Exciting News: I'll Be Teaching a Public Speaking Course Online This Fall

I'm excited to announce that I will be teaching a public speaking class online this fall. I'll be testing out the innovative, new tool Udemy.com, an online platform that connects students with fascinating and highly-educational courses. Entitled, "Oral Communications: Public Speaking Made Easy," my class will be a great opportunity for you to learn some quick tips surrounding how you can overcome your fears, while becoming a more effective communicator. As a journalist and a communications buff I can't stress how important it is to work through the angst that so regularly accompanies the oral communications process.

I teach a number of sections at a New York City-based college each Fall, but with Udemy, you'll actually be able to participate right from home. The cost for the class will be between $100 and $150, but in the coming weeks I'll be offering a coupon code to my Twitter followers.

Stay tuned to my blog and Twitter account, where I will announce the exact start date (it will be mid-to-late September) and more about the discount.

While the syllabus and content are still being worked out, here's a snapshot of some of the subjects I'll be covering:

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Introduction to Public Speaking

  • An introduction to public speaking
  • Key oral communications terms (include sheet)

Steps to Preparing a Public Speech

  • Review 10 steps
  • Selecting your topic, purpose and thesis
  • Understanding your audience
  • Working through your thesis and main points

The Public Speech Outline

  • Working through the outline
  • Public speaking patterns

Informative Speaking

  • Review of informative speaking
  • Three types informative speaking in-depth (define, describe, demonstrate)
  • Possible topics and theses

Persuasive Speaking

  • Review of persuasive speaking
  • Three types of persuasive speaking in-depth (fact, value, policy)
  • Possible topics and theses

Wording Speeches and Information Gathering

  • Getting your wording right

Listening and Criticism

  • The importance of listening
  • Learning to take critique

 Citations and Notecards

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Feel free to send me a message on Facebook or Twitter if you're planning to take the course. Would love to have you!

'Communities Are Disappearing': Dire Report on Religious Freedom Around the Globe

The U.S. State Department's "2013 International Religious Freedom Report" was released today, bringing with it some dire news about the state of free speech and religious expression around the globe. Capturing just how troubling the situation is, a State Department fact sheet said that 2013 brought with it "the largest displacement of members of religious communities in recent memory."

People around the world from a diverse set of faiths, including Muslim, Christian and Hindu, among others, were forced to leave their homes and — in many cases  — their countries as a result of their faith.

"Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map," reads the report's executive summary. "In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm."

But problems weren't only seen in areas where war and conflict are running rampant, as the report highlighted that a survey by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency found last November that some Jews in  countries like Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and United Kingdom felt anti-Semitism was of serious concern.

"The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism among Jews in eight member states … released in November, found that in some countries as many as 48 percent of the local Jewish population had considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism," it continued.

The problems clearly aren't geographically concentrated.

"North Korea again stood out for its absolute prohibition of religious organizations and harsh punishments for any unauthorized religious activities," it continues. "Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan put severe restrictions on members of religious groups that did not conform to the state-approved religion(s) while in China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, religious activity was only lawful if explicitly authorized by the state."

The report notes that governments around the world implemented discriminatory laws which, in turn, created other forms of repression at the hands of citizens, allowing for "broader human rights abuses."

Religious-motivated violence and discrimination, the report said, intensifies when governments fail to protect religious freedom.

Read the entire report here.

Cuomo's 'Right-to-Life, Pro-Assault-Weapon, Anti-Gay' Flap: My Perspective

As a lifelong New Yorker, I've always enjoyed the ideological diversity within our state. Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., and later moving to New York City and Westchester County, I have lived in both conservative and liberal enclaves. So when Gov. Andrew Cuomo seemingly proclaimed that "extreme conservatives" who are "right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay ... have no place in the state of New York" I was stunned.

After all, I have never heard a sitting governor say something so ideologically divisive (and yes, I've heard his response to the controversy -- and I do plan to address it later on).

And no, I'm not stunned by the fact that a partisan governor expressed disagreement with Republicans on key social issues; I'm surprised that Gov. Cuomo would tell a subset of the population that its adherents are not welcome in the state (whether they are political candidates or citizens) simply because they disagree with left-of-center policy positions.

On the gun issue, the vast majority of New York residents did agree with Cuomo as of early 2013 on banning "assault weapons and magazine clips of more than seven bullets." While the Sienna Research Institute found that 73 percent agreed with the ban, 26 percent did not.

So on this issue, Cuomo would potentially argue -- based on his quote -- that one-in-four voters (or at least the politicians who wish to represent them) "have no place in the state of New York."

