s. Whether it’s an original vision or the sighting of a golden opportunity, have the valor and vigor to pursue the prospect and find your pot of gold.

A tasteful toast to your good fortune:

May your pockets be heavy
And your heart be light
May good luck pursue you
Every morning, noon and night


Toasts for your true love
Step away from the chocolates and drive past the corner flower vendor, and that lingerie store, too. Your better half doesn’t really want these material things. Their true secret desire is to be a rock star with you, the number one fan, prepared to shower them with attention. The U.S. Post Office delivered more than one billion Valentine's Day cards last year proving that modern-day Romeos and Juliets want words of affection to make their cups runneth over.

Why Words?
Cupid’s candies might bring both of you short-term satisfaction, but such sugary love can sabotage the long-term New Year’s resolutions to lose those holiday pounds. Best to avoid the guilt and regret. Some folks believe that traditional red roses have a down side, too. The ever-increasing expense for flowers that wither within a week isn’t worth the investment. Frequently the good deed is forgotten well before you down your first St. Patrick’s Day beer.

But an original verse to your true love on Valentine’s Day etches a memory in the heart and on the mind. Most people have learned from our tough economy what really matters is your partner – the person by your side who supports you and your dreams. Now is the time to say so.

For Him
A man wants to brag about how his sweetheart treated him on this special day. He might delight in a homemade pancake breakfast or a romantic dinner for two, but he’ll also enjoy a surprise voicemail message before his morning coffee.

There are a myriad of ways,
That you compliment my days.
I adore each one,
With ever more fun,
Our life of endless holidays.

For Her
A woman longs for a tale to tell her girlfriends, for years to come, of how her man spoke sweet words that stirred her soul. So, write or recite a romantic phrase and share with your cutie-pie how she enchants you.

Did you know my heart skips a beat?
For you are my heavenly treat.
I’ll say today and I’ll repeat,
You make my life true and complete.


Learn how the big guy gets it all done


Before putting on the magical red suit, Santa makes his list and checks it twice. Then, and only then, does the jolly old man race around the globe delivering presents. Modern day shippers like UPS and FedEx follow Santa’s lead and print manifests before deploying the motor pool. A source from the North Pole leaked the big guy’s secret formula of using the goal-setting acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. 


Even if you don’t believe in Santa, you can refer to the dozens of research studies, published from the 1960s to current day that prove productivity increases when people give themselves specific goals. Saying, “I’ve got to purchase some presents,” is too general and probably won’t produce the desired result. Instead, state, “I want to buy gifts for Barbara, Missy, Pam, and Steve.” Your mind will identify appropriate goodies for each person on your list.


Define a start and finish line in order to measure your progress and celebrate each accomplishment along the way. In my example, I have four family members on my gift-giving list. After finding and paying for Barbara and Missy’s surprises I’ll be halfway done – so near to completion, my motivation will drive me until I reach 100 percent.


If you had millions of naughty and nice kids’ names to review by hand, it would be an insurmountable task. Many people tend to give up if a task seems impossible to reach – sometimes before the first attempt. Establish an attainable goal and vastly increase your chances of success.


Dreaming big is excellent advice especially when it is paired with rational and tangible goals. Attempting to be the earth’s next Santa Claus is grandiose, but wanting to be a local philanthropist is more realistic. Clearly visualize what you want and share the desires with your family and friends. This will generate additional excitement and propel you forward.


To deliver a lump of coal or new toy to every deserving boy and girl within 10 to 12 hours can put on a little pressure on Mr. Claus, although deadlines do provide urgency. A little stress is good to help focus our intentions and energies toward completing a task and receiving a reward, financial incentive or a sincere “thank you” when your loved one tears open the present from underneath the Christmas tree.

Whether you believe in his Christmas Jelly-Belly-ness or not, you can admire and learn from his top-notch organizational skills. Keep your goals SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. High achievers know precisely what they want, because they’ve written it down in simple, clear terms to keep them focused.

Write down your list of goals (and check it twice) to increase your chance of success. Make your SMART list today!

Achieving balance during the holidays.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve! Oh my! How did Dorothy keep her girlish figure during the holidays? Jazzercise! She and her gaggle of friends danced down the yellow brick road to the hip tunes of the day. Well, that and she didn’t have multiple family gatherings and office parties with tempting high calorie treats to increase her waistline. But if Dorothy and her merry band did participate in the year-end food-o-rama, they’d provide the following tips for enjoying the holiday season without gaining weight.

“We've been walking a long ways.” ~ Dorothy Gale

The trek to the Emerald City was accomplished by walking every single day. And research from the National Health Services shows that walking 10,000 steps a day will significantly improve your health. Whether you walk, jog, bicycle or swim, daily physical activity will relieve stress and burn up extra calories and can balance out some holiday meals.

My, my goodness -- I can talk again!” ~ Tin Woodsman

Although food can be a big part of the season, it doesn’t have to be the focus. Holidays are a wonderful time to reunite with your buddies, share stories and give thanks. Friends have (healthy) benefits, so take advantage of the gathering to speak from the heart and offer a tasteful toast to your friends:

You are unique, morals sublime.
Character rich, one of a kind.

Ain't it the truth!” ~ Cowardly Lion

A realistic goal is weight maintenance versus weight loss during the holidays. Make reasonable food choices and you’ll succeed – the foundation of the Weight Watchers food plan. If you’re still worried about the tempting treats, avoid arriving famished at the celebration. Have the courage to eat a light meal before leaving the house – a cup of soup or cheese and crackers on the stomach can help you resist sampling everything at a potluck party.

Oh, joy, rapture! I've got a brain!” ~ Scarecrow

It’s okay to eat. Remember moderation. And there are plenty of low fat and low calorie recipes posted online that are truly tasty. Try using applesauce in place of oil in your favorite holiday breads or make pumpkin brownies, which are yummy and contain fiber – a helpful tip from

To find the Wizard of Oz and achieve their heart’s desire, Dorothy and her friends possessed the necessary resources: brains, heart and courage. You, too, can use your brain to avoid known personal food triggers, talk from your heart to reconnect with your friends and have the courage to exercise in order to enjoy the holiday season without gaining weight.


Wedding toasts fit for a King and Queen

The original "Oktoberfest" occurred 200 years ago in Munich, Germany, in October 1810, to commemorate the marriage of

Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. In later years an annual festival and parade were organized to honor the Bavarian couple (King Ludwig I and Therese of Bavaria). Intrigued by this fun fact, I went on a quest to find tasteful German wedding toasts fit for a king and queen of any time period.

The following traditional toast must have come from a father-in-law:
Erst mach' dein' Sach dann trink' und lach!
First take care of business, then drink and laugh!

Leave it to the mother-in-law to sing a different song:
Jeder hört die Musik anders - aber der gemeinsame Tanz ist wunderbar.
Everyone hears the music differently - but the dance together is wonderful.

From the drunken-best man or romantic bride’s maid:
Das Leben ist bezaubernd, man muss es nur durch die richtige Brille sehen.
Life is wonderful, you just need to see it through the right glasses.

Generated from the townspeople (German proverb):
So lange leben, essen wie eine Katze und trinken wie ein Hund
To live long, eat like a cat and drink like a dog.

But my favorite wedding toast, which is appropriate for any stately marriage:
Jeder sieht ein Stückchen Welt, gemeinsam sehen wir die ganze.
Each of us sees a part of the world; together we see all of it.

There are no current-day reports of how many marriages take place at Oktoberfest, but it is the largest folk festival in the world, according to USA Today, with more than 6.5 million visitors and serving up nearly 7 million liters of beer.

In honor newlyweds everywhere and participants of Oktoberfest, I offer Prost und Zum Wohl! (Cheers and Bottoms up!)


Wedding gift thank you notes should not be tossed away like the bridal bouquet and written with a hasty hand. Nor need they be effusive eight-page essays of how you couldn’t live without the silver-plated serving platter. Crafting sincere words of gratitude is easy when you follow the three Rs of thank you note etiquette: reference, reason and regard.

After the salutation, simply reference the present itself. “Thank you for the collector’s edition of Star Trek Pez dispensors.” Naming the specific item avoids the faux pas of using the generic term of “gift” – that’s like saying, “I’m just not that into you.”

If you don’t recall what was given, an inquiring phone call is the best solution. Mention that during transport, a few cards and gifts were separated and you’d like to finish writing your thank you notes. Most wedding witnesses will understand and enjoy the story.

Select a favorite feature or overall positive quality of the present and write a complimentary remark. One sentence will do. Answer one of these two questions: Why do you like it? How will you use it? “I saw the T-shirt jersey sheets on Oprah and know they’ll keep us warm at night.”

While Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, sometimes gifts arrive from former planet Pluto. On the occasion where a present doesn’t appeal to your earthly tastes, focus on the generosity of the gift giver or the craftsmanship of the product. “The serpentine stone sculpture from Zimbabwe is quite elegant.”

It’s most important to acknowledge the person than the gift. The closing sentence is best centered on your relationship with an honest expression of appreciation. “We were honored to have you join us and celebrate our special day – your gift was an unexpected bonus.”

Be truthful. Be positive. Be kind.

