Setting sails

Setting sails
Friends Good Will


"Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us." Isaiah 26:12

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Surprised and Bemused

Yesterday, just before I went to choir, an e-mail arrived. I'd entered a contest to vote  for book video trailers. The random drawing brought up my name, and I'm now waiting for the delivery of a Kindle e-book reader and a gift card. Thank you to KCWC and Misty Taggart!

I'm browsing through Amazon's list of completely free e-books first, and finding several that I've long loved but didn't own, and sequels I didn't know existed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Today's Thankfulness Triggers

1. Given that I live in frequently cloudy Michigan, the sunshine today was a thrill. The grass is trying to green up in response, and the prisms on my porch cast all sizes of dancing rainbows on my walls and floor. I think Pollyanna had something right.

2. I got to leave my snow boots and leather jacket at home in the closet. (Note to self: Treat that jacket to a fresh waterproofing.)

3. The opportunity to intercede in prayer for a friend who is seeking employment and publication.

4. Terrific news: The fall Toastmaster conference is happening in my home town in November. Having tasted the delights of a conference with writing friends, I've developed an eye and ear for mentions of conferences. Of course, I'm keeping track of every penny, so many things are on a future fun list. Actually, that's a good thing, because hope is as crucial as thankfulness.

5. A carry-over from yesterday: I visited my father. He's growing weary in body and needs the care he gets in a nursing home across town, but some of the things I spoke to him about that afternoon, made him smile.

6. The many good friends who choose to include me on spur-of-the-moment opportunities.

7. The chance to stretch my capabilities, even now.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Today I found something lovely in a BBC news article

I scan headlines most often, but this caught my eye. It's the sort of situation that raises echoes of my novel plot.

I also took one of my first nature photos of the spring--a small moth that believed it was camouflaged on a brick pillar at my church.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Cardinal beyond them, singing.

Before my multiple migrations to reach this address, I lived in a home in the woods. There, I deeply enjoyed the birds that visited our feeders, and learned to recognize several bird songs. I'm still terrible at spotting anything in a tree unless it's a hawk or falcon resting on a dead branch.

This time of year brings to mind one of my favorite Bible passages: "See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land."

The thing is, most of the birds closest to this apartment building are starlings and sparrows. Yes, the sparrow finds a place to build her nest in the temple courts, but here they're doing it above my porch, again. When other pairs drop in to squabble over such prime real estate, that's mostly all I hear, all summer long.

But today is mild enough that I can open the patio door; and in the background of the sparrow domestic squabbling, I  hear chickadees, titmice, a drumming woodpecker, and beyond them-- a cardinal, singing. Thanks be to God, who keeps his word and changes the seasons because he loves us.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Are You Interested?"

"Sure," I said.

"Well, I'll stop by so you can carpool with me," Margaret said. "I'll be there by 6:00."

It pleased me that she felt I was up to the challenge. The idea of speaking to Advanced level Toastmasters wasn't particularly frightening. I'd met several of them when I attended a quarterfinal competition as an observer. They're friendly people.

Given the fact that two of my previous three speeches had been given off the cuff, and were still unwritten, the occasion seemed to call for a reprise of my Ice Breaker speech.  So, that weekend I reviewed the text, and considered changing some of the gestures I had previously used.  I prepared a stack of visual aids, knowing that on Monday morning, I'd be attending the Charter celebration for the Toastmaster group that met at the restaurant.

Margaret allowed me to carpool with her to that meeting also, and as we chatted, I recounted my experiences with the canned speech material I'd presented two weeks before. During the luncheon, another group officer sat beside me at the table. She apologized for  having had to miss the previous meeting.

"I heard part of how that went," she said. "Pretty much the same thing happened to me when I made my first canned speech."

As I recounted more details, I suddenly decided to switch that evening's speech topic. It meant I'd need to do some furious scribbling to be ready by six. In the end, I stopped with one legal page full of scrawling. I wished I hadn't already turned in the manual containing the canned speech. It would have made a wonderful prop.

