Obama the communicator

Barack Obama won the US Presidential election on the basis of his ability to communicate rapidly and honestly. The turning point of his campaign was a speech he delivered on 18th March 2008 at Constitution Centre Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in response to the attention given to controversial remarks made by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor and, until shortly before the speech, a participant in his campaign. The speech's title was taken from the Preamble to the United States Constitution: “A more perfect Union”. Responding rapidly and decisively to a situation that could have scuppered his presidential race, resulted in the words of chief speech writer becoming prophetic: "This is why you should be president."

Toastmasters teaches the ability to think rapidly on one’s feet and respond to any situation. The Table Topics are typically an occasion where quick thinking is required. On this particular evening our Sergeant-at-Arms was called upon at the last moment to offer the toast of the evening.

An intimate gathering of six toastmasters and two guests was held on Monday 23rd November. Last minute apologies resulted in the toastmaster for the evening taking on the role of timekeeper as well and no one evaluating the use of words, grammar and idiom for the evening.

The toast of the evening was to the Spirit of South Africans in light of the soccer world cup that is now fast approaching.

Transformers Toastmasters Oxytocin
Oxytocin (ball-and-stick) bound
to its carrier protein (ribbons)

Siyabonga Ndlovu presented his second prepared speech in fulfilment of the second project of the Competent Communicator. He spoke passionately about the benefits of a hug, exhorting everyone to adopt the habit of showing affection and causing the release of oxytocin: the hormone of love and bonding.

John-Peter Gernaat used his voice to fulfil project six of the Competent Communicator: this project requiring vocal variety. He enthralled his audience with a narrative of an encounter with a black mamba on a quite Sunday afternoon while going out to feed a collection of endangered parrots. Although entitled “Snakes Alive!” the mamba ended up dead and measured in excess of 2.3m. No the usual Sunday afternoon encounter….

The Table Topics Master had us guessing at the meaning of obscure words. In most cases, unable to guess the meaning, the speaker invented the most implausible story. Taking the cue from Barack Obama’s “We can” slogan Faruk DuPont explained what we do when “We can rowel”. In fact we rowel with the waves of live and prosper! (I’ll leave the intrepid reader to Google the true meaning of the words for themselves.) Siyabonga explained that locusts sawder fields of grain with their hind legs: over- flattering the locust’s destructive ability. John-Peter unfroze the word regelate by enjoying reggae late into the night. Jim Powell flensed insects from his aeroplane by flying through the clouds, leaving the grubby work of stripping blubber to the Norwegians. (Sorry, can’t resist cryptically alluding to the real meaning of the words.) Mary Byrne sang the praises of Dilbert as the King of Knapping or catching 40 winks with eyes open.

The highlight of the evening was an educational session by Mary Byrne on the purpose of offering Speech Craft to the public. Speech Craft teaches the skills of Toastmasters, i.e. the skills of public speaking: structuring a speech, use of body and voice, in a concentrated form and the participants have the opportunity to prepare at least three speeches to hone these skills. Speech Craft courses permit Toastmasters clubs to raise funds for their clubs.

Well deserved awards for the evening went to Siyabonga for most improved speaker, John-Peter for his impromptu speech, Rod Taylor for his evaluation of Siyabonga’s speech and best contribution to Ryan Ebedes for regaling us with the highlights of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

The year is rapidly drawing to a close. All members and past guests are invited to our year-end function on Sunday, 13th December. Confirmation of attendance is required and should be sent to Keith Bowen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The final Transformers meeting will be held at the Morningside Country Club on Monday, 14th December and everyone is warmly invited to participate in “Transformers Survivor 2009”. So don’t sit in front of the TV watching Survivor, come and participate and become a survivor yourself. Guests are warmly invited.


Google, the internet search engine, is named after the googol which is 10100 or ten duotrigintillion on the short scale, ten thousand sexdecillion on the long scale, or ten sexdecilliard on the Peletier long scale or 10,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Amazing the things one learns at Toastmasters!

