Speeches and hand-outs

On Thursday 2nd August, two out of three speeches had a hand-out to stir our curiosity and to provide some additional elements.

Andrew Grant gave his seventh speech – “Research Your Topic”, from the Competent Communicator Manual – whose objective is “Collect information from numerous sources, carefully support the points and opinions with specific facts, examples, and illustrations gathered through research”. Starting from a personal recollection – his grandfather fought in World War II –, he talked about what Enigma was and the efforts made by the scientists at Bletchley Park to break that code used by Germany for secret, diplomatic and military communication. It was based on the use of a special typewriter which, through three rotors, changed the letters which were typed. As an example of this, he showed a paper with the example of a coded message and a photo of the Enigma machine. The code, however, had three weaknesses:

  1. Each letter was always changed with every letter except the correct one
  2. Each message started with the same beginning
  3. The position of the rotors was always the same, so the changes happened with the same pattern

When the British were able to break Enigma, they were faced with a dilemma: if they had always used the information they were decoding, the Axis would have understood they had cracked the code: this meant they had to let many soldiers die not to reveal what they had discovered. Although several lives were lost because of these tactics, it has been estimated that solving Enigma enabled the Allies to shorten the length of the war from two to four years: in this way, a very large amount of lives were saved.

Martin Seagroatt, too, with his third speech entitled “Does artificial intelligence pose an existential threat to humanity” – which covered the “Get to the Point” step, from the Competent Communicator Manual – started handing out a piece of paper depicting the three possible ideas one might have about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.): a positive, a balanced and a negative one. Martin first asked his audience in which idea they identified themselves, then he continued to talk about his fear that A.I. might have some negative aspects. For example, we will be able to create some supercomputers very soon, and they, too, will be able to devise and create new computers of their one: however, we cannot predict which type of devices they will be and what effect they might have on us.

On a similar note, with all these implementations we can’t predict how the A.I. will evolve, if they are going to follow our aims or if they have a logic of their own. In all these scenarios, there will always be the possibility of human errors and malfunctions, thus conveying the idea that a bleak future for the human species might not be such a far-fetched theory.

Moira Beaton “revisited” her previous speech, “Hidden in Plain Sight”, incorporating the observations and the feedback the evaluator originally gave her. This “update” of her speech was part of the program she is following: in fact, in the “Presentation Mastery” there is a project where the member has to “present either a new speech or the same speech that incorporates some or all of the feedback received from the presentation of the first speech”. This new “version” about the perils and the difficulties to detect the hidden sugar in the food had a stronger delivery, the technical aspects of the subject were explained in a clearer way, and the usage of the slides was improved.

Three examples of speeches which had some innovative aspects in their delivery, thus showing the variety of techniques we may learn in our club. Don’t miss, then, our next meeting on 16th August.

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Today is the day…

Today is the day of our biweekly club meeting, when you deliver your prepared speech or you are called to participate in the table topic… so it is never too late to remember which are the 8 golden tips to help you cope with nervousness before presenting to an audience:

  1. Arrive early to the meeting room to get familiar with the space. If you plan to use technology or visual aids, you may find it helpful to practice with them before the meeting begins.
  2. Practice your speech and revise it until you can present it with ease.
  3. Concentrate on your breathing. You can ease your tension by doing breathing exercises that work for you.
  4. Visualize yourself giving a successful speech. Picture the audience applauding as you finish and return to your seat.
  5. Realize that audience members support your success. They aren’t there to judge you. They want to hear your message.
  6. Don’t call attention to your nervousness. If you don’t say anything about it, likely nobody will notice.
  7. Concentrate on the message you are communicating to your audience. Your nervous feelings will be reduced if you focus your attention away from your anxieties.
  8. Take every opportunity to speak. Experience builds confidence. Most beginning speakers find that they manage anxiety better after each speech they give.

Different paths

At our latest meeting, a diversity of speeches helped to create a very enjoyable evening both for our members and our guests.