So whether you open your presents before or after your honeymoon, it’s good form to write thank you notes in a timely manner. Remember the three Rs (reference, reason, and regard) and you’ll remain under the magical newlywed spell for years to come.


Tasteful Toasts Teamwork

The U.S. Labor Day holiday is a few weeks away and it’s traditionally known as the busiest barbecue day of the year to celebrate with your chums. It’s a time to thank ’em for helping you move you into that new house, painting the fence and feeding the cat. You might have a few friends that you can call up at a moment’s notice for a favor and they’ll be there – just as you’d be for them. Together you make a terrific team and now’s the time to tell them.

That was the case when my wife and I purchased a bargain at the home consignment store – a solid cherry wood dining room table with tasteful inlays and six hand-carved chairs. Loading the pieces into my truck went smoothly, with the assistance of the store’s furniture movers, but when we got home the table proved far too heavy for my wife to help me lift out of the truck and carry into the empty room.

“Regis, I’d like to phone a friend.”

In mere minutes our ladies were chatting, directing and designing while we, the muscle-bound men, dutifully navigated the timber through the front door. Pure teamwork. Our male and female dynamic duos transformed a troublesome task into a fun and victorious adventure. We had to toast our triumph and our friendship.

A couple of weeks later, an informal barbecue spread lay on our new and stately table and we raised our glasses high. The time had come to thank our friends and eat off the fruits of our labor. Here’s the toast I offered for the occasion:

We appreciate your brains and braun,
Twelve hours past the crack of dawn.
Without your muscles to call upon,
We’d be dinning on our front lawn.

The Greek playwright Euripides wrote, “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.” During our time of need, with no family around, that’s an apt statement.

So, whether you celebrate with steak and beers or wine and cheese, always remember to show gratitude to your comrade in arms. For they are your buddies, your pals – who keep you from harm.


The most powerful and valuable computer in the world is the mind. So why do people fill it with bad information? The brain takes pessimistic input like, “I can’t tell jokes” and processes it literally, making the statement a reality. The dastardly negative, “Don’t forget,” often fails to help the head. To accentuate the positive, simply rephrase – and when you combine it with a rhyme, you will remember every time.

Rhythmic Rhyme
Many of us remember Dr. Seuss because his stories always produce lips that incline after you read the rhythmic rhyme. This is also true when you give a Tasteful Toast – and I’m the bestselling author who’s allowed to cheer and boast. For a grocery list that’s small spot a couple words to recall. Say out loud to yourself, “Milk and bread keep us fed.”

Word games busy the brain and build recall. For decades scientists have proven that people who work on puzzles like jigsaws, crosswords, and Sudoku stimulate brain cell growth, which leads to improved memory.

Another Boat to Float
For those that prefer not to rhyme, there are several other ways to muscle your memory. One option is to make up acronyms to help remember facts, names or sequences. For example, I perform a specific magic trick and need to reveal the aces in order of club, heart, spade and diamond. I use the word CHaSeD. Each consonant is the first letter of the playing card’s suit and that acronym helps me remember.

Learning how to play music challenges the brain and also uses acronyms. “FACE” names the four notes in the spaces of a treble clef scale, but a sentence, “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge,” is needed to name the five lined notes of E, G, B, D and F. Thinking about a little boy’s face full of fudge provides a vivid image to ignite the memory. Then again, just listening to music can elevate your mood, reduce stress and increase your recollection – and doesn’t involve chocolate or calories.

Rehearse the Verse
My brain tends to remember short little poems or funny, clean limericks. Maybe yours does too. So try one of these techniques, a little at first, and practice a phrase or two. See if your memory begins to improve.

Be an optimist! Positive thinking will keep you clear, focused and alert – affirmative results that science always asserts. Most of all, remember this; Yard by yard, life is hard, but inch by inch, life’s a cinch.


People who whine about injustices rarely receive positive results because they are too busy complaining. But if you explain your position and suggest a solution, you’re more likely to get what you want. I’ll illustrate the process with a personal example by using the case of “The Disappearing Tree.”

My wife and I were excited to sponsor a tree to be planted in the Village Pond Park near our new home as part of the city’s “Expand the Forest” program. But a year after our Floss Silk tree was rooted, commemorating our wedding anniversary, I drove by the mini lake and was astonished – our sapling had vanished and was replaced by a metal monolith.

There was no phone call, no letter, no notification of any kind informing us our tree was going to be outsourced. While I was sure the lamp post would improve illumination for evening strollers and our feathered friends’ noturnal activities, I couldn’t help but feel angry, depressed, and jipped. I had to do something.

I wanted to complain. I needed to act upon those strong emotions (it’s only human) and get to the bottom of this foliage fiasco. Who took out our tree and why?

But if I started screaming obcenities at the city’s employees, from the secretary to the manager of the program, I’d only irritate them. They’d shut down and do as little as possible before calling me a whack job and hanging up the phone. And if by some minor miracle I didn’t completely alienate them and they were still willing to help me, they’d ask the all important question: “What do you want?”

I want a replacement tree.

I started my phone call with a succint explanantion of the situation (I paid for a tree and now it’s gone) and my disposition (I’m unhappy) then offered a possible resolution to my problem (I want a new tree). To elicit assistance and get me out of jeopardy, I phrased the last sentence in the form of a question. “Instead of a refund, can you help me determine what happened, and plant a new tree?” I essentially empowered the city employee to flex his authority and set him up as the “good guy.” Everyone wants to be a hero. Here was an opportunity to swoop in to save the day and the environment, too.

He put me on hold to check out my story. When the program manager came back on the line, he confirmed that we had in fact purchased a tree but wanted a maintenance crew to verify my claim of the disappearing tree. He apologized for my inconvenience – a feel-good bonus for me – and promised to call me back within two days with an action plan.

Less than an hour later my phone rang. A member of the city’s landscaping team was at the “Duck Pond” and after a few radio calls, he corroborated my story. The answer was more simple than sinister. There was an existing powerline next to our tree which was ideal for erecting a lakeside lamppost and our timber was to be replaced but the paperwork had been delayed.

My wife and I now have a new magnolia to call our own.

So whether you’re calling in a complaint or writing about your woes, communicate clearly. Summarize the setback, briefly share your feelings on the matter and then offer a mutually beneficial solution. More often than not, you’ll get what you ask for.


Faulty feedback causes headaches.


Hearing unbridled opinions about your performance can make your head swell with pride or explode with anger. The popular TV reality show American Idolapplauds judgemental comments and hard hitting evaluations of contestants singing for stardom. The golden rule of “praise in public and critique in private” has been lost to the television Gods and, unfortunately, millions of viewers are learning by bad examples how to give proper feedback.

Negative Feedback

 Melodramic and sarcastic comments may play well on the boob tube and for studio audiences, but making personal attacks leads to tears and potential stalkers. Using nasty words only encourages a “potty mouth” response, which in turn promotes a verbal or physical confrontation. Then everyone will need some Tylenol.

Conversational conflicts hurt feelings and relationships – even when said with the best of intentions.

Constructive Feedback

Candid critiques are very important and can have a positive long term effect when presented with genuine praise.

1. Share something you liked about their performance and mean it.

2. Critique a specific behavoir and breifly tell how it affected you.

3. Suggest a solution describing the outcome you envision by this new action.

Keep criticism concise and treat the person with dignity. Additional discussions seeking clarification “Help me understand; your goal was…” and confirm understanding “So, what you’re saying is…” will successfully complete the feedback circuit.

Giving effective evaluations can be as tricky as removing the childproof cap on an aspirin bottle. But with a little practice and perspective, your critiques will keep them coming back for more.


Learn the three Ps of a polished presenter.

Praise in Public


Most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, have a little voice inside that wants us to compliment a coworker at a party and say, “You did a great job,” or “I appreciate your help,” but we’re afraid of appearing foolish or saying something embarrassing. That’s normal. Then we watch a seemingly fearless facilitator stand up at the gathering and convey with conviction similar thoughts. We think to ourselves, “I could have said that.” Yes, that’s normal, too. Transform into that polished presenter by following the three Ps:preparepresent, and prevail.

To prevent flubbed lines, focus on how your coworker assisted you personally or professionally. Select one instance and summarize the situation, solution, and your satisfaction with the end result.

Pretend you’re in front of the party-goers and say your brief praise out loud. Tell it to your significant other – whether they are two or four legged – this minimal practice will calm most stomach squalls. Silly as it may seem, verbalizing your mini-speech, even to an audience of one will make a huge difference. When my wife’s unavailable then my cat plays second fiddle and listens to me practice (in between her naps and meals). 

One of the best times to premiere your praise is right after everyone has assembled and if at a restaurant after folks order their meals. Visualize success and present like you rehearsed.

For example, “My boss needed a chart created for a meeting in ten minutes and I didn’t know how to do it. Bob was able to show me in less than two minutes. I appreciate his help. Thanks, Bob.”

A perfect presentation or not, you will be admired for taking a risk and showing genuine gratitude. The next time you give a pat on the back it will become easier. Both you and the recipient will fill with pride.

I recently complimented a co-worker, “Your summary of the project was quite good. You presented a nice high-level overview, touched upon several key points, and concluded with next action steps. I found it very help and informative.” My associate felt good with the recognition and I was delighted with myself for boldly following through with my remark. Reminds me of a quote by the writer and editor Margaret Cousins, "Appreciation can make a day - even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary."

