Same Old Tom Meets Tom the Author

I was at a chamber mixer last week. Erin, the daughter of one of my fellow entrepreneurs, was there too.

Cropped Coffee_Conversations 2-24-16

The author leading a Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Coffee & Conversation.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met an author before,” she said.

To which I rather stupidly and haughtily replied, “Now you have.”

I didn’t mean to sound haughty. I just was taken aback that Erin did not know any authors. I know lots of authors. In fact, in my circle I’m rather late to the game. No big deal, really. It’s been a lifelong dream to publish a book. Now I have, as many have before me. End of story.

But it’s not. Because, I’ve found, much of the world runs in Erin’s circles, not mine. They’ve never met an author before. To many people, I’m unique to their circle.

In the few short weeks since my book was published, I’m no longer introduced as Tom. I’m introduced as Tom the Author. At business networking meetings and at Toastmasters gatherings, Author is always appended to my name. As if I’m a new person. As if the old Tom doesn’t exist anymore, and in his place is this shiny new being.

I will be presenting an educational session at a Toastmasters International district conference next Saturday because I am a published author. Thirty years of writing for newspapers, politicians, associations, and businesses, years of writing a blog and years ago writing a book four times as thick didn’t gain me that privilege. The previous book hasn’t been published. It didn’t make me Tom the Author. Presenting the same workshop several times before the book was published may have gotten my foot in the door, but publishing a book threw the door wide open.

Presenting at the conference will be the same old Tom. I may say something stupid and be unintentionally haughty. I will intentionally crack some jokes. More importantly, I will share lessons learned from more than 30 years of being a professional writer that my audience can use to improve their communication skills. That’s my reason for being there.

Oh, and I’ll have some books to sell. Because while I am the same old Tom, I now have Author appended to my name. I need to take advantage before the novelty wears off. The old Tom approves.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Book cover for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They'll Applaud!

Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! is available on Kindle or paperback.


I Want Your E-Book! How?

Book cover for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They'll Applaud!When I published my new e-book on Tuesday, I did not anticipate the number of unforeseen questions and problems that would arise.

Hint to future self-published authors: Do not schedule oral surgery on the same day you publish a book. You don’t three hours to be out of pocket.

Lessons learned, I’m going to attempt to give away Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll Applaud! as a free download again this weekend. I’m offering it over two days for a very good reason: I hope you will all attempt to download it on Saturday, when I’ll be out of pocket again. No, I’m not having more surgery. I am, however, surgically removing junk that has accumulated around the house and depositing it at the annual free Neighborhood Cleanup event in the morning. Then I’m quickly showering, throwing on a rare Saturday tie, and officiating at a division-level Toastmasters International Speech and Evaluation Contest.

Sunday I’ll be around to problem-solve. Hopefully there won’t be many problems to solve because I’m offering to you here the three most prevalent problems that presented on Tuesday and their satisfying solutions.

Issue: “I can download the picture, but the book doesn’t download with it.” Followed by: “I’d like my free download, but I don’t want to sign up for Kindle Unlimited.”

Solution: On Saturday and Sunday, the book will be available for free. No strings attached. But to obtain it, you do have to click on the “Buy Now” button. I know, it’s counterintuitive to have to “buy” something that is free. But by clicking that button, my book will land in your cart. Then, when you check out, your charge will be $0.00.

Issue: “I don’t have a Kindle.”

Solution: You don’t need a Kindle. Underneath the cover art is box that says: “Read on Any Device: Get free Kindle App.” Click on it. It has an app for you. I don’t have a Kindle either. But I read Kindle books on my Android phone and my Windows laptop. (They have Apple apps too.)

Issue: “I’m in Australia (India, Qatar) and it won’t let me download. I guess it’s only available in the United States.”

Solution: Here are the international links Amazon provided to me. If yours is not listed, log onto your Amazon account in your home nation and search for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll Applaud! Please let me know if it still doesn’t seem available. I’ll look into it.

UK, DE, FR, ES, IT, NL, JP, BR, CA, MX, AU, and IN.

(How many Californians do you think will click on CA and complain they can’t download it?)

Thanks in advance! Talk to you on Sunday!

P.S. If the book was helpful, please leave a review on the Amazon page. (U.S. link.)

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Write It, Speak It Available for Download

Book cover for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They'll Applaud!Hello Family & Friends!

My new book, Write It, Speak It, is available today, Tuesday, April 5, as a FREE download as my birthday present to you!  Share with your family and friends! Let’s make free download history!

