Parramatta’s 50th – The View From The Stage

When you’re MC of a big night, you get to see things from a totally different angle.

When I first got on stage an hour before the meeting started, just to get used to the space as all speakers should, first thing I noticed was that it was a long way up and a long way away from everyone sitting at tables. That can be both intimidating for a speaker, and it can leave an audience feeling separated from the main action. This is fine when you go to see a Broadway production, but this was still a “meeting”, where everyone needs to feel involved and included.

Turned out, my concerns were unfounded. First up, the organising committee did so much to make everyone feel welcome, which created just the right atmosphere. I mention this because I often see organisers looking very stressed before a meeting (or a show), and that stress always finds a way to bleed into the general atmosphere; but the committee under Elizabeth were so well organised, and in fact arrived so far ahead of time, that they could feel relaxed and enjoy themselves even while sorting last minute issues.

Ron’s signature naming of stragglers I guess was another way people felt included, albeit on the wrong list.

One of the surprises of the night, for me at least, was the way our normally sober President whipped up the audience as he called me onto the stage. That really got us off onto a flying start.

An efficient welcome by Wendy and Ian allowed us to move to a special surprise package – Andrew on the pipes, leading in the Parade of Presidents. It was a magnificent spectacle, and unambiguously a highlight of the night, delightfully hosted by Elizabeth, one of the few people in the room who would have known every president that she personally thanked.

The “smaller” assignments by Monique and John T, our larfmasters Vicki and Tom W, the cake cutting by Elizabeth, and the mini business session by Alicia didn’t just kept the night moving, but showed another reason why we are Parramatta – because even the smallest assignments are taken seriously and prepared – a point totally lost on many toastmasters who have been around long enough to feel comfortable winging it.

Prior to the meeting, I was really wondering about table topics, whether there would be a loss of energy with each wait for a speaker to make the trek from the table to the stage. Robyn foresaw the issue, and had a solution – all participants were marched onto stage at the start, providing the added bonus of allowing them minimal thinking time. A very dynamic solution.

The choice of guest speakers showed a perfect balance: Russ Walkington to provide the definitive story behind out formation – a story that I thought was lost to history, perennial favourite Greg North giving us a laugh, and a rare opportunity for club level toastmasters to hear an address by a current International President, Mike Storkey.

In my belief, though, the night was totally carried by the Parramatta key note speakers, Michael, Gary and David. Most of the discussion I heard after the night was about their speeches. Nothing could have more comprehensively illustrated the club’s sense of tradition, culture and excellence than their performances on Thursday night.

And something that only an MC will observe – David brought a copy of his artillery report that was assessed as NYC and left it on the lectern. He never showed it: it was not a prop, rather, it lent him a deeper sense of connection to his subject.

Finally, giving us an enjoyable finale to a long night, Ian’s reflections from guests did exactly what I had hoped, that was to leave people feeling like they were part of a meeting rather than watching someone else’s show.

As each speaker walked up the stairs and toward me to take over, their confidence and readiness for their task was completely evident. Each one of them looked me in the eye, shook my hand firmly, and held the gaze that little bit longer than usual, a gesture that acknowledges the MC in a very personal way, before they turned their attention to the audience, showing they were masters of the space and the moment.

I should have known things would have turned out. Having so many old friends get together to celebrate something we’re all proud of, the atmosphere will almost create itself. Of course it was underwritten by a committee that deserve the congratulations they received for creating what many have described as their all time favourite meeting.

– Demian Coorey

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Vice President Education – an all-round role

If you want the busiest but perhaps the most rewarding Executive role at Parramatta Toastmasters, the VPE role is for you. In an earlier blog, I explained what I’d learnt at the end of my first month. At that time, I’d created 3 programs. After creating many more, what more have I learnt?

1. You get to know everyone in the club. Your main aim is education so you need to know what education each club member wants. Creating balanced programs and rotating members around roles is one thing. Another is to find out specifically what manuals and skills each member wants to focus on, then build programs that tie it all together. And of course you get to understand why some members can’t attend meetings or need to become inactive for a while – everyone has their own story. It’s very satisfying as VPE seeing members progressing and improving.

2. None of this can happen without planning. Being the VPE stretches your planning skills to the limit. Not only the methodical planning but the miracle planning. The methodical planning is what you do to set up programs two weeks in advance, carefully creating those balanced programs. The miracle planning is what you do in the last couple of days, hours, and minutes as last-minute apologies come in before the meeting. Sometimes they come in after the meeting starts! In this case, you get to know the much appreciated miracle members who can step in at the last minute to help you out.

3. Team work is essential. Staying in touch with other members of the Executive team is top of the list because what you do as VPE has to align with what the rest of the Executive does. As VPE you’ll be in frequent touch with all of them. Club members are part of your team as well because everyone has to be involved for meetings to be educational and fun. You’ll also get to work with Toastmaster officers outside your club and see the bigger picture – particularly at the Area level.