Far too often people’s achievements are overlooked or worse, expected. A few words of acknowledgement in front of your peers will boost everyone’s moral. Follow the three Ps of a polished presenter (prepare, present, prevail) and you’ll prosper at praising in public.


A new generation of online communication.

Yes, that's my Dad on Skype.

Videoconferencing is not just for large corporations anymore. Small companies use it, sole proprieters use it, and yes, mom and dad use it, too. Whether people pay for a hi-tech interactive telecommunication boardroom or use free software such as Skype, which runs on a home computer, online communication has entered a new era.

Star Trek boldly went wireless in the mid 1960s with handheld communicators, but it was the video-intercom jumbo-tron on the bridge of the Enterprise that ensured a successful mission. Whether you’re presenting a webinar or posting a podcast in real time streaming video, it’s good to remember the three Ps –Posture, Position and Pronunciation – so you, too, can be as victorious as Captain Kirk.

Onscreen slouching can cause Quasimoto to become green with envy when the camera visually adds “those ten pounds” to your hunched back. To avoid being confused for that famous ringer, do as your parents or drill sergeant ordered: head up, shoulders back and chest out.
Sitting correctly prevents back pain and contributes to a good appearance. Your confidence will grow and people will take you more seriously. Remember: James Tiberius Kirk always sat tall in his captain’s chair.

Camera position is key. Too far away and you’ll look like a midget. Too close and folks will focus on your nose hair. Get it just right – an appropriate mix of upper body and minimal background – and you’ll be admired by millions of cyber-fans and Andorians alike.

Place the webcam about 36 inches from where you’ll sit so the microphone can still acquire your voice. Zoom in and focus on yourself. Verify the screen is filled proportionately and that there’s enough room to show hand gestures, display props, like a book, or complete a demonstration.

Warm up with the tongue twister and say, “There’s terrible trouble with Tribbles,” three times clearly enunciating each syllable before you turn on your techno-tool and broadcast in broadband. Slight transmission delays and tinny sounds from tiny computer speakers, might squelch your voice. Speak slowly and clearly so you sound intelligent and not like a Klingon ordering zilm'kach!(a small apricot).

Record yourself saying a small speech and then play it back. Close your eyes and listen. After you stop laughing at how different your voice sounds to yourself, play it one more time and pay attention to the pronunciation of the words. Practice until you’re satisfied your peeps will find value in your vocalizations.

Is cyberspace the final frontier? No, but it is a strange new world where full facial features and body language are seen by new generations of family, friends, customers and potential clients. Buckle in the three Ps (posture, position and pronunciation) before you “Engage!” at warp speed.


Tell a dirty joke and get mud in your eye!

It’s easy to tell an off-color joke, but it’s just as easy to deliver a clean joke. And the perils of using naughty words are many: offend a guest, alienate an audience or damage your credibility jeopardizing future bookings. Only a handful of professional comedians like Bobby Slayton, often referred to as "The Pitbull of Comedy,” and “Mr. Hockey Puck,” Don Rickles, have found a successful negative niche, publicly bashing anyone and everyone to get a laugh. For the rest of us, clean and clever humor will please the crowd.

Right Time, Right Place
It’s important to tailor your type of humor for your audience. I once was hired to perform a private magic show at a bachelor party. After my first trick, one of the guys asked me if I knew any dirty jokes. “You mean one liners like: football players need to be naked to count to 21?” When the jocks in the room laughed I forged on “What did the elephant ask the naked man?” Pause. Wait. “You breathe through that?” It got worse – er, better and continued down the dirty path for another hour. As fun as that was, there hasn’t been another venue during the past 30 years to use a similar string of jokes in my shows and presentations.

Business meetings, lectures and seminars require more highbrow humor than typical the bathroom strain. Clever comments on the edge of truth have a stronger bite and can be used any time, for example, "Never call a meeting before noon without donuts or all order will be lost."

Remember, humor is subjective. What one person finds hysterical another may not. It depends upon their perspective, as with the joke: “This little computer will do half your job for you,” said the sales clerk. The senior VP studying the machine nodded decisively, “Fine, I’ll take two.” Most upper management will politely smile and accept the good-natured ribbing causing all worker-bees to chortle.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the class clown, hiding behind the burning bush, saw an opportunity. Since then the Top Ten List has remained a solid routine which can be applied to any subject.

Top 10 signs your company is going to downsize:

10. Company softball team is converted to a bridge club.
9. Dr. Kevorkian is hired as an “Outplacement Coordinator.”
8. Employees become super friendly with the dorky director of human resources.
7. The coffee machine is removed from the break room.
6. Corporate headquarters begins a weekly bake sale.
5. Senior management starts carpooling…together.
4. Annual holiday party moves from the Ritz Carlton to Chucky Cheese.
3. Computers are being replaced with Commodore 64s.
2. Medical plan now consists of directions to the free clinic.
And the number one sign your company is going to downsize is…
1. The CEO installs a dartboard labeled with existing department names.

Clean is Supreme
Blue Collar Tour jokester Jeff Foxworthy, the originator of “You might be a Redneck if…” holds the current title, “The King of Clean.” Successful comedians like Bill Cosby, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal all have held comedic crowns for their wit. These comedians, including the legendary Phyllis Diller, Milton Berle and Henny Youngman all have/had joke files filled with good clean humor because they know that sanitary comedy is timeless.

Focus on levity with longevity and start your clean humor file today.

Clown Fish Michael Varma

Q: How does a clown fish get its stripes?
A: It spends time in jail.

Q: Why don’t sharks eat clownfish?
A: Because they taste funny.


Mom and Dad were there through our growing pains, teaching us the difference between our left and right. Right and wrong. And how to deal with the strong emotions of love and hate. A time will come when you’ll need more assistance beyond your parents’ tutelage. Early in my career, I admitted to myself I wasn’t Superman and needed help from an outside source. Granted that realization came after my “terrible trifecta” where I unwittingly embarrassed myself during three interviews (radio, newspaper and television). I wanted someone, a mentor, to show me how to fly, leap buildings in a single bound and prevent stumbling through another talk show. I decided to follow the three Ls: List, Look and Learn, to find a mentor.

Before you ask anyone to invest their time in your future success, write a wish list of what you want, both from yourself and from your mentor. Let this list be as long as necessary – mine was large enough for its own zip code.

I wrote things like, “I want to speak professionally when I talk about my books” and “Why was I so antsy during the interview?” Be honest. Write every candidly crazy question to discuss with your mentor during step number three, the Learn phase.

A mentor is someone you admire and respect. Often he or she works in your chosen career. Observe this successful person and analyze the qualities, values and traits exhibited then add those elements to the list you made in phase one.

I watched TV interviews and added dozens of positive attributes and nearly a hundred bad habits I hoped to never portray. Learning from other people’s mistakes taught me volumes.

Look at local leaders in your profession. Ask them a question or two seeking their advice. Absorb their comments and communication style. Determine if this person would be a good fit for you and could motivate you to do your best work.

The List and Look phases provide many opportunities for introspection and self-awareness. Revise your listing from the size of a telephone directory to a top ten prioritized list. Now you’re ready to approach your prospective role model to pop the question: “Will you be my mentor?”

Either answer is good news. A “No” – an honest and fair response – may mean they don’t have enough time to devote to this endeavor. “Yes,” denotes additional discussions will take place.

Show the work you’ve completed so far (both lists) then set goals and ground rules. Determine boundaries of confidentiality, accountability, time commitments and realistic expectations. A good mentor will listen and facilitate, fostering self-confidence and personal growth. I found this to be true from a highly structured mentoring program within Toastmasters.

Mentors help you capitalize upon your strengths and overcome your personal kryptonite. They provide a fresh perspective to real and perceived obstacles you face by suggesting alternatives instead of telling you what to do. Their empathy and experience will provide you the necessary guidance to build your own network and become successful.

Everyone one of us have had a mentor. These days we gather knowledge from workshops, seminars, lectures, podcasts or even e-learning. But one-on-one training is still out there. Just follow the three Ls (ListLook and Learn) and find your mentor. Then one day you’ll make the transition from apprentice to role model. Instead of learning by example you’ll be leading by example.


The one with the most joys wins!

Charlie Brown had it right, you don’t need a gazillion presents underneath an overly decorated tree to confirm the true meaning of Christmas. The Grinch discovered the significance of this joyous day after he stole Who-ville’s pop guns, roller skates and drums. These classic cartoons play on TV every year, highlighting the over-commercialization of Xmas causing us to forget that all we really need to do is offer an honest compliment.

Now-a-days Christmas is celebrated by many different religions (and retailers) causing a shift in the meaning of “Merry Christmas.” Without going into the syncretization between Saint Nick and elements from pagan Nordic and Christian mythology, what we’re really trying to say is “I wish you and your family are safe and well until I see you again.”

Some would argue it has an even more relaxed meaning of, “Rest, relax and rejoice on this paid holiday.” Either way you dice it, it’s still a compliment: expressing praise, congratulations or encouragement.

Telling family and friends how much you love and appreciate the time they share with you is fabulous. It’s like giving a tasteful toast to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy inside. It has many positive side affects. It strengthens relationships, boosts self-esteem and increases happiness.