Shortly after we arrived at the meeting site, one of my pastors entered the room. He'd been interested in hearing me speak, and I'd informed him of this chance on quite short notice.

An officer of the competing group handed me a visitor's information folder.  Good. I'd hide my page of notes inside, and use it as a substitute for the canned speech text. My presentation would occur during the second half of that evening's agenda. I settled back to listen to the competitors speak.

I remembered them both from a competition the previous year. After an intermission, it was my turn. The ContestMaster introduced my speech as Canned Speeches, Dangerous Things. I shook her  hand and reached the lectern without tripping on thin air. An  excellent beginning.

"Who would like to give a canned speech?" I asked, waving the folder in one hand, and began to recount my comedy of errors. This time I didn't bother to keep my place in the haphazard notes. I maintained eye contact, and let the story roll on. Somewhere around the half way point, I realized my audience was laughing for me.

I liked it.

By the time I reached my concluding thoughts the red timing light had been glowing for some while. Caught again by the length of an unpracticed speech, but I wasn't competing that night and therefore disqualified. I wrapped up the presentation, saying: "I committed the unforgivable act of not repeating my main points in my conclusion then, and I don't have time to do it now, either."

Then the applause began, and seemed to go on much longer than the usual polite response when a speaker is ready to leave the stage.

Will I present another canned speech? Yes, because I've stumbled into most of the pitfalls now, and understand how to avoid them.

My Dream Career

The week after delivering that canned speech, I  had a much more pleasant opportunity. With three other Toastmasters, I spent part of a Tuesday and a Friday coaching some fifth and sixth graders at a local school. The chamber of commerce is sponsoring a speaking competition for children at that level, and one of the leaders of my first Toastmaster group has a grandson in the competition. He and six or seven others were interested in any tips we could give them on relaxing when facing an audience.

As Toastmasters, we were surprised with the wide variety of responses to the My Dream Career topic, and the maturity and stage presence some of these children already showed. We may return to the school sometime nearer to the date of competition.

While we left the building I asked Margaret, "What was that opportunity to be a guest speaker that I had to turn down earlier this week?" The night she'd requested was the same as my church choir practice.

"Oh," she said. "I do still need someone to be a target speaker for a group that's holding their club competition for the area contest that's coming up.  This one's on Monday. Are you interested?"

Murphy's Lawyer...the opening statement.

I carpooled across town with a friend, secure in the knowledge that I'd phoned the restaurant meeting place to ask that the handicapped access ramp would be shoveled clear. But, when we arrived, it appeared that nothing had been done.

After attempting to make ourselves understood to the Korean-speaking gentleman with the snow shovel, we decided to park as near to the ramp  and portico as we could get.  My friend left the driver's seat to unload my walker from the back seat of her car. As I opened the passenger door, gravity deposited a small avalanche from the portico roof, directly into my lap. I hadn't even set foot out of the car! No wonder the ramp area looked as though it had never been cleared.

I scraped the snow from the top of my portfolio, packed it into a ball, and tossed it over the top of the car door into the parking lot. The edges of my printed speech were damp and already wrinkling. I scooped more snow from around my feet, and tossed that aside also.

By then, my walker was waiting in the deepening pile beside the car. "Hurry," Paula said.

Toastmasters behave professionally. We do not stand in restaurant parking lots and scream. I had to give this speech, even if I was going to be desperately dependent on my printed copy.  Look at the bright side, I told myself. With the page edges wrinkling, you'll be able to turn them more easily. There's almost no chance of flipping two at once.

I gripped the handles of my walker and shoved it through the ankle-deep snow toward the restaurant door. I'd taken maybe three steps, and the portico roof baptized me a second time with another avalanche that landed in my collar, and slid from my shoulders.

While my friend struggled to contain her laughter, I pushed on.  I dripped my way into the restaurant, thankful that we had arrived early. Slowly, other members of the group trickled in. Many fewer than usual. The weather deterred some, and employment obligations kept others away.

