Geek Girl's Guide: Giving Speeches

We get lots of opportunities to present our ideas to other people, either formally or informally. I've been thinking about this for a few days, because my beautiful girl Rowen just turned 12, and was asked to speak in church last Sunday. Terrifying, right? Getting up in front of roughly 250 people to expound, even for a couple of minutes, can be downright overwhelming. 

I've given a lot of talks & speeches. I did both speech and debate in high school, and participated in speaking contests outside of school for VFW, Farm Bureau, National Young Leaders, and others. I won prizes. I got to travel. It was awesome, and speaking has become one of my favorite things. I want to share a few secrets I've developed over time. In fact, these are the rules i use every time I prepare and deliver speeches.

image source: colleen simon,

image source: colleen simon,

divide Your Content into 3 segments

Preparing for and delivering speeches is a LOT easier when you divide up your main idea into a few sub-topics. Sometimes the points are explicitly spelled out ("I'd like to share three ways we can improve our racquetball game."), and sometimes they are implicit, simply by the verbal transitions you make.

I recommend that if you're going to spell out your points, that you use no more than 3. The reason for this really comes down to the short-term memory of your audience. You aren't giving a quiz at the end. They should be able to write down a few of your statements, but nobody can be expected to remember more than 3 "topic headings," because these aren't what stick. What sticks in the heart and mind are your stories. Even your most sympathetic audience member will get distracted, even if your speech is only 10 minutes long. 

By your 5th point I'm wondering again what the first one was, and then I'm thinking, ok, they said they had six, so just one more and then we're done! 

I know, not cool of me. But there it is. The exception to this rule is if your speech is accompanied by a PowerPoint that lists all your points and repeatedly refers back to the list as you step through them. Content plus context is king of them all.


Every great speech has outside references, whether they are specific quotes, scriptures, song lyrics, or more oblique references to world evens or history. Quotations are necessary. Use one in every segment of your speech. Remember from above, that what sticks in the heart and mind are the stories. Each quote is a story. You can even consider framing each segment of your speech around a quote or its main idea. Here's how.

When you're speaking without additional aids (like a PowerPoint), you need to guide your audience carefully through your points using repetition and reinforcement. Think of it like a sandwich: 

  • Explaination #1: In the first explanation, you'll provide backstory, as well as context and a lead-up to the content of your quotation. Do not underestimate the power of backstory.

  • Quote: Deliver your quotation with power, verbally emphasizing the keywords. Do not quote anything for more than ~30 seconds straight. 

  •  Explanation #2: In the second explanation you can provide analysis - why you chose this, as well as the all-important link back to the lives and circumstance of the audience.

Here's an example from a talk I gave this past February, for the explain/quote/explain method as I illustrated the relevance of the hymn, "Onward, Christian Soldiers":

(Explanation 1)

Here are the words of the great Christian battle-hymn, “Onward, Christian soldiers,” The first verse: “Onward, Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe, forward into battle, see His banners go!”

This beautiful song was written in 1865 by an Anglican curate named Sabine Baring-Gould. She needed a song to use as a processional for the town’s children to march to during Whitsuntide - the Anglican celebration of Pentecost - and sat and wrote this song in 15 minutes. It now has a place in Christian hymnals around the world. 

At the height of the second world war, with Britain embattled by German bombing, and just four months before the United States would officially enter, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met to agree the Atlantic Charter. As part of that meeting, a church service was held for which Prime Minister Churchill chose the hymns. He chose "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and afterwards made a radio broadcast explaining this choice:


We sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers" indeed, and I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we were serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high. When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals ... it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation. 
— Winston Churchill

(explanation 2)

Mr. Churchill’s words apply to us beautifully. Just as there in 1941 sat the congregation that represented the hope of the world - allies gathered in defense against a worldly tyrant, so sits here in this congregation today the hope of the world, gathered to the Standard of God against the spiritual tyrants, in the defense of our homes and our families.