In three chapters, Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll Applaud, gives you the tools you need to produce a more effective, powerful, and memorable speech. Chapter 1 discusses the rules and good practices of all effective writing. With that foundation set, Chapter 2 sets out the ways in which speech writing differs from other forms of writing, and how spoken language allows you to make your words come alive. Chapter 3 provides you with techniques to write more powerful and memorable speeches through storytelling, timing, and rhetorical devices.

Tom Pfeifer has been a professional communicator for more than 30 years. In Write It, Speak It, he uses research and personal stories to show how you can write speeches they’ll applaud.


Begin with a Bang

Write it Speak it_FINAL-2-1

Available on April 5, 2016. It’s also my birthday, so you can have it that day for free as a present from me.

(Editor’s note: This is excerpted from Tom Pfeifer’s book, Write It, Speak It, available on on April 5, 2016.)

How many speeches have you heard start like this?

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here tonight. You all look wonderful. I’m guess­ing you look wonderful anyway. It’s kind of hard to see you with these bright lights. Isn’t the weather perfect? I’d like to thank Norman for that wonderful introduction. I hope I can live up to it.”

I guarantee he didn’t live up to it, because my brain had already shifted to composing my grocery list. The speaker had already broadcast to me that he was boring.

In 2015, the attention span of humans fell to eight seconds, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute. That’s shorter than a goldfish, which the institute pegged at nine seconds. It’s also down from 2000, when humans apparently could pay attention for a full 12 seconds. Incidentally, the Institute didn’t say if the goldfish’s attention span rose or fell during that time.

An unsigned iSpeakEASY blog clocked the time to grab audience members before their minds wander at 15 seconds. That’s longer than the Institute gives us credit for, but it’s still not much time. You don’t want to waste it. Once you lose your audience it’s very difficult to get them back. So you need to begin with a bang and grab their attention right away.

Craig Valentine, the 1999 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking, believes there are three effective ways to start a speech:

  1. A story
  2. A question
  3. A curious statement

In a speech about telling stories, I start with telling a story. Depending on my audience and the effect I want to create, I may start with a story about four-year-olds predicting their futures, or about my first day as a newspaper intern, or even a story about my tie.

In a speech I was asked to give on “Trump, Toastmasters & 2016,” I began with a question:

“Is Donald Trump succeeding because he embraces Toastmasters guidelines, or because he violates them?”

After a brief pause, I answered:

“The short answer is: ‘Yes.’”

You also can combine elements to begin a speech. In a speech on how the journey to greatness never ends, I open with a curious statement followed by a question:

“I am great!” I loudly exclaim.

“How many of you have been told you were great?” Which I answer:

“Most of you have, I’m sure.”

These tricks of the trade work equally well with the written word. Here’s the opening paragraph of a magazine article I wrote for a client:

“At Emergency Nursing 2015, a small group of emergency nurses was asked what their top three legislative issues are. While not every emergency nurse rated mental health as their top priority, everyone rated it in their top three.”

That’s a mini story—with a point.

I started a blog post for another client this way:

‘“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,’ ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is widely quoted as saying.

“What if your first step is a 6,000-mile, cross-country round trip to meet with military, veterans, and their families to put faces on the suicide epidemic?”

That’s a quote followed by a question.

I began another blog post—and a speech to a group of business folk—by asking:

“Do you want clients who you enjoy working with—and with whom you do your best work?”

The point is to engage your audience’s brains right away.

Again, there is nothing special about speaking that demands you grab your audience immediately. It’s crucial to all communication. Joshua Conran, a senior partner with brand strategy, marketing, and advertising agency Deksia, wrote in Inc. that advertisers have only five seconds to grab their target’s attention.

Eight seconds. Fifteen seconds. Five seconds. In short, seconds count. If you want your audience to pay attention, begin with a bang, not a whimper.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Storytelling Makes Your Speeches Memorable

(Editor’s note: This is excerpted from Tom Pfeifer’s upcoming book, Write It, Speak It.)

Portrait of a smiling senior woman reading a book at home Old-fashioned style Can Stock Photo Inc. prometeusWhy stories? For two reasons.

One, people relate to stories much more than they do numbers or a recitation of facts. We’re humans. We’ve been telling stories around the fire since we could first utter words. Think about all the family stories you’ve heard that have been passed down from generation to generation. We relate to stories—and the storyteller—and are much more likely to remember what he or she said, as well as comprehend it. But here’s the kicker for you as someone trying to eulogize your  fears: stories are easier for the speaker to remember too.

