Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (Meeting number 585)

On Monday, 12th July the new club committee of Transformers Toastmasters was installed at a dinner held at Mike’s Kitchen in Parktown. The evening turned out to be a cosy affair with only twelve diners. Jenny Shiers, the Division H Governor, was our guest and undertook the installation of the committee as our Area H3 Governor, Rod Taylor, was being installed as Vice President Membership of our club.

As Toastmasters we all owe gratitude to the giants who preceded us. Ralph C. Smedley started Toastmasters when he saw a need among the young men at the YMCAs where he worked to improve their public speaking skills. However, as soon as he moved YMCA the club he had formed folded. A leader only becomes great when his followers achieve greatness. And so it is due to others who saw the value in the Toastmasters Club who chartered new clubs and in due course founded an international organization.

As club officers we also owe the honour of being able to serve our club to those who have served before us and have kept Transformers going from year to year for almost 30 years already. This means that the new club officers have large shoes to fill and a responsibility to discharge the duties they have accepted.

Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (or in Latin: nanos gigantium humeris insidentes) is first attributed to Bernard of Chartres and recorded in the 12th century. But, probably the most famous quotation is by the 17th century British scientist Sir Isaac Newton who said: “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.

Jerry Goodman proposed the toast of the evening to the “pursuit of elegant solutions”. He delved into the value of wisdom, prompted by his own decision to complete a thesis this year. Wisdom is that pot of gold that we are promised can be found at the end of the rainbow of acquiring knowledge. Confucius said that wisdom may be gained in three ways: through reflection, through imitation and through experience. South Africa has come a long way in its preparation for hosting a successful soccer World Cup and Jerry expressed the hope that some wisdom had been gained through this that will be used into the future to continue our forward striving and produce elegant solutions.

No Toastmasters meeting is complete without a prepared speech, not even an installation dinner. We were very privileged to hear a project 10 speech for a Competent Communicator given by Keith Bowen DTM. The requirement of this speech is to inspire the audience. Keith speech entitled: “The Bold and the Dutiful” was filled with great stories and personal anecdotes that led to a powerful call to break free from the dutiful mould into which each one is cast by society and others and act boldly out of one’s individual inspiration.

A young Roman nobleman named Gaius set sail from Rome shortly after Sulla had ordered his divorce. The ship in which he sailed was set upon by pirates and he was held captive for year until a random was paid for his release. During that year he became friendly with his captors. However, on his return to Rome he raised a navy and a year later returned to seek out the pirates and killed every last one of them. The primary credo by which Romans lived is ‘fortune favours the bold’. Gaius went into politics and in due course became a successful general in Western Europe. He became so powerful that the Senate demanded he lay down his command. He refused and led his army across the Rubicon into Italy. In so doing the die was cast and the outcome out of his hands. Civil war resulted and he finally assumed dictatorial power. He was Gaius Julius Caesar.

We fall into the expectations that others set for us and we live towards these expectations. The advertising industry are the worst in setting the standard for everyone. Once everyone conforms, the advertising fraternity hail that it is desirable to break the mould they have just created. Their aim is to create a movement that ‘breaks the mould’ and so we are swept along by the expectations of others. Keith sang when he was at school, not well but lustily. His parents had academic expectation for him and singing and theatre did not fit these expectations. After finishing school neither singing nor drama featured in his life until a year ago when he joined an amateur dramatic society and participated in a pantomime and is currently rehearsing ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. When one breaks the mould everyone is surprised. Keith’s advice is to balance responsibilities and dreams, and to break the mould of expectation, cross the Rubicon and cast the die to follow your own dreams.

In the evaluation of his speech Mary Byrne quoted from her conversation with Keith that only 2½% of people have the courage to break from the mould that is cast for them by their parents, peers and society.

The installation of the new club officers by Division H Governor, Jenny Shiers was followed by the address of the new club president, Mary Byrne. Her aims for the year are to improve in the educational aspects of the club and bring fun back into Toastmasters. Her theme for the club for this year is “learn through laughter”.

The Toastmaster of the Year award was presented to a worthy recipient how has not only contributed a lot to his club but has excelled as a speaker and has actively networked with other clubs: Ryan Ebedes. Ryan Ebedes was also wished success in his pursuit of the title of best speaker in Toastmasters in the world when he visits USA in August. Faruk DuPont and Rod Taylor were wished for their respective birthdays. The evening came to a demure close.

