Author Archives: Peter West

Everything Is In Our Favour

There’s a wonderful article in today’s National Post about a 33-year-old rancher from Alberta who led one of the last great calvary charges at the Battle of Cambria in WW I.strachan-h

After assuming command of the Fort Garry Horse upon the death of the troop’s captain Lieutenant Harcus Strachan led his mounted B Squadron, swords drawn, toward a German artillery post.strachan-at-head-of-fgh-copy1

Successful in their endeavour, their bravery left them “utterly alone” kilometres behind enemy lines with only 50 men out of an original complement of 133 fit to fight. Strachan found not a horse left unwounded so he gathered his men and said:

“Everything is in our favour!”

Returning with his men on foot to friendly territory Strachan would be later be awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. In the months to follow a new weapon of war, the armoured tank, would replace the calvary of previous wars and warfare would be changed forever.

So what does an archaic wild calvary charge, one of the last of World War I, have to do with giving a speech in Toastmasters?

Ask yourself this:

When you’ve completed your speech what are the first thoughts that go through your head? What do you tell yourself? Are you optimistic and excited?

Do you say something like that was great – I did it – I learned so much?

Or do you do, as so many do, immediately start to pick apart your speech searching for every little flaw? Do you say to yourself that your speech was a failure? Do you agonize over every little slip?

This hyper-critical thinking is epidemic in society today. It sniffles creativity and makes giving a speech an experience to be dreaded.

This is not the way Toastmasters works.

After you give your next speech tell yourself that you did a great job. If you’re not up to giving yourself praise then go find your mentor and let them do it for you.

Remember all the little things you think went wrong likely weren’t even noticed by your audience. The stuff you think needs fixing will fix itself over time as you continue speaking. There’s no need to be harsh with yourself.

Everything is not lost.

Remember the Alberta rancher who went faced with insurmountable odds turned to his men and reassured them that all was going to end well….and it did.

Be optimistic. Be unafraid. Keep calm and keep speaking!


Big Wins At Area Contest

First Oakville Toastmasters walked away with some impressive wins at last night’s Area D-87 Table Topics and Humorous Speech Contests. Our own Cheryl Etherington took first place in the hotly contested Humorous Speech and Samantha Tam took second in Table Topics. Peter West took third in both.


Fiat justicia*

Sometimes our business sessions can seem overly pedantic and technical. This is especially true when we’re debating a contentious or even provocative motion.

So why do we practice parliamentary procedure?GavelClub.gif

Right now, two school boards in the GTA (Peel and York) are embroiled in heated controversy and meetings of the boards have been chaotic with disorderly protests resulting in police being called.

The disruption of public meetings (or private meetings of company boards, clubs and organizations) by unruly protestors doesn’t just affect the contentious matters at hand but are an affront to the democratic process itself.

In other words somebody thinks that outshouting or threatening people with whom they disagree is an okay thing to do. It isn’t at least it isn’t in a democratic society.

Why should you care? And, what does this have to do with Toastmasters? 

As a member of a club you have a duty to participate in the business of the club. You’ll find the rules for parliamentary process in a book called Robert’s Rules of Order.200px-Roberts_Rules_1st

Certainly we vote in an executive (a topic I will return to soon) to serve the club and is trained by District to handle the day-to-day work of keeping our club running but the executive isn’t empowered to be a decision-making group. Decision-making is up to you, the individual club member.

Your vote in club issues is of vital importance to the health of your club. 

Past president Adrian Scott got me thinking about due process after he sent me an email with an attachment from Food Allergy Canada that outlines the organization’s concerns with a forthcoming decision by Toronto City Council that affects its members.

Here’s a link to the statement on the group’s website.

You’ll notice that Food Allergy Canada is advocating action to help influence the Toronto  city council vote on the adoption to stock epinephrine in Toronto restaurants and other public places. In the email the author describes the process of how this particular motion was deferred to a committee and then returned to council with a recommendation and now is ready for a vote.

This is politics at its best.

First, you convince an elected member of a decision-making body to make a motion that supports your interests. (At our club any member can make a motion.) Then, as the issue requires input from a technically informed committee, the motion is sent to them for a specific period of time.

As the report from the committee is returned and the issue is scheduled to be debated again, you and your organization reach out to the committee members asking them to support your point of view.

The motion is again brought forward for debate which will now include the report from committee and it will be either adopted or lost depending on the vote of all members of council.

The alternative is either anarchy or rule by imperial fiat neither of which are desirable or fair.

A chairperson who neglects to court the assembly’s support of any decision (If there be no objection I declare…) will find themselves unable to proceed as calls of “objection to consideration” will force immediate votes of confidence by the members.

While it is true “a chair gets away with what a chair gets away with” there is a limit to the goodwill and willingness of any assembly to go along with decisions they have not been invited to debate and vote upon.

The minority have a right to be heard (and heard fully) while the majority have the right to rule. You may not like it but it is fair and applies to when it be the king (or chair) or the lowest, most aggrieved and humble citizen.

*Let right be done.

What Happens When I Don’t Show Up?

It’s that season again when meeting chairs find they are scrambling to put on meetings where members either haven’t shown up or failed to find a replacement by leaving the search to the last minute.

We go through this problem every spring (Is it the nice weather?) and every year we come up with the same solution. (Call on the mentors to get involved with their delinquent mentees.)

For the most part the problem of no-shows is confined to new members (Sorry if this offends any newcomers but it is what it is.) who don’t appreciate the magnitude of the problems they create when they don’t show up or wait until the last second to find a replacement.

It means the chair can’t print their agendas until the last second. It can also mean that the chair, the Toastmaster, the GE, the VP of Ed., your mentor and maybe even our club president get dragged into finding a replacement because you didn’t fulfill your obligation of finding a replacement. (These are busy people in their own lives and they’re not your parents.)

This showing up piece is part of the educational and leadership learning that takes place at First Oakville Toastmasters. There are lots of other clubs that aren’t so fussy and maybe that would be a better fit if you are a habitual offender.

But before you go, consider what letting down your fellow club members says about you? Not a pretty picture is it? (And, one truism I’ve learned is how we are in one thing, we are in all things. So if you’re a no-show at Toastmasters, you’re likely a no-show in other areas of your life.) At Toastmasters you get a real opportunity to change yourself and change your world. This is a gift of immense value.

When you consider the people you’ve let down at the meeting are potential new employers for you or new associates who might have written a letter of recommendation for you in your personal job search it becomes pretty obvious that these are not people you want to disappoint.

So how do you make certain this never happens to you again?

First call (or get) your mentor for help with your upcoming assignments. Read your speech if you have to but show up when you’re scheduled and do your best. Your fellow members will see that you’re struggling and they will help you. (If you don’t show up nobody knows if you need or even want some help.)

Don’t blow off what may seem like minor roles like greeting. Our greeters are our first-line offense when it comes to attracting new members. (We need to find at least 10 new members annually to qualify for the Distinguished Club Program.)

Every role in Toastmasters is important regardless of whether you are listed on the agenda or not. But if you are listed on the agenda and you don’t show up everybody knows. There’s no place to hide at Toastmasters and sooner or later the VP of Education will remove your name from the upcoming schedules.

And if you do show up and do the work, what does that say about you?

It says you are a person whose word can be trusted. You do what you say you’re going to do. You’re excellent executive material. You will make a fine mentor for newcomers. Maybe one day you’ll accept the role of president or area or divisional director.

But most of all, you’ll know yourself as someone who can count on themselves to show up and get the job done.




Santa Comes To First Oakville

Did you miss Santa?

If you attended our First Oakville Toastmasters‘s Christmas Party on Thursday Dec. 8 at O’Finn’s Irish Temper Pub you didn’t.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On top of great food, great fellowship, silly games, Christmas music and festive drinks we also had Santa drop by to help distribute gifts and spread great cheer. (Raffle tickets to a bunch of great prizes raised well over $200 for the local food bank.)

Learning how to be a public speaker doesn’t have to be an ordeal. At First Oakville Toastmasters we’ve been developing world-class public speakers while having a fun time doing it for 60 years.

Meetings at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Wallace Road start up again on January 5. Plan to arrive around 7:15 pm.

Don’t take our word for it. Just ask Santa.

Photos are available on the club’s Flickr gallery here.

How To Beat Roger Caesar

(This post also appears today on my blog The Toastmaster.)

Roger Caesar spoke at First Oakville Toastmasters a few weeks ago as our featured speaker during our open house meeting. He blew away the crowd.

Roger has been a Toastmaster for a few years now and as emerged as a real contender to win the World Championship of Public Speaking. He’s competed twice now at the World Championship semi-finals and I believe he’s going to go all the way very soon.

So am I blowing smoke when I say you can beat Roger?openhouse2first-oakville

As the only competitor to beat Roger in the last four years I think I’m eminently qualified to offer some suggestions. Okay so it was in the provincial finals of Table Topics when I beat him and not the International but give me a break here.

(In photo: First Oakville Toastmasters VP of PR Zulma Garcia who helped organize the club’s Open House night and Roger Caesar our guest featured speaker.)

And before anyone gets politically upset that I’m suggesting we figure out ways to beat Roger I can assure you that Roger and I are on  the same page here. We want to see speakers and especially new speakers enter the International Speech Contest in their own clubs and we want them to be so successful that they too can see the possibility of winning the world title.

So what makes Roger so good and such a great competitor? What’s his secret?

The club-level International Speech Contest is normally held in January and I bet the speech we heard from Roger in November was an early draft of one of the three speeches he’s going to write and deliver in his quest for world domination.

The point here is Roger is already out practicing his International Speech and I bet you haven’t even written yours yet!

Roger dresses for success. Now I don’t care whether you think dressing appropriately is important or not. Your opinion and mine is irrelevant. It’s the judges who care and most care to see a speaker dressing in such a way as to honour his or her audience and add to the impact to their speech. If you’re wearing jeans then your speech better be about riding horses! Just saying.

At our open house Roger was introduced but didn’t start his speech for a good 10 seconds allowing the the Toastmaster to sit down and the audience to settle. This dramatic pause helped Roger to separate himself and his speech from everything that had come before him on the agenda. It was a smart thing to do.

Roger’s first words were “I believe…”

He then went on to immediately tell his audience what he was going to say in his speech and why it should be of interest, even importance, to his audience. Why this speech and why this audience is the one question you should answer early in your speech if you want your audience to stay with you for five to seven minutes. That’s what Roger did so well.

Roger uses vocal volume and variety to great advantage and his gestures are measured and practiced and add to the impact of his speech. His ability to look into the eyes of his audience members is second to none.

So is there no hope of ever beating Roger Caesar?

The good news is Roger has good days and bad days just like the rest of us. He’s not always at the height of his game in top form. You might get a day when the stars align for you and not for Roger.

But waiting for fate isn’t a plan.

So what can you do to beat Roger?

My first suggestion is don’t try to be another Roger Caesar. One is enough LOL! Be yourself. Tell your own story. Tell it from your heart. Practice, practice, practice until you can deliver your speech in your sleep. Practice in front of a mirror. It helps.

Once upon a time I had a mentee who had delivered six speeches and I insisted that she speak at our club level International Speech Contest. She was reluctant because she’d be going up against the best speakers in our club and some of our best speakers are pretty close to as good as you get in Toastmasters.

But I insisted and persisted. I told my mentee that I didn’t expect her to win. I didn’t even expect her to place. I just wanted her to have the experience of speaking before a large audience during a formal occasion. I wanted her to be nervous and afraid because I wanted her to be less nervous and less afraid the next time she competed.

Of course, you can guess what happened.

My mentee spoke from her heart about a personal situation to which all in the audience could related. And while she may not have done it perfectly, she did it perfectly enough to win our club level International Speech Contest that year.

That’s how you beat Roger Caesar.

First you show up. Second you practice, practice, practice and compete to win. Third you keep coming back until you do win.

It’s that simple and that hard. Good luck.

How To Win The International

(This post was originally posted on The Toastmaster blog.)

Club mentors should be talking to their mentees right now about whether or not they are eligible and willing to try their hand at competing in the club-level International Speech Contest.

First you need to have completed six speeches from the Competent Communications manual. If you will have completed six speeches prior to our club contest night then you should sign up to give your International speech.12416996753_23d56ab174_z

You should give your International speech with the objective not to win (although newcomers have won in the past) but to learn how to compete. You need the experience of speaking before your fellow club members and hopeful at the club’s amazing Charter Party in February to make yourself a better overall speaker.

Second you need to write a five to seven minute International speech.

An International speech needs to have an amazing beginning, strong middle and rememberable end and should contain a motivational message that has a call to action. Almost immediately the speaker should answer the question “why this speech and why this audience”.

You can’t use notes and expect to place. Having said that you can use props to help you get your message across.

Read and understand the judging criteria.

Write a speech which is simple, direct and theatrical enough to capture the audience’s attention. If your speech comes from the heart make sure you can speak through your emotions. Practice it daily before a mirror and incorporate appropriate gestures. Speak louder than you think you should and make your gestures bigger and bigger.

Above all, watch your time. Don’t run your speech into the red light. On contest night you’ll likely speak slower than at home and the time will fly by. If you do look up and see the red light, end immediately anyway you can. You aren’t eligible if you go over time even by a second.

If you get lost in your speech just stand and make eye contact with selected members of the audience. Take your time. Everyone will think you’re about to make a dramatic point. The silence will have your audience leaning in to hear what wisdom will follow. As you regain your speech begin speaking again and few, if any, will know you were actually at a lost for words.

If you can deliver your speech before other clubs. Get feedback. Make changes. Practice more and then put your name forward to be a competitor in our International Speech contest.

BTW I have started writing a first draft of my International speech 🙂