Archive for May 2007


May 22, 2007

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Shifting the Focus

May 21, 2007


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I’ve just got back home from a very enjoyable evening at Maidenhead Speakers.

It was a special meeting – our Annual General Meeting. Each member of the outgoing committee stood up to give a report on our progress as a club.

Then the new committee was chosen. We have a new President – Amanda, who put a lot into her role as VP Education, last year. I too have a role – Sergeant-at-Arms. The outgoing sergeant, Keith, has done an excellent job, and I have a tough act to follow.

That said, it mostly seems to entail telling the odd topical joke at the start of the evening, remembering to bring some milk, making the tea and collecting the voting slips. I think I can manage this – we’ll see, in a year’s time how I feel about it.

And then, in the “any other business section”, Joyce stood up to say a few “positive” words about… …this blog! I was so surprised. I didn’t think anyone was really reading it, though one or two members have said they have taken a look from time to time.

There was flattering talk about this blog and I might have a new role, but for the first time in ages, I didn’t go up and speak. It was a great chance to sit back and enjoy the show.

Looking back, when I started the blog I hoped to record what I learned from each meeting. To some extent, I’ve done that but I’ve tended to focus on what I was doing each week. This week was a chance to listen rather than speak. It really pays to shift the focus from yourself, to take the time to examine other people.

Marion was our Table Topics Mistress for the evening, so it was up to her to pick people to come out and give impromptu talks. It was her first time in the role, and I thought she did a great job. She chose a theme of ‘sports’ – which made me worry just a bit, as this is my least favourite subject.

At the start, she picked Noni but hadn’t realised that Noni a main speaker. (Noni is short for Antognoni – her full name was up on the board.) Well, that’s life – things go wrong. Marion handled it really well. She asked for someone to volunteer. Helen put her hand up, and saved the day.

There were some great table topics. Eric really stuck in my mind. He talked about how football was not “about life and death; it’s a lot more serious than that”. We discovered that you need to wear a red hat, if you go round to Eric’s when Liverpool are playing. It’s amazing how few of us knew the European cup final is on Wednesday (I didn’t). We found Liverpool are set against… …er… someone Spanish – Madrid, I think.

Then we got into the main speakers. Noni gave us a great talk on scuba diving – something I’d never really considered, until now. She described it as “another world”, conjuring images of all the colourful fish she had met. Apparently, we needn’t worry about Jaws – you’d have to be “really lucky” to see a shark. And we shouldn’t be content with snorkelling, either. This is how Noni put it:

Snorkelling is like standing outside a crowded pub, watching football on TV through the window, across the smoky pub.

Scuba diving is putting your boots on and running down the tunnel to go out and actually play the game.

True to form, Muryel talked about food. She told us how much less efficient it is to produce meat than vegetables. Did you know you can produce 16kilos of vegetables for the same resources as a kilo of beef?

“Just think about it,” she would say, after each statement. That was really effective.

As ever, Muryel had an interesting angle. She expressed the difference in terms of how complex the proteins are. She told us, we should all eat less complex proteins, further down the food chain, in order to be less wasteful. We should all be “responsible omnivores”.

Then came Pravin who told us all to write down our goals. He explained how, just a few years ago, he and his wife had done this, and then put their goals up on the bathroom mirror so they wouldn’t forget. A year later, they’d saved enough to move out of their flat. “It’s not enough to have a goal,” Pravin told us. “You need to write it down, and set a time against it.”

There are speakers at the Maidenhead Speakers Club who make speaking seem effortless and completely second nature. Ian, for example, is one. He was Toastmaster for the evening, and did a truly superb job.

Now, I don’t know how long Ian prepares for each of his speeches, but his style is relaxed and it always flows. He looks like he is in his element. Watching Ian speak makes it clear just what can be achieved.

It might take me a while to get there, but at least I can see it is possible. I would like to become as natural and relaxed as Ian – ideally, within 5 years. It’s my clearly defined goal – which I’ve just written down.

The Lazy Man’s Way to Speaking

May 21, 2007


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Last Monday, I gave my first speech for a while.

The project title was “Your Body Talks”. I was supposed to use gestures and body language to good effect. I already had the topic for my speech, so I retro-fitted it to the project.

My topic idea was self-help and self-teaching books, and how I’d found them interesting but wasn’t sure they helped all that much.

The inspiration came from a story my Mum told me. She’d read a book on improving your memory. It was very interesting, she said, but she can’t remember a single thing about it – can’t remember the author, the title or anything it said.

Which I found pretty funny.

When I gave the speech, I stole Mum’s story, changing it to make it sound like it had happened to me.

I also talked about the “Lazy Man’s Way to Riches,” a book I’d read as a teenager and the first “self-help” book I’d ever read. It promised to make you rich just by visualizing the rewards. Now, I’ve tried this out and, indeed, here I am over 2 decades later – I’m still lazy but I’m not rich.

A real aim I had for this speech was to try to spend less time preparing. For the previous speeches, I’d spent most of the day before preparing. This strikes me as quite a lot of time to devote to a five minute speech – I should be able to do it with less. That was one reason – and then, of course, I am just plain lazy.

This time, I tried to cut the preparation down to just 2 hours. That might sound a bit severe. It certainly made the actual giving of the speech more challenging.

What’s more (or, er, less), I wrote the body of the speech on the morning of the speech itself. I spent about an hour on it. I then spent an hour after work rehearsing and checking the timing.

Of course, it wasn’t as carefully scripted as my previous speeches. I had just 3 small cards of notes rather than my usual 6. Still, I am getting a bit more confident, and I hoped I’d be able to make the speech more “off the cuff” and natural than my previous efforts.

In the event, I felt it went fairly well as a speech in its own right, though it didn’t fit the project objectives well enough. I could’ve thought about some more gestures and given them more emphasis – and practise.

Also, I got a bit rushed towards the end of the speech; my close was not strong. That’s something I’ve been working on – a strong close – but I’m not there yet. If you have something clear, or witty, to say at the end of the speech, it is easy to wrap it up at any time. It gives you more confidence, as the speech moves on. Right now, I’m good at going over and over the speech start before I get up there, but I’m not so good at preparing, or delivering, the close.

Still, overall it went fairly well and when it was voted “Best Humour” I was delighted.

Interestingly, I got talking with David and Pravin during the break and when it comes to preparation they seem to be thinking along the same lines. Unlike many of our other club members, they too have tried to cut the preparation time down. David aims to use just an hour to prepare – which is amazing, given how well his speeches flow.

That is where I want to be – at least for the short speeches. I feel I should be able to define a clear period of time which is sufficient for most of them.

Yes, of course there will be speeches which require more preparation – even more research. For example, I have something special in mind for project 7 – on using visual aids. That is another story.

But I would like to develop this skill to the point where I find it effortless, where I can get up and give a coherent, structured speech fluidly with the minimum of preparation. I want to get to the point where I find it natural, and where I always enjoy it.