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

Beginnings, endings and, again, beginnings…

Last Thursday 7th June was an evening of beginnings, endings and new beginnings… from the “speeches” point of view!

Scott Kavanagh did an “icebreaker” from the Pathways series he’s just started (“Innovative Planning”). With the title “Worry” he talked about the fact he is a “natural born worrier” and about the elements which create worries in his life. He believes they have negative effects, but they can also have some positive ones.

He remembers an episode when he was learning to swim as a kid: they told him to go deeper, and he panicked because he didn’t understand the swimming pool was knee-deep.

Considering how he worries so much, he has been doing the “right” job for 10 years… that is the investor risk, which in short means “to worry on behalf of your client”.

Also, having a family with 3 kids means he will worry for his entire life.

To try to relax, he has recently started again an old hobby of his, that is painting miniatures; he is an avid reader, as well.

Public speaking is not easy, too, of course, but as he mentioned at the beginning, facing this will have a positive effect because he’ll help him to transform a worry into a strength.

Dan Haycraft, on the contrary, with “How you should do it” reached his tenth and final speech from the classic “Competent Communication” manual: he talked about how he was able to reach this result, that is finding, carefully choosing and matching the right heroes.

The first example he gives is “Chuck” Yeager, the pilot who beat for the first time the speed of sound. Everybody thought he wouldn’t have been able to make it, and two days before the event, he even broke two ribs. He didn’t reveal it to anyone, he was helped in closing the hatch of the plane, he was able to overcome any difficulties and break that record. After that moment, he could beat other records.

Like him, Dan took that attitude whenever he had to overcome some difficulties.

Another hero who inspired him was General Robert Lee. He was a soldier, and when the war broke, he had to face a hard choice: to stay faithful to the United States or to the state of Virginia? He chose Virginia. Then, he was defeated, he accepted it and after the war, he was very supportive to the reconciliation between North and South.

This attitude, too, helped him a lot, especially after the devastations caused by hurricane Katrina: he decided to be strong both physically and socially.

He states he didn’t prepare that speech to inspire anyone, but simply to suggest everybody should choose carefully their personal heroes. In doing so, they may lose in some situations, but in other situations they will certainly win more times than they think.

Finally, our most experienced John Wood introduced us with “It’s only Words” to the “Entertaining Speech”, from “The Entertaining Speaker” series of the Pathways program.

Telling a small, personal anecdote John starts to give examples of different types of “peculiar” words… words he noted in his “vocabulary notebook”, a habit he took when he was a boy train-spotter.

One of his current highlights is when the Oxford Dictionary lists the new neologisms, both the portmanteau words and the terms whose meanings have been “rebooted”. Even the “Washington Post” is taking some interest in this last aspect: in fact, they run an annual competition where the readers are asked to provide an alternative meaning to existing words.

Finally, a type of words which amuses him a lot are the definitions describing social groups, like the recent “gammon”, but what strikes him the most is realizing that the number of new neologisms appearing every year is almost as much the same amount of the vocabulary spoken by an average person.

In short, a great evening which makes us look forward to what we may be able to hear at our next meeting, on Thursday 21st June.


IceBreakers – Traditional and Pathways

At the 26th April meeting, we had two different types of “icebreaker” which helped us to get introduced to and know a little better two of our members.

First, Kevin Dickson, with his “Changes”, delivered his speech from the Competent Communication Manual, whose objectives are “Speak before an audience; use existing speaking skills; introduce oneself to fellow club members”.

His was a classic piece: Kevin started telling how he worked as a paperboy when he was 10 years old, and how that job in the UK was different compared to the idea we have when we see it in the US movies. Then, he described how he spent a lot of time outside with his friends. He grew up and continued to study; he went to Aberdeen for his Masters in Psychology; he did different types of jobs to support himself during that period; he moved back to Edinburgh where he started working for the NHS -a full life, where “change” was a constant element of it.

In the past he never had a chance to study or attend courses in public speaking and leadership, and now he wants to change that situation. That is why he chose to be here and take some risks learning new things, instead of staying safely at home.

The highly-experienced Moira Beaton, after the numerous speeches she has delivered, has started the new Pathways program, and she delivered her icebreaker speech, in the “Presentation Mastery” program, entitled “Risk!!”. In this case, the objectives are: “Deliver a speech on any topic as an introduction to the club using any style that appeals”.

She remembered how she delivered her first speech in 2004 only after 6 weeks she attended the club, and she was nervous because she didn’t know what they would think of her after hearing what she had to say. She looked back at her evaluation written in her original CC manual, and noticed she was described as a “risk-taker”.

