Archive: September, 2012

Post from Transformation Tom- Rising Above Perceptions by Bob Ferland

Posted by tomdowd - September 28, 2012 - News

The following is an inspirational Toastmasters speech written by Bob Ferland, who has learned to rise above any challange thrown his way….

Rising Above Perceptions

How do we define ourselves and others? How do we rationalize what is truly important?

Do we define ourselves by our appearance or looks?

How about physical strength, abilities, intelligence, or intellect?

What about material wealth?

All of the following factors play some role in who we are individually; as well as how we view others.  It is up to us to personally prioritize what is truly important.

Let us begin by looking at first impressions.  Based on how we feel when we first see somebody, we may unintentionally evaluate by appearance, or even by socioeconomic status, considering how neat or clean a person appears, as well as the condition or style of attire they are wearing.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all prone to treating somebody who appears to be better off with a higher level of respect compared to somebody who does not appear to be as well off.

How about other factors, such as physical strength and abilities? How often do we inadvertently treat somebody better who is in shape, compared to somebody else who does not appear to be as physically fit.

We are all guilty of having preconceived ideas about people within certain areas, based on our own perception of normality.

What do you think about when you think about me?

Growing up with a disability, I’ve dealt with a number of perceptions.  Let me help you rise above your perceptions.

No matter how hard I tried to walk normally, or play along as a youth with others, I had the perpetual feeling that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to participate or even compete at the same level as others without adversity.  Negative thoughts that others potentially had about me was also a concern.

It is challenging to deal with things beyond your control.

However; allowing personal trials to govern your life, inhibiting you from reaching your full potential is NOT an option!

Since the age of five, I had a physical therapist who pushed me very hard.  I learned how to set goals at a tender, young age.  Each session consisted of muscle stretching and strengthening, as major leg muscles were spastic or perpetually tight.

Following the stretching, we would work on functional exercises; which would be little to no effort for a normal person, but was consistently an intense workout for me.  These exercises involved standing out of a chair or attempting to walk within a straight line.

What made each of these exercises exceptionally challenging, was the fact that after my spastic muscles were stretched, I no longer had the strength, previously depended upon.  I needed to supplement with my opposing non-spastic muscles, which are very weak, seeing the non-spastic muscles do not have an opportunity to work, consistently being overpowered by my spastic muscles.

From late grammar school through high school, my physical therapist had me work on running laps within the gymnasium.  This was challenging enough with a balance problem.  After each therapy session, having my leg muscles aggressively stretched, no longer able to utilize spasticity, I had no choice but to supplement with my weaker non-spastic muscles.

Each therapy session happened on a weekly basis.  I would also train in the gym, nearly every day, prior to school, pushing myself to go further and further.

Initially when I first started, I was barely able to successfully complete half a lap around the gym, prior to feeling completely winded and no longer able to continue.

By the end of the school year, I was able to accomplish 10 laps around the entire gymnasium, even after feeling the effects of a cumulative therapy session.

Growing up and even now, I work so much harder than just about anybody else to simply get around.

In addition to physical therapy for my legs, I spent time in high school, college, and even today working out at various gyms on my upper and lower body.

Considering my past, I thrive on aggressive personal goals.  My workouts begin with strength training, where I need to achieve 12 repetitions, twice in order to achieve goal at moderate weights.

The end of each workout is dedicated to cardio, spending “quality time” on the Elliptical.  This simulates a natural running pattern that I am unable to acquire on my own.  When I first started on the Elliptical, I used a consistently low ramp level with no resistance.  My standard cardio goal was a full mile within 20 minutes.  As time progressed, I steadily increased the ramp level and now run on Interval, where the ramp level and resistance changes every two minutes from ramp level four with no resistance to ramp level 10 with resistance level 8.  Yes, I am tired after each workout! 

No matter how challenging life becomes, I have learned to rise above, remaining focused on maintaining a positive attitude, even within challenging circumstances.

 Life gives us two options.

 One option is to accept defeat by quitting early.

 The second option is to persevere and push through, no matter how challenging the situation appears.

 The only limits that truly exist are the limits we establish for ourselves.

 To summarize this speech, we all perceive things differently upon looking at ourselves and others.  We may even think we are better off than somebody else, based on our own abilities or qualities we possess.  I simply ask that we all look beyond what is seen on the outside and attempt to look at the heart of each person on the inside, determining what truly drives and motivates each of us to accomplish our daily and lifelong goals.

Thank you!

– Bob Ferland


Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed:


Post from Transformation Tom- Lessons in Sportsmanship

Posted by tomdowd - September 26, 2012 - News

Lessons in Sportsmanship

Yes, the replacement NFL referees have missed some calls, and according to some onlookers even cost the game for a team (i.e., Green Bay Packers).  We scream at a bunch of people willing to step up to do something who do not have the skills to do the job—yet they’re trying.  What are we teaching each other?  Are we saying no one is allowed to try, no one is allowed to make mistakes, and if you’re not good enough, get off the field before you are berated and belittled.

