My Invisibility Cloak: Self-Confidence

My Invisibility Cloak: Self-Confidence

I bumped into Heather, sitting at a neighborhood sidewalk cafe, my fellow Toastmaster talked about career and future plans. What Heather said next… surprised me; complimenting my self-confidence and self-assurance.

“Bearded Iris” pastel painting, (c) Joann Sondy August 2017. Created for my daughter’s birthday.

Wow! I had no idea that people saw or perceived me in this manner.

Recently, people have been noticing my confidence. What?! Me?! Since when?

Truth is… I’m just like you. Knees shaking. Unsure. Introverted. Fear of public speaking. Imposter syndrome.

Many of my Toastmasters’ friends are kind to say how well-rehearsed and prepared as a speaker. It’s true… I practice A LOT; just ask my husband. Rehearsal, not to be rote or mechanical, practicing to become [extremely] familiar with the content, refining my body language and voice and perfecting timing.

I was extremely nervous when delivering my last speech. The content was a subject I’ve been researching deeply the past few months. Valerie, my evaluator took note that I was overtly focused on my content and should have ‘lightened up more’ to engage more deeply with my audience. She also commented about my note cards (a topic for an upcoming article and speech “Val stole my security blanket”).

“I’ve taken several tours and you (Joann) are the best docent so far! Great time, thank you.”

Cheeks flush, I was glowing with modesty after shaking the gentleman’s hand following my CAF ‘Treasures’ tour a few weeks ago. The guest did not know that it had been months since I had lead this amazing tour. Days beforehand, practicing at home and asked a friend to join me for a practice tour.

Success=Self Confidence. Self Confidence is Preparedness.
Urban Sketchers Chicago 10×10 Lincoln Park Zoo & Garden Sketchwalk

The Toastmasters speech projects and evaluations have helped me tremendously to overcome fear of public speaking and concentrate on scripting good stories or content. My constant journey of learning about creativity, focus and confidence has added to my arsenal of confidence.

Resources for you:

  • The Tools, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels; especially chapter 2
  • War of Art, Steven Pressfield
  • Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Deep Work, Cal Newport
  • Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp

Join me for a Chicago Architecture Foundation walking tour.

Exploration and Observation = Discovery

Exploration and Observation = Discovery


Did you hear? Scientists discovered a new solar system 40 light years away. While I heard conversations about the ‘what if’ of getting there; I was more impressed with the exploration and observation the scientists had achieved.

Exploration and observation are the first two tenants of creative thinking. This is the foundation of my workshops, ArchiSketch Chicago. Get OUTSIDE to wander and see your environment, not stuck inside some conference room in a brainstorming session.

Launched last summer, ArchiSketch is about exploration and cultivating one’s own observation and artistic talent. History is my muse and is the backdrop for story combined with easy drawing instruction tailored for each stop.

Join me as we move our exploration and observation outdoors into areas of the city that you may or may not be familiar.

“Joann has a way of presenting information and story to get me to STOP and LOOK. Even though I may cross this intersection on a regular basis.”

One of the greatest compliments I could received–a lasting impression to spark creative thinking in others.

Upcoming ArchiSketch Schedule:

  • March 9th Sketching Sullivan. A three-hour hunt for Louis H. Sullivan’s iconic designs, dissecting his organic & geometric design.
  • March 22nd 3 Plazas on Dearborn. 360˚ views from each plaza, skyscrapers, grand-sized sculpture and opportunities for sketching people.
  • April 8th Lincoln Park Zoo & Garden, this is preview of the Urban Sketchers 10×10 workshop lineup.

Visit the ArchiSketch Chicago website for more information.

In addition to the ongoing Toastmasters projects, I also tap into other resources to expand my story development and storytelling skills:

Storyiz, Stanford’s storytelling & visual communication studio is packed full of content and activities to create compelling & visual communication.

The Art of Storytelling by the masters at Pixar. This six-part class is free from the studio that behind Monsters Inc., Up and Inside Out. FREE.

Illuminate by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez. A new book from the leaders in presentation development, design and public speaking to help leaders communication more effectively.

PS: The Willis Tower (fka Sears Tower) will be undergoing a $500MIL renovation and the kinetic sculpture “Universe” by Alexander Calder will me removed, and is not part of the new plans.

