The Youth Voice Matters

Today, we begin the 15th year of the Summer Speech intensive (SSI). We had no idea what SSI would become when we launched this camp in the summer of 2005. It has become an energy that is indescribable, but you know the power of it when you experience it. SSI is about developing the next generation of empathetic leaders. SSI is about developing the next agents of change. SSI is about developing the desire to FAIL BIG! SSI is about developing the proper way to view competition. SSI is about developing the championship mindset. SSI is about developing transferable life-skills. SSI is about the process, not the outcome. SSI is about celebrating the youth voice at time when the youth voice is being called incompetent. Yes, we think SSI participants will win some trophies along the way, but SSI is something so much bigger than a trophy. SSI is about transforming lives. It is time for SSI 19 to begin at Concordia College. #yourstagessi19.


THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts to everyone that attended SSI 17 FAIL BIG TO WIN BIG! We cannot express our gratitude enough for trusting our process and for enriching our lives with your energy, passion, and heart. 

THANK YOU to the SSI Staff! Your passion is unmatched, your commitment to excellence is unparalleled, and your ability to teach the true spirit of this activity is unrivaled. We cannot thank you enough for the giving of your time, energy, and heart. You treat every camper as if they were on your own team. 

The week transformed people in many ways. The power of speech was palpable, and to attempt to describe it would do it injustice. You must feel it to understand it. Tell our teammates and friends about your transformative experience and encourage them to register for SSI 18 in order to experience the energy, the heart, and the passion. 

I challenge you to Be A Bruce, help someone cross the finish-line, win in the mind before winning in practice, let your dreams scare you, fail big to win big, believe you are worthy of success, despise mediocrity, and always focus on the process. 

#transformedhere #failbigtowinbig #trusttheprocess


As the finals days countdown before NSDA Nats 17, I am reminded of the frying pan story. I recently read a book written by Nick Saban, University of Alabama Head Football Coach, and he tells the tale of two fishermen. One fisherman consistently throws back good-sized fish. The other fisherman notices this and confronts the man about his decision to throw back edible fish. The fisherman’s response? “I only have a 9-inch frying pan.” 

Too many competitors have a small capacity for success limiting their ability to compete at a high level. The national tournament can be very intimidating due to its enormous size. Intimidation or fear shrinks one’s capacity for success, hindering one’s ability to compete at a high level. 

The national tournament is more psychological than physical. Do not let the enormity of the tournament psychologically affect your ability to let your body do what it has been trained to do. It is imperative you take a large frying pan to the national tournament.


I spent a little time looking over the “The Book”, aka Facebook, this morning and came across this saying, “Your energy introduces you before you speak.” Your body language and what it communicates, or does not communicate, is critical to your success. Showing the competition your negative emotion gives them confidence. Positive body language is equally as important as technical skill. 

I encourage you to think about the following:

  1. How do you walk off the bus?
  2. How do you walk into the school?
  3. How do you walk into the room?
  4. How do you walk to the front of the room?
  5. How do you stand in front of the room? 
  6. How do you stand at the conclusion of the performance?
  7. How do you walk back to your desk? 
  8. How do you exit the room after the round?
  9. How do you walk the hallways? 

If you want to be a good competitor, then you need to walk like a good competitor. Stand tall and be proud of the art you have produced.


There is nothing in my family background that suggested I would become a director of forensics, professor, and administrator. My mother and my father’s brother are the only persons in my family to earn a four-year degree. College, especially graduate school, was a rather foreign concept in my family. My father spent most of his professional life as a school janitor. He worked 7-5 most of his life, and I never heard him complain about his profession, how he was treated, or lack of vacation days. His work ethic, his pride, and his treatment of others is impeccable and admirable. When I was younger, he gave the best piece of advice I have ever received. “Your mom and I will not be able to give you riches, fancy vacations, or the latests gadgets. We can give you something money cannot buy, a last name to be proud of, and what you do with it is up to you.” 

I often reflect on these words when I am tired and wanting to take the path of least resistance. Think about that legacy you want to leave behind and how you want your coaches and peers to remember you. When you compete, you represent your school, every competitor from your school’s past who has come before you, your family, and yourself. Maybe your school’s forensics program is steeped in tradition, or perhaps you are the first student in your school’s history to qualify for the national tournament. Regardless, take pride in who you represent, and make everyone remember your name for the right reasons. Remember, your signature is on everything you do.


