This Week in Toastmasters: Mistakes

Look at the clock and scream out loud, “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S ALREADY 4:30! I HAVE TOO MUCH WORK TO GET DONE! AHHHHH!” It’s …


Laura McCaffrey competed in the District 40 Speech Evaluation contest over the weekend and did a fabulous job. I would like to commend Laura on making it to the District competition. District 40 has around 200 clubs, most of which compete in these competitions each year. That’s close to 4000 potential competitors, and Laura was one of the final 9. Congratulations, Laura! Great job!

brennanOne of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, died last week. He was an interesting guy. He enlisted as a Marine and then served overseas as an Armed Forces sports reporter (I like to picture him as a cross between Hunter S Thompson and Private Joker from “Full Metal Jacket,” but I have no idea if that was actually the case). He returned home and joined the priesthood, studying Catholic theology at St Francis Catholic seminary and creative writing at Columbia University. Somewhere in there he got married, which caused quite a stir since Catholic priests aren’t supposed to do that. He wrote lots of books, one of which, “The Ragamuffin Gospel,” became somewhat popular.

Through it all, Brennan Manning was a raging alcoholic. In his autobiography, he talks about taking the stage at churches across the country to tell people about God’s love, blitzed out of his mind. More often than not, he woke up the following morning, barely able to remember what he had said the previous night.

The thing I liked about Brennan was not his great heights or low lows, but rather his honest. He was open about his struggles with alcohol and how it wrecked his marriage and, most likely, his life. He was open about his doubts about his faith. He was open about all his mistakes. I like it when people do that. Leaders, especially.

I don’t talk about Leadership much in Toastmasters, mostly because I’ve looked at the Phonebook hierarchy and I know that most of you outrank most of me, and I don’t believe in lecturing people on subjects about which I know little by comparison. But, since I am still the president of our little club, I thought I’d take a moment to take a cue from one of my favorite authors and talk about some of the mistakes I’ve made this year.

Mistake #1: Missed Communications
We had a lot of new people join last summer and, while I tried to make room to encourage them to grow as Toastmasters, sending an encouraging e-mail to ask how things were going was always on my “I’ll get to it tomorrow” list. As a result, we lost a few good Toastmasters who reportedly felt like there was no place for them here. As President, I should have coordinated better communication with new and existing members, making sure no one fell through the cracks.

Mistake #2: Organization
I suck at organization. I can keep a high-level view of things, but once I get a few layers down into the nitty-gritty of something, I tend to lose focus and forget which tasks go where. We had a few cool projects planned this year – a Halloween-themed spooky story speech contest, a virtual get-together with multiple (our company) clubs from around the world, cool and creative approaches to meetings – that never got off the ground because the specifics of how to accomplish these things never got beyond the idea stage. As President, I should have motivated others to take part in these projects and get them off the ground.

Mistake #3: Too Much ME. Not enough YOU.
I spoke too many times, took too many roles, filled in as Toastmaster too often and picked up the slack too much. Nearly every week I kept saying things like “sign up and you won’t have to hear me talk so much,” but I kept filling roles because I like being involved. As President, I should have encouraged others to step up.

This isn’t to say I think the year as been a failure. It hasn’t! We’re still one of a very small group of clubs in the district to achieve all 10 DCP points, Shirley McPherson made it to the Division contest for the Humorous Speech contest in the fall, our very own Laura McCaffrey competed at the District contest for Evaluations just last weekend, and I’ve seen each and every one of you take some amazing steps both as speakers and as Leaders.

We’ve all come a long way and we all have opportunities to improve. It’s been a pleasure. With that being said, it’s time to talk about …

We came up with a slate of new officers for next year. Take a look at the proposed leadership team:

  • President: Laura McCaffrey
  • VP Education: Liz Foster and Crystal Dong *
  • VP Membership: Shirley McPherson
  • VP Public Relations: Brian Dietz
  • Secretary: Sonja Thornbloom
  • Treasurer: Jonathan Frisbey
  • Sergeants-At-Arms: Mary Ellen Reser, Kalyan Ilipilla, Marion Nicolet **
  • Immediate Past President: Joe Shaw

* The VP Ed role is one of the most time-consuming roles in Toastmasters. Crystal will work with Liz the first half of the year as she has time. She may take a more prominent role as the year progresses and is looking to move into an officer position in 2014-2015, time and life events permitting. Currently you are voting for Liz Foster as the official VP-Ed.

** The Sergeant-At-Arms role requires that someone be in attendance for each meeting. This isn’t always possible, given our hectic schedules. So we’ve slotted a few people down to work on the role together. They will decide who gets official credit.

We will hold elections Thursday, May 16. If the slate is elected, we will immediately begin transitioning new officers into their roles. You may have noticed some of this happening already. Truth be told, I wanted to get the new officers up and running as soon as possible so our transition as seamless in July.

