Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pondering on the past year: some perspectives

Last night I attended another Algoa Toastmasters Induction dinner.

Many things were the same as last year: the torrential downpour that greeted us on the way to the dinner; the welcome glasses of sherry at the door; the genteel ambiance of the PE Women’s Club and, of course, the friendly faces of fellow Algoa Toastmasters members.  This is one event in the year which some of our long-suffering partners do attend and it was lovely to see people I had last seen a year before.

An Induction Dinner is a time for reflecting on the year that has past. I found myself looking at the very first blog I had written one year ago.  There I read that Algoa was officially the largest club in District 74.  I don’t know if this is still the case, but I do know that our numbers have continued to grow and that we still regularly entertain visitors who go on to become members. Clearly, we must be doing something right!
The evening of fine food and entertaining conversation had a number of highlights.  Firstly, there were the annual awards made by outgoing president, Denise Pudney, to whom we pay tribute for her gentle strength in leadership this past year.

Congratulations to those who were acknowledged for their exceptional contributions or achievements in various areas:

  • Most Improved Speaker – Angie Kivido
  • Most Improved Evaluator – Jessamy Kromhout
  • Most Enthusiastic Toastmaster – Mike Brosnahan
  • Toastmaster of the Year – Marianah Lourens
  • Community Service – Ricky Woods
Certificates for adding exceptional value to the life of our club were awarded by Glenis Whitehead to Denise Pudney and Marlene Vosloo

Then it was time for our Division Governor, Glenis Whitehead, to discharge the outgoing Executive of their duties and to install the new Executive for 2013-2014. Alison Immelman, the new president, reminded members in a heartfelt message to Grow, Learn and Teach as the ‘family’ that is Algoa Toastmasters works towards its separate and combined goals.


But we certainly did leave the best for last.  Our guest speaker is a grande dame of education in the Eastern Cape, retired school principal of Riebeek Girls’ High, Natalie Stear. In a speech filled with compassion for those who have not experienced the benefits of a privileged education, she related her experiences while marking the current English Olympiad, In Camera. Injected with moments of humour, her speech brought home very clearly the plight of so many of our young people who look with fear at a future filled with little hope unless those in power are held accountable for their actions.

I said at the outset that many things were the same as last year, but in many ways nothing was. I know that I speak for all who attended when I say that we were warmed and encouraged by the events of the evening to continue to strive for the attainment of our goals.

On a lighter note – I was thrilled to hear the following poem by Marlene Vosloo as the introduction to her role as grammarian at our last club meeting.

As grammarian this evening, suffice it to say

That I will present the word of the day.
Use it all night as much as you can.
Don’t look so shocked, Toastmasters; make a plan!
When speaking tonight, watch your ps and qs
And remember the plural of you is not yous!
Split infinitives, correct tenses and rules of concord
I’ll listen for these - hope I won’t get too bored
Use picturesque speech; let your grammar go to town
Paint your language bright red, not boring shades of brown!
As the end of the evening finally draws near
I’ll report back to the GE… but do not fear.
My report in this case will be short and sweet
For hearing Toastmasters in action is always a treat!

As a teacher of English and grammarian by habit, I loved it!  Any other offers?

Until next time

Ricky Woods

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Re-kindle that fire!

Unless you deliberately do what Stephen Covey said in his seminal work Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that is, ‘sharpen the saw’ – a 21st Century lifestyle can soon leave you feeling chewed up and spat out with no resources to carry on.

This is true of every aspect of our lives and those of you who do a lot extra in Toastmasters may be able to attest to the fact that sometimes one feels ‘Toastmastered out!’ Two meeting per month, plus another one if you belong to a second club. More, if you happen to be serving on an executive. Then assisting at a Youth Leadership Training Course or two; popping in to lend a hand at the university club or to be an evaluator at a Speechcraft course. Club Officer training, speech competitions and public relations drives – the list is endless!

All of this and you have not had a chance to look at your own manuals to meet any of your own educational or leadership goals – and pretty soon you will feel like giving up.

I want to encourage you here not to lose sight of the reason you joined Toastmasters: it might have been purely that you were dragged along by an enthusiastic friend and you have stayed to keep that friend company. It might more likely have been because your job requires you to make presentations and that you feel inadequate to do so. It could even be that you have heard that being able to speak in public is a sure way to fast-track your success in the company you work for.

Whatever your reason, ensure that you are assigned to a mentor as soon as you join a club. This will be a person who is further along the road than you are, who will be able to guide you in the preparation of your speeches and can warn you of some of the pitfalls you may encounter. Remember, your mentor will do as much or as little as you ask of him or her, so it is up to you to get the benefit as you can from the relationship.

So, what about sharpening the saw?  Covey defines this as taking time to renew yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 

One of the ways to do this in Toastmasters presents itself twice a year in the form of the Mini- and Maxi-conferences.  A number of us from Algoa were fortunate enough last weekend to benefit from just such a saw-sharpening conference at LeaderCon.  Set in a most convivial environment, the Indaba Hotel at Fourways, this conference gave us plenty of food – for our minds, our emotions and our spirits. Also physically - with a superb array of food to satisfy even the most discerning of tastes.

Keynote speakers were Mark Brown and Ed Tate, both World Champion speakers from the USA. Our own Douglas Kruger, many times a winner of the International Speech contest in South Africa and runner up in the World Championships, also showed us some of the tricks of his trade. Other noteworthy speakers were Helen Nicholson who introduced us to the concept of Mastering Networking and Julie Filmer whose ‘Donkey Logic’ helped her to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as a tribute to her late husband.

A young man who charmed his way into our hearts was 12 year-old Jordan van der Walt. He realised some time ago that offering hungry children Easter eggs once a year was not the solution to real hunger. With the aid of his principal and a challenge to his school and others the Just one Bag initiative was started, resulting in the collection of literally tons of mealie meal for distribution to the hungry.

Emotional highlights came in the form of a heartfelt presentation by Tina Botha, mother of Chris
Corlett who died of lymphoblastic leukaemia, who founded the Sunflower Fund to raise funds for a larger bone marrow registry in South Africa. There were not many dry eyes left after she had spoken.

Add to that incredible input the Evaluation Contest and the outstanding speeches at the International Speech Contest and you have a recipe for inspiration.  Our congratulations go to the winners, Louis Nigrini and Jabulani Mangena , respectively.    Jabulani, you take the hopes and dreams of District 74 with you to the International Convention in August!

I could go on listing the inspirational speakers we heard and the lessons we learned, but instead I want to challenge you: when you feel that this whole Toastmasters thing is taking more out of you than you are getting in return; go along to a Conference. The next one is the weekend of 11 October in Johannesburg. If you want more details, check out the Toastmasters website .

Come on, re-kindle that fire!

Until next time

Ricky Woods