I often hear students talk badly about other competitors, and I am sure I was guilty of this during my competitive days. I have heard competitors say they hope a good competitor has a memory lapse, goes overtime, does not get laughs, etc. This runs counter to achieving competitive excellence. How can you maximize your potential without competition? Competition is the bait that gets you to accomplish feats that you do not think are possible. You ought to be thanking your competition at tournaments. Competition is the reason you get on the bust at 5 a.m., competition is the reason you sign up for additional practice sessions, and competition is the reason why you continue to improve the communicative effectiveness of your event. The national tournament is about being surrounded by and competing with the best competitors in the country who share your same passion for speech. Embrace it!

Be the 2%!

I have had a busy month of workshops working with students from across the country. Coaches often ask me to talk about goal setting and the process required to reach a goal. I am often surprised by how few teams and students fail to set goals for the season, both individually and collectively. Without a vision, a goal, how do you know where and who you want to be? The fifth Principle of Success: Let Your Dreams Scare You! 

I firmly believe teams and students alike must set goals for what they want to accomplish. You must be able to see where you want to go! Do you visualize having success? Do you visualize being a state champion? Do you visualize being a national champion? Regardless of your goal, elite competitors visualize having success. You must see where you want to be. 

When setting a goal, make sure you are stretching your perceived limits. DREAMS SHOULD SCARE YOU! This means knowing the difference between a goal and an expectation. Expectation is what you have accomplished in the past. If you qualified for the state tournament the previous season, the expectation is to qualify again this season. A goal stretches you beyond your expectation. The goal would be to make the state final round. Your goal should exceed expectations. 

When setting a competitive goal, it should be measurable and concrete. “Having fun” is not a competitive goal. Be as specific as possible. It is easy to be mediocre. Roughly 2% of the population has the mindset to be great! If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough! 

Be the 2%!

Empathetic Leadership

Today, I awoke to a changing America, one that looks and feels very different from the American I have come to know.  Much of the night I contemplated what I would say to my two children, one a girl and one a boy with 2 best buds from Mexico. Some awoke from a dream this morning and for others a nightmare. We woke to division, fear, and deep hatred. I deeply struggled with how to approach this conversation, even for someone that should always know the right words in the right order. Today, I did not. 

I was harkened back to a lecture I gave this summer at our Summer Speech Institute. SSI has always been more than about winning tournaments. It is truly about finding your voice and developing the confidence and competence necessary to become an agent of change. Those with the ability to influence become the leaders, the original aim of a liberal arts education.  

I introduced the students to the concept of empathetic leadership. Some scholars argue empathy is the #1 skill a leader must possess in order to be successful. Empathy should be not confused with sympathy. Empathy means you recognize and understand someone’s feelings, how this impacts one’s needs, and how it shapes one’s perception. In a time when exclusion and incivility dominate our political and social landscapes, perhaps empathy is what we need to be teaching. 

I am convinced, more than ever, speech is the training ground where we foster a rebirth of and cultivate the next generation of empathetic leaders. Speech teaches emotional intelligence and perspective taking. It forces the speaker and the audience to look at problems from a different vantage point. It forces students to remove the coat of privilege. It forces us to put the needs of others before our own. 

I have spent all of my professional life teaching students words matter, that words are the most powerful weapon we possess. Words will always tell the story. It is more than just words. When the stakes in our country are high while simultaneously speech programs across the country are being cut, we can no longer sit idly when speech can do its part to teach a more tolerant, a more accepting, a more empathetic society. Our country desperately needs empathetic leaders. 

The tattoo on my wrist took on a different meaning today for me personally. It is reminder of why helping others find their voice is more important than ever. It symbolizes the need for empathy.

Always Focus Your Energy On Your Passions

I am often asked what are the key ingredients to being an elite competitor. While the ingredients can be numerous, PASSION and FOCUS are the foundational characteristics of every elite competitor. One must have the passion for what they are doing to persevere over the long haul and the focus to accomplish one’s ultimate goal. Allowing distractions, of any kind, to suck energy and misguide focus will derail any competitor and deflate joy.  

The fourth Principle of Success: Always Focus Your Energy On Your Passions. We are often presented with routine opportunities and choices that seem to have immediate inconsequential impact, yet the impact overtime becomes seismic. I often talk about the moment I was introduced to my passion. While trying to escape study hall with the amateur excuse of “I need to go to the bathroom” during my junior year, I was cornered by the decorated high school speech coach, Mrs. Sherry Langdahl. She asked me if I would fill in for a humorous duo due to illness. She promised it would only be for 1 week and I could resume my offseason cross country training the following week. One week turned into a 21 year PASSION!! 

