Friday, December 18, 2015

Ho ho ho!

Like Mohamed Ali so often said,” The champ is here!” well, I say, “Algoa Toastmasters, Port Elizabeth is here, with a BANG!”
It’s my favorite time of the year, Christmas Time.

I am not sure what the Christmas season means to, you as an individual and what it is that you are celebrating. For me, the exchange of gifts, travelling and rest from work for many of us, reminds me so much of the biggest gift that our Heavenly father gave to all humanity, his only son Jesus Christ. So go on and give those gifts, and give me some also.
I am sooo sad though that, today, the 8th December 2015 is our last meeting for the year, however, never fear when Algoa Toastmasters is near, as the 12 January 2016 is coming soon when we will meet again, so don’t cry South Africa.
Intelligent people always say be very careful what you do to your children as they will have those memories for the rest of their lives.
I decided to go down memory lane and find out how people celebrated Christmas when they were children and I was amazed at the precise answers that I received from the speakers as they still remembered like they were kids, not so long ago.
I had the honor, privilege and grace of being the Madam Toastmaster for this particular night. Obviously with the support of my wonderful fellow toastmasters. I am a music lover, or “musaholic”, my new invented word and to me, such a supportive and synchronized environment at Algoa Toastmasters reminds me so much of my favourite songs that I love to dance to. For instance, the song, “We are the World”, to mention just one. I enjoy that song so much and sing along to all the different singers and instruments. I hardly ever think of the fact that in order for that particular song to sound so beautiful, different people have to come together and each one had to play their part skillfully to make the song what it is, people such as:
        Singers of various parts
If one of the above mentioned is out of sync, the song will not sound as beautiful as it should. Instead it will sound like a horse is singing and you don’t want to hear that.
Trust me, any meeting at Algoa, to me is like a beautiful, sounds of music, because we all love, support, encourage and help one another become the best that we can be and I am forever thankful I joined this club.

Our prepared speeches by Zikona, Deborah, Louise and Megan were outstanding and I felt like I was in parliament as the above speeches were very well researched by all the speakers  If you want to learn life’s lessons at a minimal cost, this is the place to be, definitely. Just to bring music to your ears and make you feel like you were at the meeting....
From the first speaker: Zikona, I learnt many ways and means of saving electricity. Just imagine if we all as South Africans adopted this mentality of saving electricity instead of wasting it. I believe we would have no need of load shedding. Just a few lessons, such as:
        Using energy saving light bulbs
        Switching off your lights when you don’t need them, e.g., don’t light the whole house when you are stationed only in one room and
        Switching off the unused electricity utensils, such as televisions, radios, etc….
Mom Z. I think they must give you a slot on SABC to spread this message………

The second speaker, Deborah taught us the pros of line dancing as there are no cons, and I believe her. This dancing can be done by people of all ages, body sizes and shapes, no discrimination and my goodness, it’s beautiful. I am definitely in as I am not a fan of any other types of exercise. It is fun, everybody can join in and have a blast at the same time. This funky and life loving lady is 64 years old herself but she looks, not a day older than 46, now I know why.
Thank you Mom D.

Now this lady, our third speaker Louise, came up with quite a touchy yet profound topic: Men’s health. Isn’t this the most neglected, yet necessary topic to talk about? I certainly think so. I would like to appeal to all ladies to please encourage the men in their lives - brothers, husbands, boyfriends, the works, to go for those regular checkups because “prostate cancer” is killing our men just the same way that breast cancer is these days.

You see, men are not like us women because we can meet as strangers at any bathroom and show each other our scars and stretches and by the time we leave the bathroom, we are friends and have given each other therapy. Well, men are not quite like that, they can be quite shy to share their weaknesses and illnesses, hence I am appealing to you ladies to help them as this is easy for most of us to do.
Well done Sis L.