The backstory for this quote is fascinating, both the story of the writing of the hymn, and then the story of its use at the height of World War II. in fact, i would say the backstory is what gives the quote its real impact in its implications for us today. I probably did an hour of research after I found this quote, and I am SO GLAD I did - my own life is better for knowing this, and I'm happy I was able to share it. 

Do as much research as you can on the story behind and around your quote. More than just who said it, who were they? Where was this said or written? What other things did they say ore write? what connections can you draw from their life or circumstance? what did other people say about it?

The quote itself, of course is from one of the great orators of the 20th century, so it has power on its own. But when that's spoken with the same conviction it was said originally, hundreds of people can be stirred by it again.

You can see the second explanation is pretty short. Essentially the task here is to provide that final connection between the life and world of the quotation itself, into the lives of your listeners. My goal was to draw a comparison between the circumstances of war as it was fought then, and the spiritual war we're fighting now.

As a side note, this is the beginning and middle of the second of my 3 points in this speech. Transition-by-quote is an awesome way!

like you mean it

It sometimes helps to read or listen to great speeches of the past as you're preparing. There's a reason these are great speeches, and that doesn't dim over time, regardless of how antiquated some of the words might seem. You've been given the rare opportunity to have the undivided attention of your listeners (10 or 1,000, doesn't matter), and you can change them forever by what you say. Connect your words to the WHY and the HOW - to them. 

One of the finest speeches I've ever heard was given by Suze Orman, the author and personal finance expert. She talked about personal finance, sure, but also about self-direction, self-love and perseverance, and I was moved to tears by the end. Not only is she a great speaker, but she was able to connect ideas for me, and sent me home a stronger person for it. And she was talking about checkbooksYour topic isn't dull, and neither are you. Prepare it like you mean it, and say it like you mean it, and they'll remember.

Save the Opening for last

In your preparation, I recommend saving the opening for last. Here's mine:

My 5th great grandparents, Caroline and John Butler, were baptized in 1835 in Simpson, Kentucky. At the Prophet Joseph’s command, they gathered to unite with the Saints in Iowa, and then in Nauvoo. They crossed the plains and finally gathered to Utah, where they settled in Spanish Fork. They faced persecution and poverty, and remained stalwart to the end. So with all our ancestors, literal, or spiritual. It is in that spirit - that legacy of gathering, of love, of unity, that I would like to speak today.

I actually wrote this opening about 10 minutes before I stood up to give my speech (not that I would recommend saving it THAT much). The last line of your first paragraph is the key transition from opening to the core of your speech. Here's where you say, "I'd like to provide three tips on how to improve your racquetball game." I was a little subtler, but connected the small story to the topic right there at the end of the opening. 

Make sure your opening doesn't weaken your speech. If it does nothing but "make the audience more comfortable," leave it out. As far as an opening joke, if your audience doesn't know you well, you have a 50/50 chance of a joke falling flat, and I wouldn't risk it. Your opening should take no more than ~10% of your speech. So for a 10-minute speech, think 45-60 seconds. And now for the most important bit, which I've saved for last.


We were actually in the car on the way to church while she was trying to figure out her opening (hm, did she inherit that?). And I've been thinking for days about this exchange.

I said, "Maybe just introduce yourself, and then go into your first thing."
She said, "What about, 'Hi, I'm Rowen Sprague. I am giving my first talk in church, so I know it isn't...'"
"No. Don't apologize."
She tried it another way, "'Hi, I'm Rowen Sprague, and I don't know why I was asked...'"
She was frustrated when I interrupted her again. "You don't ever need to apologize for what you are about to say."

As women, it's a sort of social instinct to make ourselves less - maybe it feels ingratiating, or polite, or that if we lower ourselves by apologizing for our work, we'll lower their expectations of us. But no. They won't like you better because you told them your stuff was crappy. You own that stuff, you have a right to be where you are, you're prepared for it, and you have a message to deliver. You didn't come share this just for their approval. Don't hide your light.

