Archive for June, 2009

CC4: We’ve come a long way

moonrakerI delivered my CC4 last week at the Peninsula Toastmasters Club‘s 30th birthday celebration at the Tafelberg Tavern. I decided to take a little trip down memory lane and look at what the world was like in 1979, when the club was formed. Fortunately it turns out that 1979 was a pretty eventful year, with some nice links to 2009.

The objective of the presentation was to say it well, and concentrate on communication clearly, effectively and using language well.

We’ve come a long way

In 1979 I was four, going on five. The biggest event in my live was going off to nursery school a couple of times a week. It was in a nice leafy Cape Town suburb, there were two cool dogs there, I got to play and paint, and we had cups of Oros at lunchtime.

Life was pretty damn good.

Little did I know I was living in a country where the majority of the population was viciously, irrationally and often violently discriminated against. 30 years ago, we would have all been breaking the law by being at this meeting – how insanely crazy is that?

And if we pan out a little wider, we would see we were living on a planet in 1979 divided in two by a Cold War between two bully nations, America and Russia, slugging it out for global domination in a global playground.
There’s no denying, we’ve come a long way in 30 years!

So in honour of Peninsula Toastmasters’s 30th birthday, let’s hop into a time machine and go visit 1979.

We’ll start by turning on the TV – yes that is Riaan Cruywagen presenting 30 years ago! And his hair hasn’t changed. On the news, we see Prime Minister PW Botha saying that the bright flash over the South Atlantic, picked up by satellite, was categorically not a nuclear explosion, and that Israel and South Africa are definitely not testing nuclear weapons.

The news goes on to talk about Margaret Thatcher, who has just been voted as the first female prime minister of Great Britain. The news does not however, go on to talk about Nelson Mandela, serving his 15th year on Robben Island, and with another 12 years in prison ahead of him.

But now it’s time for sport –Bjorn Bjorg and Martina Navratilova have won Wimbledon this year. Of course Martina had to defect from her native Czechoslovakia in order to play, thanks to the Cold War that has been simmering away for decades.
Now the Cold War wasn’t all bad – we have it to thank for numerous James Bond movies – Moonraker starring Roger Moore was released in 1979. This along with movies like Alien and Star Trek, also released this year, give us in inkling of the paranoia and fear that characterised this period of international politics.

Specifically in 1979 the stage of the Cold War known as détente (or relaxing) came to an end with a hotting up of conflict. In Angola, a bloody civil war had been raging for four years that had sucked in the superpowers as well as South Africa. Back home white South Africans in any case were terrified that a flood of communists would descend on us from the North.

Further afield, 1979 saw Russia invade Afghanistan, starting 10 years of war. Like in Angola, the USA jumped in and supported the rival mujahidin – and we all know what happened a couple decades later when that ticking time bomb exploded.
Next door to Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein takes power in Iraq, and the Ayatollah Khomeini kicks out the Shah of Iran and becomes names himself supreme ruler of the country for the next ten years, setting in place a chain of events leading to the second oil crisis.

But world affairs weren’t all doom and gloom 30 years ago. Idi Amin’s reign of terror, which cost up to 500,000 people their lives, ended in Uganda in 1979. And a power-sharing government in Zimbabwe set the scene for the first democratically elected government the following year.

On the science and technology front, in 1979 small pox became the only disease to be totally wiped off the face of the planet. In 1979 Philips demonstrated CD technology for the first time and Compuserve offered the first email service. The Japanese telephone company NTT launched the first city-wide cellular phone network.

Let’s stay in 1979 for a moment longer. Now bearing in mind I am definitely a “the glass is half full” kind of a girl …. Who would have thought, in 1979 that South Africa would be 15 years into a vibrant, if like most teenagers somewhat temperamental, democracy in 30 years time. The Berlin Wall would be a thing of the past. That tourists would be taking cruises to Russia and visiting Moscow and St Petersburg. That James Bond would still be going strong in the shape of Daniel Craig. And that thanks to email and other ways of communicating online we’d be getting real time reports about the recent election in Iran.

So let’s fast forward 30 years into the future from 2009. I wonder what apparently unsolvable and insurmountable problems that we face today will be a thing of the past in 2039? And what technology will have been invented that hopefully makes our lives easier, not more difficult.