Our fourth and final speaker for the night was Megan. Now! I for one am not an easily trusting person, I have to really know you before I tell you my heart. When I came to Algoa Toastmasters however, it did not take me long to let my guard down, when I realized the calibre of people surrounding me. Megan was proof of this when she bravely shared a true and emotional story. Well done to you toasters for being, like Dr. Phil, so profoundly puts it, such a “soft place to fall”
Megs you rock and roll

As I mentioned earlier, Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, however, as we have fun at the beach, travelling and meeting new and interesting people, I would like to appeal to everybody to please be on the lookout of dodgy characters and don’t find yourself a victim. Parents, please watch your children like hawks and don’t let them out of your sight and please don’t trust anybody with your precious children.
If you are enjoying yourselves at the beach, please only swim at demarcated areas and don’t give life guards a tough time. You don’t want to be a Christmas lunch for sharks as, believe me, they too know that it’s Christmas time and they will get free Kentucky which could be your leg. Don’t let that happen to you.

From my side till next time, have a blessed 2015 and a prosperous 2016!
CIAO FOR Now, signing off:

Thandi Swekile

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Well, well, well!
Hello everybody and a warm welcome to Algoa Toastmasters!
What time is it? It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee………. For some of you, it might  just be time to wake up and join Algoa Toastmasters!
Our meetings take place every alternative Tuesdays and are always filled with the riches of wisdom from ordinary people. “Who needs google when surrounded by so much wealth of knowledge at every meeting”. Well the meeting that took place this Tuesday, 13 October, was just as extraordinary.
I always listen to speeches without giving much thought to what goes on in terms of preparation and how much time you need to take preparing your speech.
Wow, I think this is particularly difficult for those of you who, like me, can talk the whole day long without considering this valuable asset….. “TIME”.
Please forgive me, as I am not only a woman, but I grew up in the then Transkei, where things were done till the cows literally came home, whatever time that was as long as it was before dark. Granny would tell me I could play outside and return home before the cows were in the kraal, not at 6 o’clock or whatever o’clock. Life in the rural areas was very nice.

I had the privilege of being responsible for timing all the speeches and got the shock of my life at how fast a minute goes before you are expected to wrap up. The one minute table topic speech topics were very well prepared this week by our lovely Zanele Hartman. I was enjoying the prepared speeches which are supposed to take between 5 to 7 minutes and, as they say, time flies when you are having fun.
Seriously, it never occurred to me that you don’t only practice your speech but have to time yourself too. Speaking over time generally is not only due to a lack of preparation, but is disrespectful to other people’s valuable time, their most valuable asset. Tell that to some speakers out there, at some big stadiums, who go on, and on, and on, till I even lose the value of what they were saying, and start yawning or budgeting in my head, sjoe!
You’ve done it too, I know you have. No such thing at Toastmasters as all speeches were interesting and well timed. I wanted more, but time was up!
Valuable lesson for me at toastmasters, hopefully for you too.

The clock speaks, it says,” Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock or if you are South African, it feels sorry for you and goes something like, nci nci nci nci…..
Going onto the prepared speeches, if you were absent, you missed out on quite alot.
Whilst our first speaker, Awonke’s topic was about the richest man who had ever lived - Mr Musa. I was thinking to myself, in anticipation “alright, so where is he going with this, as I couldn’t wait”. Well I got bowled over by the valuable message as he described the good things the rich man did with his money. Well, we can’t all be financially wealthy, however, according to the wise suggestion by Awonke, we all should strive for balance of:
  • ·         Love in our lives
  • ·         Life experiences- ever heard the saying, “live a little”? and
  • ·         Money or financial provision

Because, as per Awonke, lack in any of these will disrupt the synchronization of our lives. What’s the point of having all the money in the world and no love or life experiences?
I don’t know about you but I agree with this wise speaker. Well, what’s the point of being rich if you cannot sponsor others to fulfil their dreams either by just living for yourself! 

Well our second speaker answers this question, I think.
Our second speaker of the night was Warren Tagg. Horse racing, according to this gentleman is rare because of it being such an expensive sport. Why is that and I would like to challenge those in the sporting field to sponsor those children who are interested in taking this sport further. If we want to put South Africa on the map, then money has to start rolling from somewhere…..hint, hint, (Department of Sport and Recreation)?

“Go on, empty those pockets for a good cause, and don’t be afraid, it’s a good investment”. Some are too afraid to sponsor others as they think they themselves will run out. 

What does it mean to be afraid or to fear, find the answer in the wisdom of our third speaker!