Drawing is Thinking

Drawing is Thinking

When you were in school, did you get caught doodling?

Have you ever got the evil eye from a co-worker for doodling during a meeting?

You were on right page!

A study, sighted by the Journal of Cognitive Psychology, found that doodlers could easily recall ‘dull’ information 30 percent more than non-doodlers. Break out your pen or pencils and notepad…doodling is greatly encouraged.

Like writing, there are benefits of doodling and sketching:

  1. Cognitive development and increased memory
  2. Improved concentration
  3. Creative confidence

Drawing is essential for the brain development in children; as a learning process and technique for making observations or problem solving. While at the same time improving their memory skills. This combination leads to achievement in other subjects, particularly math and science.

It is our own translation, the imagery from our mind, which we create the visual references (aka details) that we’ll draw upon in the future.

Have you been to a conference or meeting with a live sketch artist? One of the pioneers in this industry, Sunni Brown, believes that she and her team develop concepts through pictures that words alone cannot describe. The pictures are not about aesthetic quality, but rather the quality of the learned and learning experience; developing a visual language.

Milton Glaser’s iconic logo

Drawing (sketching or doodling), like meditation, is a self-exploration that connects us with our ‘self’ on an intimate level. The adroit action stimulates us to a comfort level–enough to keep us awake, focused and engaged. Researcher believe that we reach deeper levels of concentration and this is where we develop richer concepts.

“When you draw an object, the mind become deeply, intensively attentive. Drawing is thinking.” Milton Glaser, acclaimed graphic designer continues, “It is that act of attention that allows you to really grasp something to become fully conscious of it.”

Here’s John Hendrix, author (Drawing is Magic) and illustrator, “As adults we often stop having fun. Drawing when we were kids was fun. Finding enjoyment is the essential first step to finding good ideas.”

When we ‘draw out’ our ideas, we’re releasing our imagination.

John Hendrix’ book “Drawing is Magic”

Every heard the phrase, “conceived on a napkin”? What tools do you need to facilitate thinking? PENCIL AND PAPER. No need for a computer, tablet or special app for you smartphone.

When we externalize our ideas on paper it makes it easier to re-constuct them, transforming the “spark” into a good idea, great idea… a gift to mankind idea.

Drawing is more than thinking: it’s MAGIC.



The Atlantic, Cognitive Benefits of Doodling

Sunni Brown, TED Talk, “Doodlers, Unite”

Write It Down!

UPDATE 1/14/16:

I’ll be delivering this speech at Ignite Chicago on January 31, 2017, held at the Catalyst Ranch.

5 Minutes / 20 Slides / 1 Passion

I’ve attended this several times and it is always a fun night.

Your cheers and claps would be greatly appreciated, register via EventBrite using the promo code SPEAKERFRIEND

See you then!


This is the speech I needed to complete my Toastmasters’ Advanced Communicator Bronze level in my quest to improve my communication skills.

What if…

  • There was a process that could improve your ability to learn and recall information?
  • That same process, and its simple tool, could help increase your concentration?
  • And, spark your creativity?

Benefit #1: Learning and Memory

Writing by hand, has been proven to stimulate parts of our brain, called the reticular activating system (RAS), which filters all the ‘stuff’ our brain needs to process everyday.

When we write it down, we give importance to that which we’re focusing on at the moment. I’ll repeat that in case you’d like to write it down, we give importance to that item at that moment.

A name. A date. An address. The morning to-do list. Weekly shopping list. Your bucket list.

The physical process of writing, placing pen (or pencil) to paper, brings that item to the forefront.

There are several research studies available that examined {college} students who took handwritten notes versus students who used a device (notebook or tablet). Which group do you believe performed better overall? The students who took handwritten notes.

It is the physical process of writing–placing pen to paper–that brings that item to the forefront. Writing it down improves our ability to learn and recall information.

Interesting observation about the students who used a devices; the researchers concluded that they were essentially scribing the professor’s lecture; an important skill when we need to transcribe something verbatim.

Writing, either cursive or print, (my own–an awkward combination) is very important to brain development. Do you have kids in school? Ask them about their method of notetaking during class.

Benefit #2: Focus

We are confronted with barrage of information from ALL directions EVERYDAY! Let’s face it… most if it is a distraction.