The VPE role is an all-round role. Rewarding and challenging, it’s a role where you get to know and appreciate your fellow club members, and a role with great personal learning potential. If you really want to stretch all your leadership skills, then the VPE role at Parramatta Toastmasters will do it. In many ways – organisation, time management, methodical planning, rapid decision-making, multi-tasking, diplomacy, negotiation, to name just a few. My suggestion is: when the role next becomes available, consider nominating yourself for it. You’ll contribute to the club and learn a lot.

I’d like to say thanks to everyone who has helped me develop in the role during the year. It’s been a very enjoyable year.

John New
Vice President Education, 2015-16

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Murder at the Juice Joint – A Night Of Murder, Mayhem, and Mastery Of Public Speaking?

As William Shakespeare once said “All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players”. While many of us may remember the “Murder at the Juice Joint”, on 17 March 2016, as a night of fun and great costumes, one question we need to ask ourselves is: did it meet the objectives of Toastmasters International? The fundamental objective of Toastmasters is to educate men and women through the process of self-improvement and leadership training so they may increase their confidence in business, professional and community life.

The night started off with a call of order, with the owner of the Juice Joint, Rosie Marie (aka Monique Tonna) welcoming her guests to the party and calling all to remember her late husband, Louie. Following this everyone was given an envelope with their instructions for the first half of the evening and a wad of cash to spend as they saw fit. From forging alliances and giving/receiving bribes, not only were our speaking skills (e.g. forming an ice breaker and getting to the point) put to the test but they became essential in the game.

From the beginning of the night, we were introduced to the major players in the game: Notorious Nick (aka Sean Leise), the powerful and assertive north side mob boss who had plans of controlling the police department and the city; South Side Sal (aka Tom Woods), the southern mob boss who would stop at nothing to expand his territory; and Mayor Biggs (aka Ian Lipski), the head of the city with a dark past.

During the middle of the evening there was a sudden silence, only to find out that Notorious Nick had been murdered. PI Pinkerton (aka Sam Fenton) took on the role of the chairman for the investigation, to figure out the identity of the murderer.

Following this we were given a second envelope, with instructions on what to do. From putting together the clues to figure out the identity of the murderer, to working out what people had to gain or lose from the murder of Notorious Nick, not only did the second half of the night become like a round of table topics, where impromptu speaking became important, but also assessing people’s vocal variety and body language could be used in figuring out who the murderer was! The final segment of the night consisted of the lead investigator, PI Pinkerton summing up the evidence room the night, including the identity and motive of the murderer.

While many enjoyed the night for the chance to take on a new role and wear a great costume, little did we realize that it helped us improve our skills in public speaking, and also in role playing. “Murder at the Juice Joint” will be remembered for its ability to inspire us to take on new roles, but also become better speakers.

The Murderer (Chief Cameron, aka Andrew Emerson)

Note: You can read more about “Murder at the Juice Joint” here.

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Why I keep coming

In this modern world of speed, instantaneous achievement and quick fixes, the idea of working at a craft, persisting with a task and perfecting a skill is sometimes lost. But not at Toastmasters and that is why I keep coming. It would have been quite easy to take away from the 6 week Speechcraft course a tool kit of public speaking skills, perhaps enough to get you through a work presentation or public speaking assignment. So why make the commitment to attend regular Toastmaster meetings?

I am sure many members attend for the camaraderie as well as the entertainment of listening to others, but you can get both of those things at many other places; like a work or family BBQ. One of the reasons why I think members keep coming, in many cases for years and the reason why I continue to attend, is because I want to feel like I am heading towards “mastering” the skills of public speaking. Mastering anything takes time, practice and effort. I have seen speakers who I thought were brilliant at my first Toastmaster meeting, become even more accomplished when delivering other speeches or club assignments. When first listening to these accomplished speakers, I assumed they had nothing more to learn, but all members continually demonstrate that persisting at the skills of a craft is worthwhile and effort produces improved results.

There is another reason why I want to continue with Toastmasters. Every meeting you learn so much. The prepared speeches are usually on topics I know very little or nothing about. That is until they are complete. It is inevitable that the meeting of a group of people from such a wide background of careers, nationalities and family circumstances would produce a plethora of interesting topics to listen to, and it does.

Finally, you learn much by watching other people speak. We are a collaborative species, and in the positive and nurturing environment of Toastmasters the opportunity to pick up small nuances of speech craft and subtleties of presentation style surround us.

That’s why I hope to remain a Toastmaster for many years.

Vicki Sheehan

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Why do people join Toastmasters?

Cast your mind back to when you first came to a Toastmaster meeting or attended Speechcraft and remind yourself what it was like. For me, when I first attended Speechcraft, I recall saying to myself, “What am I doing here, I should have stayed at home”. And my thoughts when I first attended our Club were “These guys are just too good”. And I would say at a guess that my thoughts would not be dissimilar to other people.

When surveyed, the majority of people come to Toastmasters to improve their communication skills. A small number come to get leadership training, and an even smaller group (like me) come because they just enjoy the experience. To add to the mix, many who have English as a second language claim they want to improve their English. In actual fact, many of these can communicate quite well and suffer from nerves like the majority of visitors.

The ones who actually join have that added drive to do something about their nerves. The ones who don’t come back either feel Toastmasters is not for them or the nerves overtake them. Ideally, it would be great to have every visitor join a Toastmasters club.