False Expectations Appearing Real

In the wise words of our third speaker, Themba Mvuleni, that fear is overrated. What do you think?
Has fear ever stopped you from accomplishing something that you should have accomplished? Have you ever:

  • ·         Missed out on an opportunity?
  • ·         Lost a girl you should have dated to a loser with a big mouth just because you were too afraid to ask her out?
  • ·         Lost a promotion to a job you were very much capable of doing just because you were too afraid to attend the interview or did not think you were good enough?
·         The list goes on and I would like you to make a list of all the things that you lost in life and the wrong decisions you made, where fear was your motivating factor for making those decisions. Well, come on, what are you waiting for? Pen and paper and make that list, good exercise, don’t you think? My pen and paper is handy, as I’m not giving this demon called fear any more power.
I love what Joyce Meyer says in one of her teachings. She says, “Just do it afraid, because we cannot always wait until the feeling of fear is gone before we make good and courageous decisions”. I’ll take that advice for myself.

Fear goes further than meets the eye. Well as a customer, have you ever been afraid to stand up for your rights and just took bad service because, perhaps you’re too afraid that if you speak up, somebody might lose their job?
Well, our last speaker very boldly explained all about Customer Service, what it is and what it’s not. Is there still good customer service in South Africa or is this phenomena fading away like a breeze?
I was quite interested when our last speaker Mimi Makupula took to the stage. I have wealth of experience in my chosen job and am one of the best. I sometimes think I have heard it all and have seen it all. I know what the customer wants and needs. Well, according to Mimi, I could not be more wrong, and I agree with her. This wise lady advised that when dealing with a customer, as the one giving the service:
  • ·         Listen to the customer and listen to what they are saying
  • ·         Give the customer what they are asking for and not what you think they want
  • ·         Don’t think you can finish the customer’s sentence as they may want something different from what you think.
  • ·         Listen with empathy

I could not agree more.
What are your good and bad experiences regarding the service that you have received as a customer? Well I will share one of my many.
Once upon a time I had decided to buy myself a laptop in order to make my life easier. I headed for this particular dealer (no names mentioned). The salesman showed no interest in what I was saying. He was annoyed at any question that I asked him and gave me the shortest possible answer, at times not even looking at me. I decided that fine, I will not report him to the manager but this shop is definitely NOT getting my hard earned money, so I walked out and went to the same shop but a different branch. Here the saleslady treated me with respect, answered all my questions and concerns and this is where I bought my laptop.
The sad thing is that because of that one salesman, I will tell my friends, “don’t go to that branch, but go to that one”.
That’s just how the cookie crumbles, hey. I chose to rather spend more petrol to get good service. By the looks of things, I am not the only one who thinks this way, per the extract below:
Want to get more people talking about your company? Don’t hire “influencers.” Instead offer amazing, blow-your-mind service instead. A new survey from American Express finds that outstanding service prompts customers to open both their wallets and their mouths. The survey finds: More than two thirds of American consumers say they’re willing to spend 14% more on […]
I would like to sincerely thank not only our speakers but all participants at Algoa Toastmasters, where nobody is idle, but contributes for the good of the team!
Go Team Algoa Toastmasters!!! Catch us on facebook…..
Well, well, till we meet again!
Ciao for now

Thandi Swekile

Sunday, October 4, 2015

TO:         Mr and Madame Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters, “oh, and especially our guests”!

I love many things in life, music is one of them, actually, I am a music junky or fanatic. I have always told myself and friends who were willing to listen to my crazy stories that I would pay R 1000 for Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and the likes whilst they were still alive. They passed away unfortunately and have now joined the choir of angels.
Still though, I would still pay a fortune for the likes of Celine Deon, Usher and Beyonce’, to mention but a few.

My brother would pay his whole salary to attend any workshop if he knew it would be hosted by his hero, Carl Lewis. “That one is a sports mad dog, if you know what I mean".

Well, before I joined Toastmasters, I did not know that there were champion Speakers!! I have no doubt that if you:
  • Were Born in the 70’s ie before when children were seen and not heard
  • Are a Sales Consultant and would love to improve you speaking and bring in those dollars for your company
  • Want to brush up on your communication skills
  • Are or have been a toastmaster for while

I know you would like to meet, your own hero. “Well who am I talking about”? DRUM ROLL............

He is none other than, yes, the one and only, a 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking, Mr. Lance Miller!!!

See you on Tuesday!!!