I humbly request all recipients of my blog to get back to basics and offer one compliment a day for the next two week. Yes, I know it takes two weeks to form a new habit. But just think how your corner of the world will be much brighter all 365 days because of your new routine.

Here are the steps to take in order to provide a heartfelt compliment:

1. Pick a person.
It can be a coworker, mailman, secretary, boss, teacher, stranger, friend or enemy.

2. Find a feature.
Characteristics can be concrete or intangible like a smile, sunny disposition or hair style.

3. State with sincerity.
For example, “Barbara, that’s a lovely coat you’re wearing.”

If you deal with customers on a daily basis I challenge you to offer a compliment to each person.
Remember, this is a planned act of kindness and does not mean that you should expect one in return. It costs nothing to give and is priceless to receive.


Tasteful Toasts Dinner Time

Speaking off the cuff is acceptable for a dinner-time toast, but you might fail to find the right words to say as hungry eyes focus on you. You’ll stand tongue-tied with your “ums” and “ahs” while your chums begin to chat with one another giving you time to gather your thoughts. By the time you’re ready, the moment’s gone. Knowing when and what to say is key to your success, so follow the three Ds: Draft, Decide, and Deliver and all will be delicious.

Today’s listeners expect clarity, especially from a host. You must communicate openly with your audience or you’ll lose their attention. A simple action plan needs to take place before you raise your glass. So, like a good little boy or girl scout, be prepared.

Take the time to draft a tasteful toast. Write words that express the joy you feel when you’re with your dinner guests. Let them know how much you appreciate their friendship. It’s easier to sketch out a dash of humor now, in the solitude of your own home, than in the bustling background of a restaurant.

Now a days there are no hard rules when to give a toast but there are two natural delays in the dining action you can take advantage of: before dinner or before dessert. After the waiter takes your order, there will be a few seconds of silence as he makes a beeline to the chef in the kitchen. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to determine which opportunity is a better fit to addresses your companions.

Giving a toast before the main meal, at an informal gathering, will set the tone for the evening and conversations will originate from your positive proclamation. Often this type of toast suggests, “The future is ours” and “Let’s get this party started.”

Saying a few words prior to the post-dinner delicacies (that’s fancy talk for “before dessert”) is an ideal way to recap conversations and toast your friends. Typically, this type of toast indicates the evening’s festivities are coming to a close.

Instead of tapping a spoon against a glass to capture everyone’s attention, simply stand up at the table. Conversations will cease and all eyes will focus on you. The stage is set and it’s time to deliver your complimentary message.

It’s best to memorize your mini-speech and look at the folks around the table. But if you have to use notes, rest assured your friends will understand. Speak loud enough so your guests can hear you over any music, conversation or other distractions. When done, raise and clink your glass and take a sip before you sit down.

A special occasion deserves clear communication. A little preparation will help you deliver your heartfelt message. Remember the three Ds (Draft, Decide, and Deliver) and your dinner-time toast will disarm, denote, and delight.

I recently had an opportunity to share my sincere thoughts with a group of professional writers dining at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, and offered this toast:

For my literary friends I decided to write,
a brand new toast to deliver tonight.

I appreciate your humor, I appreciate your wit.
I appreciate your candor, so happy, I should sit.

But I stand humbled and proud,
To be associated with such an infamous crowd.

We are all varied – an eclectic blend,
I’m fortunate to call each one of you friend.

Lake Forest Writers Group at the Magic Castle

Top Row: Tim, David, Diana, Michael, Barbara, and Nicole
Bottom Row: Maki, Cory, Jillian, Beth, Brian and Brian.


[Author’s note: Telling this story has worked well with all ages and was an adaptation of a Maryland folktale. Happy Halloween!]


Old Mrs. Piedmont lived in a log cabin in the tiny town of Frazier Park, California, in the early 1800s. She would forage for food every day hoping to capture a rabbit or other small game but often had to dig up some roots and cook them for dinner. One day while picking mushrooms from the base of her favorite tree, she spotted something strange sticking out of the ground. She brushed away the topsoil until she uncovered a great big hairy toe. There was some good meat on that toe and it would make a mighty tasty dinner. With a single whack of her hatchet old Mrs. Piedmont dislodged the toe, put it in her basket and took it home.

When she got back to her cabin, she boiled her vittles in a kettle and had hairy toe soup for dinner. The meat was so tender she ate it right off the bone. It was the best meal she'd had in weeks! With a full stomach old Mrs. Piedmont fell fast asleep at the kitchen table next to her napkin and the toenail clipping.

The moon rose, crossed the night sky and seemed to stop directly over her house. Cold wind started blowing and growing stronger until it howled through the tree tops. A soft hollow voice was carried through the air calling out, "Hairy toe! Hairy toe! I want my hairy toe!" Inside the house, old Mrs. Piedmont stirred and nervously looked around.

From the woods came a stomp-squish, stomp-squish, stomp-squish noise and the wind whistled louder. At the edge of the forest, she could make out a ghoulish cry: "Hairy toe! Hairy toe! I want my hairy toe!" Old Mrs. Piedmont shuddered and ran to the door and barred it.

Stomp-squish, stomp-squish, stomp-squish sounds came from the garden path outside her cabin. Mournful moans shook her window shutters: "Hairy toe! Hairy toe! I want my hairy toe!"

The front door burst open with a bang, snapping the bar in two and a massive figure walked through the shattered doorway – stomp-squish, stomp-squish, stomp-squish. It demanded: "Hairy toe! Hairy toe! I want my hairy toe!" and pointed to the missing digit.

Old Mrs. Piedmont shouted in terror, "But I ATE your hairy toe!"

“And I want it back.” The giant advanced into the room stomp-squish, stomp-squish, stomp-squish.

Old Mrs. Piedmont was never seen again.

And still to this day, more than 200 years later, people still ask, “What does hairy toe soup taste like?” It ain’t toe bad – tastes like chicken.


Remember that merry day of matrimony? It seemed like only last year the happy couple went willingly down the aisle toward wedded bliss. Some may have been “coaxed,” but the fact remains it’s their anniversary – time to celebrate another successful 52 weeks of togetherness. In addition to giving her a Nordstrom shopping spree and him a flat screen TV, an appropriate verbal gift is to remind them why they said “I do.”

Toasting Topic #1: Equality
Reminisce how the bride and groom, each strong and stable on their own, now function in the divine interdependency of marriage – a worthy status according to Oprah and Psychology Today. Cite examples, then and now, of how this dynamic duo balance work and play and still has time to save the planet.

Their equally-matched talents are what make them the perfect pair. Take the initiative and share your memories of how this man and wife improve the quality of your life, making it a priceless gift indeed.

Suggested Toast #1
With one look into your eyes
You cannot disguise
Your zest for life
As man and wife

Toasting Topic #2: Harmony
Some couples complement each other extremely well, like the bass and treble clefs on piano sheet music. Together these love birds make a marvelous marriage melody. Their passion can only be labeled a la the classic movie The Princess Bride as “twue love.” 

Obvious mutual affection and respect between this twosome are easily noted and need not be labored with a long-winded anecdote. Best to skip directly to the toast, followed by dessert.

Suggested Toast #2
You are blessed from above
With devotion and love
I have a good notion
To second His motion
We bid you good cheers
Partners in love for many more years

From the first wedding anniversary to the twenty-fifth and beyond, share your observations with your family, friends and guests with a tasteful toast. Rejoice in their successful union and take pride in reminding folks attending the celebration why a happy man and wife make a happy span of life.

Glass Half Full


I committed a huge faux pas several months ago and almost lost my credibility as a presenter. My mental TiVo keeps replaying the moments leading up to the mishap until a self-induced coma takes over – a common disease known as “analysis paralysis.” I was the second half of a tag team training session and noticed my teammate was running way too long. When I took the floor, I had less than 15 minutes to cram in 45 minutes of material. But I kept my credibility (and cool) by remembering the three Ps: perspective, patience and politeness.

I stood in the back of the room so only the presenter could see me circling my index finger in the, air my universal sign for “wrap it up.” When that didn’t work I tried the basketball referee, hand paddling move for traveling. Nothing. I pointed to my watch then drew my hand across my throat for “cut.” The speaker never acknowledged my presence.

I could have interrupted, played more charades or completed jumping jacks to get his attention, but decided to sit down and look at the situation from a different point of view. While I found his material to be somewhere between uninteresting and downright boring, both in presentation and content, others thought it spot-on. If the audience shared my opinion then I needed to compress my information into a compact, entertaining and powerful message or make it available through another source.

A hybrid solution came to me: I used my meager ten minutes to provide a high-level overview with a few intriguing facts and asked for business cards with email addresses in order to forward additional details. While some ponder if the glass is half full or half empty, my cup overfloweth with more than three-dozen business contacts.

Our first session of the day was far from perfect and I wanted to share some choice thoughts with my “partner” about his long-winded routine. But several events happened in the span of a few minutes that altered my plans.

First, I reminded myself that the participants are often unaware anything is wrong (unless I tell them or complain about the lack of time), proving ignorance is bliss. Second, my colleague immediately apologized for the lopsided segments before I could unload on him. He even solicited ideas on what could be trimmed from his PowerPoint slide deck. And shocking me to the core he asked, “What was with all the semaphore?”