IF YOU WANT TO BE AN OFFICER NEXT YEAR, all you have to do is either let me and Laura McCaffrey know prior to the election on the 16th or show up to the meeting and toss your hat in the ring. We will hold specific elections for each office if elections are needed. Otherwise, we will elect the slate as a whole.


I would like to recognize the officers who have served this year:

President: Joe Shaw
VP Education: Yingbi Zheng
VP Membership: Yanling Yin
VP Public Relations: Brian Dietz, Crystal Dong, and Terri Williams
Secretary: Sonja Thornbloom and Niranjandas Mettu
Treasurer: Liz Foster
Sergeants-At-Arms: Kalyan Ilipilla and Daniel Martinsen

Thank you for your service


Last week was a fun week. Two of our newer Toastmasters, Phil Tassi and Mary Ellen Reser, gave their second speeches from the Competent Communicator Manual. Phil spoke about The NFL Draft and Mary Ellen spoke about Communication. Liz ran a great table topics as well.

Great job, everyone!


This week, Danae Wassinger is the Toastmaster. Laura McCaffrey will present some info about the roles of a Toastmasters meeting, and Jonathan Frisbey and Amresh Sathe are on the docket to speak as well. We still need some evaluators and a General Evaluator, so go to the website and sign up!


We would like to recognize the anniversaries of our members who joined in April or May:

Robert Bond: 5 years
Liz Foster: 3 years
George Hernandez: 1 year
Kalyan Ilipilla: 1 year
Heidi Madsen: 3 years
Chandrasekhara Rayala: 3 years
Danae Wassinger: 4 years
Yanling Yin: 3 years
Yingbi Zhen: 2 years
Laura McCaffrey: 5 years

Alright, everyone. That’s enough for now. We’ll see you Thursday. Don’t Break Anything,

Posted in This Week | Tagged , , , , ,

This Week in Toastmasters: Snow


Wrap yourself in a warm blanket, huddle up next to the fire and sip a tall glass of too-rich hot chocolate, it’s …


I loved winter when I was a kid. I hate it now because I’m old and one of the signs you’re getting old is when cold weather turns you into a troll, but I loved winter when I was a kid. It meant hot chocolate, late night movies on the weekends (eating buckets of popcorn, warming our feet under the radiator next to the tv in the living room), snow days off school, and sledding down the many hills in our neighborhood. I grew up in Greenhills, a suburb of Cincinnati, and you KNOW we did a lot of sledding because we had the word “hills” right there in the name.

The best place to go sledding in Greenhills was behind the high school. There was a monstrous hill just behind the library that went down for what seemed like several stories at least, flattening out across the soccer field before ending suddenly at a steep drop off into the woods. All the kids showed up at the first hint of snow, waiting for just enough coverage to make it down the without pulling up clumps of sod and rolling.

By mid-January the hill had a nice, protective armor of ice and snow, shined to a perfect smoothness by the relentless barrage of the neighborhood kids and their many trips down. The goal was to attack the hill with enough speed to send you flying across the soccer field and off the edge of the field, into the woods. We had no idea what would happen if we actually accomplished this, but everyone there knew it would be “totally cool” if we did.

One year, we got a huge snowstorm, one of those blizzards that dumps several feet worth of snow in just a few hours. Everyone in the neighborhood gathered at the high school the following morning to take advantage of this gift. Rather that slide down the hill like normal, we brought shovels and, instead, spent three days building a snow track with high edges leading straight down the hill and across the field. It was like a rudimentary luge ramp, only perfectly straight and made entirely out of snow. With this, we said, we couldn’t accidentally dart sideways. With this, we said, we can make it all the way to the woods.

Once we had it built, Matt Kemper from Cromwell road got the bright idea to smooth it out with our sleds and douse the whole course with water just before nightfall.

The next morning, Adam Hester, a tall third grader from Damon Road, stood atop the hill, waiting for the right moment. He set his bright orange sled at the top of the ramp, stood back about ten yards, and took a running start. He leapt through the air and hit the sled, which took off like a bullet, leaving a cloud of slow and ice in his wake. It was a little like watching the Roadrunner speeding away from Wile E. Coyote. The only difference was this was real life, and a few short seconds into Adam’s trip, we all knew this would end badly.

He flew across the soccer field, hurtling toward the edge of the field leading to the drop-off into the woods without slowing down “It was the water that did the trick,” Matt Kemper said later, with a mixture of pride and horror. “I thought of that!”

Adam hit the drop-off at full speed, rose into the air a few feet like the General Lee in so many episodes of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” then dropped into the woods and out of sight. We heard a few crashes, then a brief silence followed by a long and wail that signaled to everyone Adam had landed somewhere below, likely in an uncomfortable position.