When I first embarked on the road to public speaking, I tried to memorize my speeches. I failed completely. My brain would freeze on stage. I was dying up there. My friend and mentor Paul White mentioned one day that he, too, tried memorization and it didn’t work for him either. So then he tried just telling stories, and he could do that. So I tried telling stories too. And it worked.

Listeners remember stories too. It’s a win-win. In fact, scientists tell us stories activate the brain. Archeologists tell us storytelling has been around at least as long as cave paintings, and probably longer. Advertisers use them to sell to us. Comedians use them to make us laugh. Speakers use them to make their speeches memorable.

So what makes a great story? First, it must be relatable. You and I must connect emotionally. One of the stories I tell is about my first day working in a newspaper office. I had been told by my college journalism professor at the end of my freshman year—my freshman year—that as far as she was concerned, I was already a professional and there wasn’t much more she could teach me. That certainly swelled my ego. The copy editor who crumpled up my first story and threw it in my face, growling, “Rewrite that. I can’t turn this into the proofreader,” popped my ego like a pricked balloon.

It’s a story of puffed up failure and lessons learned. And most everyone can relate to that.

A key ingredient of a great speech is to spark action. I have several stories that appear in different speeches. The story I tell about my first day working at a newspaper; stories about my mom, dad, and siblings—even a story about my tie. They’re all stories I’ve used in speeches multiple times. The key is to use them to make the point you want to make. And the same stories can be used to make different points.

Stories can come from anywhere: a church outing, perhaps; maybe a conversation around the dinner table. Your childhood. Your working life. Your parents. Your kids. You know why telling stories in speeches are important: Because you remember them! And so does your audience! Stories provide an emotional bond between you and your audience.

So what are you going to do to remember your speeches and make them memorable? Tell stories!


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

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Commas Rule When Comma Rules Are Followed

Comma being held with fingertips against a blue sky with light wispy cloudsCommas and periods are English’s most common punctuation marks. But the rules that apply to them are light years apart.

The rules for periods are pretty simple:

  • Periods appear at the end of a declarative sentence and in abbreviations
  • If an abbreviation ends a sentence, do not add a second period. The abbreviation’s period suffices.
  • Periods always go inside a quotation mark. Always. Those of you who put them outside routinely or occasionally, knock it off.
  • Likewise, use one punctuation mark to end a sentence. Do not use a period with a question or exclamation mark. (The exception is when you end a sentence with an abbreviation and a question or exclamation mark.)

And, that’s it.

Commas, however, have a slew of rules. And at least one rule is complicated by the everlasting argument over the serial, or Oxford, comma. We’ll revisit that argument at the end, because many of you have tired of reading my serial rant on the serial comma.

The other rules for commas are pretty straightforward, although there’s disagreement on just how many rules there are.

Jane Straus, who literally wrote a book on punctuation, lists 16 rules with several sub-rules. Purdue University lists a mere 11. Utah Valley University rounds it down to 10.

I am not going to recite a comprehensive list. But here are a few I see violated often.

  • Use commas between multiple adjectives before a noun—except when you don’t. Here’s the easy rule: If the adjectives in question can be reversed and the sentence still makes sense, you need comma to divide them. For example, in, “He was a spiritual, moral pope,” the comma is necessary because spiritual and moral could be reversed without changing the meaning of the sentence. But you wouldn’t use a comma to offset “cheap” and “winter” in the sentence, “He bought a cheap winter coat.”
  • Yes, my dear friends, you must use commas to offset the person you are directly addressing. The only exception to that rule that I know of is when using the salutation “Dear Mr. Bhatia.” But use a comma in “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” and, “Maurice, you are the most arrogant man I know.”
  • Which is correct here? “My brother Tommy stole your bookend”? Or, “My brother, Tommy, stole your bookend”? Trick question to illustrate that non-essential information is set off by commas but essential information is not. If I only have one brother, then the second example is correct because “My brother” and “Tommy” are the same person and “Tommy” is non-essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence. But if I have more than one brother, then the first example is correct because without naming Tommy you wouldn’t know which brother I was talking about.
  • Like periods, commas always go inside quotation marks. Always. No exceptions.

If you learn those four rules and adhere to them consistently, you’ll be far ahead of most writers.

We now turn with glee to my serial comma rant and say goodbye to those who can’t take it anymore.

The serial comma rule states that in a list of three or more, a comma is placed at the end of the word before the conjunction. Therefore, in the sentence “I have three apples, two pears, and a partridge in a pear tree,” the serial comma comes at the end of “pears” and before the conjunction “and.”

