Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Issue of Commitment - 23rd October

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes... but no plans.”
                                                                                                  Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005)
Our last Algoa Toastmasters Club meeting seemed destined to be a bit of a flop – but we should have known better. Despite the fact that, for a variety of reasons, members had been unable to fulfil their planned speaking commitments, and then at the last moment, technology let us down – as can be its wont – we found ourselves looking at a meeting comprising two prepared speeches – and an Educational.
Serendipity is an amazing thing though, is it not?
We enjoyed Deborah Stephenson’s CC5 speech (Your body speaks) entitled Green gold is my story – and then we were treated to some delicious green gold olives.
Advanced speaker, Reinhardt Botha (AC3 – The Entertaining Speaker manual) regaled us with his humorous speech, The Perils of PhD Parenting.

The highlight of the evening happened, however, when our VP Membership, Antoinette Baatjes did her educational speech on Keeping the Commitment and proceeded to induct two new members, Gideon Smith and Atherick Bott.
Part of the Induction ceremony involves the inductees reciting a pledge and then members of the club reciprocating by stating a similar pledge. Over the past fifteen plus years I have declaimed it many times, but Antoinette’s educational brought its value back to me so powerfully. For those of you who may have forgotten it, here it is:
As a member of Toastmasters International and my club, I promise:
  • To attend club meetings regularly;
  • To prepare all my speeches to the best of my ability, basing them on Manual projects;
  • To prepare for and fulfil meeting assignments;
  • To provide fellow members with helpful, constructive evaluations;
  • To help the club maintain a positive, friendly environment, so that all can learn and grow;
  • To serve my club as an officer when called upon to do so;
  • To treat my fellow club members and our guests with respect and courtesy;
  • To bring guests to club meetings so they can see the benefits of Toastmasters membership;
  • To adhere to the guidelines and rules for Toastmasters educational and recognition programs;
  • To maintain honest and ethical standards during the conduct of all Toastmasters activities.
As much as these ten promises apply to our membership of Toastmasters, they also apply to other areas of our lives where commitment can mean the difference between success and failure. Broadly speaking, our commitment can be divided into four categories:
Participation – This area covers the first three promise areas of regular attendance and preparation. I am reminded of the Nike slogan, Just do it! All that is required for success is that every member arrives and fulfils his commitments (or makes timeous arrangements if he can’t)
 Interaction – Success seldom happens in isolation. After all, we are at Toastmasters because of a common goal. Our evaluations must be constructive and encouraging. This ensures a positive growth environment for members – and the club.
Fellowship – This speaks to the concept of mutual respect and service. Being called upon to serve as a Club Officer is like ‘paying your dues’ – giving something back for the services rendered to you by others.
Creating a Pleasant and Stimulating Atmosphere – Continuation of a club happens when members share what they have discovered. So too, abiding by standards determined by our parent organisation ensures a feeling of security, which is conducive to growth.
 It’s very easy to forget why we joined Toastmasters; or to think that it is a one-way relationship: we pay our dues (literally) and in exchange we expect to get the skills and the Toastmasters qualification. I found the following, which really sums it up for me:
“Commitment, by its nature, frees us from ourselves and, while it stands us in opposition to some, it joins us with others similarly committed. Commitment moves us from the mirror trap of the self-absorbed with the self to the freedom of a community of shared values.”
                                                                                                    Michael Lewis
So, let’s think about what we expect from Toastmasters, but let’s also think about what we need to give in order for our goals to be reached.
Until next time
Ricky Woods

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Whole is greater than the Parts - 9th October

Flower Power Conference Adds Toastmasters Value

This past weekend saw close on two hundred Toastmasters from all over Southern Africa make their way to Kirstenbosch gardens, nestled beneath the majesty of Table Mountain as it was time again for MiniCon.

Traditionally, this is the time for the Humorous Speech Contest, but for the first time the Impromptu Contest was also defended.

Friday night saw Cape Town funny man; Rob van Vuuren (of Corné and Twakkie fame) entertained the delegates after the cocktail meet and greet with his particular brand of humour.

Thereafter, a closely fought Impromptu Speech Competition was held. For those delegates who were used to the one word or short phrase impromptu topic, there was a surprise in store. What would you have made of the following topic ‘Dr Seuss said: Sometimes the questions are complicated, but the answers are simple. What do you think?’ In any event, the hardy contestants were not put out and came up with some wonderful responses. Congratulations to the winner, Graham Shirley!

Early Saturday morning the brightly dressed delegates (in honour of the Flower Power theme of the Conference) were raring to go. The Flag Ceremony was followed by introductions and welcomes and then we were inspired by the keynote speaker, comedian and entertainer, Allan Committie (known by all for his wonderfully popular Defending the Caveman). His easy, interactive style had the whole audience laughing and learning – which is what Toastmasters is all about, not so? All too soon an hour had passed and it was time for more serious matters – the Hall of Fame, where Toastmasters and their clubs were acknowledged for their achievements of the past year. Special congratulations go to all the Division E Toastmasters for achieving their own goals – and for enabling the Division to achieve Select Distinguished Division status!