It took us a good hour to get Adam back up the hill. Several kids had gone to get his parents by then and an ambulance arrived shortly thereafter to take him to the hospital. Adam’s parents gave us stern looks, admonishments to “be more careful for God’s sake,” lectures that we should “act like men, not stupid little boys,” and promises that they would “call all your parents just as soon as we get home!”

Then they got in their car, leaving the rest of us in silence to ponder what we had done. In the coming weeks, we would learn that Adam had broken his right arm, his left leg, his collarbone, and two bones in his left foot. He had suffered a concussion and a laceration across his back so deep they wondered about the kind of scar it would leave. He was on crutches for several months and was unable to play baseball the following spring (which was a shame, because he could hit a ton). Later, we would learn an important lesson about the need to plan carefully and always pay attention to the dangers that lay waiting for us just over the next ridge.

But all of that was later. That day, standing in the snow by ourselves, we did the only thing you can expect of young boys with a pile of snow, an abundance of time, and several new sleds.

“That was cool,” we said, “I’m next!” And we ran the slopes again.


The last few weeks in Toastmasters were dedicated to the Evaluation Contest. Last week, Lameka Howard delivered an inspirational speech about living your vision, and several of our Evaluation contestants got the chance to practice in a mock evaluation (is it “mock” or “mach” or something else? I don’t know).

This week we held the actual contest with Les Davis from SOAR as our Target Speaker. Les shared humorous story about his fall … from a ladder, and the mistakes he made that led to this. It was a lot of fun (thanks, Les!). We had four contestants in our evaluation competition: Marion Nicolet, Jonathan Frisbey, Laura McCaffrey and Brian Dietz. Laura McCaffrey finished in first and Brian Dietz finished in second. They will represent our club at the area contest on February 16.

Our next competition is the International Speech contest on January 31. Derek Downes is in charge of that one, and he needs some help from all of you. So if you want to be a part of that contest as a competitor, a judge, a timer, or something else, let Derek know  as soon as you can.


Next week, we return to regularly scheduled programming with a “normal” meeting. We still need a Toastmaster for next week, along with pretty much any role you can think of. So GO SIGN UP FOR SOMETHING.


Podium Pros, the club that meets at McGraw-Hill just across Polaris Parkway, is holding a Speech-A-Thon event next Thursday evening with two meetings. The first one starts at 4:30. The second starts around 5:30. They’re looking to get lots of people involved. If you’ve got a speech you’ve been dying to give, this might be a good opportunity for you. Let me know and I’ll get your name on the list.

(Before you ask…yes, Dannae, they checked with Eileen. Everything is good to go).

Podium Pros is my wife’s club. They’re probably going to have her evaluate my speech. I will refrain from making judgments about what will happen when this evaluation takes place. I’ll just say three things: 1) my wife is 8.5 months pregnant 2) I am WOEFULLY behind on at-home projects 3) she has an open forum to criticize me … in public.

The opportunity to witness carnage on this level doesn’t come along too often, so take advantage.


You might have noticed the officer list on the side of our agendas changed recently. Earlier this year, we welcome Brian Dietz and Sonja Thornbloom to our officer ranks. Brian is working with Crystal Dong in the office of VP-Public Relations, and Sonja will work with Niranjandas Mettu in the Secretary role.

We’re looking to double up on each officer role (including mine!) so we can have a smooth transition of the leadership team moving into the next Toastmasters year (which will happen in June). If you’re interested in becoming an officer, even if you just want to check it out, let me know.


  • January 31: International Speech Competition (11:30 – 12:30 in 1P2359)
  • Jan/Feb: Officer Training. This training is open to everyone, not just officers. (see District Calendar for dates/locations)
  • February 16: Area Evaluation and International Speech Contest (come support our contest winners. Throw tomatoes at everyone else … just kidding …maybe)
  • March 1: Dues are due (give Liz $42)
  • March 9: 2001 World Champion of Speaking, Darren LaCroix will be in town to give a seminar on leadership and communication. This will take place at Safe Auto in Easton from 5:30 – 9:30. Darren is funny. He’s also bald. That makes him my hero. Cost is $10. RSVP to . Space is limited.
  • March 13: Polaris Toastmasters Open House in the South Bistro. We need help planning and executing this event. Contact Shirley McPherson to help. Get credit towards your CL!
  • March 16: Division Evaluation and International Speech Contest. Dates/Times to follow
  • April 19-21: District 40 Spring Conference at The Blackwell on OSU’s campus. The conference will feature the District finals for the Evaluation and International Speech contest, educational sessions for new and seasoned Toastmasters, and a keynote address from 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking, Ryan Avery. Different package options will be available.

That seems like enough for now. Have a great rest of the week, everyone. Try not to break anything.

