Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Letter Phi

   This is the text of a speech I just gave, winning the Area level of the Toastmasters International Speech Competition, which culminates in the World Championship of Public Speaking.  Since that obligates me to go on to the Division level, I'd really like to get your feedback on this -- just remember that it has to fit in five to seven minutes.  :-)  And as usual, I encourage you to comment on the concepts as well.

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You may remember assorted Greek letters from school -- mainly from math and physics, or maybe the fraternities and sororities.  But don't worry, Madam Contestmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and honored guests, I'm not going to throw (much) math, physics, or Greek at you.  Let's start with one letter [hold up prop with a phi and "PHI" on it], pronounced either "fie" or "fee".

In math, it stands for the Golden Ratio -- but you don't need to know that, or even what that is.  The only thing you need to know, is that the name, usually rendered in English as P H I, is also an acronym for three things that have been helping me earn golden fees as a freelance web developer, and can help you in many areas of your life.

First, P stands for Perseverance.  I decided to go freelance in October.  Guess how much billable work I got in October?  Zilch.  November?  Nada.  December?  Bupkis.  I said I wouldn't throw Greek at you... but bupkis is Yiddish, meaning almost nothing.  As Toastmasters, we look on the bright side.  At least that was more than nothing, so it was an improvement -- and things have been improving since then.  Had I not stuck to it, I would have had... no freelancing career at all!

But what about you?  Same deal.  Obviously, if you don't pursue your dreams, you'll never catch them.  Often you'll be tempted to give up, to fall back on the tried and true... the comfortable.  But you have to get out of your comfort zone to make progress!  I had to get out from behind the computer, talk to potential clients, and try to convince them to give me a nice fat juicy contract.  For you, if your goal is to be a great public speaker like Cicero, or at least get over your fear of it, you have to get out of the comfortably seated audience, get up here and give speeches.  Whatever your goal is, you have to stick with it, despite the discomfort of leaving your comfort zone.

I'm telling you all this because . . . H stands for Helpfulness.  How does helping others help us?  Zig Ziglar often says, "you can get everything you want out of life, if you just help enough other people get what they want."  Whether you attribute this to supernatural forces, like the Hindu concept of karma, or simply your reputation, it works!

So how am I applying this as a freelance web developer?  Nearly every day, I read several online technical forums... not just to see what I can learn, which is for the next point, but to see if anyone has questions I can answer.  This shows me as not only knowledgeable, but also helpful -- exactly the kind of person you want to give a nice fat juicy contract!

But what about you?  The same concept applies here in Toastmasters, just like it does in the outside world.  We help everybody, all the time, anyway... but we're more likely to cheerfully volunteer to go the extra mile, for those who have done so themselves.  Sure we may do that for the rest too, but it will take a little more convincing.

And Toastmasters leads us to the last letter.  I stands... right here, no, I stands for Improvement.

Of course now I'm preaching to the proverbial choir!  If you didn't want to improve your communication or leadership skills, you wouldn't be here at Toastmasters!  You know how vital it is to sharpen these skills, and others.

But how does it help me as a freelance web developer?  If I hadn't been keeping my skills not only sharp, but current, I wouldn't even have web development skills in the first place!  There may not be all that much salt in my pepper, but I came out of school long before the Web was even invented.  Even after that, most of my work was not on the Web; I had to learn web skills on my own time, expense, and initiative.  Because of doing that, instead of being obsolete, I
now have a viable path to not only continue my career, but become more independent as well.

These are just some examples of how I've been earning my "phi" (fee).  What about you?  What are your dreams, and your skills?  How much help do you need?  No matter your answer, I guarantee that [hold up prop with these words on it] perseverance, helpfulness, and improvement, will help you succeed.

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Note: The Cicero bit was an impromptu addition because the prior speaker was talking about Cicero.  I probably won't include that in further versions.


  1. Sounds good to me! I suspect the delivery of the speech carries about as much weight as the content though, doesn't it? I don't know much aboutu Toastmasters.

  2. Yes, that's right. But the subject also carries some weight ("Speech Value"), as do organization, good use of rhetorical devices, etc.


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