Did you know the adult brain processes 60,000-70,000 thoughts per day. (There’s a joke in there, I’ll set that aside for another speech.)

The deliberate ACTION to process a thought slows down our brain; thus requiring more mental energy. We are engaging our motor skills when while writing.

Research is suggesting that writing (reading and drawing) are droplets in the ‘Fountain of Youth’ to ward off the detrimental effects of Alzheimer’s disease and/or dementia. Not protect, but lessen the effects while keeping our brains active as we age. 

Write the letters. Break out the journal. Send the postcards.

During an interview, acclaimed author, Truman Capote, said that he wrote the outline and first draft of “In Cold Blood” before he sat in front of the typewriter. Joyce Carol Oates uses hand-written notes and drafts beforehand, too.

Benefit #3: Spark Your Creativity

A pathway for our thoughts, ideas and emotions, writing, as well as sketching, is a channel from your head outward. I personally believe that the heightened creativity is really the result of benefits #1 and #2. Bringing an item to the forefront and concentration.

One of the simplest and beneficial gifts you can give, in my opinion, is a sketchbook (or journal) and pencils to anyone. Enable an individual to cultivate his/her own creativity through the expression of ideas, thoughts and emotions.

Now, some of you might be thinking, pen and paper… that’s sooo old school! You’re not the only one.

While doing the research for this speech, I ran across an article on the Harvard Business Review entitled “Dear Colleague, Put the Notebook Down.” The author states, if you are invited to a meeting with her that you ‘should leave your hipster journal and pens at home’ insisting that taking notes by hand is a waste of time. She wants to be able to ping you digital references, assets and links for your immediate consumption. She went further, after you get back to your cubicle and transcribe your handwritten notes into a project management application, approximately 10-25 minutes, that is a WASTE OF TIME. This time adds up over the course of a fiscal year at a cost to the company.

Coincidentally, the same day I read this article, I received an email from my favorite hipster journal company announcing its latest product the “Smart Writing Set.” The three-part system consists of a newly designed Moleskine paper tablet, a stylus and smartphone app. The notes and drawings made in the paper tablet are digitized via the mobile app, available for iOS and Android. Moleskine is not the only company with similar technologies.

Recap, the benefits of writing:

  • Stimulates our brain for learning and memory.
  • Helps us concentrate by filtering distractions.
  • Heightens our creativity by providing a channel from our head to paper.

Writing is a mental workout. Keeping our brains SHARP!

History of Pencil (sidebar)

In the 16th century, a dark grey almost black substance was discovered in England, it became the first marking element when the herders where marking their sheep.

Woodworkers in the 17th century were producing graphite as marking tool. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the graphite was encased in wood.

Cross the pond to New England, during the mid-19th century, in Joseph Dixon’s woodworking plant, he mechanized the production and patented the machine that planed the wood for pencils. His machine could produce 132 pencils per minute. Dixon marketed his pencil as “American Made.” The Dixon Ticonderoga is a staple and one of our most enduring products, ~ 1/2 billion Ticonderoga pencils are manufactured yearly.


Wall Street Journal, “Can Handwriting Make You Smarter?” (April 2016)

Mashable, “7 Ways Writing by Hand Can Save Your Brain” (January 2015)

New York Times, “The Story Behind a Nonfiction Novel” (1966) George Plimpton

BuzzFeed, “Joyce Carol Oates Has The Most Inspiring Writing Advice For Authors” (July 2015)


Use A 3-Part Structure for Your Speech


Have you noticed the latest marketing buzzword? STORY. Yes, story or storytelling. Interesting that marketing ‘gurus’ are parlaying a concept that is as old as mankind.

Over the years, I’ve worked with some amazing writers/account directors who were VERY creative and intuitive when crafting speeches and presentations. Among their strengths was the ability to understand the audience, a skill I still employ. We developed killer visuals to accentuate the key points of speech. The perfect pairing for successful communication (plus hours of rehearsal).

All speeches (presentations) fall into these categories:

  1. Informative
  2. Idea / Concept
  3. Sell / Call-to-Action

Be honest with yourself about the type of speech or presentation you’re writing, then the key theme and messages will be clearer.

Informative. Wow, I can’t begin to tell you how many of these I’ve done in my career. Avoid the temptation to overload individual slides with data/information. Focus on the key takeaway, thus the attention will be on the speaker. Provide a fact sheet or ebook as a supplement for your participants. This way, when rehearsing the speech the emphasis will remain on you and the core message.