I had no intention of joining. I completed Speechcraft in March, yet I only joined in August. It was only an invitation to join by John Taylor that did it for me.

So whenever you come across a visitor, remember your first Toastmasters experience, and do whatever you can to allay the nerves that may have been present on your first Toastmasters experience.

Michael Said

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Speaking with Clarity

One of the difficulties I experience at times is trying to be clear in my communication. I often find that, in my head, everything I want to communicate is easy to understand and organised, with a good logical flow from one point to another. However, as soon as I begin speaking, I realise this is not the case at all. Some may argue it is my nerves but unfortunately this argument just doesn’t stand because this “muddled” communication style also extends to other aspects of my life such as friends and family.

As I progress, through my education and into the workforce, this challenge is constantly there in my face. It has made me quite conscious of the way I speak, particularly in academic and professional settings. However, as I have always been a chatty gal with difficulty zipping up at times, it is clear that I am not fazed by this challenge. Before I started Toastmasters, my strategy dealing with this challenge was to push through, apologise, and check to ensure that the person I spoke with understood what I was trying to say. A tiring process for me at times.

Some of the great things that Toastmasters has given me are skill sets to help me clarify my thought processes and communication styles. Specifically, the structures I can use when communicating. For example, one of the structures I have learnt is the Point-Reason-Example-Point (PREP) method. That is, when delivering a short speech, first state a point of view. Then provide the audience with reason/s and give an example to elaborate the point. Finally, conclude with the point again. Having this structure has made me more confident when communicating. In other words, Toastmasters has given me skills sets I can use to overcome this challenge.

While I initially joined Toastmasters to work on improving my shortcomings, in the process I have come to meet many wonderful and exceptional individuals that inspire me one way or another. The friendships, genuine care in helping me develop as a person, laughter, social gatherings, as well as opportunities for me to contribute –  these are a few of many reasons that keep me going back time and again. Toastmasters is a part of me, and will continue to be for these reasons.

Pamela McDonald

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I’ve got another plan, this time it will work

Do you make plans and then change them? The meeting theme “I’ve got another plan, this time it will work” turned out to be particularly appropriate for our 16 July 2015 meeting. This was to be our Table Topics Contest. Instead, due to overwhelming interest, we split the contest over two meetings – heats on 16 July and finals on 23 July. It was a classic case of having a plan and needing another plan.

In fact, as Vice President for Education, I’ve created 3 programs so far. Each program on the night has looked vastly different from the original. Here are five things I’ve learnt as VPE so far.

1. Start planning early. Well before the Changeover meeting. Work out meeting dates and cancelled meeting dates (e.g. Thursday 24 December) for the whole year. Then dates for contests, theme meetings, the club’s birthday meeting, the club’s Changeover meeting, and any other special meetings. Note any three-Thursday months. Think up an appropriate theme for each meeting, one that gives scope for discussion. If you’ve done this, you’ve got a good overview of the year.

2. Get the right tools. The main ones are Microsoft Excel and Word. In Excel I have worksheets for yearly dates and themes, to record best speeches, to track DCP points, and to plan meetings – to name just a few. The planning worksheet allows me to plan programs for the whole year. I don’t use Word as much. Mainly to create a PDF of upcoming programs to put on the club’s website. Other useful software is, of course, PDF creation software.

3. Know what members want. And don’t want. This is where the fun really starts. As with all planning, we need to know a few things. First, where members are up to in their manuals. That helps to reach the club’s DCP goals. If you know what speech manuals members are doing, you can plan the speaking program fairly reliably up to six months in advance. Second, what members want and don’t want to do. For example, one or two people may like the Frivolous Motion but don’t want to do the Grammarian role or Blog Evaluator. It’s also useful to know which members are doing a CL or AL manual. Finally, know who likes to speak in contests or help run contest.

4. Create balanced programs. When creating the program for each meeting, getting apologies is vital, the earlier the better. Then you know who is likely to come. Work out who will speak. Fill the four key roles of Table Topics Master, Chairman 2, Toastmaster, and General Evaluator with a mix of experienced and less experienced members. Assign the Speech Evaluators, Table Topics Evaluators, Chairman 1, Frivolous Motion, and Parliamentarian. Assign other roles such as Toast and Timer, keeping in mind that members doing a CL manual need to complete certain roles, some more than once.

5. Be flexible. Once you have a wonderful program … be prepared to change it. More apologies are likely to come in so roles will need readjusting. You may be flooded by enthusiastic members wanting to participate in a contest. In our Table Topics Contest, we had 20 contestants – hence the reason for splitting the contest. Then, you may have the opportunity for a World Champion of Public Speaking to come to a meeting, as we did on 23 July 2015. You’ll want to adjust the program for that and allow plenty of time to hear what they have to say – such opportunities don’t come up very often.

The Toastmasters Club Leadership Manual says “as your club’s Vice President Education, your workload gets heavy at times”. I’m finding out this is true. However, it’s a very interesting role with scope to learn a lot. Another lesson I’ve learnt is: your fellow members are willing and able to help. With help and support, the job can be done.

John New

Vice President Education, 2015-16

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