Although technically Irina Antonenko’s speech was her second one, she decided to move to the new Pathway education program, and she delivered her “icebreaker” entitled “It gets worse?”, from the “Motivational Strategies” path. She illustrated how the road to become an adult is difficult. After finishing her studies in maths, she started looking for a job, and she received an offer to work as legal secretary: this task, set in a fast-paced environment, revealed to be very formative because she had to speak in a language – Russian – she wasn’t very fluent, and because of the numerous tasks she had to regularly manage. After that, she was ready for her next move: to relocate to Edinburgh.

Here, she found a job in an IT company, which his helping her to learn what she really is. In addition to this, she started to come to Toastmasters because she thinks this type of environment will help her to find out new aspects of her personality.

Omar Martini has delivered his fourth speech, in the Competent Communication Manual, entitled “The road of life is paved with stories”. He talked about his passion for reading and stories, and how they had always been a part of him. He began quoting an episode of his childhood where probably everything started, then he continued to talk about his habit to regularly visit bookshops, something he has done in every city where he lived, and how all this helped him broaden his interests and choose the University he attended.

Finally, Jacek Lasota delivered something a little “unusual”, that is an unprepared speech. With the title “What is your Toastmaster plan”, he invited all the members to think if they have a plan in their Toastmaster commitment and, if not, to think about it. Every step in our life as members of this association prepares us for what happens later. For example, to give an evaluation it is suggested to deliver at least three speeches, to see and learn how this process works. Or to participate in a contest, it is necessary to have delivered at least 6 speeches. Thus he urged us, especially in his new role as Vice President of Education, to take as many roles as possible and to think how we want to progress in our Toastmaster life.

An interesting mix of personal points of view which have made the evening a varied one and with something unexpected, too, which will make us wonder what we are going to see in our next meeting, on 26th July.

The variety of speeches

On Thursday 21st June we have had a clear example of the variety of speeches that the new educational program “Pathways” can offer to all the members.

Moira Beaton introduced her second speech from the “Presentation Mastery” series – that is, “Evaluation and Feedback” –, entitled “The Sugar Trap”. Accompanied by a series of images, the main objective of the text was to illustrate the fact we are unaware of the real quantity of sugar we daily consume. First, she talked about the several illnesses an excessive amount of sugar could lead and the possible addictiveness it could cause. We all start to ingest sugar even before being born, when we are in our mother’s womb, because of what she eats, then we progress with all kinds of food. As an example of the huge quantity of sugar contained in a product, she mentioned Starbuck’s Frappuccino, which may have from 17 to 23 teaspoons of sugar. Then, she listed the several names under which sugar is hidden, in order not to write the “S” word on the labels and the ingredient lists, and how sugar is used by the industry – i.e. to absorb moisture, to preserve food, to extend the product life on the shelves, etc. She concluded stating she is not against sugar or its use, but she doesn’t like the hidden sugar, and she thinks we need to have the full control of the quantity we ingest every day.

Jacek Lasota started the series “Communicating on Video” with the speech “First Week”, whose theme was “Straight talk”. The first week quoted in the title refers to the World Cup’s one, and how the use of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has affected the matches. He listed the four main areas where it was used (1. if there was a goal or not; 2. if there was a penalty; 3. if a red card had to be used; 4. cases of mistaken identity) and affirmed he was very happy and satisfied by the positive effects it was having. This speech was very interesting to see because it was meant to be seen as a video rather than live during a club meeting. Watching Jacek could have seemed a little strange because he was sitting, he didn’t look straight to the audience and the body language and movements were obviously limited, but as I mentioned, the objective was different from the “classic speech”. Jacek showed us how Pathways could provide us the chance to experiment with new ways of communication: not only the classic ones but also those who are more connected with the modern types of verbal expression.

Finally, we had Neil McLure with his fifth “speech” from the “Interpretative Reading” series. This oratorical project was Mahatma Gandhi’s speech to Congress delivered on 8 August, 1942 in Bombay (now Mumbai) ahead of the Quit India Movement, in which he asked people to adopt ahimsa (non-violence) during the struggle for India’s independence from Britain. Neil chose this particular speech because some parts of it are relevant to nations still hoping to be rid of British Imperialism. The interpretation Neil gave of this powerful text was very effective, and here you may find the text he used, which is slightly modified only for time limit’s reason.