Idea. Have you watched TED videos? “Ideas worth spreading” are the best kind! You can learn a lot about crafting your speaking skills from TED talks by watching how passionate and clear the speaker is about the message. Passion and confidence are the keys to these types of presentations/speeches. A friend who organizes TEDxIIT laments about the hours spent off-stage writing, editing, preparing and rehearsing. Clarity. Simplicity.

Call-to-Action. What do we want the audience member to do? Buy? Stop doing something? Join a movement? Think like an advertiser or marketer to hone the message and be very clear about the outcome. When organizing this speech, begin with the end-result and script it in reverse. Much like an advertising campaign, the language should encourage the audience to take the desired action.

3-Part Structure


Use this three-part structure to organize your speech:

  1. Set-up / Background
  2. Conflict / Confrontation
  3. Resolution / Outcome

The Set-up. This is the background. Set the stage for your audience with history, who’s involved, introduce the characters. You’re building trust with the audience. Entrepreneurs are using this technique on-stage to describe their own path as it led to making change or discovery. A sales presentation would give background on the company and its products or services. Draw your audience into your story as you build to the next part.

Conflict or Confrontation. The tipping point! What is the problem? The challenge? The frustration? Your audience members, most, not all, should be feeling some level of empathy for you at this point. Your emotions and passions are elevated at this point in your presentation.

Resolution. How did you fix the problem? How does the product or service eliminate the problem? What lesson was learned? We’re eager to learn the positive outcome and what the future might be.

There’s a reason the best stories are unforgettable… we identified with the characters, were empathic with the struggle and celebrated the successful outcome. Even business pitches can have this kind of impact when this approach is adapted for your target audience(s); try adapting a client case study.

When you get together with friends and family this summer, listen… listen to the stories being told. Become a good listener to recognize a good speech structure, how the speaker is engaging the audience and the key takeaway. Was it emotional? A call-to-action? Did you learn something? Was a new concept introduced?

Put this into practice today.

Identify the TYPE of your current speech/presentation. Is it clearly 1) informational, 2) an idea or concept or 3) call-to-action? Then, review and edit your content so that it flows into the three-part structure. Simplicity works in your favor with well-thought word choices and vivid imagery.


Resources to help you:



New Website Launched!

2011 Navy Pier Summer Fireworks 1/2

New year…new website…finally. 

Planning, developing and launching a new website is akin to cleaning out the garage. What do you keep? What needs repair? And, tossing junk in the garbage.

My previous website was too self-centered. More of a reflection of what I wanted and didn’t really address “why” someone should work with me or purchase my products. (I thought the site looked great.)

It took a couple of months to simplify my new business model and the direction of my creative career.

It came down to three core service areas:

  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Publishing
  3. Speaking & Workshops

If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been promoting my textile designs (aka silk scarves). All inspired by the ‘details’ of craftsmanship in architecture from Beaux Arts to Art Deco periods. There’ll be a lot more in this area.

During the last few months of 2015, I also published a couple of books: Saigon Shuffle 2.0 and Renaissance Patterns. Both via Amazon’s CreateSpace and available for sale via the behemoth website.

I continue my activities as a docent with Chicago Architecture Foundation (a little less this winter) leading Art Deco and Treasures tours while prepping for Riverfront Art Deco tour.  I’m still, actively involved in my Toastmasters’ group, only 2 speeches to reach the Silver Advanced Communicator level while serving as our club’s president. I’ve also been invited to lead an archi-sketch workshop during the Urban Sketchers Chicago summer symposium (more on that later).

How can I help you?


Image courtesy of Michael Mayerused with permission under Creative Commons License.
Dancing In The Dark

Dancing In The Dark

Wow, it’s been a couple of months since I’ve posted anything new for you.  Frankly, I’ve been immersed in some very exciting projects.

Don’t let the title of this post send you looking for Bruce Springsteen on iTunes. 

Can you deliver your speech/presentation in the dark? 

Without the support of visual aids? Ditch the PPT?

Image courtesy Choose Chicago

Many of you know that I’m a docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and this year I’m ‘sponsoring’ a trainee. One of my responsibilities is a walk through or demonstration of one of the core tours. 