Another change that was rung was the introduction of the Afrikaanse Humoristiese Skouspel. Following on from the Zulu speech contest in May this year, we were treated to the best of Afrikaans humour by four intrepid Toastmasters. The winner, from the West Rand, had the audience howling with her account of a family trying out a new motor boat on the Vaal Dam during a time of extreme cold, because Boot gaan ons boot! (Roughly translated that means, ‘we have a boat, so we are going to use it!’ – it was a whole lot funnier in Afrikaans)

A choice of three workshops followed. I was really impressed with the presentation on Becoming Better Impromptu Speakers and those delegates who attended the other two: On Speaking as a Leader; and the Discussion Leader, were equally satisfied.

After a really delicious lunch, it was time for the Humorous Speech Contest. Eight contestants delivered their best material and we found ourselves transported with them to scenes of trout fishing; road rage and India. Our congratulations go to Biddy White from KZN on taking home the winner’s trophy this year. Sadly, our own Nicholas Mitchell was not placed, but we all enjoyed his speech, Why Four? (or should we say Five?)

Executive members then went on to do the business of Toastmasters.

Later that evening after the Banquet members were inspired and empowered to embrace change by extreme adventurer, Braam Malherbe who regaled them with accounts of his work in conservation. Truly, this was a fitting end to a weekend of learning and growth.

So, I look back over a weekend of amazing moments and can truthfully say that the whole experience was so much more than the sum of its parts. If you are looking for some inspiration; for an experience that will motivate and stimulate you to greater achievement, then look no further than the next Conference – MaxiCon 2013 (called most aptly, LeaderCon). It will be held in Gauteng and details (including Early Bird special price offers) will be available very soon. Watch this space.

Until next time
Ricky Woods

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On Bucket Lists and Choices - 25 September

Why do we do the things we do?

 For the past eight weeks I have been involved in running a Speechcraft course for one of the local banks. Someone from their HR department had attended a course earlier in the year and was convinced that it was the kind of thing that could be done at a corporate level, so we did.
As I think back over what has been an amazing journey, I am reminded of a young lady who, at the first meeting, was unable to participate in the Table Topics – she was simply terrified. Despite her fear, she continued and before the programme had run its course, she had volunteered to be Toastmaster – quite a leap, as we all know.
Then there was a man who was confident and charming; quite at ease in front of an audience. I wondered whether he even needed our help. But tragedy struck when his wife miscarried their first child and I recall his face filled with pain when he spoke at the next meeting of trust in times of trouble.

During our time together we learned that one of the young men in our group had been selected for a project to work in London; and of the promotion to branch manager of a motherly, caring older woman. We discovered that amongst us were mothers and fathers, single parents and foster parents. There was one who had been raised in an orphanage and a couple who had been born in Zimbabwe. Although they all worked for the same company, many of them had never met before they embarked upon this adventure together.

Last Tuesday saw the culmination of the course, complete with Graduation certificates and a time of celebration afterwards. I invited Glenis Whitehead, as our Division Governor, to be the guest speaker at this event and it was suitably fitting that she spoke on Choices and challenged us all to make a bucket list of things we still wanted to do and to achieve. I found myself thinking about the people in the group who, despite their own particular challenges, had chosen to do this Speechcraft Course and whose lives would forever be changed – and connected – as a result.

I do believe in serendipity – some wonderful things just happen; but I also believe in the well-known lines from the poem, Invictus by William Ernest Henley, ‘I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul’. So, much as Glenis challenged us last week, I want to extend that challenge to you: In your Toastmasters world and in your private life; decide what you want to achieve and make it happen!

While we were there, Algoa had another of its usual fun-filled meetings. Despite some initial panic owing to the fact that some of the role players were not able to attend, others stepped up and it made for a really special meeting.
Toastmaster for the evening, Mariannah Lourens, introduced a theme on the joys of public speaking. In her introduction, she enumerated some positive tips from Dale Carnegie, which make a lot of sense:
 • Do the thing you fear the most – it’s the quickest way to conquer that fear
• Give your best to the small jobs
• Do the difficult stuff first
• Act enthusiastic – and you will be enthusiastic.

Tom Horne had the group make good use of their linguistic abilities, as they had to describe various items in such a way that a Martian would understand them. Mr Table Topics Martian . ! Once again the prepared speeches covered a range of CC levels. Anton Barkhuizen (CC3 – Get to the Point) informed club members of the factors involved in having and maintain a Magnificent Mind. Included were the food we eat, exercise, water – and avoiding a toxic environment. Food for thought? Trevor Wells (CC5 – Your Body Speaks) had the audience captivated as he recounted his attempts to find the woman of his dreams on the dance floor with his speech entitled Searching for Love. Finally, Marlene van Wyk gave a very well received educational speech from the Leadership Excellence Series entitled Motivating People. One piece of advice that pertains to everyone, but to Toastmasters in particular is the following: “Practice will help you go from bad, to good, to great, to gold”

The Toast of the evening, by Liandra Schoultz, was a bit of a shock. It was to holidays and festivities – because the Christmas decorations are already up in the shops! That takes me back to the idea of bucket lists.
Surely it feels as if it were only a short while ago that we were making resolutions for 2012? Now we are planning year-end functions.
What had you planned to do that you have not done?
Until next time
Ricky Woods