The next club meeting will be held at the usual venue of the Morningside Country Club on Monday, 26th July. Guests and visiting Toastmasters are always welcome.

Making others feel important (Meeting number 584)

That was the theme of the evening and, I think, what we as Transformers Toastmasters Club managed to do at our last club meeting of the Toastmaster’s year. We hosted three visitors from 4th Dimension Toastmasters Club, one visitor from Golden Gavel Toastmasters Club, two guest of our visitors and two gusts of our own and a guest who was expecting a meeting of Sandton Toastmasters Club. The visitors from 4th Dimension and Golden Gavel came to support Christa Roux of 4th Dimension who was presenting the tenth and final project of a Competent Communicator. Our club President, Ruth Taylor, who is on leave with her husband, Rod Taylor, missed a meeting that must rank among the best of the past year.

The toast of the evening, offered by Keith Bowen, was to the coming of age of public transport which has been fantastically upgraded and is functioning smoothly for the World Cup. Mary Byrne agreed in her response to the toast, mentioning the success of the Gautrain.

Making someone feel important is one of the best ways of “Making friends and influencing people” according to Dale Carnegie. Really listening to someone is makes them feel important. This is one of the skills that Toastmaster of the Evening, Cheryl-Lynn Langley, reminded everyone Toastmasters teaches. Eye contact is another way of making someone feel important; besides if you have eye contact, your listener can’t see your knees knocking with nerves behind the podium. Interspersed with the speeches of the evening Cheryl-Lynn advised that honest compliments make people feel important, as well as receiving compliments graciously. As King George V said: “Teach me neither to proffer nor receive cheap praise”. Benjamin Franklin gave as his secret that: “I will speak no ill of any man and good of every man”.

Our programme listed four prepared speeches. First to speak was Lerato Molefe with her ice-breaker speech, the first of the Competent Communicator projects. Her speech entitled, “New Beginnings” took us from the new beginning of her birth to the new beginning of given a first Toastmasters speech. Born in Edmonton, Canada she was the first child. The arrival of her sister coincided with her father completing his studies and a return to Botswana where her father dies three years later. With a large extended family to support the two sisters and mother, she flourished. Her studies took her to the United World College in New Mexico followed by law school and a Masters degree. Her first job as a junior attorney in New York was another new beginning. Although she thought she had arrived to settle, the opportunity of moving to the law firm’s Paris office presented itself after two years. Having left the United States new options presented themselves and the opportunity of returning to southern Africa. This was not a return but a another new beginning with new challenges, not least learning to drive and owning motor vehicle insurance. As Mary Byrne said in her evaluation of this speech, Lerato spoke with entertaining confidence and rightly deserved the award for best speech of the evening.

The second speech was given by Jim Powell in fulfilment of the fourth Competent Communicator project. In his speech entitled “Broken Brain” he spoke about the illness of depression. He pleaded that his audience should accept that the brain be viewed like any other organ or appendage of the body and when it is broken it requires repair. Depression is not something that the sufferer can “snap out” of. He presented vivid word pictures of the experience of depression with descriptions like: “the blazing sun has no heat; the richest red rose is grey and without perfume”. He described that the only hope for the sufferer is when those around drop “pebbles of love” into the dark chasm slowly filling the black hole, allowing the sufferer to inch back into the light – until the next black hole open up. With 20% of the population suffering clinical depression once in their life, he brought the reality home that 4 of the 20 people in the room would know depression. This speech was awarded with the most improved speaker award for the evening.

The third speech, by Solani Bvuma was also a CC 4 speech. She opened her speech entitled “Let Africans lead” with an African quote paraphrased that until the lion can write his own history only the tale of the hunter will be told. In a powerful speech she urged Africans to stop being apologetic and allow outsiders to re-write their history. The World Cup was given to Africa through the intervention of a foreigner, Sepp Blatter, but Africa has brought a new experience to this event through Ubuntu. We have rewritten the standards for hospitality for the World Cup. She closed her speech by rephrasing her opening quote, urging the lions of Africa to write and record the history they have created in 2010.