Thandi Swekile

Thursday, September 10, 2015

POTENTIAL - Tuesday 8th September 2015
I have to say that the very minute I walked into this club, I felt at home. I always look forward to every alternate Tuesday of the month from 17:45 to 20:00.
I learn a lot every time without fail. What I like the most is that everyone is encouraged to learn, grow and be corrected in a loving and safe environment. It is not like work or school where you feel like if you have made a mistake, you are made to feel like you have killed the pope himself.
One can definitely grow in confidence in this kind of environment. I particularly love the speech evaluations where positive feedback is given, where speakers of the night are both encouraged and given constructive criticism.
Tonight, my enthusiasm was definitely not deflated.
Starting with our Table Topics- (Impromptu- speaking and thinking on our feet was encouraged.)
·         You get to learn to speak for a minute on non-researched and non- prepared speeches.

Tonight’s topic took the direction of “Potential”, where the inspiration behind these topics was the late Miles Munroe, affectionately known as “Mr. Potential”

This legend visited South Africa and said something quite disturbing in my opinion, and mentioned that our gold mines in which we take pride are actually not our richest resource, but our cemeteries. “Oh, my goodness, how could that be and whatever did this man mean”.
Well, the reason for his intriguing statement is because at our cemeteries, lay many riches, such as, to mention but a few:
1.       Businesses that were never started.
2.       Books that were never written
3.       Music that was never sung
4.       Relationships that were never started
5.       Dreams that were never fulfilled
6.       Miracles that were never allowed to surface
7.       Opportunities that were never ceased
The list goes, on and on, and on, you can fill in the rest.
I was amazed at the wisdom in speeches of everyone who participated.
I know you are reading this blog and you may not belong to any Toastmaster’s Club, but I would like to pose the following questions to you to think about:
·         Will you die empty or full?
·         What or who is possibly stopping you from fulfilling your God-given dreams and visions?
·         Could you be robbing us of yourself and your gifts?
If the answer is ‘YES’ to any of these questions, my last question to you is, “So what will it take for you to die empty?
Moving right along…..
Goodness me! The prepared speeches were outstanding, could’t hear a penny drop during the speech sessions. One of which – by Igor Lesko - focused on one of the biggest monsters in our country, “ROAD RAGE”.
The very next day as I was on my way to work and had a glimpse of this monster as, one woman driver failed to stop at the demarcated “stop sign”. We have our own mini dramas in P.E. too - Jo’burgers, not only you!  Anyway, this lady nearly caused a nasty accident with a car that was driving straight. This driver stopped for a while and instead of carrying straight on, as was his original direction, he turned right and sped after her.
I was so afraid and very thankful that I was not going that direction, as I could only imagine what would happen. I could not, however, stop wondering what happed or how the confrontation unfolded.
This gentleman in my opinion was well within his right to be angry and shocked – but was it really necessary to follow this woman? I am not too sure about that! “What do you think fellow readers?”
Another very true story was told by one of the brilliant fellow toastmasters – Megan Judd - in a story telling form, based on how one of the world’s cruelest leaders was raised. I will not mention his name, just in case his great grand-son or daughter is reading this blog and decides to sue me.
This leader caused much harm to many innocent people in the world. It turns out that he was abused as a child, emotionally, physically and I would even conclude that he was spiritually wounded too. Someone said that wounded people wound others.
Listening to this story made me wonder if abused children also go on to be abusers as adults? It also made me wonder if some people ever overcome their childhood demons? It also made me wonder whether or not it’s fair for the whole world to suffer just because one person was abused?
What is your opinion as you are reading this blog?
Above all though, the best speaker of the night was Awonke Mbete. Wow! as he bravely completed his very first public speech and broke the fear of public speaking. You see, he found safety in the midst of supportive people at Algoa Toastmasters!!!
I will end by following in the footsteps of our fellow toastmaster, Warren Tagg and ask you all South Africans to share a toast to our freedom.

Let us remember that many people of all races, men and women fought for the democracy that we are enjoying today.
Celebrate it and don’t take it for granted!
Follow us on facebook; we would love to hear your comments.
 Ciao for now!!!
Thandi Swekile

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Voluntary Victory

A Toastmaster and a lawyer die and go up to the heavenly gates. Saint Peter tells the Toastmaster to wait and lets the lawyer in first. As the gates close, he sees the lawyer greeted with fanfare, music and cheers. A choir of angels descends from above and sings for the lawyer.