Posted in This Week | Tagged , , , , ,

This Week in Toastmasters: Chickens in Tulsa! Old Bald Cheaters! And the Meaning of Time and Existence

The New Year’s Eve celebrations are over and done with. Pull yourself out of that ditch, call your favorite cousin (the one with the crazy hair and the lazy eye) and ask him three very important questions:

  1. How did I end up in Tulsa?
  2. Why am I dressed like the San Diego Chicken?
  3. Why did you let me drink so much tequila on New Year’s Eve?

It’s …


Back when I was a younger man (with hair … and the mistaken belief that I knew everything … and did I mention the hair?), New Year’s Eve was my favorite holiday. Christmas was mostly fun, and it certainly ranked. The Fourth of July was also fun but too hot for my taste. Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day were basically the same thing as New Year’s Eve: an excuse to dress like an idiot and drink enough to justify the bad decisions I already planned to make.

You might think they’d blend together, but New Year’s Eve was different. It had the big countdown and the dropping ball in Times Square. Plus, if there was enough mistletoe leftover from Christmas, there was always the chance I might get to kiss someone at midnight, provided they were like me and had consumed enough alcohol to justify bad decision making (this was well before I was married. And the person I was always trying to kiss is now my wife, proving once and for all that persistence trumps good looks and personal accomplishments nine out of ten times).

We don’t go out on New Year’s Eve anymore. It’s hard to do when you have kids (and the “it’s hard to do when you have kids” line works well when your friends ask why you’re staying in and you don’t feel like saying you’ve grown fond of a 10:00 bed time and anything more than a glass or two of wine gives you a nasty headache the following morning). This year, we had a couple friends over to play board games. We stayed up to watch the ball drop and comment about the strangeness of “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” now that Dick Clark has passed away.

As the clock on the screen counted down to zero, I got to thinking about time and how much things changed in 2012. Time moves almost imperceptibly, so slow we don’t often notice. The face you see in the mirror might look the same to you every morning, but go back to photos from five, ten, or twenty years and that face might look different.

“I used to think parachute pants were cool?” you might say, laughing at yourself.

Or maybe … “I was still in high school back then. I was so close with everyone in that picture, but now I can’t even remember their names.”

Or maybe even … “That was before the divorce. Back when mom was still alive, and we lived in that house on the cul-de-sac with the big tree in the backyard, and my kids still smiled a lot and laughed at all my jokes.”

Time moves so slow we don’t often notice. But it still moves. And when it finally piles up on you – in pictures, in videos, in moments next to the television wondering what happened to Dick Clark – it can make you laugh, it can warm your heart, it can shock you, and it can even make you cry. Time is an old, bald cheater in the Game of Life, as Ben Johnson once said, and he does his best work when we’re not looking.

But not at New Year’s. Time can’t touch us then.

There’s an abundance of hope at New Year’s. That’s what I like about it. It’s infectious.  All the mistakes you made last year are wiped clean. You get a do-over, a new slate full of hope for what’s to come; a kind of semi-Jubilee. I think we could use more of that in our lives. Stuff piles up from time to time and it’s nice to set it down occasionally, and walk away. If we could occasionally wipe the slate clean for ourselves and each other, we might be a bit better off. I’m an optimistic person, more or less, so I like that.

Here’s hoping 2012 treated you well. And, if it didn’t, here’s hoping 2013 is better. Here’s hoping you got your Jubilee or at least a chance to change your perspective and find something great for yourself, your friends, your family and everyone in your life.

Now, as Casey Kasem used to say, on with the countdown…


I’m sure you got the last minute “We’re not meeting this week” meeting notice I sent out yesterday. If not and if you showed up to the room, wondering where everyone was, sorry about that. My brain is still in a holiday fog. Feel free to e-mail everyone and tell us how awesome it was.

We’ll start up again next Thursday at 11:30. I’m the Toastmaster this week, and we have some special stuff planned. Go to the website ( and sign up for something.


We’re in the process of filling some officer positions for the second half of the Toastmasters year (now through June). If you’re interested in helping out with any position on our officer slate, please let me (Joe) know. Training starts soon, so don’t delay.


We have two contests this month:

  • The Evaluation Contest is January 17 in 1P2359 from 11:30 – 12:30.
  • The International Speech contest is January 31 in 1P2359 from 11:30 – 12:30.

Go sign up for something!

This seems like enough for now. It’s still early. We’re still getting into the swing of things.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Don’t break anything!

Posted in This Week | Tagged , , , , , ,

This Week in Toastmasters: It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)

Put on a Cosby sweater, guzzle some egg nogg and see how many viewings of “A Christmas Story” you can watch on TNT before you go insane and tie yourself to the side of your house with blinking lights like some sort of holiday-themed Ahab. It’s ….


Most of you are already out of the office, likely hiding in the nearest bunker in preparation for the Mayan Apocalypse everyone’s been talking about lately, so we’ll be brief (ha ha…right!).