The last prepared speech of the evening was the CC 10 speech of our visitor, Christa Roux. In a moving speech entitled: “Just do it” she urged her audience to ignore the advice of what is reasonable and follow a goal, however ‘unreasonable’ it may seem. In an opening quote she stated that: “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world while the unreasonable man expects the world to adapt itself to him. Progress therefore is dependent on the unreasonable man”. She listed numerous people who had refused to listen to reason and pursued their own vision: Bill Gates who in 1975 envisaged a computer on every desk, JK Rowling who’s Harry Potter book was rejected by dozens of large publishers and Walt Disney who was fired from his first newspaper job for lacking imagination. She went against the expectations of her society, her peers and the financial stratum of her family and after attending a technical high school entered university to study electronic engineering. She walked to university wearing through the soles of a pair of shoes in two weeks without loosing her positive drive. She received a full bursary that enabled her to complete her studies without debt and has been working in the career of her choosing for six years. Her life would have been very different had she listened to the reasonable advice of those who loved her. She encourages everyone to adopt the Greek muse of victory, Nike.

John-Peter Gernaat gave his personal experience of the past 17 months and the achievement of Competent Communicator as an educational session to encourage newer members of Toastmasters to persist. He challenged all Toastmasters to review the goal that brought them to Toastmasters and will continue to drive them to achieve higher levels of speaking and leadership proficiency in Toastmasters.

The Table Topics Master for the evening was our visitor from 4th Dimension, Danny Roux, who cunningly asked whether anyone related to a specific person or event of the last two week’s World Cup event and then had Ryan Ebedes explain how Ronaldo learned his skills; Mary explain why William Webb Ellis decided to pick up the ball to run with it (rugby); Richard Riche, visiting from Golden Gavel, explain how it felt to be wearing the Bavaria sponsored orange mini-skirts; Glenice Ebedes explain why her tourist resort banned all mention of the World Cup; Angelica Smallwood explain how she would improve the game of soccer and finally, visitor and soon to be Immediate Past President from 4th Dimension, Kirsten Long, explain to the incoming President what she would do for a pair of World Cup tickets. Glenice’s tale of sitting in the midst of beer-splashing Mexican fans in a freezing Polokwane stadium driving her to welcome visitors to a warm, soccer-free resort in Soweto won her the evening’s award for best impromptu speaker.

On A Point allowed our visitors to extend invitations to the dinners at which their club committees would be installed and invitations to present speeches, evaluation or to take roles at their club’s meetings.

After the awards for evening were presented, where Mary was recognised as best evaluator and Cheryl-Lynn for her contribution as the Toastmaster, the meeting was brought to a close.

Our next meeting will be the inauguration dinner held at Mike’s Kitchen in Parktown on Monday, 12th July at 18h30 at which our new committee will be installed by Division H Governor, Jenny Shiers. Guests are very welcome.

World Cup 2010 (Meeting number 583)

There could be no other theme for the first meeting after the start of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. No international guests or visitors yet, but we enticed four local guests to came and experience our club. Our Toastmaster of the Evening, the person who guides the programme and maintains time, Rod Taylor, had a strong word against Fifa. Fifa have taken to calling this an African World Cup and yet Africa has contributed nothing to this event, it has been solely a South African endeavour. Fifa should rightly call this a South African World Cup. The opening event, we were told, attracted South Africa’s highest TV viewership of 31 million viewers.

In his Toast of the Evening Ryan Ebedes considered an earthquake of a different kind. In 2001 a million children in England jumped up and down for five minutes for the same period while seismologists looked to see whether this would register on the Richter Scale. Predictions that the energy of all these pounding feet would stir the earth were proven to be without foundation. However, the first goal scored by our South African striker certainly caused an “earthquake” here in South Africa. So we raised our glasses to “a giant leap for South Africa”.

Our grammarian, Cheryl-Lynn Langley, asked that we use the word “timorous” as often as possible through the evening. Although timid and easily alarmed is the diametric opposite of our speakers, several incorporated the Word of the Evening in their contributions.