As the last anger floats away, Saint Peter finally grants entrance to the Toastmaster.  There is no music, no choir. Confused, the Toastmaster looks to Saint peter for an explanation. 

"Oh, we get Toastmasters volunteering here all the time. This was our first lawyer"

We all come to Toastmasters for different reasons., but basically, it's about that age-old fear of speaking in public.  Once we have been here for a while and our butterflies are flying in formation, our vision shifts and our perspectives tend to change. Some people are quite clear on it - they have come to Toastmasters to learn a skill.  Once they have earned their CC, they leave - job done.  But for others it becomes a way of life; it is who we are.  And for those of us who class ourselves in this group, it becomes the time to volunteer to give back.

Every year - in fact, twice every year , at Club, Area, division and District levels, Speech Contests are held for the purpose of determining who the best speakers are in the Humorous, Impromptu, Evaluation and International categories.  And every year those officers who are responsible for the running of these contests ask for volunteers to assist with the various roles, be they Contest Chairman, judges, timekeepers or tally counters. The strange  thing is that, although it is often the same people who volunteer, those roles are always filled.

The same thing happens annually when a succession plan has to be put in place for the new executive committee.  People today generally complain of being over-extended, or too busy, but somehow a new executive is always found.  Sometimes it is by coercion, usually by reminding them that when they signed up, their Toastmasters pledge said something about serving when they are called upon, but mostly, after having given it some thought, the incumbents do volunteer.

Speechcraft and Youth Leadership Courses are a way for clubs to raise funds, but they rely on the services of volunteers, not only to run the courses, but also to assist those folk by doing educational speeches or by evaluating the member speeches.  If it were not for this assistance, these courses would not happen.

Thinking about volunteering led me to do some research - remember Google only knows? Well, it seems that there are a number of reasons why people volunteer.  Here are just a few of them:

  • You will be giving something back - I think all of us in Toastmasters know what a valuable 'thing' it is that we have gained, so we can relate to the idea of 'paying it forward'
  • You use your skills to benefit others - These two items seem to tie in together.  I have often heard it said that Toastmasters is the world's best kept secret, but I know that if you have gained something that makes life easier and better for you, you will want others to benefit from it too.
  • You experience personal growth - So often, in passing on a skill or helping others, we find ourselves challenged . The result? Personal growth.  Just last year a group of us ran workshops  and assisted as evaluators at the Collegiate All-Girls' Festival.  I know that we went there as the 'experts', but I am sure I speak for all of us who were involved when I say that we learned as much from those  girls as they did from us.
  • You see that you can make a difference - I don't think anyone volunteers initially with this in mind. However, it is often a happy by-product of what one does.
  • Finally, it's actually good for you! Studies have shown that:
    • It reduces stress - focusing on others rather than on yourself reduces tension-producing patterns
    • It makes you healthier - Positive emotions, like optimism, joy and having a sense of being in control of one's fate, strengthen the immune system
Those of you who run the Youth Leadership and Speechcraft Courses, and those who assist them, know that while there is no financial gain for us personally, we have all seen lives changed - theirs and ours - because we volunteered to help.

I want to tell you about a picture I came across on Facebook. In it was a group of children, laughing and smiling.  I recognised their faces. They were children I had taught - now more than fifteen years ago. I commented on how quickly the years had passed and before long so many of them responded to me - telling me what they were doing now and how much they had appreciated doing the Toastmasters Youth Leadership course - and what a difference it had made in their lives.

One girl in particular had touched my heart even then. L and her three sisters were raised by a single mom who worked as a domestic. There was very little money, but L was a single-minded girl. She was determined not to be a victim of her circumstances. Doing the Toastmasters course was just the start for her.   She had a knack for verbal communication and she knew it. Her matric results were good; she won a bursary to NMMU where she studied law and today she is a legal consultant with one of the top investment companies in the country. Being who she was, she would probably have got there by herself, but when she commented to me and thanked me for my input in her life, I was really touched.  I felt that I have really achieved something - a victory.

