Tag Archives: Toastmasters

July is Journaling Month Part 4: Speech! Speech!

9 Jul


Oh yeah, just tell me Pat Nixon isn’t enjoying speaking at the Republican National Convention. Bonus points for awesome use of arms.  (Wikimedia Commons).

Unlike many people, who would rather be flensed, drawn and quartered and have their heads stuck on poles for the benefit of the peasants’ amusement, than give a speech, I am one of those loudmouths who can’t get enough of public speaking. I mention that because tomorrow I am giving a speech on a topic that means a lot to me, “How to Become Your Own Chronic Pain Hero,” at the Women’s Rights Information Center on 108 West Palisade Avenue, Englewood, NJ. It’s at 10:30 and it’s free and you’re all welcome!!

Anyway, I was inspired to write about speechmaking (and trust me, this will get to the prompty part in its good time) because of one of the responses I got to my first Prompt. Toby Stein wrote about how she was feeling—which was hot and tired about a speech she was giving at her temple. She wrote, “I think I’m game, or will be after tomorrow. Right now, am a dishrag, having JUST finished my July 4th Shabbat sermon. I am going to sit without the pages in my hands, and do nothing for a while. I see nothing, except me stuck up on the bimah tomorrow having forgotten to take up a cup of water. My body feels limp–maybe I’ll walk in the hallway instead of sitting until I come to again. Aside from limpness or limidity or limpy, my body feels ready to do this thing tomorrow. Shabbat shalom to the everyone, whatever religion they do or choose not to practice.” (Oh, and by the way, she has a Web site, too– http://nobodysgod.blogspot.com/) And she survived her speech!

When I first heard of the public speaking club Toastmasters, I thought, “That’s for me!” I was too busy at the time with my little ones. So, when the children turned teenish and mysteriously wanted to sleep more than they wanted to watch Saturday morning cartoons or play hideous games, I went to my first Toastmasters meeting. I wasn’t sure what to expect at 9:00 at the local public library. I mean, it kind of sounded like the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo. Did they have strange rituals? Was it going to be embarrassing? Was I going to be embarrassing? But to my surprise, the group—a highly diverse and international group with many accomplishments under their belts,  was not only extremely welcoming, but I loved it from the beginning just as much as I thought I would. I was introduced as an “honored guest” and asked my opinion at the end. I was hooked.

Toastmasters meetings have a welcome formality and structure. Different people take on different roles—timer, grammarian, general evaluator, speaker, Toastmaster (who leads the meeting), and Table Topics master. The table topics master comes up with a list of questions and everyone is on the hook for an answer of up to two minutes. You never know what question you’re going to get, so the idea is to walk slowly and try to frame a rounded answer when you get up to the podium. This is great practice for job interviews—sometimes if you really can’t answer the question, you can practice your politician skills, i.e.—“Well, John, I don’t really think America is interested in my relationship with that intern, I think we have bigger problems, like getting the economy going.” You realize that when you have the stage, get up there and OWN that sucker.

The second half of a Toastmasters meeting is devoted to 3 prepared speakers and their evaluators, and the evaluations of the timeliness, “ums and aws” and of the meeting in general. Most of the speeches are 5 to 7 minutes, though some run longer. Learning to shape your thoughts to fit into this short timeframe is challenging, and more challenges are always being added. Evaluations are based on specific projects that can include everything from “Using your hands” to “Storytelling” to “making a cold call.” I have had the chance to learn many different speech techniques from trying these different techniques and the careful evaluation of my peers, but I also have gained in another way. I have learned much about listening. I don’t think I’ve been to a single Toastmasters meeting where I haven’t heard something surprising, touching, inspiring, informational, or otherwise worthy. I’ve learned about growing up in India, Hungary, inner-city Newark, about science, about how people overcame obstacles, about the history of sugar making, about the life of the Incas. I have gained immeasurably from the attention, care, information, and personal touches that my fellow Toastmasters put into their work.

I, too, love to blab about whatever interests me at the time, or whatever I’m writing about for money—plate tectonics, the dilemma of what to do when your kid wants to go to an expensive college, Survival: Parent Edition; a tall tale about an amorous ocean scientist and the new cologne-wearing Doctor Chad who pilots her to the bottom of the ocean and gets entangled by a giant squid; about how to throw a cheap but fun party for kids; the Ancient Romans; gay marriage,–it feels as if the more speeches I give, the more subjects there are to talk about!

This last week was a big week for me because I got my Toastmasters Silver Advanced Speaking award. That means that I have given at least 42 targeted speeches (okay, I’ve given about 70 but I have a tendency to forget my manuals. . . ). I feel proud that I was organized enough to accomplish SOMETHING.