Not everyone abides by the serial comma rule and the Associated Press Stylebook expressly limits its use to instances where leaving it out could lead to confusion. For example, in the sentence, “I had dinner with my parents, Pope Francis and Lady Gaga,” leaving out the serial comma could lead one to believe your parents are the pontiff and the lady.

I used to write that serial comma backers are zealots and those who don’t use them are laidback Californians, but I have a California friend who is as zealous in her non-serial beliefs as are serial punctuators. So I always use the serial comma when I write to her. It drives her nuts.

Personally, I don’t care if you use it or not. I only care that you use it or don’t use it consistently.

Ain’t English fun?

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

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First Rule of Good Writing: It’s Not about You

(Editor’s note: This is excerpted from Tom Pfeifer’s upcoming book, Write It, Speak It.)

Audience listening to a speaker in a meeting roomThe first rule of all good writing is, “It’s not about you. It’s about them.” There is a school of thought that if you write what you like, others will like it too. To a certain point I agree, because if the topic doesn’t interest you, that lack of interest will come through to your audience. But writing for yourself only takes you so far.

People today have the ability to target just what interests them and shut out the rest. In such a world of targeted expectations, if you want others to read your prose or come to hear you speak, you need to know what interests them. More importantly, you need to know why they are interested in reading your prose or coming to hear you speak. Think: “What’s in it for them?” Because I guarantee you, they’re thinking: “What’s in it for me?”

I began my professional writing career as a journalist. My job was to accurately convey an event to those who could not be there. I can hear the anti-journalists snickering. And yes, I have read stories about a meeting I attended and wondered if the journalist was at the same meeting. But by and large, it was my job to accurately describe the meeting or event. I was my readers’ eyes and ears, as most journalists try to be. As long as I focused on my readers and what was in it for them, I wrote accurate, well-rounded stories. I also tried to make the stories as entertaining and interesting as possible, but accuracy came first. That’s why readers read my stories. That’s what was in it for them.

And because of that, I was well-respected in my community—respected enough that a Republican congressman later hired that liberal journalist as his communications director. Then, my audience became the congressman’s constituents, and I wrote what was in it for them through my boss’s eyes. Whether I was writing a speech, a newsletter, a press release, a tweet, or any other communication, the focus was always first and foremost on what was in it for the constituents.

It’s the same whether you are writing for a reader or a listener. Sheryl Roush, an international speaker from San Diego, broadens her reach—and income—by providing local public speaking workshops in conjunction with Toastmasters conventions. At the end of her workshops, Sheryl asks her audience for golden nuggets—the one thing each audience member will take away from the workshop and implement in his or her own public speaking repertoire.

At one workshop, my golden nugget was: It’s not about you, the speaker. It’s about the audience.

By then, I was not only writing speeches but delivering. I always wrote speeches with the audience in mind, but I wasn’t delivering them with the audience in mind. Now I repeat to myself before I write and before I speak: It’s about you, not me. The spotlight is on you. Not me. You’re here to learn something. Or to be entertained. And I can give that to you. I want to give that to you. Because I’m a giver. And nothing makes me feel better than to give to people.

As humans, we’re wired that way, to give. It’s how we evolved and survived. Without cooperation, without caring for our children and our elderly, without making sure that all made it through the winter, we would have died out as a species long ago. Scientists have found centers in the brain that are stimulated when we give. It literally makes us feel good to help others. So if you put yourself in the mindset—without getting haughty about it—that your purpose is to give to your audience, your writing will be more focused. On stage, the butterflies won’t go away, but they will fly in formation.

This is how important knowing your audience is to writing. Novelist Kip Langello wrote nine novels that didn’t sell. Then Langello created Peggy, a fictional but precise reader. Everything he wrote, he wrote for Peggy. Would she laugh here? Would this frighten her? Would she curl up with her husband at this turn of events? The next book Langello wrote sold for six figures. Peggy approved.

So think about what’s in it for your audience. Are they coming to hear you speak to be entertained? Are they coming to hear you speak to be informed? Are they coming to hear you speak to be inspired? What do they look like? What are they wearing? What do they do for a living? Are they happy at work? What’s in it for them will dictate the form, the structure, and the tone of your speech.

Your audience isn’t composed of fictional characters. They are real people. You can find out about them. Professional speakers discover all they can about the real, living, breathing people who will be in an audience before they sit down to write. Before giving workshops, at the very least, I send out a questionnaire to assess my audience’s level of knowledge about the subject and to discover their most burning questions. Then I can tailor my presentation to their wants, needs, and expectations. At the event, I also try to talk with the attendees before I speak and incorporate what’s appropriate into my presentation.

After all, it’s all about them.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

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