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

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

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.

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