I think it’s funny. In 1999, when everyone was sure Y2K would wipe out civilization as we know it and throw us back into the dark ages, there was a genuine, collective concern that the world would end. I remember my mom calling, worried she wouldn’t survive once the power went out and the zombies attacked.

“It’s just a computer glitch,” I said. “This kind of stuff happens all the time. Don’t worry. I’m a programmer. Glitches are what we do.”

Jan 1, 2000 came and went without much fanfare. I was glad, too, because a lot of the people I knew were convinced the world was ending and secretly suspected that, since I was a computer nerd, I had something to do with it. I tried calming them down, but it never seemed to work.

“If something does happen – and I’m not saying it will – it won’t be me. I work for a university. Now, if I ever get a job with a multi-national financial services corporation … THEN you have something to worry about. “

Now, however, the quasi-impending Armageddon of Mayan proportions seems to be more of a joke than an actual real thing that sane people care about. Apocalyptic scenarios are a dime a dozen these days. Nobody notices. It makes me wonder what would happen if, say, scientists discovered several real threats to our way of life.

Would people just shrug and say, “Meh. Walking Dead is on!”

Things to ponder on a cold afternoon in December.


We had a meeting last week. It was lots of fun. Mike Warren shared his thoughts on creation and the real meaning of Christmas. Brian Dietz gave us a message about our the way we use time and energy in our lives. Great speeches, guys. Way to go!

This week, we had our Winter Potluck, which consisted of everyone eating a bunch of food and talking about the one thing they wanted when they were a child. Or, if they couldn’t think of anything, the one thing they want now (the one thing I want now is French Fries, but I’m not sure that’s in the spirit of the event). Many thanks to Liz, Crystal and Laura for planning and running the whole thing. You were awesome as always!


  • Our next official meeting is January 10 in the usual place (1P2359) at the usual time (11:30 – 12:30). Be there or be a parallelogram sides of equal length.
  • The Evaluation Contest is Jan 17. We need some contestants, some judges, some timers, some ballot counters and some background go-go dancers. Go sign up for stuff on the website. I’m running this contest so, please, don’t make me look dumber than normal.
  • The International Speech Contest is Jan 31. Same deal (minus the go-go dancers). Crystal is running this one. She never looks dumb. That’s because she’s very smart.


You might remember us discussing the DCP earlier this year. Just in case you didn’t, the DCP includes a list of ten goals towards which each club works to achieve success. Last time I shared info with you, we had achieved 4 goals. Since then, we’ve had a few people achieve some educational awards and a few new members join. Once we get all the paperwork shuffled into the right piles (which will take place in early January), we’ll have completed 8 DCP goals for the Toastmasters year.

The Toastmasters year runs through June, so it’s looking like we’ll get all 10 for the second year in a row. Great job, everyone! As we move into 2013, start thinking about your goals for the second half of the Toastmasters year. How close are you to that next speaking or leadership award? We’ve got the contests coming up. Why not throw your hat in the ring? We’ll be electing new officers before too terribly long. Have you thought about taking the next step in club leadership?

What do YOU want to do? If you have a few, spare moments. Let me know at joseph (dot) e (dot) shaw (at) therestoftheaddress (dot) com.

Finally, Blessedly, This “Brief” E-Mail Comes To A Close

I’d just like to say that it’s been a privilege working with all of you this year. We’re almost to the halfway mark and we’ve done a lot. Let’s see if we can take our club to even higher levels of craziness starting in January. Seriously. I want each and every one of us to go the Spring Conference in April, and I want everyone there to say, “Something’s wrong with those people. They’re strange.”

Posted in This Week | Tagged , , ,

This Week in Toastmasters: The Life and Times of Elmo Zumwalt

Break out the Yule log, set “Jingle Bells” on repeat, and drown yourself in egg nogg, it’s…


In case you haven’t heard, Crystal Dong, Laura McCaffrey and Liz Foster are planning …. A Party? A Gathering? A Happening? Whatever it is, it’s December 13 in 1P2359 from 11:30 – 12:30, and it looks like a lot of fun.

The only problem is we have to work out what to call it.

“What to call it” was a ReallyBigDeal™ back when I worked for Ye Olde State University. You couldn’t call it a Christmas, Ramadan or Hanukah party because not everyone celebrated those holidays, and you couldn’t call it a Kwanza party because this one guy from the office of research thought that meant he could dress up like Bob Marley, which made absolutely no sense. You couldn’t call it a holiday party because not everyone has faith. You couldn’t call it a Winter Solstice party because some people thought the word “Solstice” was a fancy way of saying “lunch meeting” and wanted nothing to do with that. You could try combining everything into “HanuRamaKwansticemas” but that’s just stupid.