The same goes for the "right to life" issue. As a reporter who covered the horrific Dr. Kermit Gosnell trial I have some pretty firm opinions on late-term abortion and the value of life in general. But my views aside, where are Americans on the issue?

In 2013, Gallup found that 48 percent of U.S. citizens call themselves "pro-life," while 45 percent distinguish themselves as pro-choice.

So did Cuomo mean that nearly half of the country isn't welcome in New York because ... that's not who New Yorkers are?

Gosh, I hope not (a separate poll released last year by a different group did find support among New Yorkers for reasonable abortion restrictions).

As for the "anti-gay" issue, it's tough to even understand what the governor meant. I'd first have to ask Cuomo how, exactly, he defines the term "anti-gay."

Someone who respectfully opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds? A bully? A Westboro protestor? Who, exactly, fits this description?

It's such a loaded word -- "anti-gay" -- one that can't be easily assessed unless we have a denotative definition from Cuomo to work with. But if we're going to go by the polls -- 59 percent of Americans believe that homosexuality is morally permissible, while 38 percent do not; 52 percent would vote for a federal law legalizing gay marriage and 43 percent would not.

So should 40 percent of the nation refrain from residing in New York (past polls of New York residents have shown majority support for gay marriage)?

Cuomo is claiming his comments were taken out of context. A statement from the governor's office explains: "If you read the transcript, it is clear that the Governor was making the observation that an extreme right candidate cannot win statewide because this is a politically moderate state (either moderate Republican or moderate Democratic)."

Regardless of whether he was speaking about candidates or citizens themselves, shouldn't the state be open to any and everyone? Shouldn't we embrace true diversity?

Cuomo says that's "not who New Yorkers are" when it comes to being pro-assault rifle, "anti-gay" and anti-abortion, but I know plenty of New Yorkers who fit that bill. If New York is truly a "liberal" and open place, then citizens and candidates of all stripes should be welcomed -- not only those who fall in line with one politician or party.

Read the complete transcript of Cuomo's interview with WCNY radio below and decide what he meant for yourself:

Yeah, I think that that is actually, I don’t think that that is right Susan. I think it is a very important point, but I don’t think it is that I’m less of a democrat, I think what you are seeing is, you have a schism within the Republican Party. You have the Republican Party searching for identity; they are searching to define their soul. That is what is going on. It is the Republican Party that is it a moderate party or is it a conservative party? That is what they are trying to figure out and it is very interesting because it is a mirror of what is going on in Washington, right? The gridlock is Washington is less about democrats and republicans. It is more about extreme republicans versus moderate republicans. And a moderate republican in Washington can’t figure out how to deal with the extreme republicans. And the moderate republicans are affair of the extreme conservative republicans in Washington in my opinion.

You’ve seen that play out in New York, their SAFE act, the Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act. It was voted for by moderate republicans who run the Senate. Their problem is not me and democrats, their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives, who are right to life, pro assault weapon, anti-gay, is that who they are? Because if that is who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are.

Moderate republicans like in the Senate right now and control the senate, Moderate republicans have a place in this state. George Pataki was governor of this state as a moderate republican. But not as what you are hearing from them on the far right not this clash that you are getting from the quote unquote power brokers of the party now. We are right to life, we are pro assault weapon or anti-gay…Well that was planned anyway, I think he did that in reaction to the meets we were having. You know moderate republicans, I work with, moderate republicans passed my agenda, for the past three years. They want to criticize my record? My record was passed by the moderate republicans, so they are criticizing themselves and this really isn’t about me Susan. This is who are they? And who is going to win between the conservative republicans, the extremely conservative republicans and the moderately conservative republicans. And literally look at the issues that they pick, are we right to life or are we pro-choice? Well if you are right to life, that is your opinion and that’s your religious belief, that is fine but that is not the opinion of this state, which 70% are pro-choice in this state. “Well we are anti-gun control”, that is fine.

10 Pumpkin Pictures From the Coolest Halloween Display You'll Ever See

The fall is one of my favorite times of year. Great weather, falling leaves, good food -- and it means that the holidays are just around the corner. My wife and I are always trying to take advantage of some of the fun, local happenings. So, on Friday night, we went to "The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze," a local attraction in Westchester, New York (it's an annual tradition for our entire extended family).

Being so close to the town of Sleepy Hollow  (yes, that Sleepy Hollow), there are so many great local activities; this is one of the many we love to attend.

Picture this: It's a huge park filled with lighted pumpkins crafted into some fascinating designs.

Predictably, we had a blast.