Oh! By the way, Google calls their corporate headquarters the Googleplex. Guess what …. also names after a mathematical term – googolplex. A googolplex is 10 raised to the power of a googol - 10(10100). Carl Sagan estimated that writing a googolplex would be physically impossible, since doing so would require more space than the known universe provides and it would take longer than the time since the creation of the universe.

Our meeting on Monday, 9th November was themed Google. Our toastmaster for the evening, Keith Bowen, kept us thoroughly entertained with information on this theme and was awarded best contribution for the evening for his efforts. Our appointed Wordmaster failed to make the meeting and Mary Byrne, Sergeant-at-arms, added this task to that of Timekeeper for the evening. She gave us the word “correspond” to use as often as possible. Such a common word and it only received three utterances during the entire evening.

Second-time guest, Jim Powell, toasted “all those who would make South Africa a better place” in the toast of the evening reminding us of everyone who goes the extra mile to make other people’s lives better.

Back to Google for a moment: Since ‘1984’ by George Orwell was published we have all been on the alert for Big Brother. Google, with 24 server farms and 450 000 servers (round numbers I guess), had created a wonderful thing called the Google Cloud where we can store information, we use GMail, Google Chat and Google Voice for communication. Soon all email and social networking application will become obsolete with Google Wave. We store our contacts on Google and keep up with our appointments, which, by the way, we can share with the world, on Google Calendar. Our lives are stored with ONE corporation – friendly, non-threatening, helpful – and all-knowing!

The Table Topics for the evening were inspired by Google and six people had the opportunity to speak on one of the Google application: Pedometer, Voice, Translate, Earth, Chat and Maps. Although most speakers tried to provide more information on the Google application Rod Taylor, speaking about Earth spoke eloquently about our planet and the soil with till that gives us life. Ruth Taylor speaking about Chat also chose to steer well clear of Google and spoke about conversations. Notwithstanding their valiant defiance of Google the award for best Impromptu Speaker was shared by Ryan Ebedes and John-Peter Gernaat.

Two prepared speeches formed the core of the evenings proceedings. Ruth Taylor’s speech entitled “The Power of the Tongue” fulfilled the requirements of the sixth project for a Competent Communicator and required the use of vocal variety. She spoke about the damage that our words can do to others and exhorted her audience to use the power of our words to build people up and raise their self-esteem. She ended with a wonderful quote that she spoke in the most delightful way: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

Rod Taylor fulfilled the requirements of the Interpersonal Advanced manual and Asserted Himself. He explained the steps of being assertive and then enacted a role play with Cheryl-Lynn Langley in which she was the animal hospital supervisor and he was bringing in his pet dog to be spayed but had misunderstood the timing and arrived 2 hours late. As a result of his assertive approach he may have been successful in having his pet spayed on the day. We did not find out…..

We were a small and intimate group for this meeting and look forward to seeing many more people at our last meeting for the year on 14th December 2009.


The sky was threatening but for the first time in three meetings no rain fell. Instead we had three wonderful new guests: Jeanne Wissing travelled from Centurion, Jim Powell had been a Toastmaster more years ago than he cares remember and Faruk DuPont. We also had a fourth guest, Syabonga Ndlovu who has attended a few of our meetings and gave us his icebreaker speech.

The theme for the evening was Blink!, which was an enigma to most of us until Mary Byrne, our toastmaster for the evening, explained that this was the title to a book by Malcolm Gladwell published in 2005.

Toastmasters - Mary Byrne explaining Blink!
Mary Byrne explaining Blink!
The main subject of this book is "thin-slicing": our ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. In other words, spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered ones. This book legitimises our gut-feeling. The book is also described as “Thinking; Thinking about thinking; Thinking without thinking. Mary enlivened the evening with interesting excerpts from Blink! and several examples where it has been demonstrated that the impression gained in the first 2 seconds is more accurate that considered thought.