When the woman who was scheduled to introduce me as the speaker of the day arrived, she admitted to leaving the introduction I'd prepared and emailed to her a week before in the printer tray at her office. 

Lesson one from Murphy's Lawyer: When you are scheduled to speak, always bring a printed copy of your introduction to the venue.

A newer member came in, and volunteered to give the group his Ice Breaker speech during the meeting. I glanced at the printed agenda, which gave me five to seven minutes speaking time (the length of a standard speech) and said, "That's great, Patrick. I'll look forward to hearing you after I give my presentation."

If a higher-ranking Toastmaster officer had not been sidelined by job demands, we would have avoided the next sequence of error.

Instead, Paula took over the task of introducing me, and I launched into the rewritten script of the speech Evaluate to Motivate. Regretting each time I had to break eye contact with my listeners, I worked my way through the concepts. I moved from one page to the next, knowing I looked like a first-time speaker too panicked to emerge from her notes.

Between paragraphs, I sneaked glances at the timing cards. As the designated timer flipped the card from yellow to red, I rushed to read the conclusion. This is not the optimum way to deliver a speech, and my group members knew it. One person commented, "I wish you could have spoken a little more slowly. I missed a point in my note-taking." Another man brought up my lack of reiteration. But there was nothing to be done about it, and the speech had gone over the seven minute limit.

All the way home, my friend Paula repeated her belief that I'd done a good job presenting the material. She hadn't needed to keep her eyes locked to her notes, and she saw the other group members lay aside their chopsticks and silverware to listen to my words.  I'm still unsure how much they learned, but perhaps part of it will stick with them.

Murphy's lawyer had one last laugh. When I entered my apartment and picked up the original text of the canned speech, I opened the cover and read: Members presenting these materials may use ten to fourteen minutes of speaking time.  Murphy's other law? Always take at least a second look at the introduction of a canned speech.

Monday, March 8, 2010

So long since you've seen me here...

Short February was packed to the seams with activity. Much of it connected to my enlarging role as a Toastmaster. I've become a Sergeant at Arms for one club, and organized the location for an officer training session.
Sergeants at Arms are responsible for all the behind the scenes set up work that allows a meeting to run smoothly.
I also made myself useful by presenting the material in what's known as a "canned speech." Usually, doing that is something reserved for more advanced Toastmasters than I am, but I was the only one who volunteered. I think the others knew what was ahead of me, and didn't want to go there again for another T-shirt.
Toastmasters International provides material on specific skills that members of each club must develop to excel at public speaking. This canned speech pointed out the subtleties that form an excellent, inspiring evaluation. I believed the process of presentation would be simple. Foolish, foolish, inexperienced me.

I knew I had nearly two weeks to prepare, and that all the necessary concepts were in the text. All I'd have to do was become familiar with it, right? So I settled back to make a serious dent in the pile of library books I'd requested to complete the requirements for my fiction proposal. Page, after chapter, after novel, the time rustled away until it was Saturday, the 20th.

The presentation was scheduled for Monday, February 22! I opened the cover of the speech text. The introduction  contained a phrase that caught my eye.
"Use this as a guideline."

It should have set off shrieking alarms in my brain. I turned the page. DULL ideas, DRAB vocabulary, SOPORIFIC phrasing, HYPNOGOGIC cadence! Could I back out of this task? If I didn't present this material, the club would never gain the skills the members needed. If I did present it in this form, I'd put them to sleep. What a disaster. The only way to salvage the situation, and my integrity, was to rewrite the concepts in each paragraph, from the opening word to the closure.

I thanked the good Lord for the fiction writing skills I'd developed in the last decade and set to work. I sent up more thanks in the wee hours of Monday morning when the printer still had enough ink to print out a draft. There was just one problem. I never had a chance to practice. Carefully I slid the fresh copy into the outermost pocket of a portfolio to keep it from crumpling.
When I woke some hours later, Murphy's lawyer had arrived. It was snowing. Hard. (More later.)