Eventually, we settled on “Winter Party.” I was offended by that, because who wants to celebrate cold weather, snow, and traffic jams? I kept my mouth shut, though. I was tired of the bickering.

It worked in the end. Almost everyone showed up for the “Winter Party.” We listened to music, told stories, played some games, and ate way too much food. That one guy still dressed up like Bob Marley, which was weird, but we had fun nonetheless.

That’s what it was all about, after all: Fun™ typified by a bunch of people with different backgrounds gathering in one place to celebrate whatever it is they wish to celebrate by taking an extended lunch break and then blowing off the rest of the day. That’s something I think we can all get behind!

(Side note to the bosses reading this: We won’t take an extended lunch break. Neither will we blow off the rest of the day. We are responsible people. You can trust us.)

I still think “Winter Party” is ridiculous, though. So let’s just call it the “Elmo Zumwalt” party. Elmo Zumwalt was a US Admiral who apparently did something significant once. Or something. I don’t know. His name kept coming up when my friends and I played Trivial Pursuit so now, whenever we can’t think of an answer to something, we just say “Elmo Zumwalt.”

It works as well as anything else, if you ask me.


December 13, 2012 | 11:30 – 12:30



Last week’s Toastmasters meeting was a hoot. We wish you could have been there.

Kelly Zhao shared a touching ice breaker speech about her daughter’s fight with Leukemia. On behalf of everyone, Kelly, I wanted to thank you for sharing. It took a lot of courage. We hope your daughter is doing well. Crystal Dong talked about taking a Disney Cruise, which was fun. I love daydreaming about warm, sunny places when the weather gets cold (or, if today is any indication, rainy and somewhat cooler). I talked about trees.

Jason Tseng pulled out his well-researched Table Topics list and ran some Elmo Zumwalt-themed impromptu speaking questions. From these questions, we learned that Mike Warren believes Joy (the state of mind, not the member of our club) does not involve presents, Kalyan Ilipilla bought a car on Black Friday, and Brian Dietz’s cousin’s/friend’s kids throw tantrums you would not believe.

It was a whole lot of fun. Really. The people in the hall kept interrupting us, so that means our excitement was infectious. Either that or we went a little over time. One or the other.


Danae Wassinger is the Toastmaster this week so, if you’re speaking, please send Danae you’re speech info (I’m looking at you, Brian Dietz and Mike Warren). We still have the a bunch of roles left, so sign up for something on the website. Let’s get this party started!


Learn to do grammar good.

A friend of mine is a professor of creative writing at a small university somewhere in Tennessee (he once published a short story about donkey basketball. you should check it out). Anyway, I asked him what he liked most about his job, and he said, “I teach afternoon classes, so I get to sleep in.”

“After that,” I said.

“I like teaching people who struggle with writing. The good writers, the people who think they know what they’re doing, don’t want to hear criticism. The people who struggle, though, are always willing to learn. They work hard and they end up better writers and communicators in the long run.”

I asked him what advice he gives to people who struggle with writing, grammar, and other such things. He said that, rather than hand them textbooks on grammar and literary theory, he has them read young adult novels.

“They’re written for a younger audience, so the focus is on using perfect and easy-to-understand grammar and sentence structure. Plus, the stories are fun! I read the Harry Potter novels at least once a year. Sometimes more. It helps me stay grounded.”

“How do you have time for all that?” I asked.

“Did I mention I sleep in every day? I love my job!”

There you have it. Right from the donkey’s mouth. If you want to be a better writer/speaker/communicator/etc, read kid’s books. Also, sleep in as late as you can.

Sometimes I wish I had been an English Professor.

See people give amazing speeches

A great way to get better at anything is to watch people who are really good at that thing, and then do what they do. That won’t help if you want to dunk a basketball like Michael Jordan (I tried. It hasn’t worked yet), but it does work for speaking. A great online resource for good speakers is the TED talks online archive.

A TED conference is kind of like a Toastmasters meeting, except the speakers can sometimes go on for 20-30 minutes and nobody counts their ahs and ums. You have to be really passionate about your speech topic, though, so all the speeches are good, even the individual speakers are not so good (I actually DO count their ahs and ums. Because I’m cool like that). I never fail to get some new, exciting insight on how to use humor, how to tell a story, or how to effective use visual aids in a speech.

Check them out here:


The end of the year is fast-approaching. The beginning of next year will be fast/furious. Watch out, or this stuff might hit you in the face:

  • The Evaluation Contest is January 17. We currently have no once scheduled to either compete or manage this thing. Go sign up for something. Don’t make me send more e-mails.
  • The International Speech Contest is January 31. Same deal. See Crystal Dong for more details. Sign up or, so help me, I’ll ask you sign up again!
  • Want to be a club officer? Want to know what this club officer thing is all about? Toastmasters International will have several officer training events in January and February. Your club officers will be in attendance. Why don’t you go, too? It’s a lot of fun!
  • What are your educational goals for this year? How far along towards meeting those goals are you? Send them to Yingbi Zheng, our Vice President of Education.
  • Want a mentor? Want to mentor someone? Send Yingbi an e-mail.
  • 6 months dues are due in March. That’s a long way off, still, but I wanted to let you know in advance.

