Considering public speaking? Talk about confidence!

A number of my readers have noted, by way of my Linked In profile, that I have been a long-time member of an organization called Toastmasters International.  While I am not a     current member, my association with Toastmasters lasted over ten years.  Many have asked me to write about professional speaking, or have contacted me for tips and advice.  This interest has prompted me to post the article below.  I was invited to contribute the article after a number of others I had written appeared in a regional publication.  This article was first published in the Toastmasters International Magazine in 2005. 

Talk About Confidence

If you asked me to choose the single greatest benefit I could claim as the result of my Toastmasters experience, I would choose confidence.  With so many skills and techniques to be learned, confidence can be the most elusive.  Confidence is stealthy.  It creeps up on you, slowly at first, building in intensity until one day you realize it’s there.

Confidence is not the thing that propels you to the front of a room to give a talk.  That’s courage.  Confidence is not what gives you the ability to speak fluently and elegantly on your topic.  That’s expertise.  Nor is confidence the way in which you move about the platform, your emphatic gestures or your booming voice.  That’s presentation style.  The actual   substance of your contribution is derived from standing in your truth,  more subtle than mere flash.

Confidence is quieter.  It comes from the knowledge that no matter the calamity or crisis, you can trust your ability to cope gracefully. Confidence is that esoteric something that can be difficult to describe, yet you know it when you see it.

Confidence is acquired, not given.  It is an idiosyncrasy of our language that we say, “That really gave me a lot of confidence.”  I tend to think of confidence given gratuitously as that which is temporary, such as a compliment.  It can be fleeting, when, for example, you are the recipient of an unflattering remark ten minutes later.  Instead, think of confidence as the result of a simple mathematical equation:  Time plus experience equals confidence.

The first portion of the equation, time, is a constant.  Time elapses, whether you like it or not, and eventually you will have accumulated a substantial body of work upon which to draw.  The second part of the equation is the variable.  Experience is simply trial and error, trial and success.  You must have both, or there will be nothing that can be learned.  In any competition, it is the person who comes in at second place who gains the most from the experience.  It is the second place winner who picks apart his performance, analyzes every angle, and strategizes the next step to success. No one likes to lose, but if you are at all competitive you will use the next attempt and the experience of coming up short to win.  How many times have you said, "I won’t make that mistake again"?  Knowledge is one of the ingredients that makes experience a variable.  We choose to learn from our mistakes.

Confidence doesn’t come from being told that you are good, it lies in knowing that you are good.  From there, greatness is an exercise.  It’s up to you to use time and experience to your fullest potential.  This may require new choices, but by that time you will have earned the confidence you will need to go as far as you desire.  You will also possess the skills and experience that will enable you to teach others.  Talk about confidence!





Towering Tree, Power of Pi: A tribute.


Simply put, little stands that lacks a solid foundation.  Mine is my family.  What follows are a few words of appreciation.  Only a few words are necessary, because we share an abundance of understanding.  So many have so much less.


The towering tree is a redwood, who ascends to heights so lofty as to keep watch over all else.  A tree so tall he can see with clarity the unobstructed paths for me to follow, and can guide me through.  The towering tree is a massive oak, long-lived and wise.  His quiet strength and patience holds him in good stead against the forces that bring down lesser trees.  The towering tree is a willow, who weeps only with compassion, not pity.


As the ancient banyan extends its profusion of limbs beyond the perimeter of what seems  possible, providing shade, shelter and comfort, my brother is the towering tree.


The power of pi is the highest power in the universe.  She is an enigma, far more complex than she appears at first.  Pi is the constant from which I derive all strength, all love, all life.  She is the source of infinite spirit and growth.   In a world of variables, Pi has no end, and no equal.  Pi is my mother.


I’ve often heard it said that raising a child is the hardest job in the world.  In my opinion, the only job more difficult is that of raising a child with a disability.  It requires a foundation an order of magnitude more unshakeable than any other.  I should know, because I’ve been standing on it.  My foundation has never even trembled. 

Tomorrow marks a significant milestone in my life.  No, it is not my birthday, my birthday is in March.  Nor is it an anniversary of any kind.  It is a day no less special or important than these, however, as it is the sort of milestone only someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one can understand.  We count up our emotional souvenirs as we make inevitable comparisons of chronology,  and say things like, "it was at THIS time, THAT year, when we…"  All the while marveling at life’s continuum as we go on without them.  It is a day to gather up my memories and hold them close.  It is a day that marks a point at which the end begins to gain distance greater than that which marks the distance from the beginning.  It is a day I cannot face alone, and I will not have to.  There is no tribute adequate to express the gratitude and love I have for my family.  For me, little is possible without the towering tree, the power of pi. 

I love you.