Angelica Smallwood presented the second project of a Competent Communicator and entitled her speech “New Adventures”. She opened with a quote from David P. Gardiner: ‘We learn simply by the exposure of living’. Growing up in the US where it is more American to hate soccer than apple pie and 90 000 soccer fans follow the beautiful game in secret, she was completely unaware of the parade in Sandton on the Wednesday before the opening of the World Cup. However, when she found herself out on the street and felt the energy of the crowd she felt the unifying power of soccer. Subsequently, going to watch the Argentina – Nigeria match confirmed for her that this would not be the last Soccer World Cup she’d be watching.

Keith Bowen presented the eighth Competent Communicator project, demonstrating the use of visual aids. His speech entitled “The Carbon Tax” gave his audience an appreciation of the forward planning that Eskom is undertaking in response to the government’s proposed Carbon Tax. This tax is aimed at reducing the cost differential between coal generated electricity and cleaner alternatives. It is interesting to see what the influencing factors are that will result in cleaner power generation. Being a Toastmaster has the bonus of listening to interesting and relevant speeches that enlighten and educate.

The final prepared speech of the evening was a tenth project Competent Communicator speech. This speech earned John-Peter Gernaat an international education awards: the Competent Communicator Certificate. John-Peter’s task was to inspire his audience and he chose to encourage those listening to achieve their very best. Two reasons we don’t achieve according to John-Peter are negative stress in our lives and fear. Our lives have changed since our ancestors lived in rural villages and with it the nature of stress in our lives. The only stress our ancestors experienced related to survival. Our bodies have adapted to this, so that stress results in chemically driven, physiological changes that make us faster and stronger in order to survive. Physiological de-stressing is the results of physical activity and full-lung breathing (panting). Modern stress does not call for physical activity as so we don’t de-stress properly. One of the results of stress is the switching off of the cortex of the brain to prevent creative and innovative thinking and communication. Survival is better served by learned patterns of behaviour. Laughter is nature’s antidote to stress and immunises us against imminent stress and by de-stressing us enables creative innovation. Fear is the projection of the negative outcome of a past experience on a future event. Fear does not exist in the present when we are in “flow” or “in the zone”. The samurai of old used laughter to bring themselves into the present.

How to laugh? Select laughter triggers: anything you encounter daily that draws your attention and decide to laugh at each encounter. John-Peter listed three references that prove levity and laughter result in greater achievement in life. His message: laugh a lot and achieve your very best.

The prepared speeches were followed by an educational session presented by our club president, Ruth Taylor. She spoke about the role of mentorship in Toastmasters. This is one of the cornerstones of success in Toastmaster. The knowledge, experience and insight of experienced Toastmasters is available to newer members resulting in faster assimilation of the programme, a sense of involvement and belonging. This has benefits for mentor, protégé and the club and adds to the enjoyment of Toastmasters.

A very sociable recess was followed by Table Topics. Table Topics Master for the evening, John-Peter, asked the volunteer speakers to draw for a soccer playing country. Each speaker was given a soccer related word to speak about that they had to relate back to their selected country.

Tony Higgins, a first time guest, drew the lot to speak first and had to relate the word penalty to his Brazilian team. Baby boys, he informed us are selected to play soccer based on their kicking ability in the crib. Failure to groom them for their soccer role would lead to a penalty.

Jerry Goodman provided information on “the least understood rule is soccer”: off-sides and advised that as an Englishman it was advisable to be on-sides when sleeping with your neighbours wife as you would have two people at your back.

Ryan, as a loyal German, pointed out that a ‘fraulein’ can stop a ball from a corner unlike the English with their bedroom rules, let alone goal keeping skills. Germans understood all soccer rules and had no need to watch babies kicking in their cots.

Glenice Ebedes reminded us that although South Africa might not have had a striker on the soccer field a few weeks ago they certainly had them in the streets. The goal of striking is better pay. The United States had taught Europeans that the easier route to more money is by employing an agent.

Keith assured everyone that the French had always had a goal: ever since Napoleon it has been Moscow.

Ruth was categorical that Australia had the right idea by having a local coach who would always do the best for his own country.

The fun over, the evaluations of the prepared speeches were insightful and both encouraging and helpful for the speakers. Cheryl-Lynn’s evaluation of language use was insightful. Rod’s throw-away comment: “winner or dinner” received a mention, as did Angelica’s expression: “native tradition”.