I decided to share some of my favorite scenes from the Blaze (the name, of course, is ironic, considering my occupation). Here they are -- enjoy:

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Who doesn't love pumpkin towers?

Lots of really cool pumpkins along the lawn at "The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze"

Creepy, but a spider made of pumpkins is just too awesome.

Every good spider needs a web, right?

"The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze" has a pumpkin clock -- and yes, the pendulum pumpkin does swing!

So cool to walk under.

Who needs a zoo when you can have pumpkin animals?

Serpent Thing

Every kid's dream.

Billy Hallowell Interviews Actor Kevin Sorbo About His Faith and Politics

Earlier this month, actor Kevin Sorbo spoke with TheBlaze about his career, the politics of Hollywood and his views about President Barack Obama and the current political schema.

The “Hercules” actor’s statements spawned a plethora of reaction, as critics and fans, alike, were surprised by his moderate — and some might argue right-of-center — perspective. We decided to speak with Sorbo, again, this week to see what he thinks about the monumental response and to chat further about his life and career.

While he hasn’t heard much from his Hollywood compatriots regarding the negative comments he uttered about Obama during his Blaze interview, Sorbo said that some of his close friends reacted favorably, commending him for his honesty.

As for Tinseltown, he doesn’t expect a favorable reaction from the elite. But he noted that they likely won’t be surprised, as many already know where he stands on the theological and political fronts. Sorbo noted that his outspoken views and general failure to align with the industry’s left-of-center political outlook is “enough to piss them off” regardless of whether they saw the interview.

Read the rest of the interview over at TheBlaze...

What Needs to Change? Ask Yourself, Jot it Down, Then Turn it Over to Christ

Life has a way of throwing surprises our way. Sometimes they're pleasant, other times -- not to much. But, if there's anything I've learned in my 27 years (don't laugh -- I know I still have a lot to learn) on this Earth it's that very few things are permanent -- or, more plainly stated: Change is a natural part of life. Unfortunately for me, I've never been a big fan of it (change, that is). Nonetheless, without it I wouldn't be able to enjoy the wonderful blessings God has allowed me to experience.

Let's face it: Sometimes, change is painful. Other times, it's down-right scary. But, what I've come to learn is that whatever emotions it brings to the surface, it's necessary.

Recently, I found myself stagnant in my faith. I realized -- gasp -- it's time for a change! For so long, I've felt pretty stationary, neither changing, nor evolving in my understanding of Christ, Biblical principles and the relation of the former tenets to my own journey. So, a few months back, I sat down with my journal and tried to target the areas in which I'm deficient -- areas in which I truly need to grow, not only in my understanding of the Lord, but also in the ways in which I think and interact with others.

As I sat and thought through the major issues I've faced (and continue to), God gave me a very solid list of six elements, in order form, that I can and should work on within myself. Collectively, I call them my "ChristLog," as they are truly the items I need to improve upon to not only have a healthier relationship with God, but to also continue growing in nearly every possible respect. Even if you're not a Christian, I believe you can take this same principle (i.e. pinpointing the blemishes within yourself, jotting them down and working through them on a regular basis to improve upon yourself).

I am by no means perfect. Trust me. But, this list is something I can look at daily as a reminder of the areas in which I fall short. Remember, these are issues -- in order -- that I believe I need to work on within myself (yours may be different). I decided to share these items with you in an effort to be transparent, while showcasing some of the areas I believe many of us, especially Believers, struggle in. So, here's my list. Please let me know if you compose your own ChristLog. Would love to hear about it!

Let God take the helm: Quit trying to be in total control (there's. At the end of the day, very few life occurrences are completely controllable. Seek God's guidance in everything: Jobs, major decisions and the like. Go to God daily (something I still struggle with this, mainly because of time -- which is a terrible excuse). But, truly letting go and letting Christ guide the process is the best way forward.

Believe God for everything and anything: Christians are always saying that God can do anything. But, I limit Him way too much. Sometimes, the weight of life can be overwhelming, but why not challenge myself to truly believe that He is capable of doing everything and anything? Essentially, I need to quit limiting God's power in my own life. This ties back to letting him take the helm, no?

Be content and satisfied with what God has given: Instead of focusing on what's next, why not enjoy what's happening "now?" I need to calm it down a bit and take a moment to smell the fresh air. Ambition has always been a blessing, but it has also been a curse. Sometimes, I fail to appreciate the unbelievable experiences I've been blessed to have. Sometimes, God wants us where he wants us and not necessarily where we want to be. Understanding this can be freeing to say the least. I'm still working on that.

