Posts tagged ‘Toastmasters’

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

Would you like some cheese with that wine?

Wine glass bubblingLast week I completed the second speech in the Toastmasters competent communicator series (8 more to go!). The second speech focuses on structuring your speech into an intro, body and conclusion – the old “say what you are going to say, say it, and then say what you just said”. My speech looked at when you can legitimately send a bottle of wine back in a restaurant, and here it is:

WOULD YOU LIKE SOME CHEESE WITH THAT WINE?

A few weeks ago I arrived for afternoon drinks with a client of mine. Now the client is a winemaker, and we were meeting the head of communications for Wines of South Africa – which promotes South African wine abroad. So far so good – I was just thinking how much I love my job – when they passed me the wine list to choose the wine. Choosing itself was not the problem, the problem was when the waitress returned and asked me to taste the wine before she poured. How embarrassing would it have been to have slurped the wine, nodded enthusiastically and then later realised there was something wrong with the wine that I had given the thumbs up to.

So this got me checking up on when you can legitimately send a bottle of wine back in a restaurant. What should you look out for so you don’t end up spending good money on an unpleasant drinking experience?

There are SIX main faults that could creep into your wine. Here’s how to spot them.

First, DAMP CARDBOARD or MUSTINESS usually points to the wine being CORKED. This doesn’t mean that the waiter has mangled getting the cork out the bottle, rather that a fungus called TCA has entered the wine from the cork and it is off. This is the cause of the move to using the dreaded screw cap recently.

A BARNYARD or ANTISEPTIC smell indicates the yeast has done something odd and a type of yeast called Brett or Brettanomyces has developed. This is a bit of a bugbear for South African wines, as our Pinotage naturally smells a bit barnyardy – so international judges get a bit confused and think our wine is contaminated with the stuff.

Next, still on smell – MATCHES or EGGS. Both are bad and both mean something went wrong with the sulphur that was added to the wine. Most wine has sulphur in it – it’s an anti-oxidant and an antibacterial. But too much smells of lit matches. Another way sulphur can spoil your wine is when hydrogen sulphide is released by the fermenting yeast. You’ll know about this when you get a whiff of rotting eggs. Neither of these will kill you – but it won’t be much fun drinking the wine.

Fourth, you’ve made it on to tasting the wine, but your red wine seems a bit FIZZY and tastes peculiar – the wine might have undergone a second fermentation in the bottle. This is normal, but not very nice, so most winemakers ensure this fermentation – called MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION – happens before they bottle. You won’t die, you just won’t have a very enjoyable bottle of wine – and what is the point of that?

And finally – in my book the two biggest no no’s because these can be avoided simply by restaurants knowing something about wine, and looking after the wine properly.

If your wine smells like SHERRY, it’s been open for too long or is passed its sell by date and has oxidised. This often happens when restaurants sell wine by the glass and have the bottle open for far too long.

The second mistake restaurants make is storing their wine badly, and especially in too warm conditions like next to the pizza oven. This can COOK the wine and make it smell a bit like caramel and look brownish around the edges. A dead giveaway is if the cork has started coming out of the bottle.

So there you have it. If any of the following things pop up in your wine you can confidently send it back as faulty:

WET CARDBOARD
BAND AIDS
MATCHES OR EGGS
FIZZ
SHERRY
THE CORK POPPING OUT

Back to my client meeting – fortunately the De Grendel Sauvignon Blanc was crisp, fruity and delicious, had none of the problems we’ve been talking about, and everyone was happy.

So here’s to fault-free wine drinking.

Mr Toastmaster

Quite a fun speech in the end. Used a couple of cool props to illustrate each of the examples, and secretly also to help me remember the 6 faults.

The next speech in the series involves getting to the point. Am waiting to be struck by inspiration for a topic idea.

2 May, 2009 at 8:03 pm Leave a comment

Toastmasters: Icebreaker

"Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything"

Yesterday I delivered my Icebreaker speech at the Peninsula Toastmaster’s Club in Cape Town. This is the first speech in the competent communicator course, and was the first time I had done anything like this for some time.