Before the awards of the evening were announced the club held its annual general meeting at which the greater part of the new club committee was voted in – see the newsflash on this site.  Our club President deliverd a comprehensive report of the years activities and achievements while our treasurer reported that although our financial situation is tight we are still on the right side of nil.

The evening’s awards were as follows:

· Best and most improved speaker awards went to Angelica

· Best Impromptu speaker award to our guest Anthony

· Rod carried off the best contribution for his role as Toastmaster of the evening

· Best Evaluator went to Cheryl-Lynn

Our next meeting on the Tuesday, 29th June - TAKE NOTE - is the last meeting of this Toastmasters year. The meeting following will be the induction dinner of the new committee – details later.

Guests are always welcome at all our meeting. Come and find out what Toastmasters has to offer you. We hope to see all our members at the next meeting as I’m certain our outgoing Vice President Education will have something special planned.

On a mission to Mars

What is a Toastmasters Club doing on a mission to Mars? Could it be in search of the Mars Bar in order to toast? Actually Transformers Toastmasters held a debating special on Monday, 24th May to determine which of two teams had the best credentials for such a mission.

Our meeting saw a good turnout of members and a wonderful number of guests. (It is interesting when we concentrate on growing our club the guests flock in.) We had two return guests, Nontu Made and Leratho Molefe. They were accompanied by a first time guest, Nkgadi Mogotlane who brought a friend from the Eastern Cape who had been exposed to Toastmasters in a transition year after high school. Three guests from Price Waterhouse Coopers came to investigate whether Toastmasters was the place to improve their public speaking skills: Guy Steele, Jonathan Godden and Mike Krzychylkiewicz.

The entire evening was somewhat different to normal meetings. As Glenice Ebedes said when she proposed the toast of the evening: we usually toast an idea, an ideal, a concept or an absent personage; but we had the opportunity to toast someone famous, within our circle, and present. Ryan Ebedes joined Toastmasters in February 2006 and gave his first speech, the ice breaker where one speaks about oneself, about birds. Outgoing, friendly and forthcoming as Ryan is, he seldom speaks about himself, but his passion, birds, has taken him to being judged the best speaker of a prepared speech in District 74 (southern Africa). The preparation for this speech reflects a quote from one of his mentors, Gary Player, who said that the “more you practice the luckier you get”. Ryan drew on the depth of experience in Transformers to hone his speech at every step from presenting it at our club to winning the best speaker contest in our club to Area, Division and finally District level contests. As a club we heartily toasted Ryan.

Mary Byrne responded to the toast by confirming that Ryan went to the level of weighing up the use of every word in his speech and once the speech was perfect on paper delivering it perfectly and flawlessly in front of his audiences. Great speeches don’t come without great preparation.

We had the privilege of listening to Angelica Smallwood, our newest member, delivering her icebreaker speech. She entitled it “Dreams” and gave us an eloquent picture of how her life’s choices have all been taken in the furtherance of her dreams. As the third daughter she stood out from birth. Her sisters both bear the initials SLS and she was named Angelica Joy (AJS). Her upbringing taught her that her gifts and talents should be shared with others. When she learned financial literacy she discover ed her dream – to help others become financially literate. After completing a year at Harvard Business School she felt the need for international experience and came to South Africa. Although her Harvard class in currently graduating without her, she is pursuing her dream. In her speech, Angelica showed that she has the makings of a proficient speaker.

Faruk du Pont presented his second speech in as many meetings. His Competent Communicator project 2 speech entitled “Why as humans we need to communicate”, investigated the power of the spoken word. Faruk packed his speech with information and some salient points to record are that spoken communication activates a different part of the brain to reading. As a result we process information better when we hear it than when we only read it. Faruk pointed to the depth of consciousness required in verbal communication because a word spoken without due consciousness can hurt deeply. The hurt caused by something said can cause a far deeper and more lasting wound that a physical lashing. The focus brought to spoken communication through Toastmasters can aid one beyond public speaking.

The debating special in which two teams of five speakers each alternated in persuading the judges that they and their team were best equipped to undertake the first mission to Mars.

The Red Team was led by John-Peter Gernaat and they presented their case dressed in red and wearing a plaque around their necks with a photo of the Red Planet and a declaration that the speaker was going to Mars. The other team members were, in speaking order, Keith Bowen, Jim Powell, Angelica and Glenice Ebedes.