Learn self-control in all areas of my life: There are so many areas here to focus upon. But, everyone struggles in this area in some way. Avoiding temptations, making the right decisions, etc. Once one accepts that God's at the helm and learns to take the passenger seat and allow Him to do the steering, this area will become a bit easier. It's a process.

Be the best husband I can be: Self-explanatory. And, it's an ongoing process.

Accept situations that are out of my control: Let's face it. Even after we let God take the helm, there are certain issues (family problems and more extreme examples of emotional turmoil) that are virtually impossible to look past. Accepting that some of these unfortunate incidents and ongoing events are reality is the first step. Then, praying for healing on an ongoing basis is the next step. Again, it's a process. Sometimes, we simply can't control what's going on in our lives, especially when it concerns others around us. So, we forge on -- but with God on our side.

So, what does your ChristLog look like? What do you struggle with? Think of this as a contract with yourself. Trust me -- it's a huge help. Learn more about God here.

Higher Taxes For the Wealthy?

The debate over America's fiscal woes continues to intensify. Interestingly, Independents and Democrats are highly favorable of raising taxes on the "wealthy" (any income above $250,000). Republicans, on the other hand, disagree with such a proposal. According to The Hill,

On taxes, the poll reported that roughly two out of three registered voters — 64 percent — would be in favor of increasing taxes on annual income over $250,000. President Obama reiterated in his deficit-reduction speech last week that he favored allowing taxes to rise on families in that income level.

I discussed this subject on FOX News Live this past Tuesday. Here's a clip:

Shut Down Drama & Plenty More

Melissa's top headlines for the day.  Again, a great resource!  Read more from Melissa here.

Hello fellow travelers,

Tired and grumpy yet? If you feel like you're in the car with a bunch of toddlers on a cross-country trip and you've run out of juice boxes...well, get ready, because the diapers aren't even poopy yet. That, friends, comes when the government shuts down (if it does) and the liberals go into full throttle freak out. The shrieking ofLouise Slaughter is only the beginning of woe. There will be more.

Politics

This -N- That

Have a great weekend! I bet you'll survive whether the government is opened or not. Funny how that works.

Melissa

 

Cap-n-Trade, Wisconsin & Plenty More

Melissa Clouthier is publishing a daily (and highly useful) recap of news and political happenings.  I'll be publishing it here each day and encouraging you all to follow Melissa on Twitter.  Check out today's headlines and info (brought to you by Melissa!) below:

 

 

 

 

 

Hello fellow sensible people,

Wisconsin is still not decided. A couple thoughts: 1) How could the GOP not get the vote out better? 2) When it's this close do you ever question who will win? Yeah, me neither. Also, the Democrat-controlled Senate, along with Republican Susan Collins rejected a GOP amendment that would have stopped the EPA from trying to end-around failed Cap-n-Trade legislation. Obama bureaucracies are doing work the legislators are refusing to do. All in all, a crappy political day.

Politics

  • Contemplating judicial partisanship.
  • Energy costs are harming the poor most of all.
  • D.C. is nigh unto a full conniption considering aShutdown. This irritates me. They've had 4% unemployment on the back of the taxpayer when some states have unemployment rates up to 25% in some sectors. A week without pay? I know, horrors. How does it feel? It feels tense. I know this, see, because I'm a small business person and when we go on vacation for a week, guess who doesn't get paid? I have a difficult time feeling sorry. Also, take away the pay of Congress, while you're at it.
  • Boehner got a full three minutes on the phone with the President today. Lucky him! Tonight, Reid and Boehner are meeting the Prez in the Oval office for a chit-chat to stop the potential shutdown.

Before I get more irritated, I'll just give some links to helpful and/or more fun info.

This -N- That

So, while the country is going down the debt toilet, DC inhabitants are worried about a shutdown. Please remember: The Democrats had the House, Senate and Presidency all of 2010 and couldn't find a way to put together a budget the whole year. It reached a crisis in October of 2010, and they still couldn't do it. The Republicans in the House had a budget 45 days ago and the Dem-controlled Senate is dragging their collective feet. The Democrats need to grow up.

Melissa

 

Memo to the GOP -- If You Want to Win In 2012, Pay Attention to Young Voters

If left unaddressed, the Republican Party’s inability to connect with young voters will have catastrophic political consequences for the GOP. In 2008, the vast majority of America’s Millennial Generation – also known as "Generation Y," "the 9/11 Generation" and "Generation Next" – chose Barack Obama over the older and, no doubt, wiser John McCain. If Republicans want to win in 2012 and beyond, they’ll need to shift strategy and rethink the ways in which they engage young voters.  Click to read more...