I was really happy with the way it went. Because it was competition night, I got to speak for an extra minute (YAY – seriously, I had to cut 3 minutes out of my speech as it was!) and I got evaluated by my mentor, as well as by the 3 competitors in the evaluation section of the competition – not as nerve-wracking as it sounds. The club members are great – supportive but also give you useful feedback you can work with.

Anyway, here’s the speech, more or less how I delivered it.

FEET, PLAY, LIFE

Madam Toastmaster, ladies and gentlemen, welcome guests

A curious thing happened to me towards the end of last year – I found myself agreeing with Oprah. Not that I have anything against Oprah but I generally don’t jump onto passing bandwagons.

This was the object of our agreement, the book: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which was raved about by the Oprah book club and has become a worldwide success. If you don’t know it, it’s about how Liz Gilbert discovers pleasure in the restaurants of Italy, devotion on an Ashram in India, and how to balance the two in the tropical paradise Bali.

So when I was thinking about preparing this speech, and what to say this evening, I had the brainwave of borrowing the structure of the book and talking about three different places where I have lived, and the impact they have had on me.
So here I am, delighted to share with you my version of Eat, Pray, Love, which I call Feet, Play, Life.

Feet is for London, where I lived for more than 7 years. Feet – because I very briefly stood behind a bar and was possibly the worst barmaid in South East London. And feet – because this is where I really started finding my feet.

I fairly quickly got tempted over to the dark side from my first job as a technology journalist. And worked in PR and marketing roles at a London-based start-up, where we very quickly spent tens of millions of dollars in venture cap money, and very soon after the dotcom bust, had a bit less fun picking up the pieces.

What I learnt though was, in the same way that what goes up, must come down; what goes down is also very likely to come up again, eventually. And all along, if you keep your feet on the ground, there is opportunity.

So much for finding my feet. Eventually my feet started settling – you know like when you stand at the edge of the sea and your feet start slowly sinking into the sand?

It was definitely time to play. I started making my way back home to Cape Town, with a stop along the way in Egypt to do my divemaster’s course. Now this is structured fairly similarly to the Toastmasters’ programme, with a number of tasks you need to finish in order to qualify. The thing was, while you were still in training – you got to dive as much as you liked. I stretched the length of that course as far as it would go, by simply refusing to do the last exercise – you had to float for 20 minutes or something – and managed to clock up a couple of hundred dives in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

My all time favourite dive site is called Bells / Blue Hole just north of Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula. You kit up, balance your way over some slightly precarious rocks, and jump into a hole that is barely the size of a diver with all their gear on. A short tunnel leads to an open chimney that runs down the side of the reef for about 30 metres. It is called Bells because of the ringing sound the tanks make as the divers descend. There is a tiny tunnel section right at the bottom before you pop out to be faced with an infinite amount of blue ocean – it was like flying or being in outer space.

But sadly, as every five-year-old knows, playtime always comes to an end – and it was high time I came home and got a real “LIFE”.

Now I know I am more than slightly biased – but life in Cape Town is definitely for me.

You can almost see the energy and opportunity in the streets, and everyone has got something exciting on the go.
Early last year – and I do blame this on living in Cape Town – I came to the rather startling and quite profound realisation that I was almost totally unemployable – in a very good way though – working for someone else was just never going to work out for me – so I struck out as a freelance marketing consultant and haven’t looked back.

My start-up anecdote is that I naturally did not take my own good advice when I thought up my company name – coming up with it in about 2 seconds flat… Every morning when I left for my proper job I would say good-bye to my cats and tell them I was off to make some money, to buy you two cats some food … so it made perfect sense to name my company Twokats Communications.

So with sincere apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert for me taking rather too many liberties with her wonderful book – that was a short introduction to Vanessa Clark by way of FEET in LONDON, PLAYING in EGYPT and LIFE in CAPE TOWN.

Madam Toastmaster

27 March, 2009 at 1:49 pm 2 comments


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