Had I lost my temper with my associate for being uninformed with basic hand gestures, well, I’d be the backside of a donkey. Had I rushed to the front of the room, sacked the current quarterback and demanded my time, I’d alienate my co-instructor and the childlike actions would crush my credibility with the crowd.

Now for the gratuitous clichés and proverbs to hammer the point a little further:
1. In the end, it all works out
2. Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet
3. One minute of patience, ten years of peace

It’s easy to be rude. Even easier to rebuke a presenter for being more focused on their coffee cup than paying attention to the audience or team teacher. But being kind in the shadow of your own frustration is disarming. It brings unforeseen rewards to the surface. As the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

While my comrade was unfamiliar with the silent messages sent via body language, he responded to a friendly explanation. We completed six more presentations together and debriefed after each session, tweaking, modifying and improving our delivery.

Add up the three Ps (perspective, patience and politeness) and it equals respect. The respect you have for yourself, your audience and fellow presenter, with a calm and polished approach, will keep your credibility.


Tasteful Toasts - Acapella Amplified

Managing a microphone is all about location
Unless you’re a karaoke king or decibel diva, using a microphone effectively takes a little practice. Gone are the days of yowling like a hepcat because today’s technology can amplify your normal speaking voice. But proper placement of the mic is key.

Location, Location, Location
Imagine your microphone is a flashlight shining a V-shaped light toward your face. This area is known as the hot zone. Your voice is best amplified when you talk over or across, not directly into, this region. Speaking down the shaft of light,

known as “crowding the mic,” may distort and garble your words. Some folks overcompensate positioning the microphone too far away and sounding distant. Others place the mic too close to their mouths creating a cold spot – when they turn their heads, words are completely lost to the audience. You might feel a little like Goldilocks testing what’s too hot and too cold until you settle on a position that is just right. Most wireless microphones can be held about a six inches away from the mouth for best clarity.

Dress for Success
Both wired and wireless clip-on lavaliere microphones require presenters to consider microphone-friendly clothing. Buttons, jewelry and long hair can rub or tap against the microphone’s head causing distracting noises. A scarf, loose tie or billowing blouse may rustle softly and will be picked up, amplified and transmitted throughout the room – I hope corduroy doesn’t come back in style. Most lavalieres require a transmitter to be clipped onto a belt or slid into a pocket. Wear the appropriate attire and accessories to minimize any unwanted commotion.

Testing: 1, 2, 3
You’ll quickly realize the microphone is your friend, allowing you to speak softly and carry a big message. Whether you’re a newly published author out on your first press junket or giving a tasteful toast at a party, always arrive a little early and take the equipment out on a test drive. Rehearse what you’re going to say using the microphone. Pray that the audiovisual kid in school grew up to be a technician and is available to assist you with your sound check. Experiment with your vocal variety, pitch and rhythm while someone moves around the room to gauge how well your voice can be heard.

A microphone is an excellent tool to help you engage a large audience. Find the proper placement for the equipment and a bit of time to practice and you’ll be ready for a recording contract.


Homage to the unsung heroes of a first draft

Treat your typos with respect because they are the first casualties of a supreme sentence. They freely lay down their lives on the printed page as you feverishly tap away on the keyboard pouring out your thoughts during the perfect brainstorm. Every fi, nad or butt that survive auto-spell check await calmly for you, the editor, to surgically repair the broken vocabulary.

Napkin Notes
You might be at your laptop when that initial inspiration beams into your brain. Your fingers morph into something crazy only seen on the Sci Fi Channel and your hands do their best to keep up with your stream of consciousness.

Frequently I’m eating food, any food – snack or regular mealtime – it doesn’t matter, when my big ideas begin to pop. I’ve written entire stories on a dozen cocktail napkins only to transcribe them into slightly better gibberish when I get back to my computer. I let the words flow and clean up the hasty blunders later, both when I put pen to paper and subject to screen.

It’s most important to get the revelation out of your head and scribbled onto something tangible. Editing will come later, but for now the comma cops will turn a blind eye while you complete your preliminary outline and run-on sentences.

Dreadful Drafts
Be grateful for every rough copy and synopsis written, especially when it’s bad. The fact you can recognize how horrible it is brings confidence to your correction abilities. This is the fun part where you flesh out your ideas, focus on characters and enhance scenes after the initial structure is on paper.

With the advent of computers, editing is easier than writing a cliché. Relocating entire sections to create a better and logical flow is easy as cut-and-paste. The beloved thesaurus and built-in dictionary clean up the poorest prose, so authors can make their sentences sing. The punctuation police will monitor dashes, quote marks and the occasional exclamation point (one in every six pages), which are easily added to emphasize the point.

Getting the next best seller, presentation outline or tasteful toast out of your noggin is the biggest battle. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Don’t do both correcting spelling and grammar on the initial brain dump; just focus on the idea. Then edit and pay homage to the typos, those brave little characters, the unsung heroes, of a first draft.


Four key elements of storytelling

“What happened next?” will be your three favorite words. Paint a vivid picture and your audience will “see” what you’re saying. They’ll inch forward on their seats, listen with their eyes and ears giving you their full attention – all because you know the secret of how to tell a good story. Some of the best and often funniest stories are best told as anecdotes just before the wedding toast. These vignettes follow a simple formula: PLOT (Purpose, Listeners, Organized, andTime).

Each anecdote should deliver a message, demonstrate a point, convey a feeling or an overall purpose – like in Aesop’s Fables and sum up the point in one succinct sentence. For example, Bob is head over heels in love with Betty (cliché, but let’s go with it). Now tell a story of how Bob showed his deep passion for his bride-to-be. At the end of your anecdote the meaning should be obvious and the listeners will easily grasp or identify the concept. So, determine your purpose and the plot will thicken.

For people to remember what you’ve said, you must reach listeners on an emotional level. Breathe life into your story’s characters and situations by describing specific parts of a scene, on action taking place or through expressive dialogue. Instead of saying, “Bob was in the kitchen,” which is flat and boring, elaborate: “Bob was wearing his new ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron and every inch of the kitchen counter was covered with all the contents of the refrigerator.” Add more flavor with dramatic voicing, pauses, expressive body language and facial expressions to help the audience connect with you and visualize the setting.

When a storyteller jumps around to seemingly random thoughts it only confuses the listeners. Tell your anecdote in a logical sequence. Make it clear, focused and easy so your audience can follow the storyline. Avoid endless details and unnecessary tangents. Have something happen in the story at a specific time and place affecting the main character. This creates a problem which needs to be resolved, followed by a series of events (the action) that reaches a climax then concludes. At the end of your account the story should connect to the overall purpose.

Brevity is paramount for anecdotes. A short creative story will quickly clarify and support your point. A beautiful byproduct of a two-minute tale is the ease of use: easy for you to remember the story and easy for your audience to remember it.

Assemble all the parts of your PLOT and you’ll have a successful and brief anecdote. For example:

“I knew Bob was on the road to marriage when he made dinner for Betty. Only true love can make a man who lives on frozen dinners and Domino’s pizza reach beyond his current skill set and boil water for something more than JELL-O. One night I walked into his bachelor’s apartment, which was decorated in jet black furniture, to find him standing in the kitchen wearing his newly purchased Kiss the Cook apron. Every inch of the counter was covered with all the contents of the refrigerator. There was a little flour in the air…and in his hair. When Bob saw me, he said, “I’m making food to eat. For me and Betty. Supper.” The only things missing were his club and cave. But alas, isn’t that what true love is all about?”

In less than 150 words, a complete story can be told. Images of each scene are painted in your listeners’ minds, logically linking from one thought to another seasoned with a little humor. A good anecdote will almost tell itself.


Clock Watcher

Clock watchers get left behind in economic times

Waiting for the perfect time to pitch an idea, write a query letter or send a resume? Then you might have missed the proverbial boat because your competition isn’t slowing down. Many people are fond of playing the waiting game, but the smart money is on folks following through during the slow season.

We’ve all heard “Businesses don’t hire during the holidays” and “I’ll have to update my resume.” Current excuses revolve around the

stalling economy: “I’ll start calling when things begin to pick up.” Until that magic time occurs, citizens head home to watch a little boob tube, grow old and complacent about the lack of prospects. Internal justifications quickly transform into the new procrastination tool and before you can say HDTV you’re hooked on the latest soap-opera-reality-game TV show.

Employers are constantly asking associates to do more with fewer resources. The new mantra – work smarter, not harder – is no longer lip service, it’s expected of every employee. American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison said it best: “There is a better way to do it. Find it.”

If your industry is truly slow then your first priority is to make yourself the top qualified talent and shine through the sea of mediocrity. Surpass the rest by being the best.

We are all sales people. We sell ourselves to prospective employers at a job interview, present our company’s goods to current and future customers, or write query letters to pitch our great American multi-million-dollar novel to an agent. And if you’re truly honest with yourself, you know there’s always something to do, like cultivate existing relationships to network for your eventual net worth.

Every farmer knows you wake up early, plant seeds now to harvest a fruitful future. Instead of watching the clock tick by, use those idle hours to improve or develop a new skill set.