So, whether you’re the type who loves to speak up, or who cowers at the thought of it, I challenge you to think of something you feel passionate about, whether it’s the evil of flipflops (got this idea from Slate magazine); why the war of Northern Aggression is a travesty that shattered our fair land forever; Why children need regular beatings in case they decide to do anything bad; why cabbage isn’t just for peasants anymore;  anything you feel opinionated about in any way whatsoever.



Prompt #4: Okay, Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Write a speech you’d like to give—whether you’d have the nerve actually to deliver it or not. And it doesn’t have to be long–just ask Abe Lincoln.

What would you do if you won the lottery?

10 Nov

Please excuse me for taking a gap in posting, but between not having the internet for a long time and giving my computer a spa treatment at the Apple Store in SoHo for a few days has completely discombobulated me. Now I’m wired in once again, thank the heavens, and I can post some things I’ve been meaning to for a long time . . .

One of the things I wanted to talk about is how and why I am a Toastmasters junkie. Recently, , the very charming Ms. S.,  Vice President of our Toastmasters Club, was in charge of Table Topics at Toastmasters. If I have failed to explain what Toastmasters is, it is a public speaking club. In some ways similar to Alcoholics Anonymous– a support group of people sharing and trying to get better. But instead of sharing our illness, we are, generally speaking a community of mentally healthy people who are trying not just to live, but to flourish by becoming better communicators. I’ve been part of Toastmasters for six years and I have learned how to speak, how to listen, how to frame a two-minute answer to random questions, how to use my hands, how to change my posture to fit the situation, how to behave in a formal group, how to assert myself, and much more. Not only that, I have had the pleasure of seeing many other people make the same journey and I am proud to call them friends. Especially impressive is that many (most!) come from other countries and many of them are making this journey with English as their second language.

Anyway, the Table Topics is a section of the meeting where you can be called upon to answer any question—ANY. And you have two minutes to do it. Old hands say that the best way to do this is by walking slowly and framing your answer so it is like a two minute story with a beginning, middle and end. This may sound very difficult, but honestly, you start to get the hang of it after a while. And, you also learn how to deal with questions when you’re put on the spot. When you honestly can’t give an opinion on something, you can do what politicians do and say something along the lines of, “Well, let’s not talk about MY love life, what we really need to talk about in this country is jobs!” As you can imagine, this can come in mighty handy when you’re in a job interview and someone’s asking you what you thought of your former *$(#)!*)@&%%)* boss. (Not that I feel anything but love for MY former boss, and even HER boss—long story, but true).

Anyway, the theme of the day was millionaires. Shea had to come up with about 25 questions, and many of them (naturally), had to do with what you would do if you won, say, $350 million dollars. I was thinking about that during the meeting and I thought about it later, too. Here’s what I would do, and I’d love to know what other people would do, too. In  fact, maybe if you all have some great ideas, I’d put it into another post.


  1. I’d pay for the college education of all my friends and family’s kids. Go for broke, kids! This includes private schools and grad school.
  2. I’d pay for the further education of my friends and family so they can learn whatever would bring them joy. And cover all their expenses while they’re doing it. Our friend Heather is going to Oxford to study Women’s History this year and get her master’s degree. I’m so proud of her!
  3. Go on a monster vacation all over the world for a LONNNNNNNG time.
  4. Send son number 2 on a giant trip on Outward Bound—they have ones that are three months or more.
  5. Do something similar for son number 1, but not on Outward Bound, and not to Japan, because he hates fish.
  6. Buy my husband the best bike ever, and the chance to go on some super rides in other countries.
  7. Buy an apartment in the Murray Hill section of NYC.
  8. Get a personal assistant (as in Kevin, the character played by the exciting new comedian and best childhood friend of Son #1, Ramy Youssef in the new Nickelodeon show See Dad Run (http://ramyyoussef.com/. )Heck, I’d hire Ramy but he’s a little busy right now!
  9. Get cleaning ladies in EVERY day.

10. Cleaning ladies for ALL of my nearest and dearest!

11. Buy my sister her dream house.

12. Take my mom on more trips because she’s really fun.

13. Go traveling with my best friend Julie, like Thelma and Louise without the rapy/suicidy stuff.

14. Spend a lot of time reconnecting with friends in California.

15. See my friend Maggie in England and go touring around with her.

16. Do the Eat Pray Love thing but mainly just the Eat. If you can’t learn it in Italy, what’s the point?

17. Hire someone to make me an awesome website

18. Find some people I miss.

19. Find a few people I hurt and apologize to them.

20. Recover my health and help other people I know who are hurting get the best doctors and care as well.

21. Toastmasters Road Trip!

22. Hire a limo to bring my mother to visit me more often.

23. Hire more people to teach me stuff

24. Get an MFA in writing.

25. Learn more about drawing/painting/etc.

26. Sail on a long, long windjammer trip with my husband.

27. Visit all of my aunts and uncles and tell them I love them.

28. Go see my friend Evelyn in Arizona and do all kinds of fun Arizona things with her.

29. Go to Seattle and visit my friend Joyce and get some acupuncture, wisdom, and tea from her.

30. Fix up the house any way my husband likes without getting that cringy overwhelmed feeling

31. Get a country house (which he wants) that isn’t too far from a place that has foreign movies and has a nice community of people who will like us and not just think we’re interlopers.