So, if your Toastmasters experience is becoming stale; if you are chasing your own speaking or leadership goals, but it doesn't feel as if it is enough, why not raise your hand the next time someone asks for help with a club project, a Speechcraft or Youth Leadership course? It might make all the difference!

Until next time

Ricky Woods

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Here we go again!

 2014 seems like a blurry memory.

 My good intentions of keeping the blog going sadly went the way of all good intentions when Alison relocated and I had to take over the presidency of the club.  However, the timing seems right.  The last blog was almost exactly a year ago. So here goes.

When I first worked my way through the Competent Communicator manual – then called the Competent Toastmaster manual, I had an experience that has stayed with me for a long time. I had prepared a speech called Walk for your Life and although I can’t remember what level it was for, I found it again the other day and I must say, I was quite impressed with how erudite I sounded!

Thinking back on it now, that was probably my first mistake – I was trying too hard. Too many phrases that had to be ‘just so’; too many quotations by people I didn't really know about.  I did what most of us do when I was preparing: I tried to learn it off by heart.

The time for presentation came and I was doing so well.  Then I hit a blank and I started stumbling.  I apologised and stuttered and then had to go back to my notes.  Although I finished well, I ended off feeling as though I had failed.

To this day I can recall the advice given to me by Cheron Joubert – “Nobody knows what you have written; only you do.  If you find yourself faltering, try to recover, but don’t apologize.  Just move on”

It was good advice, but that’s all very well.  It got me to thinking about the time we spend researching and preparing our speeches and whether there isn't an easier way.  Please don’t get me wrong. I believe that there are times when we want to research a new subject or uncover something we don’t already know about a specific area of interest.  There are also times when rehearsing a particular turn of phrase or catchy statement is essential to getting our message across.

 But most of the time we talk about topics that are close to our hearts, subjects that we do not need to research.  It’s my contention that if this is the case, we probably could get away with an introduction; an outline of our material and a conclusion. It’s always a good idea to memorise your introduction and your conclusion, so that you grab your audience’s attention and leave them with something to think about.  The rest will be pretty much ‘doing what comes naturally ‘

Let me give you an example of how you could structure such a speech.

Your opening
As parents we always cautioned our boys about ‘stranger danger’ - you know:
  • ·        Never speak to strangers
  • ·        Never get into a car of someone you don’t know

But I want to tell you about an incident when I was so grateful for the assistance of a stranger to my son.

Setting up the scene
Our older son, Gareth, who was then six, used to go to art classes near Fort Frederick in Central every Friday afternoon. As I was sick, I had asked a friend to drop him off. She waited until she saw him enter the yard and then drove off. None of us knew that the classes had been cancelled owing to renovations.

Body of the speech
Gareth turned around only to see her car disappearing around the corner.  He really didn't know the area, although he knew that his dad’s office and the church were somewhere in Central.  This was before the time of cell phones, so he had no way of reaching us.  He started to cry. Just then an old man stopped in a car, saw the little boy in his Grey school uniform and asked what the problem was.

Gareth was so conflicted.  Remembering our words of caution about strangers, he didn't want to talk to the man, let alone get into his car.  Yet, he was lost and didn't know where to turn.  Fortunately, he remembered which church his dad worked at and the man drove him there and restored him to his father.

Conclusion – it would be good to tie this back to your opening
I’m not saying one must throw caution to the winds. When it comes to strangers, always trust your instincts and it is probably better to err on the side of caution, but one should also be open to the kindness and compassion that does exist in strangers.

Nothing has been written out. You have an introduction. Then you relate the body of your speech, which is familiar to you. Finally, you link back to the start with your conclusion.

Practising is still important.  It is probably going to sound slightly different each time you do it, but that isn't important.  What is important is timing yourself.  This will allow you to do some on the spot editing.

The beauty of not memorising a speech parrot fashion is that you will not lose your place; so you won’t be upset or disturbed if it doesn't sound exactly as you had planned it. Just focus on your main points and tie it all together at the end.

If it sounds scary not to have a memorised speech, just remember that Toastmasters is about taking risks in a supportive club environment.

Next time, don’t do it off by heart.

Outline. Focus on your content; practise your delivery; be aware of your time – and WOW your audience.

Have you tried to do it like this? Did it work?  What works for you?  Please share your experiences with us so that we can learn from you.

Until next time
Ricky Woods