On the same day as the Monday Night Football, what should we call it? Debacle? Or, as stated on NBC’s Today show this morning “CRISIS”, my youngest daughter’s sixth grade soccer team took the field for a game.  The way the local school league and teams are set up, they are consistently at a disadvantage, and will play older, stronger, bigger, and better teams.  The likelihood of winning a game is slim.  They know this going into the game, yet they all show up to play.  More than halfway through the season, the team has scored one goal, and has not won.  Yet, they sprint out on to the field each time.

I’ve had displayed my own cynicism in the past and have made my own comments about how everyone today gets a ribbon, medal, trophy, and certificate for participating.  Although I still believe some of this has watered down our children’s drive and motivation in some competitive situations later on in life, it has taught many people the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship.  If there was ever a more deserving group of children for the pat on the back for trying, it is this team.

This sixth-grade team comes to practice every day looking to improve.  They respect the referees; they respect the other team, and understand the integrity of the game.  I asked my daughter how the game was after a 10-0 loss, and she said, “It was fun.”  That’s also the same answer she gave me after her basketball team lost 74-4.  How can you not smile after hearing a genuine answer like that and hope all of us can live our lives that way.

After work on Monday, I asked the same question and expected a similar answer.  Instead I was given a description of events from her (and later confirmed with several others) that was disturbing.  After being down 6-0 at halftime, the opposing coach mercifully pulled the top players.  The game was a little more competitive, but a couple more goals were scored.  The opposing players apparently began mocking the losing team, and were laughing out loud at the players.  The opposing coach was on the sideline and said nothing.  His first act of pulling the players was admirable, but this is when the real teaching of his team should have taken place.  It didn’t.

Instead, as the opposing goalie began to dribble up the field, he was encouraged by his team to continue.  He dribbled the length of the field and was able to take a shot.  The coach’s reaction was a flippant comment made to his goalie along the lines of, “That’s enough, and we know what you can do.”  The laughter continued.

Last year, as a soccer referee of a local YMCA eight-to-ten year old soccer league, I was getting fed up with some of the parents and youth sports coaches striving to win some championship that’s as important to them as the World Cup.  It boiled over toward the end of the season when I handed (OK, tossed) a whistle to one of the screaming coach mid-way through a game who felt my refereeing wasn’t good enough.  I told him to do it himself if he felt he could (he responded back and said he could).  Yes, it was unsportsmanlike on my part, but a message was sent at that time to all of the parents, team, and coaches that screamed, “I’m just a volunteer trying my best, and I don’t deserve that kind of treatment.”  I went back on the field after some prodding to a very cordial rest of the game.

I share this story because the sixth grade losing coach became tired of this too.  She was worn-out with the antics and pulled her team off the field to avoid any further embarrassment—not the score, but the other team’s actions.  Her kids were trying their best and don’t deserve that kind of treatment.  According to observers, our coach screamed about unsportsmanlike-conduct from the team and that it was not necessary.  The only misstep the coach took was when she made a comment out loud saying, “This sucks.”  She instantly knew she made a mistake and apologized, including sending an incredibly written email sent to the parents explaining her motives, and saying sorry again for all of the events.  The referee’s only comment through the entire ordeal was that she would be reported to the league for her language.  The other opposing coach was not reprimanded and not even approached to calm down the situation.  I realized that I started this article with don’t yell at the refs, but we are all part of this learning experience.

The kids obediently left the field and appreciated their own coach’s actions.  Needless to say, emails and calls were exchanged with the athletic directors.  It was clear that the opposing athletic director didn’t condone these acts, and assured everyone that swift and appropriate action would be taken.  This wasn’t some blanketed apology that we hear in the news so often for a misguided Tweet, or random comment that was caught on tape.  The genuine desire to make it right was felt by all involved and was appreciated.

The next day, the team had another game.  They lost.  In reality, they won as soon as they took the field.  I want certificates of participation handed out for everyone!  I want kids to play the game to try their best and learn about teamwork.  I want the primary purpose of the game to be the teaching of sportsmanship—the teaching that comes from parents, coaches, and players alike.  Stop screaming at the refs.  Stop ridiculing the players.  Stop the madness as coaches striving to win an eight inch plastic trophy that will sit in the schools display case gathering dust.  Start having conversations about trying something new, trying your best, be willing to make mistakes, loving what you’re doing, teamwork, camaraderie, and any other individual and team goals you may want to instill.