You’ll have to come along to Peninsula’s 60th birthday party to find out from part 2 of this speech.

Naturally I will still be 34.

In the meantime, happy birthday Peninsula – may there be many more.

28 June, 2009 at 4:44 pm 1 comment

CC03: Build a digital village

Last week I delivered the third in my series of Toastmasters Competent Communication presentations. Project 3 involves getting to the point and your objectives are to determine the general and specific purpose of the speech; organise the speech accordingly; project sincerity and conviction; and control nervousness and not use notes.

Because it is coming up to the end of the Toastmaster’s year, I missed out on a speaking slot at our last meeting – understandably preference is given to people near the end of a level. Fortunately the brilliant Evadne Kortje arranged a Speakathon – where six of us had the chance to speak and be evaluated. Also nice was the fact that members of other clubs joined in.

My speech was entitled Build a digital village. Its general purpose was to inform, and its specific purpose was to give people tips on how to control the massive amount of information we receive daily.

Here it is:

BUILD A DIGITAL VILLAGE

Every day I check out the Facebook photos of a baby belonging to someone I worked with 10 years ago, and haven’t spoken to since. I receive adverts via MMS on my cell phone for things I don’t want from people I never gave my number to. I receive tweets on Twitter about French wines I am unlikely to ever taste. I get LinkedIn requests from people who took a liking to my profile pic. Oh, and of course, don’t forget about all the lotteries I have won, and embezzled central African funds I get news of via email. Good thing too, because somehow I’m going to have to pay for all the Viagra I’m being offered.

Good grief, it’s a quarter past 10 and I am only starting work now!

You’d think from this that I am a bit of a Luddite and would rather go back to the days of news arriving by mail boat, six months out of date. “Oh so we beat the Germans then did we? Jolly good!”

Not at all. I find the whole idea of a connected society and information economy tremendously exciting and filled with possibilities. Not only from the practical point of view:  I can do business with anyone in the world, to the more philosophical: it’s really hard to hate an entire nation on the other side of the world and go to war with them, when a bunch of my friends on Facebook come from there.

But I do need to manage the flood of information that arrives at my doorstep every day.

A few years ago I went to Sao Paulo in Brazil for a business trip. As I approached the city, I noticed something a bit strange. Bear in mind that at the time Sao Paulo was one of the world’s 3 largest cities. Unlike most cities, which gradually grow as you move from the suburbs towards the business centre, Sao Paulo seemed to be one huge monstrosity taking up the entire horizon.

After a few days of sitting in traffic for hours on end, I asked our local MD, Felipe, how on anyone survived living in this crazy place. I’ll always remember his explanation: “you carve out a triangle with where you live, work and play at the points, and build your own village” – now this is in a city of just under 20 million people.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently in the context of managing the vast quantities of information that we are bombarded with, thanks to that fabulous thing called the World Wide Web. And I think this village idea might be a good way to help us deal with this information overload.

We need to make this information bombardment work for us, not against us.

This is where the advice of Felipe in Sao Paulo becomes incredibly useful. We need to carve out an online village for ourselves that allows us to live, work and play – and stay sane.

Fortunately, the technology that has caused the disease, gives us a few useful tools for the cure as well.

Here are a couple that I try to use.

Only connect to and engage with people who add value. Just like Felipe isn’t friends with all 20 million people in Sao Paulo, don’t try and be a friend to all – get rid of the time wasters.

Use alert tools or readers to automatically monitor subjects you are interested in – and then once a day or once a week have a quick read. Similarly Felipe might read a local community newspaper, to find out what is immediately relevant to him and his village.

Switch off your email or turn off your mobile phone for a few hours at a time. The sky won’t fall in, I promise.

Here’s a bit of a scary one, but I’ve tried it and it works. Have a media black-out. Ignore the news. If you have your village set up correctly, any news you need to know will come to you.

So don’t try and consume all the information that is out there – just like Felipe carved out a section of Sao Paulo and made it work for him – carve out areas of interest, specialist knowledge and value and make the information overload in 2009 work for you.

16 June, 2009 at 7:44 pm Leave a comment


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