Stop loitering in your life. Learn to reach out for assistance from a friend, boss or mentor and use your time wisely. Whether you’re climbing the corporate ladder or personal steps of success, winners know, the slow season is the grow season.


Tasteful Toasts - Birthday Bandits

Learn how to prevent partygoers from stealing the spotlight.

Celebrating a friend’s birthday is a good thing, but taking the attention away from the honoree can be criminal. Sometimes naturally chatty folks and professional speakers “accidentally” steal the stage when their dutiful place is in the audience clapping and cheering their comrade for surviving another 365 days. Whether you’re the host of the party, best friend or guest, you can politely thwart these thieves by giving them a temporary spotlight then refocusing the beam of light upon your birthday buddy.

Let Them Eat Cake
After a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” at a coworker’s 50th party, a fellow associate, a Martha Stewart wanna-be, brought the festivities to a screeching halt exclaiming how she made the cake from scratch. “And the frosting, too,” she exclaimed and then she droned on and about how the eggs were organic and the milk came from local cows and her ump-teen years of cooking experience made her the best chef in the company.

While some of this information was interesting (and presented well), why did she tell us? What was her point? Beyond showcasing her talents, it was her way of expressing how much she cares for her long-time friend and how she took the extra time to bake him a cake. The easiest course of action, so you can eat that awesome organic cake, would be to publicly thank her for the labor of love then turn the limelight on the guest of honor: “Gladys, your time was well spent cause we know Bob, our resident birthday boy, loves cake. We appreciate your efforts and look forward to the tasty treat.”

Raise Your Glass
After wishes have been made and the flames extinguished, silence ensues while the cake is cut and served. This is a perfect opportunity to offer a tasteful toast. But frequently a gabby groupie will pounce upon the stillness and fill the airwaves with long-winded “best bud” adventure stories. When the tall tale becomes embarrassing, as they often do, you need a lighthearted segue. Seize the moment by clinking a glass to gather the guests’ attention and share your brief comments to keep the party on track. A simple option is to offer a toast, for example:

Tenderly we joke and tease
Candles blown out with a wheeze
Sharing in your birthday feast
We wish you 50 more - at least!

Almost any carefree or humorous transition can bridge the gap until forks are poised over slices of cake to feed fellow partygoers.

Proper Present Protocol
The most common scene stealer is the present pessimist. This is the person who constantly comments on every gift as it’s unwrapped: “I got one of those and it didn’t work,” “Uncle Maury had one and it broke the first time he use it,” “That’s adorable but I doubt it would fit you.” Such comments might be truthful or even funny at the time, but these words wound offending both gifter and giftee. Ask this most vocal visitor to be the list maker and write down the name of the gift and giver so the recipient can send thank you notes after the party – it’s a good use of their energy.

Do these tips deputize you as the party police? Do you have to maintain a constant vigil for birthday bandits at every celebration? No and no. The ultimate goal is to have a good time and remember it’s their special day, not yours. Make the guest of honor feel, well, honored and bask yourself in the afterglow.


Love or Money

Speak from the heart and become wealthy

When you give a brief heartfelt wedding toast, you are paid in appreciation, kindness and gratitude. If you give a lecture with the same caring conviction, you’ll be showered with applause and cash for a job well done. Both types of speeches create exhilaration and contentment. The key is to lead with love.

Tender Talk
It may seem surprising to compare newlywed wishes with a corporate seminar, but mixing business and pleasure can make a winning combination. When you offer words of wisdom to a young couple, you’re sharing thoughts from the heart based upon your own experiences in hopes they’ll have a brighter future. As a sincere speaker you make an honest connection with the crowd, convey a message that will inspire, energize or call folks to action and they comprehend that you care. And when the light bulbs brighten over their inquisitive heads, your heart and chest will swell with satisfaction.

Discover Hidden Talents
Finding the right words for a tasteful toast or narrowing your niche for a passionate and powerful topic to place you squarely on the speaker’s circuit may take time. One way to tap into your talents is to turn the tables: pretend you’re on the receiving end of the presentation. What would you want to hear? Determine what would help or inspire you then write it down.

Brainstorm with your spouse, mentor or best friend and identify key elements that made a difference in your life. Use the top three points from your list and prepare a speech. Reread. Rewrite. Rehearse. When it is time to present, your earnestness will be evident and your voice will naturally project the passion.

For Love or Money?
Successful seasoned speakers frequently say they get paid for doing something they love: sharing their thoughts and ideas so people can better themselves. It’s

Love or Money

almost criminal. As a professional magician, I have frequent opportunities to apply my craft in public and private. On a long plane flight to my next show I watched a mother in the adjacent seat desperately try to quiet her cranky child. Fellow passengers were clearly fed up and would do anything to make the kid shut up – er, I mean, be quiet. I leaned across the aisle and pulled out a long thin balloon from my pocket and captured the little one’s attention. Within 60 seconds I made a cute pink poodle balloon animal and released the inner cabin pressure. I was instantly the wealthiest person on the plane.

I shared the story with my audience later that night and received joyous hoots and hollers. A heckler tried to barge into the act and I asked, “Do you need a pink poodle, too?” I got the laughs and my interloper was effectively shut down. Does it get any better? Sure does, because I got paid to have fun.

Take your favor topic and present it passionately and sincerely. Should you do it for the principle or gorgeous greenbacks? I say: Both. Your heart will sing with satisfaction – a priceless feeling – and any material response beyond that inner tune will add to your wealth.


Four steps to fast-track your goals

Resolutions can be daunting, demanding a never-ending change in habits. That’s too much pressure to start the New Year, whereas goals imply a winner at the end of the game. More importantly, goals can begin any month or day of the week. I’ll dust off the classic fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, and show how our green friend fulfills his dream by going for the GOLD – Goals, Objectives,Logistics and Deadlines – to win the race.

Being successful takes time. It might happen today, next month, or 365 days from now, but defining your vision is step one.

Write down your ultimate goal. Is it to run your first marathon? Offer a tasteful toast at a wedding? Whether it’s a large task like writing a novel or a small chore like cleaning out the junk drawer – get it down on paper. Setting your project on paper begins the process of making it a reality.

If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.
If you can dream it, you can become it.
- William Arthur Ward

In the parable, the tortoise dreams of beating the hare in a foot race. An ambitious endeavor? Yes, but listing the objectives and tasks needed to accomplish the ultimate goal brings him closer to the finish line. Our shelled friend’s “to do” list might look like this:

1. Define the distance
2. Train on the track
3. Run the race

Write down the necessary steps to reach your goal. Modify your list as you encounter obstacles (we typically do) and remember what Mom always said, “The journey itself builds character.”

When you reach a road block, assess the situation. Look for options and determine if you can go over, around, under or through the barrier. A logistical lifeline is always available. Reach out to an expert or mentor for help.

He who is afraid of asking is ashamed of learning.
- Danish Proverb

Assign a target completion date for each objective. A schedule will emerge and magically propel you down the path toward success. Committing to each deadline will help prevent procrastination.

Had the hare followed through with his original intentions, instead of taking a nap under the oak tree, he’d be showered with champagne in the winner’s circle and not sassing about second place.

There are two mistakes one can make along the road.
Not going all the way and not starting.
- Buddha

Every mile finished in your personal marathon adds momentum, motivating you to “go the distance” – an accomplishment that deserves a victory dance. Winners go for the GOLD (Goals, Objectives, Logistics and Deadlines). Set your path on paper and you’ll be on the fast track to achieving your destiny.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
- Eleanor Roosevelt


Are you allergic to the holiday spirit?

Before the last trick-or-treater goes to sleep, retail elves start decking the shopping malls with holiday gifts. When Christmas usurps Halloween it’s easy to feel saturated with holiday cheer and become prematurely filled with the bah-humbugs. By the time Black Friday rolls around the day after Thanksgiving, you’re primed to knock over little old ladies and their walkers to get your loved ones the latest techno-gizmo. Clearly you’re in no shape to shop. Best to apply some mental medicine and fortify your immune system so you’re in the proper frame of mind.

Point of View
As a professional performer, I live the cliché “the show must go on” and know what’s truly vital is to maintain a healthy attitude. Several years ago I was booked to do a magic show at UCLA and made the mistake of having a cup of college coffee. The brew was so strong my hands shook like a workman operating a jackhammer. I could barely shuffle a deck of cards, but my audience didn’t care. They wanted to be entertained. If I were in a movie, it would be the pivotal scene where the hero (that’s me – played by Hugh Jackman) must decide what to do: run away to perform another day or levitate beyond the jolt of java coursing through my body. I chose to reveal my caffeine quandary. Coeds and tenured professors started to laugh with (and at) me all the way through my show. I learned two important lessons: stay away from college coffee and adopt a positive attitude for a positive outcome.

Proper Perspective
Google “positive attitude” and the Internet will return more than 11 million references in less than one second. There are hundreds of articles, quotes, books, essays, games, affirmations and poems devoted to this topic, but all share one basic theme: only you have the power to choose your ’tude.

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
Winston Churchill

There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes.”
William Bennett

A human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”
William James

Rudolph Rage
Going to your “happy place” seems to be more of a challenge especially when faced with long seasonal checkout lines and even longer holiday traffic conditions. How do you release the pressure and return to your jolly jingle?