32. Secretly buy things that I know people need and just put them in their garages so they find them.

33. Send Julie to an MFA program that she would love.

34. Get someone to publicize my work, help me edit, keep track of where mss. Are sent, etc. And get my novel polished and finished!

35. Buy my sister her own personal California Pizza Kitchen.

36. Send Son 1 to chef school, just for fun. Maybe the Culinary Institute of America up along the Hudson.


Oh geez, I really didn’t think this was going to be all about me. I’ll wait till the next post to say what I would do for the world with all the rest of my $350 million.

Writing Spark: What would you do for YOURSELF with your mega-lotto winnings?

September Statistics, Part 1

2 Oct

Statistic for September, 2012, part 1

–average steps walked per day: 8236

–pairs of shoes bought in size triple E: 1

–Number of workdays husband has said, upon arrival home, “I’m gettin’ out of this monkey suit.”: all

–days garden and its inferiority to last year’s garden was discussed at length: 30

— breakfasts with Julie at ChitChat diner: 1

–score on Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from Better Medicine on internet: 44 percent. (Nota Bene: is this possible sign of Cretuzfeldt-Jakob disease?)

–Podcasts on Concordat of Worms listened to: 1

–Amount understood: 12 percent (I believe Europe and popes were mentioned?)

–times cat gave me pathetic looks to go outside:115

–Times I let him: 50

–Times I am supposed to let him go outside: 0

–acupuncture needles stuck in body: approximately 100

–shots of artificial synovial fluid in arthritic knee: 3 per knee

–book read for book group: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

–number of children sent off to college: 2

–disease I do not have: multiple sclerosis

–times we’ve seen Jacob since then: 3 (bonus: last time with purple hair).

–What has happened to hometown in Jacob’s eyes now that he is at college: shrunk.

–What Santa is not bringing Jacob: tattoo.

–Toastmasters Tall Tale contests won: 2

–Person whose lovely presence will be missed: Marge Springer.

Prompt: And how was YOUR September?

Jana Gana Mana

30 Sep

Yesterday, at Toastmasters, the Table Topics questions section, (at which the Table Topics Mistress can ask a question of anybody and it is that person’s responsibility  to figure out a two minute answer), the beautiful Monica, who looked lovelier than usual in an elegant salwar kameez, asked questions on the theme of India. As part of her presentation, she played India’s  national anthem, Jana Gana Mana. This anthem was first sung in 1911, was made India’s national anthem in 1950, and has now celebrated its hundredth birthday.

Something was tickling at the back of my mind as I heard the anthem. And then I remembered why. It’s because it was written by one of India’s greatest figures, Nobel Prize for Literature winner Rabindranath Tagore in the early part of the century. Tagore had one of those brains which try everything. He was an Indian nationalist (especially Bengali) when most of India was under British rule. He was interested in art and music (writing more than 2,230 songs), science, read widely of the Western classics, traveled and met with famous people all over the world, started a famous school, and did many other things.

But there is one small, ironic story I want to tell today about Jana Gana Mana. The words, in English (Thank you, Wikipidia (http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jana_Gana_Mana_) are

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,

Dispenser of India’s destiny.

Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab,

Sindh, Gujarat, and Maratha,

Of the  Dravida and  Orissa and Bengal;

It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,

mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is

chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.

They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.

The saving of all people waits in thy hand,

Thou dispenser of India’s destiny.
 victory forever.

The story is that some people assumed that the “You” that Tagore was talking about was King George V of Great Britain. But Tagore was disgusted by that idea. According to the Wikipidia article, he wrote in a letter to a friend, “A certain high official in His Majesty’s service. . .  had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Vidhata [ed. God of Destiny] of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense.”

It would indeed be strange for a man whose entire life was devoted to Indian independence to call the British emperor “Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
 Dispenser of India’s destiny.” Certainly King George V WAS the dispenser of India’s destiny—but not forever! And he most certainly was not the ruler of India’s minds!

Here is a longish recording of all five verses. But notice how beautiful it is. How so many national anthems seem indistinguishable, but the music of this one is deeply and truly Indian in nature.

And Jaya jaya jaya he, to my Indian friends, Victory—and peace—to your amazing land.


Prompt: Have you ever had anyone COMPLETELY misunderstand what you were trying to say?

India’s National Anthem in 39 individual voices.