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.

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