I’ve failed to mention that this group of kids from the town next door will end up going to high school and playing on the same teams in just a couple of years.  I can’t wait for that day of learning.  When asked how the game was on Tuesday, my daughter responded with, “It was fun.”  Gotta love her attitude.


Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed:

Post from Transformation Tom: Call it Irony (article appeared in District 45 Toastmasters Newsletter)

Posted by tomdowd - September 21, 2012 - News

Call it Irony

           I was full of pride when Donna Tutty sent me a note about an opportunity to present to the Maine Waste Water Control Association (MWWCA) at Sugarloaf Resort on September 13, 2012.  The group was described as very technical and trade-oriented, and they were looking for something a little out of the ordinary.  The audience was used to job-specific presentations, and the organizers were looking to add something fresh to the curriculum when they asked District 45 to send a representative to discuss public speaking.

As Toastmasters, we have been taught to prepare our presentations so that we know the material inside and out.  In fact, part of my presentation “From Fear to Success” was geared around practice and preparation in order to reduce anxiety.  I had no idea how much the training would come in handy.

I got a good night’s sleep, went for an early run while the sun was rising, and felt great about representing our district.  I went to the event two hours early to meet the organizers and to network with the organization.  I was instantly greeted by several people who made me feel welcome.  Today was going to be a good day.

In my preparation a few weeks before the event, I had asked the organizers about microphones, but they said they weren’t needed.  I went to the room where I would be presenting to practice my speech and to get a feel of the acoustics and the stage.  Let’s start with the sound.  I instantly found some echoing in the open room chamber that also had a wide-open staircase and vendors on the floor below causing a significant amount of white noise.  I knew I had to adapt my voice since there were no doors to close.

I still had some concerns with the room set-up.  Part of my list of questions for the organizers weeks prior to the event included whether or not there was a lectern.  The organizer said there would be one in the room, yet when I showed up, it wasn’t to be found. There was no need to panic, because I still had ninety minutes before my presentation.  I found someone on the facility staff who said he would take care of me.  He found a half lectern that could go on top of a huge table that would have been right in the middle of my anticipated stage.  As an alternative, he found a shelf used for ski boot storage that he could rig up.  The set-up had the lectern at chin height. While my facility friend was being creative, I found a different set of workers and I asked if they had any other ideas.  Within minutes a lectern was rolled my way.

Unfortunately, my lectern dilemma was just the beginning of a good day that could easily slip away into panic and stress as I tried to resolve my issues.  There were to be dual presenters before me who were sitting behind laptops at a large table that needed to be moved prior to my speech.  The table was easy to move but the multiple cords and projector that sat right in the center of my supposed stage was not only tripping hazards, they were in my intended speaking path.  It didn’t help that the screen for my slides was tucked awkwardly into a corner.  When I moved the projector out of my walking path, the projected slides were keystone in shape and too small for the audience to see.  As the moderator and I attempted to resolve the slides, we found that the auto adjustments on the projector itself weren’t working properly. We attempted to resolve the problem by tucking pads of paper under one side of the projector.  We were right up against the time for the first presenters, so we needed a break for about an hour.  This left me with thirty minutes to resolve the issue prior to my presentation.  Was I nervous?  No, because I had a Plan B.

When I had the chance, I hooked up my own projector and we were back in business.  Unfortunately, the moderator’s laptop was now having problems.  Time for Plan C.  I connected my own laptop and we were once again back in business.  As for speaker introductions, many of us have learned to not only write our own, but to share it with the moderator to ensure he or she meets the presenter’s expectations.  She said she liked my introduction.  However, she planned to cut it short and adlib to allow more speaking time.  I told her how diligent Toastmasters attempt to be with timing, and that I had actually accounted for her to read to entire introduction.  She reluctantly agreed, until she went to grab her copy and couldn’t find it.  I reached into my folder and handed her the extra copy I had for “just in case” situations.  This allowed me the time to share how I preferred to have my introduction delivered.  She seemed relieved and appreciative.

The actual presentation could not have gone any better. The audience was receptive and the Toastmasters’ training proved its value easily.  I know a few years ago how panic-stricken I would have been and how the road blocks could have held me back from getting the message I wanted to the audience.  Instead, I was able to be flexible, offer solutions to the problems, and even incorporate the problems into the presentation to enhance it.  As for the moderator’s concern about going over our allotted time, for my hour-long presentation, I finished in 59 minutes and thirty seconds.  Thank you Toastmasters’ training.

A presentation about practice and preparation to reduce anxiety and lead to success was put into action before it even started—call it irony.  As a Toastmaster you have significant control over your own successes.  Be ready for the unexpected and don’t be surprised when the unexpected appears.  Be confident in everything you have learned, or will learn, from Toastmasters’ training. Your communication and leadership skills will ensure that any moment of fear can turn into success.


Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed: