Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Being put "on the spot"

We all know it feels to be put "on the spot". At last week's Political Debate, the Taoiseach Leo Varadker gave a long, hesitant pause before addressing a pointed personal question. It was quite reassuring to observe an experienced communicator finding himself searching for words. We have all been in situations when we are flnd ourselves reaching for the right words and pausing. It seems like the longest pause ever, when, in reality, it is only a few seconds. 

At Toastmasters meetings, the Topics Session is designed to assist members to be composed and fluent while thinking on their feet. Over a period of time the member becomes more adept at dealing with such situations. And the benefits can be measured in greater confidence by the speaker in all aspects of interpersonal communication - be it job interviews, social situations or canvassing. It also helps to reduce incidents of "foot in mouth". 

At the last Speakeasy Toastmasters meeting, the Topics Session was conducted by Bridie O'Connell who elicited a huge response with a wide variety of questions for discussion. In response to the mantra - "Communities are doing it for themselves" - we got to hear about the simple, significant actions that make a difference. Gerry O'Callaghan cited his work with Mallow Credit Union and his continued involvement in a Trade Union as examples of his community awareness. And he also moonlights at the weekly bingo for the Mallow Day Care Centre!

"Young people's vocabulary - is it limited?" elicited diverse views. To one observor, the confidence and conversational skills of young people is a "thing of wonder". The importance of an adequate pre - school system was also highlighted as the foundation stone of building language skills. Indeed, it can often take a non-national child up to seven months to say a word in English.

The Winning entry in this year's Young Scientist featured in a question on gender bias on occupations. At a time when female applications for Third Level Education exceeds male applications, old stereotypes like the male engineer and female nurse still prevails in the minds of young children. It seems that children are still conditioned by the traditional blue and pink "little boxes".

The issue of disruptive protests winning public sympathy brought up numerous examples of public demonstrations that tend to alienate. Can a group of farmers driving expensive tractors in the centre of Dublin ever arouse public goodwill was raised. So too was the Anti-water Charges campaign where a female Government Minister was subjected to a baying mob. Alternatively, the Nurses protest was met with a lot of public goodwill. Perhaps, those wishing to protest need to think through their campaigns in order to maximise public support.

The lost art of letter writing brought reminiscings about old letters written by relatives and parents that present a deeper understanding of these people and their relationships with their loved ones. The practice of sending a covering letter with a CV to a prospective employer has been superceded by online facilities. But it seems to be a modern reality that letter writing and even the art of telephone conversation is fading fast. And, has been replaced by a terse five word text, precise but impersonal. 

The Topics Session fulfills many functions - the acquiring of skills, gaining of confidence and a useful exchange of opinions.It is also a source of ideas, information and entertainment. A Toastmasters meeting provides that wonderful opportunity to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes",even if that shoe is an uncomfortable fit.                  

Another opportunity to engage in the Speakeasy experience will take place in The Hibernian Hotel, Mallow on Thursday, 6th February at 8.00PM.
As always, guests are truly welcome and are never obliged to speak unless they wish to do so. Unlike other night classes and Adult - Education courses, one can commence in Toastmasters at any time.  It is a continuously rolling programme. Now is as good a time  as any to join up. 
For more information on this club, please check out our website speakeasytoastmasters.com or on Facebook. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


Another Thursday night and another fascinating night of inspiration, motivation and information at a Speakeasy Toastmasters Meeting. With a speech programme of 4 speeches, there was an abundance of worthy ideas and "food for thought".

In the week that commemorated Martin Luther King, it was appropriate that Susan Hegarty addressed the subject of leadership. "Lead the way to a better future" looked at the different types of leadership - be it the political leaders or the lycra clad Operation Transformation to the unsung leaders in voluntary organisations who change people's lives. She contrasted the different types of leadership situations she experienced in school and in the workplace from the rules obsessed bureaucratic model to the to the altruistic, democratic, innovative and empowering.

Empowerment was a central theme of Rachel Liston's speech - "Hooked". Asking herself the question - "How difficult could it be?" - she embarked on acquiring the skill of crochet.In short, crochet is about finding a hook and put it all together. Like learning any new skill, it requires curiosity, enthusiasm, persistence and a desired goal. The persistence paid off with the finished article and a meaningful new skill. Other benefits included mindfulness - of being in the moment with total focus required. Learning any new skill, be it crochet or communication is empowering and rewarding with the benefits far outweighing the effort involved.

Anne Marie Lehane outlined the challenging and empowering subject of "Health and Wellness at Work" Setting up staff wellness committees can reap huge dividends, especially in the health care sector. Encouraging staff to "wear the wellness cap" empowers staff to enhance their working environment and improve the quality of their working life. This in turn helps to improve the quality of care that hospital staff provide to patients. Staff involvement in such initiatives "maximises us and minimises them".

Michael Buckley had plenty "Food for Thought" in a detailed presentation on the significance of food combining. Citing the research of Dr. Howard Hay, Michael explained how the combination of protein and carbohydrates in one meal is both a counter productive and an inefficient way of eating as the food is not absorbed properly. By eating proteins and carbohydrates in separate sittings, the health benefits are many - it helps maintain our ideal weight, slows down aging, reduces the need for supplements. And all this can be achieved with less dieting and a reduction in strenuous exercise. It seems like a less humiliating form of Operation Transformation. In short, we take control of our diet which is another form of empowerment. 

In Toastmasters, there is huge emphasis placed on encouraging all participants to realise their full potential as communicators. Each speaker is designated an evaluator whose role is to provide honest feedback, delivered in a positive manner. This encourages and motivates the speaker to grow more confident and accomplished in their presentations. The evaluations of the aforementioned speakers were provided by Jillian Harris, Marie Fitzpatrick, Verna Byrne and Michael Cronin who provided comprehensive feedback that was sensitive to the speakers' needs. 

At the Meeting's conclusion, awards were presented to Rachel Liston - Best Speaker and Michael Cronin - Best Evaluation.

The Speakeasy Toastmasters Season continues with our next Meeting on Thursday, 6th Feb in The Hibernian Hotel Mallow at 8.00PM. If you are looking for a good night's entertainment or if you are looking to acquire a new and empowering skill, or if you seek a distraction from the General Election, why not pay us a visit. You will be warmly welcomed and guests are never obliged to speak unless they wish to do so.
For more information on this club, please check out our website speakeasytoastmasters.com or on Facebook. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Off the cuff with substance and style

Off the cuff with substance and style

The famous American author, Mark Twain remarked that"It takes me two weeks to prepare an impromptu speech". However entertaining Twain's remark may be, it doesn't help those who find themselves put "on the spot" and asked to speak without notes or a script.Usually, it results in finding ourselves tongue tied. 

Most people have privately said "I wish I had thought of that" when reflecting on some conversation or off the cuff presentation. In Toastmasters, we assist our members to deal with those impromptu situations and get their point across. In fact, we help remove the embarrassment and replace it with empower. And, some fun can ensue. 

Last week's Speakeasy Toastmasters meeting witnessed a hugely enjoyable and enlightening Topics Session. Ably conducted by Susan Hegarty, this session encouraged wonderful impromptu contributions. "If you could start your own business and didn't have to worry about money, what would it be?" This question inspired some flights of fancy. One contributer spoke of her love of fashion and of opening a clothes shop. Another spoke of opening a hut in Killarney and selling trinkets and customised poetry to gullible tourists!

Holiday plans were addressed by another speaker who spoke about realising his long term dream of visiting two meccas of American music - Memphis, the home of the Blues and of Elvis and Nashville, the home of Country Music. 

Operation transformation and an illuminating discussion on diets brought New Year's resolutions into focus. Yes, those biscuits and sugar laden desserts are fattening. Dolly Parton's words of wisdom were invoked - "You wish to lose weight, then take your head out of the slop-bucket!" Favourite words of wisdom were revealed. For Bridie O'Connell, it was "brevity is the soul of wit". Anne O'Donovan's mantra was "do nothing and say nothing and you will never be criticised. And, you won't achieve anything". 

Other topics to elicit meaningful responses were "What makes you laugh? " and "Are you a morning or night person? ". A discussion on old fashioned books versus kindle brought fascinating reactions. To one member, the illuminated Kindle screen helped her rediscover the joy of reading while others loved the feel and the smell of a book. And then there was the other category - the lovers of the audio book and the beauty of having words spoken to them. 

A Topics Session provides an opportunity to acquire and hone our inter - personal communication skills. It helps us prepare for those real life situations where we are required to speak without preparation and be coherent. It can also be a journey, where we walk for two minutes in someone else's shoes and be enthralled at the diverse nature of personal opinions.It embodies the mantra of Toastmasters - "We learn most in moments of enjoyment".