I always wanted to give speech a try because it seemed fun and something I might excel at doing, but I was too focused on being an “athlete” because it was the cool thing to do. I was caught in the trap of trying to find me real passion while focusing my energy and giving attention to what I liked, not my PASSION. 

After completing two years of high school speech, I chose a speech scholarship over a cross country scholarship to attend the University of Mary, Bismarck, ND. My friends could not understand why I would forfeit every weekend to give speeches in a suit! Those likely reading this blog post understand why suiting up on Saturdays is a life changing experience. Speech led me to South Dakota State University to purse a master’s degree. 

Again, in graduate school I was focused on being a communication consultant because I saw the $$$$ dancing in my eyes. Yet, being around the energy of young adults, helping them find their voices and leading a team brought me a sense of pride and joy not replicated anywhere else. I followed my passion for teaching and mentoring to Gustavus Adolphus College where I spent 13 years. 

I have encountered many people and many obstacles attempting to prevent me from focusing on and enjoying my passion. Undoubtedly, you have and/or will encounter similar situations. Pursuing your passion will infuse you with energy and sharpen your focus enabling you to set your sights on the ultimate goal. 

Focusing your energy on your passion is a choice, a choice you have complete control of making. Today, I challenge you to place your energy where your passion lies. Successful people always focus their energy on their passions….always!! 

NEVER Let Someone Else Determine YOUR Success

NEVER Let Someone Else Determine YOUR Success

The third SPEAK2compete Principle of Success: NEVER LET SOMEONE ELSE DETERMINE YOUR SUCCESS. We often let someone else’s opinions and thoughts determine our aspirations. In other words, we allow someone else to become our reality. When we allow others to influence our dreams, we are no longer in control of our destiny and we become trapped.

Do NOT Apologize for SUCCESS

I am very transparent about my desire to everything I do. My parents believe you compete at everything you do. They instilled in me that life is competitive, so you better get used to competing at a young age. If there is a trophy/award to win, big or small, I want to win it. I first learned this value on the baseball field and in the hockey arena growing up in the parks of Valley City, ND. My competitiveness provided some level of success both athletically and academically in the form of MVP honors, work ethic awards, state championships, and scholarships.

This important lesson has stuck with me for the past 33 years, but my competitiveness has also created several challenges, especially as I have grown in my professional life. The more success one earns, the more critical and jealous people become. SPEAK2compete's second Principle of Success: DO NOT APOLOGIZE FOR SUCCESS!

Rather than work harder, critics tend to replace work ethic with pot shots in order to somehow reduce the competition or one's accomplishment. Excuses become disguised as criticisms. Many people do not possess the drive or commitment necessary to be successful and quite frankly, have no interest in working that hard. Over the past 9 years, I heard all kinds of reasons why my teams were successful from we write their speeches, cut their literature, to we make them practice 24 hrs. a day. We adopted the words of NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, "Today I will do what others won't so tomorrow I can do what others can't." We were successful because we were willing to pursue excellence at the highest level. We raised the standard when others thought we should not and could not.

Failure is critical to success, and success should not alway be defined by trophies. Success is a high standard by which one is willing to commit to on a daily basis. We do not sell you a trophy, but we do promise you a process that will teach you how to be successful. When you experience competitive excellence, you know you have earned it. This enables you to stay humble, stay motivated, and stay focused. More importantly, you will NEVER need to apologize for your success. Right now, STOP apologizing, to everyone, for your success. You earn the right to be successful.

This summer I received these words from Dan Smith, the former DOF at Bradley University,"'s OK to pursue excellence, and admit that we do. Because students learn much more with higher goals and standards, whether they ever reach them or not. Failing to admit this does them a disservice."

Do Not Let Anyone Steal Your Joy!

This summer I spent considerable time thinking about what makes someone successful. Recent events in my life, both personally and professionally, provided plenty of opportunity to reflect on my philosophies, the philosophies of others, and how I want to lead the rest of the my life. Through many trials, tribulations, and triumphs, the 8 Principles of Success evolved from these transformative experiences. Our team tried to live these principles in the classroom, in the forensics arena, and in our daily lives.

The first SPEAK2compete Principle of Success: DO NOT LET ANYONE STEAL YOUR JOY. Regardless of your passion, speech, athletics, music, theater, etc., we consume ourselves with it because we love it. It is our passion. It drives us. It motivates us. It is why we live. Obviously, it brings joy to our life. This is not to suggest we enjoy all aspects of our true passion. Anything worth having is worth earning, and earning comes with setbacks. Setbacks come in many forms, but most often it is people trying to steal our joy.

Never let someone else determine your self-worth. People will challenge your passion, questions its value, question your commitment. Basically, people will attempt to devalue what brings you joy. I have been told I am "just a coach." I have been told competition is NOT education. I have been told speech is not educational. I will not let anyone steal the joy my passion, coaching speech, gives me on a daily basis. Watching a student find his/her voice, advocating for his/her beliefs, and influencing an audience is infectious and energizing. It is what gets me out of bed in the morning. When we let people steal our joy, we let people dictate the direction of our life. This philosophy led me to co-found SPEAK2compete.

When faced with this challenge, I encourage you to identify YOUR WHY. In other words, why are you investing in your passion? Take the next week to really reflect on this question. A true competitor (yes, life is competitive) will routinely ask this question. Your answer will change and evolve over time, but never stop asking why. 

If you want to be successful in life, DO NOT LET ANYONE STEAL YOUR JOY!


SPEAK2compete's 8 Principles of Success

Over the next two weeks, I will begin to breakdown our principles of success. These principles are principles that will not only set you on the path to success in forensics, but the principles will enable you to win at life. Continue to read our blog to learn more about the 8 Principles of Success.

1. Never let anyone steal your joy
2. Never apologize for success
3. Never let someone else determine your success
4. Always focus your energy on your passions
5. Always let your dreams scare you
6. Always surround yourself with high achievers
7. Always live with gratitude
8. Always FOCUS on the PROCESS


A New Beginning

Gustavus Adolphus College has become my identity the past 13 years, and I am genuinely appreciative of the opportunity to work for a prestigious college and serve a dedicated group of students. Thank you again for entrusting me with Gustavus' rich forensics tradition. The 2015 Gustavus Summer Speech Institute will be my last official function as the Director of Forensics.

I am extremely proud of the Gustavus Forensics’ accomplishments, including being 1 of 11 schools in history of college speech to be ranked in the elite top 10 at the AFA-NIET five consecutive years, 72 AFA-NIET out round participants, including twelve national finalists, five AFA-NIET All-American competitors, six Minnesota Collegiate Forensics Association State Championships, and 79 individual State Champions.

The time has come for a new beginning, SPEAK2compete. I often talk to my students about COMMITTING BIG and being ALL IN. I am ALL IN with Speak2compete. I cannot envision myself not being involved in forensics. I will fight for this activity until the day I die because if I do not fight, some little kid somewhere will not have the opportunity to find their voice. I would be a hypocrite to every student I have coached and every camp kid if I did not fight, and too many are trying to silence these voices. It is what gets me out of bed in the morning, makes my blood boil, and what drives me. I owe everything I have accomplished to the game changer in my life, speech. I hope SPEAK2compete will allow everyone to SPEAK.



Today's Tip: Use Music To Get Pumped Up

Science has shown that listening to music with a strong bass line can produce feelings of power. Feeling powerful can help you be confident while preparing, or delivering a speech. We suggest creating a new pump up playlist for you and your team to listen to on the bus or van before each tournament. This is a great way to help build a confident team environment. Help us create our pump up playlist on Spotify on our "The Process Starts Here " playlist !

Today's tip: Preparing for a Coaching Appointment

Reflect on the last speech season and ask yourself, "What process did I follow to prepare for coaching appointments last year?". If you find yourself saying, "what do you mean process to prepare for coaching?", we suggest sitting down and drafting a plan. Here is an example that you can utilize to help draft your coaching prep plan:

Coaching Prep Plan

Who: I will coach with my coach and at least one other person

What: I will do at least one complete run through and one stop go practice in front of another person. I will wear my suit jacket and tournament shoes for every practice (this probably means I will have to get it cleaned a few more times)

Where: I will meet in my high school coaches classroom and I will Skype with a SPEAK2compete coach

When: I will coach with another person for 2 hours every week

Why: I want to be a state champion and my speech is about fine arts funding 

How: I will contact my coaches at my school and the coaches at SPEAK2compete now to make sure that I can follow through with my coaching prep plan