Due to scheduling, my trainee and I could only agree to meet after work. This is Chicago, it’s dark by 6 p.m. and this week it’s been cold (again) and damp. Not the best conditions to display my expertise. 

Midway through the two-hour tour, Ben, docent-in-training, complimented me on the descriptive speech I used to describe details of buildings on the Chicago Old & New Tour.

After I thanked him, I was surprised when I realized that the darkness added a new and highly disciplinary behavior to my tour. A way to reduce and eliminate some bad behaviors and crutches. 

I wasn’t relying on the illumination of daytime, as I usually do. Instead, recalling specific details expressed with highly descriptive language. Clearly articulating the core concepts, coherently making comparisons to describe details that are seen vividly during the day.

Plan B–No Crutches
This exercise recalled the disastrous and feeble attempts I’ve witnessed over the years when technology fails. You know what I’m talking about: microphone cut outs, the presentation file doesn’t load, the computer shuts down, the projector lamp burns out, you don’t have the right cable, its the wrong file/version, etcetera, etcetera.

A Challenge
I challenge you to deliver your speech or presentation without the use of visual aids. Take it further and step away from the lectern and turn off the microphone. 

Can you express the core message(s) and support it with details to your audience coherently? Delivered with passion and confidence? 

Here’s the link to your 80s rock-n-roll fix, “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen.

Pitch Session Evaluation: PechaKucha Chicago (Part 1)

PechaKucha vs Technori (Part 1)

Last week I attended a PechaKucha Chicago (Monday) and Technori Pitch (Tuesday) both very impressive and kudos to all who stepped onto the stage with a story to tell. Both community based, with PechaKucha more entertainment versus Technori business oriented. 

My interest was in the presentation styles, the delicacies of ‘how to say it’ and ‘get to the point’.  The following observations rely heavily on my Toastmasters evaluation protocol.

A PechaKucha (pronounced “pe-chak-cha”) is a rapid-fire presentation in which the presenter used 20 slides, each on-screen for 20 seconds. (20X20 = 400 seconds (or 6 minutes + 40 seconds)) When I say slides, I’m not referring to the slides you’d see in a business presentation. Slides for a PechaKucha are images! Images! The speaker has can either talk speak directly about each image or craft a story for the 20-slide presentation.

This month’s PechaKucha was a special event, co-hosted with Chicago Tribune, held at the House of Blues. All, but two or three, of the eleven speakers were associated with the photo department of Chicago Tribune; staff photographers, freelance photographers and a photo archivist.

Overall finding: Presenters who crafted a story tended to invoke the most emotion from the audience.

Chris Walker, a foreign correspondent/photographer, told his behind-the-scenes story of war torn Somalia and meeting a bright young photographer–a young man who didn’t make it out of the country before the situation turned catastrophic.

How does an architect like Scott Rappe tell a story of buildings? He combined his passion with his community…Chicago. Incorporating illustrations like you would see in a children’s book to illustrate the evolution of city and suburban developments.“Old buildings connect us to the past just like our elders connect us to our past.” A beautiful testament for Chicago and other cities around the world.

The photo archivist/conservator, Erin Mytowski, her job is going into the “belly of beast” of the Chicago Tribune archives to catalog and digitize the glass plates and negatives of this historic institution. In 20 slides we experienced her daily descent into to the lower level of the tower into the storage vaults and a glimpse of her archival responsibilities. PLUS examples of why she does it. Including seeing: Al Capone, John Dillinger, street cars on State Street, entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and many more. Her message: preserving the past for future generations.

I could go on to describe the other presenters, including crime scene photographer Terrence James, Zbigniew Bzdak who grew up in communist Poland and broke the rules displaying his street photography publicly, or Alex Gracia’s 20 things he thought he’d never see.

Pointers for your PechaKucha 400 seconds:

  • Six minutes and forty seconds isn’t a lot of time.
  • A presentation for this format must be well planned and rehearsed.
  • Use full size, bold image images, scaled proportionately.
  • No text on your images.
  • Storyboarding is essential to be on-time and on-point.
  • Passion for the story (message) while engaging the audience.
  • Invoke emotion. 
  • Initiate action.
  • Have a sense of humor.

Participating in a PechaKucha is an opportunity to connect with community. Visit the Chicago website for upcoming events.