Before you discuss the resolution, let me place before you one or two things, I want you to understand two things very clearly and to consider them from the same point of view from which I am placing them before you. I ask you to consider it from my point of view, because if you approve of it, you will be enjoined to carry out all I say. It will be a great responsibility. There are people who ask me whether I am the same man that I was in 1920, or whether there has been any change in me. You are right in asking that question.

Let me, however, hasten to assure that I am the same Gandhi as I was in 1920. I have not changed in any fundamental respect. I attach the same importance to non-violence that I did then. If at all, my emphasis on it has grown stronger. There is no real contradiction between the present resolution and my previous writings and utterances.

Occasions like the present do not occur in everybody’s and but rarely in anybody’s life. I want you to know and feel that there is nothing but purest Ahimsa in all that I am saying and doing today. The draft resolution of the Working Committee is based on Ahimsa, the contemplated struggle similarly has its roots in Ahimsa. If, therefore, there is any among you who has lost faith in Ahimsa or is wearied of it, let him not vote for this resolution.

Let me explain my position clearly.

Ours is not a drive for power, but purely a non-violent fight for India’s independence. In a violent struggle, a successful general has been often known to effect a military coup and to set up a dictatorship. But under the Congress scheme of things, essentially non-violent as it is, there can be no room for dictatorship. A non-violent soldier of freedom will covet nothing for himself, he fights only for the freedom of his country. The Congress is unconcerned as to who will rule, when freedom is attained. The power, when it comes, will belong to the people of India, and it will be for them to decide to whom it placed in the entrusted. May be that the reins will be placed in the hands of the Parsis, for instance-as I would love to see happen-or they may be handed to some others whose names are not heard in the Congress today. It will not be for you then to object saying, “This community is microscopic. That party did not play its due part in the freedom’s struggle; why should it have all the power?” Ever since its inception the Congress has kept itself meticulously free of the communal taint. It has thought always in terms of the whole nation and has acted accordingly.

I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours. I read Carlyle’s French Revolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal has told me something about the Russian revolution. But it is my conviction that inasmuch as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence they failed to realize the democratic ideal. In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence.

Then, there is the question of your attitude towards the British. I have noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people. The people say they are disgusted with their behaviour. The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people. To them, the two are one. We must get rid of this feeling. Our quarrel is not with the British people, we fight their imperialism. The proposal for the withdrawal of British power did not come out of anger. It came to enable India to play its due part at the present critical juncture It is not a happy position for a big country like India to be merely helping with money and material obtained willy-nilly from her while the United Nations are conducting the war. We cannot evoke the true spirit of sacrifice and valour, so long as we are not free. I know the British Government will not be able to withhold freedom from us, when we have made enough self-sacrifice. We must, therefore, purge ourselves of hatred. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have never felt any hatred. As a matter of fact, I feel myself to be a greater friend of the British now than ever before. One reason is that they are today in distress. My very friendship, therefore, demands that I should try to save them from their mistakes. As I view the situation, they are on the brink of an abyss. It, therefore, becomes my duty to warn them of their danger even though it may, for the time being, anger them to the point of cutting off the friendly hand that is stretched out to help them. People may laugh, nevertheless that is my claim. At a time when I may have to launch the biggest struggle of my life, I may not harbor hatred against anybody.

Another entertaining evening, as often happens at the Waverley Communicators meetings, and if you don’t want to miss what will happen at the next one, please come and visit us on 5th July.

The Hour’s Lesson

A bold experiment, some might say. Gloriously risky, someone did say. Common sense triumphant, say I. Let me explain.