I mean it. This goes for any time you stand up in front of more than 2 people, write on your blog, post a photo in an online gallery, or talk in a meeting. You can never use any of these phrases ever again:

  • "I know this isn't..."
  • "I didn't..."
  • "I'm sorry, but/because"
  • "I can't (insert some technology reason)"
  • "I did this at the last minute" (or any reference to how little time you had, or even how much time you had, but that it still isn't any good for whatever reason)
  • Blaming your own shyness
  • Blaming your own inexperience at presenting/speaking/showing up "I'm not very good at..."
  • Blaming anyone else, even as a sort of joke (i.e. the boss told me I had to)
  • Comparing yourself or your presentation/material a great master.

Okay, I think you get it. Yes? You are not more by seeming less. You are more by preparing with that audience in mind, and then delivering with conviction. Don't hide your light. And don't ever, ever, EVER apologize for it.



Meet Wizard, the Lizard

So about a 6 weeks ago, I was at PetSmart buying something for Rowen and her fish, and I spotted an enclosure with several brand-new baby bearded dragons. Of course I've wanted one of these little ones for a long time, and so I was utterly smitten. Turns out the store clerk who was helping me had owned a bearded dragon before, and ah. That was the beginning of the lovely rabbit hole that ended with me owning this little sweet one of love, picked out because of his coloring, and because the clerk said she chose this little one to ride on her shirt every day to help her clean the cages. Put a fork in me, cause I'm done.

Hello there, handsome! Why don't we greet the sun? taken today, april 28. Getting so big!

Hello there, handsome! Why don't we greet the sun? taken today, april 28. Getting so big!



Before we had even left the store (ahem, to the tune of more than $300 in supplies), the kids had named him Wizard (because he has a beard! ha!), and it wasn't til we got home and Jared said it that we realized he was Wizard the Lizard. Perfect.

So Many Pictures

Rowen and Elliott have started teasing me about how many pictures I take of him. But I told them (and then opened Lightroom and showed them) that this was nothing compared to the number of pictures I took of THEM when they were babies.

Yep, he's sitting on my washi tape. A favorite spot. 

Yep, he's sitting on my washi tape. A favorite spot. 

This is the day we brought him home, march 11. just like a lil baby, he's all head. *snif*

This is the day we brought him home, march 11. just like a lil baby, he's all head. *snif*

And yes. He eats live crickets. 

If you had told me the beginning of March (probably the time of his birth) that I would be buying live bugs on purpose, keeping them on my premises, AND getting them out and watching in delight as another creature gobbled them up, well, here is your straight jacket, honey, and your padded cell is that way. But look at that face. And he relishes them so obviously that who am I to deny my little Wiz such a treat? Right? 

To round out his diet, he also likes kale, broccoli, mustard greens, collard greens, celery, and thyme. He won't go near parsley, rosemary, or any kind of fruit. Seriously. Not mango, or apple, or raspberry or strawberry. But he LOVES kale. And we kinda love watching him eat it. 

He's a perfect little sweetheart, so calm, and with this lovely bright eye he cocks up to see me, or to see where the sun is when we're outside. He is very serious about his sunlight. 

I'm thinking of making him his own Instagram account. In fact, I just did. Ha! Chances are, you'll be seeing a lot more of this little one around here. 

Your turn

Do you own a beardie? Or any reptile? Have you wanted one? Do you have questions about mine? Cause you know mamas like to talk about their little ones. ;)

Digital Scrapbooking with Photoshop, Class 5

I am excited to introduce Digital 5: Creativity Comes Alive! This intermediate-level class is the newest in my digital scrapbooking series for Photoshop. (If you're a beginner, check out my FREE beginner's class, Digital 1: We've Just Begun)

What to Expect

In Class 5, we continue with intermediate-level techniques to grow your Photoshop skills beyond the basics. I'll be right there with you in my HD video screencast as I walk you through FOUR complete digital scrapbook layouts. Each lesson is between 40-50 minutes of video, and each layout is packed with techniques that coordinate together, but also stand alone as useful & practical tools in their own right. (I mean, learning how to make text look like it's on fire is great, but it's kind of a one-trick pony, you know?)

Mixing and matching these techniques with others in your arsenal, you've got the "fixings" for dozens more layouts. But what exactly will you learn in Digi 5? Here are some specifics.