See you this Thursday, everyone. Don’t Break Anything.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

This Week in Toastmasters: Turkey and Teenage Angst

Lock yourselves in your mom’s basement, throw your favorite vinyl record on the stereo and soak in a pool of teenage angst. It’s…


I’ve been working from home most of this week. When that happens, I get to hang out in jeans and t-shirts, listening to my high school collection of Led Zeppelin records. Right now, I’m listening to “Dazed and Confused” from their first album which, due to reports of all the drugs they were taking when they recorded it, was just as much as surprise to the band when they first heard it as it was to their fans.

Robert Plant: These guys are pretty good
Jimmy Page: They’re us, mate.
Robert Plant: No s**t?
Jimmy Page: No s**t.

My friends and I liked to pretend we were members of the band when we were kids. A lot of people wanted to be either Plant (the lead singer) or Page (the guy who uses violin bowstrings to play lead guitar), but when I was a teenager – 100 pounds lighter, with thick, flowing locks of long hair that hung past my shoulders if you can believe that – I wanted to be John Bonham, the drummer. This was likely because I grew up watching The Muppet Show and Animal from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem was always my favorite character.

Something about him just spoke to me.

Joe and his friends: An Artist's rendition

Joe and his friends: An Artist’s rendition

It was only ten years later that I learned Animal was based not on John Bonham, like I thought, but rather Keith Moon from The Who. My dreams were crushed. Try as I might, I just can’t get into The Who. Oddly enough, John Bonham and Keith Moon died of drug overdoses within two years of each other. But not Animal. He’s still “alive” and kicking!

Go Animal!


We haven’t had an update for a few weeks. Sorry about that. I’d like to say it’s because I had transplant surgery and have been steadfastly recuperating but, in reality, I’m just lazy. I actually DID have the transplant surgery, but recovery has been a breeze thus far (if my eyeball explodes, I might have to rethink that). I’ve spent most of time non-work time catching up on two of my favorite shows: Modern Family and Burn Notice. Naturally, I’ve been thinking of a way to do a Modern Family/Burn Notice mashup, which I call “Family on Fire.” It’s about a family of spies attempting to navigate the intricacies of their quirky interpersonal relationships while hunting down an international shadow organization bent on world domination. It would star Josh Holloway, Rosario Dawson, Emmanuelle Lewis and Roseanne Barr, and it would be set in San Diego.

I’m excited. Are you excited, because I’m excited.


We’ve had a few good speeches these last two weeks. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what they are because I didn’t write them down. I know Shafali Veeramalu and Min Wang gave their Ice Breaker speeches. Congrats! You guys did a great job! We have a few new guests-turned-members as well. Welcome, new Toastpeople! I think I gave a speech at one point but, for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was. Do you?

Maybe you can help me out. What was your favorite Toastmasters moment of the last few weeks?


That’s right. Next week is Thanksgiving, the annual American tradition where get together with our families to eat overpriced Turkey, drink too much wine, gossip about the crazy aunt who moved to San Francisco to pursue a career sculpting art out of disused, industrial strength CAT tires, and fall asleep on the couch pretending to care who the Lions and Cowboys are playing and whether or not they’re winning. Then we wake up at midnight to stand in line in the cold at Target for six hours, attempting to toss a few elbows at Granny in the hopes that we’ll get 15% off video games our kids will never play.

Happy Holidays, everyone! No meeting next week.


We still need a Toastmaster two weeks from now (on November 29). We also need a Table Topics master, an evaluator, a Timer, and a Grammarian/Ah Counter. Go sign up for something at http://polaris.toastmastersclubs.

I’d LOVE to see some of the new folks step up and take some roles, too. Please let me know if you’re having trouble accessing the site.


  • Our Holiday gathering/party/meeting is Thursday, December 13 at the usual time in the usual location. Laura McCaffrey, Crystal Dong and Liz Foster are planning something. So keep your nose peeled and your ears to the grindstone. Or however that metaphor works.
  • We don’t have a meeting scheduled for December 20, but I’ll be around. If anyone out there will be around and is interested in having a meeting let me know. Maybe we can do something small.
  • We’ll start the year on Jan 10 with a regular meeting.
  • Our Evaluation Contest is Jan 17 (click here for more info on this type of contest). I’m the contest master. We’re working on getting a speaker who is NOT from our club, so it should be fair for everyone. GO SIGN UP!
  • Our International Speech Contest is Jan 31 (more info). Crystal is running that one. Go to the website and sign up for that as well.