A well known speaker’s relaxation technique, proven to reduce tension and anxiety, is deep abdominal breathing. Relax your stomach muscles and slowly inhale a deep breath through your nose for five seconds completely filling lungs. Then exhale through the mouth. Most presenters repeat this process three times to get the desired effect – a calm body and clear head in less than 30 seconds.

You can complete this temperance trick in a car, in a bar, or in a line hopefully before you whine. My reference to Dr. Seuss has a point hidden within the rhyme. You can change your attitude anytime.

So while corporate America is out making a few bucks, it’s important to remember that clerks are just doing their jobs, taking your cash, check or charge. And when they say, “Have a nice day,” “Happy Holidays,” or whatever the latest politically correct phrase is, accept it with a smile. Better yet, take a deep breath, get some latitude in your attitude and wish them a Happy New Year!


Pa Kettle sits at the crowded family table, removes his hat, looks up to Heaven and says, “Much obliged, Lord.” A classic scene from the 1957 film, The Kettles on Old MacDonald's Farm. In my younger years, I was always fond of “For this plate of food, we thank the Holy Dude.” Now with more than a dash of salt in my hair and a family of my own, Thanksgiving toasts have more significance because I know the difference between turkeys gone wild and gone for Wild Turkey. Fortunately, we can find wisdom and brevity in our history to remind us how to properly pay our respects.

After reaffirming Thanksgiving Day in 1863, President Lincoln was reported to have quoted one of his favorite authors, Robert Burns, and offered the following toast: “Dare to be honest and fear no labor.” Sobering words said in the midst of the Civil War and on the heels of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Freedom From Want
A month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt rallied the nation in a 1941 Congressional speech and set Norman Rockwell to illustrate the four basic freedoms: “…every person is entitled to the freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.” Rockwell’s painting, The Freedom from Want, also known as Thanksgiving Dinner, shows the connection to family and returning to old values.

Goals were set forth by President Kennedy during a Veterans’ Day ceremony in 1963: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

This annual meal-time moment is a key opportunity to share from the heart and show appreciation from kin to God. So before offering your Thanksgiving toast this year and every year thereafter, take a few minutes and reflect. What and who do you appreciate? Tell them and help put the thanks back into Thanksgiving.

From my book Tasteful Toasts I offer a universal blessing which can be used on Thanksgiving Day or any meal time:

I've been asked by our gracious host
To raise my glass and offer a toast
Traveling from North, South, West or East
We partake in this bountiful feast
Whether surrounded by family or friend
We thank the Lord and say Amen


Tasteful Toasts Yoga Cat

Did you know your friendly feline’s vibrational purr and breathing pattern can improve your speaking skills? Really. Scientists have determined a cat's purr measures between 20 and 50 hertz, which can ease your stomach pain, promote bone growth, boost immune systems, and reduce stress. Cat owners will agree a content cat in the lap generates a warm purring sensation that induces relaxation. Humans can mimic similar purring sounds through simple vocal exercises to produce a stronger, more resonant voice.

The first step in building a more powerful and captivating voice involves Zen Cat’s language rule number one: The better you breathe, the better you speak. To begin, my young kittens, you must understand how a word is heard. Air is inhaled into the lungs, pushed up from the diaphragm through the throat, and out the nose and mouth. Add a vibration (purr) to the air flow and a sound is produced – the speaking voice. The Tao of Meow focuses on the three resonating chambers: throat, nose, and mouth.

Start by saying one syllable words with ONG, like song, tong, bong, or pong. Use your fingertips to feel either side of your throat, just below the jaw line. The vibrations you feel can project your voice across a long horizontal distance, propelling it to the back of a large room.

Hold your nose with minimal pressure and hum AWN words (pawn, lawn, fawn). This nasal frequency assists with vertical distance when you want to SHOUT to the rafters.

Close your mouth and lightly press your finger to your lips as in the international sign for quiet. Now hum UM words (hum, sum, rum) and feel your lips buzz with electricity. Your oral resonance chamber is where pronunciation and clarity of words form.

Practice humming or saying ONG, AWN, and UM words six times until you can pronounce each sound with maximum effect. Each sound can be used separately to create a desired effect, but blend all three frequencies together, and you will produce a powerful voice that can go the distance.

These techniques are also known to reduce tension in your neck, shoulders, and chest, which can unleash your natural voice. When you control your breath, you take control of your speaking voice. You’ll improve your ability to roar upon command and make your audience purr.


“Buddy, I’ve got a good deal for you,” says Fast Eddy. Known for his motor mouth, Eddy tosses around quick quips and comments like a seasoned auctioneer. He bombards you with useless information about the newest used car on his lot that is “perfect-for-you.” But as he comes in for the closer, Eddy slows his speech to a crawl and says the magic words, “good deal,” the key phrase that repeats in your head as you happily sign your name to the worst lease agreement of the century.

While many folks feel bamboozled by the Fast Eddys of the world, we all can learn from such shysters and use those same secret speaking skills for goodness instead of evilness. The technique I refer to is called Tortoise Talk.

Professional presenters all know to engage the audience, vary voice volume, and most importantly when making a point slow their speech and then stop. Reducing your speaking speed and pausing for a couple of beats gives your audience the precious time needed to digest your comments.

Telling a joke will demonstrate the point: “What do you get when you cross an agnostic, insomniac, and a dyslexic?” Stop and allow listeners to visualize your question during the silence. After a couple of seconds provide the punch line: “Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.” Wait two beats, this time for the laughter.

I like to employ the Tortoise Talk technique when I give a toast. I speak animatedly through my introduction then pause. I look left-right-left like I’m about to cross the street. Then continue with a slow and deliberate delivery enunciating clearly so everyone can hear my tasteful toast.

Birthday toasts present a unique challenge because the atmosphere is charged with extra energy, people chattering, and joking. But once you capture the honoree and guests’ attention, leisurely say the following toast:

Tenderly we joke and tease
Candles blown out with a wheeze
Sharing in your birthday feast
We wish you 50 more - at least!

You don’t have to permanently park your internal Fast Eddy. Instead, be alert for those times when you should move to the slow lane. This tempo change will allow you to deliver a speech or toast with maximum impact.


“Come a little closer and I’ll tell you a magician’s secret to capturing the eyes and ears of an audience,” I said to my young apprentice. He leaned forward and in a low conspiratorial tone I said, “Whisper loudly.”

He looked at me like I had lost my mind.

I tried again, this time sounding like Yoda from Star Wars: “Those who cannot hear an angry shout may strain to hear a whisper.” He nodded his head like an old sage in a youthful body, but I could see he was more focused on remembering which movie the line originated from. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the wise words came from another pointy-eared sci fi icon named Spock of the famed Star Trek television series.

It’s human nature to want the inside scoop and keep ahead of the competition. Say you’ll reveal a secret and people will listen. Determine the size of your crowd and modulate your voice for the greatest impact. Here’s how:

12 or less listeners 
Speak quietly to this intimate group with low conversational tones and you’ll put them on the edge of their seats. Add a little body language by leaning toward the group’s inner circle then begin speaking to the folks in your personal cone of silence.

24 people packed in a room
This size crowd puts you in presentation mode. Raise your vocal volume a few notches and whisper loudly. Take a deep breath and speak like you’re spreading some gossip you want to be overheard.

48 or more seats fillers 
You are the star of the show for this audience and performance level material is needed from your voice to project “soft” shouts to the proverbial back row. Fill your lungs with air and talk from the back of your throat. This technique is similar to a whisper but with a stronger push from your diaphragm – practice may be required. Large seated engagements frequently supply a microphone, so speak into the mike and follow the suggestions for 12 or less listeners.

Vocal variety is necessary in every speech. Adding a little verbal cloak-and-dagger by shouting secrets softly helps engage your audience. Adjust your voice according to the size of the group and you’ll have listeners leaning in your direction.


Blame the Internet, Nintendo, or global warming but I believe Audience Attention Deficit Disorder (AADD) spawns from gluttony. Multi-tasking audiences want their popcorn, candy, soda, exercise, health, wealth, and vitamins, too, all while being entertained and getting their cars washed. You can deliver a peppy presentation and avoid a catatonic crowd by answering the following question:

What does your audience want from you?
___ To be trained
___ To be informed
___ To be persuaded
___ To be entertained
_X_ All of the above

Being aware of what your audience wants and knowing the type of people who are staring at you is essential. This information will tip the knowledge scales in your direction so you, too, can check off “All of the above.”

Make Them Care
Perhaps you recently published a book. Hurray for you. Nobody really cares until you explain why they need your book and how it is better than any other book available at Barnes and Noble, Borders, or Amazon. Even though people might have read a flier, signed up for the meeting, or were personally invited to hear you speak, your job is to capture and maintain their interest.

Start by stating the purpose of your speech. Obvious? Maybe. But once you step outside of the secure Toastmasters environment and present in public forums you’ll encounter last minute walk-ins, guests of attendees, employees at the meeting place, and other impromptu visitors who may not be as forgiving as your fellow Toastmaster members.

Design your presentation to fit the age, gender, occupation, and education level of the audience. Help make the connection between your subject and your listeners’ point of view so that they will understand and care.