Lesson One: 5 Things I Love

This digital scrapbook page looks cute, AND contains a wealth of techniques you'll love. You'll learn how to:

  • Add four different patterned papers to create a unique background
  • Use the Photoshop drawing tools and a creative selection technique to draw a ring-shaped clipping mask AND its white outline
  • Create a three-photo block with a black matte
  • Create a block-style letter from a numeric font (introduction to the Polygonal Lasso tool)
  • Load and stamp four different brushes
  • Use Photoshop layer Groups to keep the layout pieces organized

And of course we'll save our page for print and for the web, so you can share it with friends and family no matter where they are! Record the stories of your life AND learn great new techniques in Digital 5.

Instead of hundreds of dollars (based on community college course costs), this class is $49. Yep. And you'll learn the best of the best techniques: How to combine images, brushes, photo edits, and type into great finished projects. 

As always, this course is self-paced, and will be available to you FOREVER at

My Business Cards

I've been asked several times online, and plenty of times in real life about my business cards. They put a smile on someone's face every time I give one. There are two really important factors to great business cards. 

Factor 1: What They Look Like

One of the two important things about business cards is what they LOOK like. Obviously. They should reflect you and your business, especially if you're self-employed. 

Everyone is intrigued by the design, and drawn to the little shot of red that is my name. And then they read the fun little invitation: Let's stay in touch, ok? 

I put the QR code on there that links to, so they can visit my site while they're still holding the card if they want, or anytime afterward by just snapping it with a QR code reader. More about creating your own QR code right here

Factor 2: What they Feel Like

The second important part of a business card is what it feels like. This part is honestly veddy veddy important, and I don't say that only because I'm a paper snob (although I am, raise of hand), but because it still subtly sends a signal. It should be smooth and sturdy in the hand. Or if it's textured or letterpressed, it should feel like that. 

I got my cards printed at with the smooth matte finish, and boy golly do they feel good. Sturdy and substantial, and rounded corners to boot. The rounded corners cost extra, but they add a really special touch, especially to a business with a little more feminine feel to it. (If you're a welder or a blacksmith, I'd say probably stick with the square corners. But your call.)


What Not to Do

And now this is the part where I beg. Picture me with my hands clasped together and an earnest look on my face. There are other places to get your cards done than Moo, and that's fine. But you must promise and pinky-swear RIGHT NOW that you will never get the ones that you print yourself and tear at the perforations. Not ever. I mean, have you ever run your fingers along a perforated edge? *shudder* Regardless, if you can hold them up and see light through them, they're too thin. You deserve a better first impression than that, and so do they. (Paper snob, over'n'out).

How to Give a Business Card

I studied Japanese for two years in college, I might have mentioned. One of the most striking things about the Japanese culture is the level of social convention - ceremonies, if you will. And included in this is "a way" to hand someone a business card. This particular convention is so important that we had a whole lesson on it, AND a practice where we handed cards to people after introducing ourselves. And you know what? I LOVED it. I try to do the 'toned-down, American' version of this whenever I hand over a business card. 

Handing someone your card with at least a LITTLE pause for 'ceremony' shows them respect, and while you don't have to follow the exact protocol the Japanese do (it's a little intense - holding the card with both hands, thumbs on the corners closest to you, text facing the recipient, and bowing as you hand it), I do think that in many situations handing someone your card could be a little more formal.

This sounds funny here in 'merica, where we are informal pretty much ALL of the time, but here's my reasoning. If I'm at a conference or a convention, and I'm meeting people and handing them my card, I want them to remember me. I've already talked above about the reaction I usually get when they actually look at the card, which almost always catches their eye and they pause. But before that is The Delivery

I say something like, "Can I have your card?" or "I'd like to talk more about this later, can I give you my card?" something like that. And then cue body language:

  1. Turn to my business card holder, which should be right in reach at the top of my bag (should I tell you here that you should have a unique and gorgeous business card holder? Yes). Make sure the card is upside-down to me (I usually pack them like this)
  2. Turn back to my contact, fully facing them, following the card with my eyes
  3. With one hand holding the center-top of the card, thumb on top, offer them the card (text facing them, of course)
  4. Wait til they take the card, then look them in the eye and smile like I mean it. 