The Obama Administration's Many Voices on Libya

The Obama administration's handling of the Libyan crisis has been characterized by complacency, confusion and inaction. While the American public, the international community and the Libyan "rebels" have waited patiently for clear directives, prior to today's military strike, the administration has offered little more than mixed messages and empty promises. President Obama refusal to lead has made the U.S. look weak and ill-equipped. Furthermore, his inability to set policy and communicate it effectively through his staff is disturbing and deserves critical examination. Now, after more than 30 days of letting the situation fester, the president has joined international partners in militarily handing the disaster. What took so long for the president to truly involve himself in the process?

Back in February, the officials approached the situation with caution. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Libya's initial attacks on its people "completely unacceptable," while President Obama called for an end to Muammar Al-Gaddafi regime. Still, the overall tone was one of guarded cautiousness. At the time, this was a prudent approach, considering that American citizens were trying to escape Libya; unsavory public comments by U.S. officials had the potential to put them in danger.

But, as time proceeded and as Gaddafi continued his brutal assault on his populace, the Obama administration appeared paralyzed, disinterested and unable or unwilling to lead discussions with international leaders. Then, the White House's communicative process appeared to very publically fall apart at the seams.

In early March, while testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, National Intelligence Director James Clapper stated his belief that Gaddafi would ultimately be victorious.He said,

"I think, longer term, the regime will prevail...I do believe Gadhafi is in this for the long haul. I don’t think he has any intention, despite some of the press speculation to the contrary, of leaving. From all evidence that we have...he appears to be hunkering down for the duration."

Politicians were left baffled by this assessment, as Clapper's testimony drew outrage and at least one call for his resignation. Interestingly, CNN reported that Clapper's assessment was shared by Defense Intelligence Agency head Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess. Yes, America: That's two head defense officials staking the same claim. Yet, President Obama acted quickly to increase public confusion by railing against this assessment.

In a bizarre address, Obama claimed - just one day after Clapper's testimony - that the world was "tightening the noose" on Gaddafi. The president called Clapper's words "a hard-headed assessment about military capability" and said that they did not necessarily reflect policy. Aside from the fact that such an excuse is weak at best, something is fundamentally wrong when the nation's top intelligence director - an individual President Obama claims to meet with daily, if not regularly - is publically contradicting the commander-in-chief.

Meanwhile, while the Obama administration couldn't decide if it thought Gaddafi was gaining or losing ground, French and U.K. leaders were actively taking the lead to intervene. Obama's problems didn't stop there, as other Democrats joined in on the mixed messaging.

On the same day that President Obama dismissed Clapper's testimony, former-president Bill Clinton threw another wrench into Obama's Democratic toolbox of confusion. While Obama and Hillary Clinton were remaining reserved in their consideration of a no-fly zone (a proposal that was, sadly, mulled over for weeks, with little action occurring as a result), Bill Clinton was far from coy in separating himself from the administration's stance. In reference to the no-fly zone, he said, "We have the planes to make an appropriate contribution to this. I wouldn't do it if [the rebels] hadn't asked. We should do it."

The former president was right to call for a no-fly zone. Unfortunately, while President Obama continues his "on the job training," real life situations require viable and swift action. Perhaps Hillary Clinton summarized the administration's stance best when she explained what was preventing officials from more rapidly intervening to stop Gaddafi: "Absent international authorization, the United States acting alone would be stepping into a situation the consequences of which would be unforeseeable."

What, exactly, does it mean for "consequences to be unforeseeable?" European leaders were already leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S. in their discussions about how to handle the crisis. No one was asking the U.S. to act alone. To the contrary, the administration should have been taking the lead to mobilize international partners to action. Instead, President Obama allowed the situation to fester for more than 30 days and virtually refused to take the helm. In the end, his fear over the world's perception of a U.S.-led initiative led him to cede a viable role in the process.

President Obama's perceived lack of interest and energy in dealing with this international crisis makes the U.S. look weak and unprepared. History shows all too well what happens what world leaders appear weak in the eyes of brutal dictators. Diplomacy - the president's most beloved method for dealing with maniac foreign leaders - did anything but improve the situation. Gaddafi continued his assault, assuming that President Obama and international partners would do little to stop him.

Last week's military strike likely serves as a reality check for Gaddafi. That said, one cannot help but leave this situation a bit worried about the president's leadership capabilities. From the federal budget to Libya, a lack of attention, action and clear communication strategies seem to plague the administration. The president should focus on getting these items in order should he plan to receive the American people's blessing for a second term come next November.