When it was first suggested that I take part in the Lyceum’s production of ‘The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other’, I was diffident. ‘A play for which there are no words’ sounded suspiciously like the kind of veiled condemnation you find in some school reports. But no; it is that rare thing, a mainstream play without dialogue, inspired by an occasion on which the author, Peter Handke, was simply watching the world go by – when a coffin entered his line of vision.

The change in the atmosphere was so profound, and the lesson in the power of non-verbal communication so forceful, that this piece was the result. The audience is placed in the position of a person on a park bench, or at a cafe table, with the stage his vista. Starting in a fairly low key, with shopkeepers and firemen, the cast soon expands to include figures of fantasy, history and myth.

The precise nature of what is seen is left unclear – is it an allegory? Purgatory, perhaps? Or has the man on the bench simply fallen asleep? Such ambiguity is part of the point, and probably no-one’s answer will be the same. But, as one of the cast of ‘Edinburgh residents’ which performed it, seeing it from the inside taught me three objective lessons which I feel I must share with audiences actual and potential.

The first lesson is this. In a play without dialogue, the audience is if anything even more involved than normal, as it is forced to look for the objective truth in sources about which we usually do not even think. We are told that only 20% of communication is verbal and that many interviewers make up their minds about a candidate before he or she has even spoken. We all make similar snap judgements – but how often do we consider their validity? Sherlock Holmes may have known a weaver by his thumb, but he did not presume to know the man. If ever you see this play, see then how much more you notice the extraordinary variety on our own streets, and make inferences from what you see…and this time, you will wonder if you are correct. Who knows, perhaps your curiosity might even impel you so far as to speak to a stranger!

The second lesson is how far the stage can build confidence. I have suffered for many years from anxiety, once so acute that maintaining a conversation was beyond me. The effect of making it to curtain call on the opening night was like a dam bursting, flash floods of exhilaration carrying me, carrying all of us, to new heights of self-confidence. Some counsel killing nerves by a thousand cuts: this delivered a single thrusting blow to their heart. If every child was able to take part in an experience such as this, the rampant generational epidemic of poor mental health would start to disappear.

The third lesson, however, is the most important of all. The Guardian quoted co-director Janice Parker’s description of this show as ‘gloriously risky’, but misunderstood it as being admonitory. Francis Chichester’s solo sail around the world was ‘gloriously risky’. The music of Schoenberg and Stravinsky was ‘gloriously risky’. Everything that seeks to break new ground is gloriously risky and remains glorious for that reason even if the risk doesn’t pay off. But really, this enterprise needed admonishments only if you believe that ‘ordinary’ people are naturally incompetent and need careful shepherding if what they do is not to dissolve in disaster.

The most brilliant stroke that the directors Wils Wilson and Janice Parker displayed among an array of them was to dispense with auditions and work with whosoever turned up to the casting call. They showed that they knew there is no such thing as an ‘ordinary’ person: each person has a unique character and set of abilities just as they have fingerprints, and that if you give a group of enthusiastic and responsible people a job to do, the chances are they’ll pull it off.

This is hardly a novel observation – ancient Athens after all used to fill public offices by lottery from the ‘common’ populace – but is one we seem to have lost sight of in a blizzard of degrees and diplomas. (Maybe, just maybe, embracing one Greek legacy, public theatre, could lead one day to the rehabilitation of another: direct democracy! It would be quite something if ‘The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other’ became ‘The Hour We Started To Know Ourselves’!)

We share our living space with millions, yet for most of us our paths are as rigidly defined as planetary orbits – it is notable that until one scene towards the very end of the play, virtually none of the characters on stage interact with each other at all. The casting call for ‘Edinburgh residents’ drew out a group of people as eclectic as the characters we portrayed on stage, and who otherwise would probably never have met. (To a remark that there were no people of colour, I can reply that we had a Chinese lady, a Greek, a German, a Czech, an Argentinian, and a lady of mixed Scots and Belize parentage.) Not only was there not a single unkind word, but many of us made friends for life. We, who acted in real life as the characters we portrayed on stage, became, through the process of acting it, examples of what it was designed to do. Life was made to imitate art for us. Let it do so for you, too.

Michael McLernan