Maybe it was because, when she was very young, she left for Syria travelling in a car with a husband, a dog and everything they had. It was the beginning of a very intense period: in October 1973 she didn’t leave Damascus when the Yom Kippur war broke out; in 1974 she went to the Saudi Arabian desert and was stung twice by scorpions, then she moved to Oman and moved again, to Cyprus with her husband and two children,2 years after the Cyprus invasion; there, she ran a hospital and a restaurant. Twenty-five years after she left Scotland, she returned to the UK, and she started to study again, this time law in Glasgow.

After that first speech in 2004, she did many other things and now she wonders where this new icebreaker will lead her – maybe to other 14 years of Toastmasters?

Post written by Omar Martini, Waverley Communicators

Double Win for Waverley at Area 33 Contests

After the International Speech and Evaluation contest which took place in our club on Thursday 15th March, three weeks later, on Saturday 7th April, the second round was hosted in Rosyth, this time for all the winners of the Area 33 contest.

The Waverley Communicators members who were to represent our club were Paul Bailey and Dan Haycraft for the International Speech Contest, and Marcin Radecki and Jacek Lasota for the Evaluation contest. Because of a personal commitment, however, Marcin Radecki wasn’t able to go and was replaced by Michael McLernan who came third in the club contest.

In the fascinating venue of Lodge 1159, a selected group of Toastmasters members had prepared the place to welcome the participants. The first part was dedicated to the Speech contest: the audience listened to seven speeches of high quality and diversified subjects, from the adventurous life of the ancestor of a Toastmaster member to the nocturnal incursions of a cat, to a daring flight to return home where everything which could possibly go wrong… went wrong!

Our Paul Bailey amused all the listeners with a sharp-witted analysis of the different types of expenses met by our organisation, while Dan Haycraft struck everybody with the tale of what really happened with Hurricane Katrina, revealing some of the hidden facts which were never covered by the media. It was a highly effective speech, and Dan was extraordinary good in what could be defined, without any doubt, the best speech he has ever delivered in a Toastmaster meeting.

After a short break, where we had the chance to taste some delicious and slightly spiced Indian rolls, the Evaluation Contest started. Jacek Lasota and Michael McLernan, like the other three competitors, listened to an amusing speech about the art of negotiation. They perfectly evaluated the speech with the sharpness we know so well when they evaluate in our meetings.

Time to count the ballots and the final results were astounding: Paul Bailey and Michael McLernan took first place in both contests! An incredible outcome for our club, and an even more satisfactory one, if we consider that last year, at the International Speech Contest, the first place was taken by our own Neil MacLure.

The winners can rest and enjoy this moment, but not for very long. In fact, it’s not over yet and they have to be ready for the new step in the competition. On 21st April there will be the Division S contest, and this time it will take place in Aberdeen.

All our members are invited to support our representatives on that day, but for the moment let’s also thank you Dan Haycraft and Jacek Lasota who, although they didn’t qualify, they gave an exceptional performance for which they should be very proud… as are we of them.

Post written by Omar Martini – Secretary, Waverley Communicators

PATHWAYS – How To Get Started

Pathways Learning Paths


On Tuesday, 20th March, members will receive an email from Toastmasters International (TI) with a link to access PATHWAYS, TI’s new education system.

If you can’t wait to get started and want access to Basecamp, you will need to select a Path. (The exception is the Basecamp Manager who will have access before choosing their Path).

How To Get Started

Either follow the link in TI’s email or login to, go to ‘Pathways’ then ‘Access my path through basecamp’.

Click on ‘Continue to path selection’ . You can opt for online or print delivery. If you opt for online delivery, you must complete the assessment before choosing your first Path (no need to complete the assessment for subsequent Paths unless you want to). Please note: Members who opt for print materials do not take the assessment and are instead taken to a web page where they can select from five Paths).

The Assessment

The assessment consists of 30 questions and takes about 5-10 minutes to complete. Make sure you have a designated time for this because if you are interrupted in the middle of it you will be timed out after 30 minutes and have to start again. The assessment results are not stored.

When you complete the assessment, you will have suggestions for 3 Paths (closest match and 2 other top matches) based on your “needs, interests and current goals” (TI). But, you don’t have to choose one of those if you don’t want to, you can explore the other 7 Paths before making a final decision.

Access To Basecamp

Now that you have chosen your path, you will have access to Basecamp. If you have any questions, please contact your Vice President Education (VPE).

Post written by Moira Beaton

Pathways Guide District 71