I'm offering them something of value here. My time and an invitation to talk later. That's a big deal. And it communicates that I'm proud of what I do, competent at what I do, and I would be delighted to spend more time talking about what we might do together, and I'm not just saying that. 

You know, if this whole thing made you roll your eyes, you don't have to do it this way. There are other ways, instead of or in addition to this to capture leads and make initial contacts with people. And of course if you are in a situation where you're slinging a card at someone super casually, i.e. not in a business setting, you don't have to go through as much formality. Above all, though, don't apologize for your card or yourself, either with words or body language.

Now it's time to go design and order you some business cards, and then spend time practicing getting one out and giving it to someone. Remember turn to them, hand it with text facing them, and then eye contact and smile. Prep for the closing handshake, and scene. You made a new contact!

Now You

Have you made business (or personal) contacts with the exchange of business cards? Did they do something memorable, or did you? Are there any other 'ceremonies' you can think of where you work to make a good impression?

I'd love to see your business card, too! You can upload it in the comments here, or tag me on Facebook, or post it to the new gallery in the community

Geek Girl: How to Create a QR Code

Have you ever wanted to include videos or links along with your printed or digital scrapbook? You can create a special "link" that launches any URL (such as a link to a YouTube video) in a mobile device. You can see the QR codes I printed and pasted into my journal:

Make the QR Code

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to create and print a QR code to add to your digital or physical items, so you can link videos that anyone can view with their mobile device. It’s a great way to make print come alive with video! Oh, and my son Elliott helps me with the last bit. You're gonna love it!

I use a QR code on my business cards to link to, and as you can see, I used it in my journal/planner to showcase the scare-fest that is Five Nights at Freddy's. *shudder*. It's fun to page through there and be able to pop out my device and relive it! :)

Use the QR Code with a Mobile Device

To scan QR codes from anywhere you see them, you'll need an app for your device that knows how to translate them. They're called QR code readers, and you can search your app store for one of dozens - they're free. 

After installing, open the QR Code reader app on your device, and hover your phone camera over this image. It'll go to YouTube and the delightful Five Nights at Freddy's experience Elliott and I had. Wee!

You can even take a picture of a QR code on a screen, like this. 

You can even take a picture of a QR code on a screen, like this. 

Take that video from your wedding, her first steps, his first jump into the lake, and more and add them to any printed item such as a scrapbook page and more. This also goes great with linking to your websites, Etsy shop, photo gallery, or online store, to your business cards, flyers, posters, etc. 

Even if you don't print your scrapbook pages (i.e. you show them on your ipad), QR codes still work beautifully. When you make one, link it up in the comments here and show us ok?

Have a great day, Geek Girl! 



Photoshop Friday : Patterned Overlay

Hey there! I'm excited to bring back some Photoshop Friday fun! Below you'll find a helpful video that will show you how to use a patterned paper as an overlay for our focal photo. This is a great technique because you can add texture and interest to your photo without distracting from your photo. You can do this technique with virtually any patterned paper. Add in different blending modes to your patterned paper, and your options become limitless. Make sure to see how our Creative team has used patterned paper as an overlay to see the different kind of looks that you can achieve. (See PDF).

I will show you two different ways that you can do this technique in Photoshop so you can find the one that works best for you.

Here is a look at my layout and a sneak peak of the template that you will be working with today.

Step 1: Downloads

3. Click here to download the PDF. Make sure that you have the most current version of Adobe Reader found here.


Step 2: Video Tutorial

Here you can watch the video tutorial. It was filmed in Photoshop Elements, but it works the same in Photoshop CS3/CS4/CS5.

Step 3: Complete & Share

Create your layout with the Photoshop Friday template and customize it with your own pictures and digi supplies. When you are done, tag us or share it on my Facebook page, Pinterest it and let the world see the beauty you've created! I would love to see your creations!