For example, if you were giving a talk on how to spend twenty dollars, your approach would differ depending on the most prevalent age group in your audience:

Senior: Twenty dollars can pay for an early bird dinner special
Adult: Andrew Jackson will buy you four gallons of gas
Teenager: You and a friend can see a movie matinee for twenty bucks
Child: Buy a candy bar and invest the rest for your college tuition

AADD can challenge even the most experienced presenter, but I challenge you to take a few minutes to get to know your audience and what they want to hear. When you do, you’ll keep their attention for your entire presentation.


“You remember the TV show Friends?–” I asked my dinner companions, “–the episode where Joey gets ordained through the Internet to be a minister to marry Monica and Chandler?”

“Yeah,” they said in stereo.

“Well, I’m gunna be Joey!”

Their jaws dropped and heads cocked sideways like dogs looking at their master trying to understand the gibberish coming out of his mouth.

My wife and I had experienced similar reactions as we stared at each other, while a disembodied voice came through our home office speaker phone and popped the question: “Michael, would you officiate at our wedding?”

That’s right, this crazy Californian scandalized his Southern-in-laws last month, losing any chance of being mentioned in their wills, by marrying one of the kin to his Stanford sweetheart in a beautiful hilltop wedding ceremony. I guess my ordination through the Internet doesn’t carry the same weight of a traditional Baptist preacher.

I side-stepped years of seminary school with a click, sign-on, and “You’ve got ministry credentials.” In most states wedding can be performed by "any currently ordained clergyman or religious authority of any religious denomination or society," ergo, it’s legal.

I was flattered to be asked and honored to unite Brian and Tiffany in marriage. To stand before an audience and perform a different kind of service, beyond my normal skills as a magician or public speaker, is high praise and even a higher compliment. Every marriage is special – this one has a little extra magic.

So, Ladies and gentlemen, for my next trick, I’d like to present to you, for the first time via the internet, Mr. and Mrs. Brian and Tiffany Neal.

[Excerpt from the Magical Minister’s ceremony]

Brian and Tiffany, may your marriage bring every excitement a new marriage should bring, and provide opportunities for patience, tolerance, and understanding. Let your strengths and weaknesses complement each other creating a bond as strong as the earth, as brilliant as the heavens. You will confirm love is more than verses on Valentine's Day and romance in the movies. Love is a fortune that can never be spent, a seed that can flourish – in even the most unlikely of places, and holds a magical radiance that never fades. Love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love is patient and kind. Love never ends.

Both couples, Monica & Chandler and Tiffany & Brian, are happily married.


Tasteful Toasts Bunny

“This guy who’s coming to the podium – you gotta keep your eye on him. He’ll make your wallet disappear. Please welcome Michael Varma.” Yes, a true Hall of Shame introduction I received years ago. It was horrendous on so many levels. It made me sound like a pick-pocket, but it gets worse. I was speaking before local businessmen asking for donations to fund Friends of the Garden – a nonprofit project for elementary school children to learn how to grow a vegetable garden.

My introducer neglected to explain I was a professional magician and that he was excited to meet me. He told me a story backstage of how another magician, about 10 years ago, magically stole his wallet as part of a comedy routine. His incomplete reminiscence at the lectern effectively killed my credibility. I had to take valuable time away from my original purpose to clarify his comments, then suitably re-introduce myself.

A more fitting introduction for this month’s blog topic would be, “Ladies and gentlemen, our next guest is a professional entertainer and keynote speaker who over the last 25 years has performed and witnessed introductions ranging from spectacular to shocking. He will tell us how to avoid the Hall of Shame and provide an exclusive look into the secrets of giving an inspiring and dynamic introduction. Please welcome to the stage . . .”

Interested to know the speaker’s name? Curious about what secrets will be revealed? Then my 30-second intro did a good job. It was successful because it contained the three Cs of a quality introduction: content, context, and credibility.

A brief succinct sentence describing what you plan to talk about establishes a connection with the audience. Include an interesting and attention grabbing fact to pique your audience’s interest for the next C: context.

Explaining why the topic is timely or important to the listeners will help solidify the bond between the speaker and listeners. This persuasive sentence grants the presenter full access to engage each participant, putting you exactly where you want to be.

People want to learn from experts. A medical student wants to learn from an experienced successful doctor, not the Maytag repairman. A concise sentence stating your credentials is sufficient.

Occasionally I’m asked, “But what if the speaker has several degrees and awards?” Best recommendation: pick only two or three. Select the pertinent accolades for the subject matter and match it to the audience because in most cases less is more.

Limiting each component (content, context, and credibility) to one sentence provides the perfect length intro of 30 to 60 seconds.

For basic introductions, keeping the Cs in order (1-2-3) creates a crescendo before announcing the performer’s name, which is the natural cue to step up to the microphone. Ultimately, the type of event and the emcee’s level of experience will dictate the order of the three Cs.

I like the 3-2-1 format for wedding and anniversary parties. You may ask, “If it’s, like, so obvious you’re at a wedding reception, is it still necessary to cover the content, context and credibility?”

Yes, for several reasons. It notifies the audience and speaker what’s next on the agenda, provides a natural segue, and best of all, it takes less than ten seconds to say one sentence. For example: “The best man, Stephen Varma, the groom’s brother, will say a few words and lead the guests in a toast to the newlyweds.” Non-family members and their guests will know the who, what, where, when, and why – Matt Lauer would be so proud.

Books on party protocol preach that the master of ceremonies will contact the performer and find out the following information: the speaker’s name and correct pronunciation (spelled phonetically if necessary), the speaker’s title (CEO, CFO, President, etc), the speaker’s bona fides (Mr., Ms., Dr., PhD, etc.) and the title of the speech.

In truth, I’ve rarely received any such call. Waiting for the phone to ring can lead to disaster. I submit into evidence another one of my Hall of Shame introductions.

“H-e-e-r-e’s Michael!” While I appreciate being raised to the legendary ranks of Letterman, Leno, Carson and other one-name icons, it was an inappropriate introduction for a group of elementary school children waiting to learn about earthquake safety. If kids know these late night talk show hosts then we have an explanation for the country’s dismal test scores.

Most professional presenters, myself included, know the power of a proper introduction. A careless, haphazard, off-the-cuff intro can destroy the immediate connection needed to engage your audience. So, instead of waiting for a nonexistent phone call from the person who might introduce me, I actively do the following:

  • Create a well-crafted introduction printed in a large 24 point font (for easy reading)
  • E-mail or fax copies in advance to the contact person
  • Arrive early and locate the person making the introductions
  • Provide another copy of the intro and have it read out loud until we’re both satisfied

If you follow the three Cs of a quality introduction – content, context, and credibility – and learn from my experience, you’ll avoid the Hall of Shame and guarantee yourself a warm welcome from your audience.


Tasteful Toasts - Microphone
“No toast except his own should last longer than 60 seconds.”
– Mark Twain

Last June I witnessed the worst, most horrific and tragic toast in my life. The best man, who by all accounts was sober, grabbed the microphone and proceeded to embarrass everyone at the reception. His voice boomed throughout the ballroom as he began, “There once was a bride from France,” and after concluding the off-color limerick he forged on, “There once was a groom from Nantucket.” The guests were not amused. The newlyweds, their parents and grandparents were mortified. This soon to be ex-friend must have thought his humor would be enjoyed by all, but he was sorely mistaken. His major faux pas reinforces my need to blog on toasting etiquette. 

The purpose of a toast is to shine a gentle spotlight around and pay tribute to the honored guest or event. Toasts typically proffer well wishes, good fortune, long life, health, happiness, sage advice or other positive thoughts. Composing a toast that is eloquent, poignant, whimsical and witty can be a challenge and worth every effort.

If presented well, every father of the bride will raise his glass with glee and every mother to great grandmother will declare a “tissue moment.” For example, the following toast, which I wrote for my brother’s wedding, is simple yet heart felt:

Your marriage makes a perfect start
For every life is a work of art
Paint a picture filled with bliss
Treasured in your lover's kiss
Wedding vows are truly strong
May yours last forever long

I skipped over several steps like your introduction, explaining how you’re related to the guest of honor, and jumped to the actual toast (more entries for later). In this posting I will share the three B’s for delivering a successful toast: be brief, be bold, be done.

In most cases, less is more. Keeping your remarks short gives your toast a greater impact and gets you on and off the stage. Well crafted words and a succinct delivery will be appreciated by your audience and more likely remembered for years to come.

Stand proud and speak loud. Ensure everyone in the room, including folks sitting in the back row, can hear your tasteful toast. Belting out to the rafters may not be needed. A quick run-through in the room before the crowd assembles will calm frayed nerves and help you gauge how far to project your voice.

When finished sit down. Avoid the urge to take a bow or return for an encore. Smile, nod, and accept any applause or acknowledgements then refocus the spotlight on the guest of honor.

As a distinguished Toastmaster and professional magician of more than twenty-five years, I’ve performed and observed thousands of speeches ranging from exceptional, to decent, to bury-me-now. Overall, I recommend avoiding dirty jokes and risqué stories. Veer towards the white wedding light with words that praise and inspire.

My goal is to post useful and practical information covering topics from tasteful toasting etiquette to proper party planning. Subscribe now to my blog so you too can benefit from my years of experience.

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