The Green Team led by Cheryl-Lynn Langley arrived dressed in an assortment of odd white jackets (at least one looking like a straight-jacket) and odd looking foil caps that one team member proclaimed kept microwaves at bay while Cheryl-Lynn insisted they enabled telepathic communication. The remaining team in order of speaking consisted of Mary Byrne, Faruk, Jonathan Godden and Rod Taylor, each one a respected captain of a spaceship.

The Red Team drew the lot to begin the debate and Keith explained that the team had an integrated approach with each member speaking on their area of expertise. His responsibility would be to draw geothermal energy from beneath Olympus Mons to power the new settlements on Mars that would be supplemented with methane energy. Furthermore, as expert programmer, his immediate task was to keep IT systems operational and to overcome new requirements without the delay of waiting for feedback from Earth.

Mary, the geotechnical expert on the Green Team, proposed to shuttle horse manure between Earth and Mars to green the Red Planet.

Jim explained the implementation of a social and political system that would allow the participants to vote for the decision makers – as in Switzerland.

Faruk explained that the Green Team had technology that reduced the travel time between Earth and Mars from nine months to four weeks.

John-Peter showed a mineral unique to Mars, called teleskite, that has the properties of optic fibre. Mars is criss-crossed with bands of rock rich in teleskite that will be used for communication. The Red Team has the patent on the technology that interfaces with the teleskite highways of Mars. The clincher is that this technology was installed by a Mars lander and the Red Team have intercepted local communication on Mars and deciphered the local language. This gives the Red Team the advantage of being able to interact with the Martians – visible or invisible.

Jonathan explained how he carried the genetic code, as explained in the movie “Total Recall”, to provide Mars with water. All he needed was his Garmin to locate his water machine (Using which satellites circling Mars?).

Angelica, as the transportation expert of the Red Team, explained that she had already established a Martian engineering team that was well on its way to perfecting travel at the speed of light around the planet using the teleskite communication technology to keep on course.

Rod explained that the manure they were transporting to Mars would be used to create fields of kryo-culture, plant food capable of growing in the -63 to -120 degree Centigrade ambient temperature of Mars. Furthermore, despite the eloquent exposition by Jonathan for making water, the Green Team would use catalytic hydrocretinol to manufacture water. This process creates a carbon sponge as by-product that would be used as chemical fertilizer for the kryo-cultured plants. To celebrate the achievements the Green Team would establish the original Mars Bar, while to protect themselves from the high dosage microwave bombardment that hits the surface of Mars, their telepathy caps doubled as microwave reflectors.

Glenice provided the Red Teams answer to ‘greening’ the Red Planet: the American Greenback being valueless would be used to carpet vast tracts of Mars. To retain the original character of Mars, however, most vegetables and flowering plants would be red in colour.

Cheryl-Lynn wrapped up the Green Teams debate with a full explanation of the ridiculous silver caps that they all wore (tried to wear, because they kept falling off) as tools for mental telepathy.

The vote of the judges (based, I hope, on the quality of the speeches and not the validity of the argument presented) went to the white-dressed, silver capped, Green Team. The reward for winning the debate was a personal Mars Bar.

The Hall of Fame acknowledged the great achievement of Ryan in winning the International English Prepared Speaking Contest for District 74 (southern Africa). But this was not Ryan’s only achievement for the year: it is his technical expertise and diligent administration of the Transformers website together with the content provided by several authors during the year that has won Transformers Toastmasters the Top Website in District 74 for a second year running. Ryan and Glenice are the photographers whose pictures bring the text to life on our website.

The club wished Ryan and Glenice a pleasant Comrades Marathon run this weekend.

The next meeting of Transformers takes place on Monday, 14th June. All members of Transformers are requested to invite t hree guests to this meeting.

The last half hour of th is meeting will be given over to the club’s Annual General Meeting at which the club officials for the next year will be confirmed. (These officers have already made themselves available so there is no need to fear being picked on at the meeting.)

All members should come along to cast their votes and guests are always welcome at our club meeting to learn how Toastmasters offers the best programme to improve public speaking and experience the sociable atmosphere in which this programme is presented.