If you haven't witnessed a Speakeasy meeting or if you wish to sharpen your communication skills, why not pay us a visit? You will meet real people, not social media trolls. You, too can learn in moments of enjoyment. 
The next Speakeasy Toastmasters meeting will take place in The Hibernian Hotel Mallow on Thursday, 23rd January at 8.00PM. Guests are always welcome and are never compelled to speak unless they wish to do so. 
For more information on this club, please check out our website speakeasytoastmasters.com or on Facebook. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The difference that Toastmasters made!

"Toastmasters made the difference", according to Don McSweeney in his speech at last week's Speakeasy Toastmasters meeting. Entitled "Rewind", Don recalled many of the events that have shaped his life. He recalled the nervous anxiety he felt when he delivered his Icebreaker Speech in Speakeasy in 2015 and how he no longer feels that way when standing in front of an audience. "Toastmasters has been a positive experience for me".Other positive experiences include his prowess at karate and organic gardening. His continued fandom of both Manchester United and Bob Dylan have been somewhat of a "mixed blessing lately, given the indifferent nature of their performances"

In other speeches, the audience were regaled with fascinating stories and wild opinions. Michael Cronin delved into Nineteenth Century American History with the spell binding tale of the musician and band leader, Patrick Gilmore. "Almost Forgotten" chronicled the the eventful life and times of one of Ireland's unheralded sons. Born in County Galway in1829, Patrick had a fascination for musical instruments. Starting off with the Fife and Drum, before discovering Brass instruments and the Coronet, Michael departed from Ireland for greener American pastures in the 1840s. Here he made his mark in Brass Bands and Orchestras before joining the Union Army during the Civil War, alongside his brothers and Band. Witnessing the horrors of war inspired him to write the legendary anti - war anthem -"When Johnny comes Marching Home". After the war, he devoted his energies to musical extravaganzas on the theme of Peace and Reconciliation. With musicians in their thousands and choirs of tens of thousands, Patrick conducted huge events with extraordinary accompaniment from drums and Artillery Cannons.These events attracted thousands of people. Up until his untimely death in 1892, he continued to tour America by train and bring music to the people. Patrick Gilmore remains the most renowned musical figure in Nineteenth Century America. However, the absence of sound recordings and visual footage have meant that he is "almost forgotten". 

Legendary figures from the Patrician Academy in Mallow were central characters in Bobby Buckley's highly entertaining speech - "The Fun and The Terror". With a certain amount of fondness, Bobby recalled "Gally and Sally", two Patrician Brothers than had quite an influence on their students! One was the source of great amusement, a strange creature with a humungous head and very peculiar mannerisms. The other was a volatile genius and a figure of terror. There were instances of pupils with no homework finished who would chew on Carbolic soap to induce sickness and try to avoid the frightening prospect of a Brother in full fury. And yet, it turned out that the influence was a positive one as Bobby became a teacher of some repute!

In the final speech of the evening, Vincent Harris offered a contrarian and uplifting view of our world. "Are we going in the Right Direction?" He focused on the Global Media where "good news is no news" and argued strongly that while bad things may happen, things are getting better. Technology is leading to greater efficiency in how the Earth's resources are being used. He cited the example of how America's 9 million Dairy Cows are now producing more milk than the 23 Million in the 1970's. Moreover, he asserted that Global Inequality is shrinking and poverty is reducing while child mortality and famine is diminishing. We live in a smarter and more efficient world. At the dawn of a new decade, Vincent brought a note of optimism to our meeting. 

At the Meeting's conclusion, all speeches were evaluated in a positive and constructive fashion by the assigned evaluation team of Rachel Liston, Margaret O'Regan, Pat Sexton and Marie Lynes. Commend, recommend and commend was the approach adopted by all evaluators. Awards were presented to Bobby Buckley for Best Speech and to Rachel Liston for Best Evaluation. 

Positivity and optimism are two qualities in great abundance at Speakeasy Meetings. The feelings of empowerment and satisfaction that one experiences when speaking in front of an audience helps to to make the Toastmasters experience a positive one.Learning a new skill is also a positive experience. Any time is a good time to visit a Speakeasy meeting. Any time is a good time to join. Unlike various educational courses which have specified Commencing and End dates, Toastmasters is open ended. 

With that in mind, why not pay us a visit. New members are always welcome. Guests are always welcome to attend and are never obliged to speak unless they wish to do so. 
Our next meeting takes place in the Hibernian Hotel Mallow on Thursday 23rd January at 8.00PM. We look forward to seeing you there. 
For more information about our Club please check out our website speakeasytoastmasters.com or on Facebook.