Have a good Thanksgiving if I don’t see you. Given the state of my eyesight, that’s a pretty high probability.


Posted in This Week | Tagged , , , , ,

This Week in Toastmasters: Zombies and Bad Weather

Batten down the hatches, hold fast the starboard bow … and do a bunch of other nautical things I don’t know about, it’s…


With Frankenstorm landing this week, I think it’s high time Hollywood releases the sequel to the 2001 “hit” movie, “The Perfect Storm.” That’s right folks, brace yourselves for “The Perfect Storm 2: The Swimming Dead,” featuring several groups of New Englanders, stranded at sea in the middle of a raging Hurricane Sandy, attempting to fight off hordes of sea-borne zombies lead by Zombie George Clooney and Zombie Marky Mark who you only thought died in the first movie (yes, you can refer to the nameless zombie horde as “The Funky Bunch”).

Then things get REALLY weird

The dramatic final scene will involve an intricate dance/fight scene between the survivors (lead by Bruce Willis, Will Smith and the fat guy from those Clerks movies) and the Zombie Funky bunch (set to the tune of “Good Vibrations” of course).  Just when you thought all was lost, Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom show up in the Black Pearl from “Pirates of the

Carribbean” to save the day. Unfortunately, we learn that Keira Knightley has been turned into a Zombie by none other than the fat guy from those Clerks movies, who was the REAL zombie ringleader all along! They’ve captured the Black Pearl and are riding the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy towards Washington DC with a nuclear bomb in tow, and a dark and ancient crystal that will summon an Asteroid to destroy planet earth if they aren’t stopped.

This, of course, sets things up for “The Perfect Storm 3: WTF?”

This idea is full of win and you know it.


Last week was pretty cool if I do say so myself. I wish you could have been there.

Derek Downes spoke about running a marathon in his speech “4 hours,” George Hernandez told us about the battle to break away from Los Angeles and make it to Columbus (judging by today’s weather, chances are he’ll soon battle to go back), and Shafali Veeramallu told us about wonderful memories from summers at her Grandma’s house when she was younger. Laura ran a fun Table Topics, and Kalyan kept everything going smoothly as the Toastmaster.

This week we welcomed Danae Wassinger to the club. Danae is our current Area Governor, but she recently accepted a position at Polaris, and will participate in both clubs here. Welcome, Danae!


Crystal is the TM this week, so things are bound to be awesome. We’ve got some speakers and evaluators lined up, but we still need a few other roles filled. Make sure to bring your Competent Leader manual so you can get credit, even if all you do is speak at Table Topics.


If you ever get stuck trying to come up with ideas for your speeches, struggling with language or stylistic choices, or just how to go about giving an effective evaluation, here’s a new section just for you. It’s called “Resources for Toastmasters,” and here we’ll explore different ways to improve your speaking, leadership and communication skills even when the speaking slots are full.

Stunk & White’s Elements of Style:
If you want the Grammarian to stop pointing out your mistakes and, instead, point out your awesomeness, this is the book for you. “The Elements of Style” was published in 1918 by a professor at Cornell who was tired of his students making common, grammatical mistakes on their papers and essays. It’s an incredibly short read (it’s almost a pamphlet, really). He compiled a list of common mistakes in English grammar usage, composition, and form as well as discussions about how to do Stuff™ better. In his book “On Writing,” Stephen King referred to this as the resource that made him go from good to great (or bad to sort of okay, depending on your interpretation of his work). I bought a copy when I was 18 years old. I still have it. It’s dog-eared and coffee stained, but I still use it.

Six Minutes, a blog by Andrew Dlugan:
Andrew Dlugan is a Toastmaster from British Columbia. He’s been writing about speaking for years, and has pulled together a formidable overview of not only the Toastmasters program, but speaking in general. He’s got resources on how to be a better evaluator, how to write better speeches, and how to effectively employ visuals in your presentations. He regularly does critiques of well-known speakers and his weekly roundup of resources for speakers is often entertaining and always invaluable. Check him out!

Got a Resource you’d like to share? Pass it along to me and I’ll include it in the weekly e-mail. Or, better yet, send something out yourself. There’s no better way to become a better speaker or leader than by having everyone engaged in making everyone around them better.

If that last sentence made sense to you, you’re smarter than me.

Coming Soon in Toastmasters

  • The District 40 Fall Conference is this weekend. Go! Go! Go!
  • We’re planning a holiday/Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanza/Winter/??? Party-ish-type-thing for the end of the year. It might be December 13. It might be December 20. What works best for you?
  • We need people to plan and also participate in the Winter Speech Contests in January. Anyone interested? Please let me know!

Have a good week, Everyone. Don’t Break anything!

Marky Mark? I thought this was a New Kids on the Block concert!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,