An indoor navigation solution for blind users? Check out Navatar

This is absolutely fascinating.  Ever wonder why there are no navigational devices suitable for indoor use?  Ever wished to be able to efficiently navigate a mall, a hotel, or other indoor space?  Wonder why, when there is no end to the solutions for auto or pedestrian use, there seems to be no version of GPS for people who are blind to use indoors? 

Take a look at this.  It’s called Navatar.  In its earliest stages, research is being conducted on a device to assist blind users to move around in smaller spaces indoors.  Read more here:

Dr. Eelke Folmer is an Associate Professor researching Human-Computer Interaction
in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno.  "We are planning to expand our navigation system with a new feature that can help with spatial perception," says Eelke.  "We are currently sending out a questionnaire to potential users of our system to better understand the barriers of indoor navigation."

Want to help with the research?  below is a short questionnaire that you can fill out and send to Eelke.  Just cut and paste the questions into the body of an email, answer as thoroughly as you can, and send off the email to the address at the bottom of this post. 

I hope to have the opportunity to field test the actual device, so you can grease the wheels for me by letting Eelke know I sent you.  Well, now that I think of it, perhaps too many respondents will actually work to my detriment.  Hmmm.  Okay, here are the questions:

1. What type of visual impairment do you have?

2. Do you use a cane to navigate in indoor environments? and if so can
you name some limitations on using a cane in indoor environments?

3. Do you use a cane to explore the layout of a room? if not do you
use other techniques? e.g. hands?

4. Can you describe the process you follow to familiarize yourself
with the contents of a room?

5. When you look for an object in a room (e.g., phone or coffee cup)
what techniques do you use?

6. Do you sometimes use a sighted person to familiarize yourself with
an indoor environment? If so what kind of questions do you ask this

7. If we could build a tool that could help with spatial exploration,
what kind of features would you like this to have?
Send completed questionnaire to:  Eelke Folmer -  eelke.folmer at



The first of this fall’s must-attend accessibility events

Unless the nature of your work requires that you attend numerous conferences around the country or the world, you probably only attend one or two of the largest each year, that pertain to your industry.  You may be well acquainted with the typical conference format, which usually consists of a carefully planned agenda, a specific focus or emphasis on topics discussed, with a set time for each.  There is often an opening session, a banquet, scheduled breaks, educational sessions, and speakers who are booked well in advance.

If this sounds familiar, and you have never attended an industry event that varies from this format, you may be interested to know that the traditional conference has evolved to include several fascinating newer permutations.  These less formal, less structured gatherings foster an environment of greater creativity, innovation, participation and exchange of information.  These events are sometimes referred to as "unconferences," or "bar camps."  According to Wikipedia, "A BarCamp is an international network of user-generated conferences (or unconferences) primarily focused around technology and the Web. They are open, participatory workshop-events, the content of which is provided by participants."

You can read more about the history and growing popularity of barcamps here:




There are a number of important accessibility and assistive technology industry events taking place this fall that are being characterized as "unconferences."  The first is scheduled for this month, and is one of the must-attend events this season.


Char James-Tanny is the lead coordinator for the Boston accessibility camp.  Char and I spoke about the event, and here is what you need to know:

The Boston Accessibility (Un)Conference takes place on Saturday, September 15, 2012, at the Microsoft New England Research & Development (NERD) Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s designed for anyone who wants to learn more about accessibility: design, development, documentation, and more.  What char really wants everyone to know is that this is a gathering for everyone, of all skill levels or technical expertise.  Everyone is welcome, whether you have a disability or not, even if you are just curious as to how a screen reader works.  James-Tanny says, "Our day starts at 8 am with a continental breakfast, registration, and networking, and continues with multiple sessions.  As we finalize the schedule, we will update our web site."

Sessions cover a variety of topics, from an introduction to accessibility and captioning to innovation to using assistive technology. Our opening speaker is Ronald Marlow, Massachusetts Assistant Secretary for Access and Opportunity. Our keynote speaker is Derek Featherstone from Simply Accessible.
This event is free to attend (donations are welcome) thanks to our sponsors,"  Says James-Tanny.

Sponsors include the Microsoft NERD Center, Accessible Media, Inc., Adobe, CA Tech, Digital Accessibility Centre, Interactive Accessibility, JTF Hosting (a division of JTF Associates, Inc.), New England Index, SSB BART Group, and The Paciello Group.

Don’t worry if you can’t attend, though, says Char:  "Some sessions will be recorded, and we will post links after the event concludes."

More about Char:  Char James-Tanny is president of JTF Associates, Inc. and has more than thirty years of experience as a technical communicator. She speaks around the world on topics including accessibility, Help authoring concepts and tools, social media, web standards, collaboration, and technology. Char has been a Microsoft MVP since 2002 and is the primary coordinator for the Boston Accessibility Conference.

For more information about the event, go here:



You can also follow @a11y_bos on Twitter for more information and updates.

More news about other must-attend accessibility events coming soon.  Stay tuned.



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