The Table Topics provided by Table Topics-master, John Russell, took the theme of the evening and gave the speakers interesting subjects that resulted in some of the best impromptu speeches I’ve heard at our club. The topics were:

  • “In the blink of an eye”, that allowed Ruth Taylor to consider how much in live seems to occur in the blink of an eye because we fail to deliberately give them sufficient attention and time.
  • “Wink, wink” gave Keith Bowen plenty of scope for innuendo.
  • “Eyes wide shut” encouraged Ele Mandavha to reveal a secret life ambition that was different from her career. She is a hard working engineer but would rather be a teacher or even a netball coach.
  • Jim explained how one, or something, functions intermittently while “On the blink” until we/it blinks no more.
  • Another of our guests, Jeanne, took the plunge to speak at a first meeting on the topic “You blink and they’re gone” and won the prize for best impromptu speaker.

But I’m running ahead of myself. After the opening formalities of the evening we all raised our glasses to the little things in life after Glenice Ebedes explained that the inventor of the golfing tee, a dentist, Dr George Franklin Grant, who made his first tee in 1899 and gave away about 5000 during his live, only received full recognition in 1991. John Russell responded to the toast with a reminder of the other little things in life that are so important such as a smile.

The evening’s programme was very full with four prepared speeches. Firstly Syabonga provided a view on his life and how he had met the love of his life only to end up living 1400km apart. His speech entitle “Why, oh why” ended in hope as he is planning that he and Ele, with who he is already married in a traditional ceremony, will be living together by the end of this year.

Solani Bvuma gave the second Competent Communicator project speech entitled “Personal life transformation and energy renewal” and provided a simple method for achieving the transformational resolutions we make at the start of each year and during our life.

Keith Bowen in one of his best speeches entitled “Doubting Thomas” clearly explained how a financial bubble is created through faith in a product until doubt in the value at the elevated price causes the market in that product or commodity to burst as doubting Thomases withdraw en-mass for this market. It then requires faith to destabilise the market. This speech fulfilled the requirements of project 7 for a Competent Communicator.

Rod Taylor prepared a speech to meet the requirements of the first project of the Persuasive Speaker advanced manual requiring him to sell a cheap product to a buyer as an Effective Sales Person. Rod very effectively explained the process of persuasive selling but in the roll play failed to sell to his buyer although he carefully listened to his buyer and was very persuasive in demonstrating value in his product.

A full evening was brought to a close with our guests telling of their enjoyment of the evening.

Palindromes and a backwards meeting

What is a backwards meeting? Well! The meeting starts with the President closing the meeting and wishing everyone farewell and the meeting concludes 2 hours later with the President welcoming all present. The entire programme of the meeting is reversed. Does this have any benefit? For one thing, one becomes acutely aware of the order of events. Evaluations take on a new meaning. The evaluations are given before the speeches and the evaluation were superbly general, allowing the speakers to easily adapt their presentation to suit. And the evening is a lot of fun as everyone stumbles over programme order or tries to reverse what has become habit.

The theme for the evening was palindromes (and in case you need to look this up – these are words that can be written forwards as well as in reverse and still have the same spelling, such as the unused word of the evening: redder).

After the concluding formalities, the grammarian for the evening provided a report on splendid use of idiom and word pictures that the impromptu and prepared speakers had to try to fit into their speeches. “Capering around corners on two wheels” was attributed to Rod Taylor who would later speak about his motoring experiences as a young man. I wonder how Ruth Taylor, our grammarian, so accurately guessed at Rod’s speech content.

The evaluations of the prepared speeches followed, but by this time the speakers had confided the title of their speeches to the evaluators. Keith Bowen evaluated Ruth’s “A remedy for stress” and John Russell evaluated Rod’s “A marvelous motoring experience.”

Other than the fact that the timekeepers report preceded the Table Topics, this section of the programme proceeded as usual. Each topic was a palindrome.

  • Rod explained that a terret (one of the metal rings on a harness through which the reins pass) is a small squirrel-like creature that has never been seen although it has been photographed.
  • Ruth explained how her daughter had heard a pathologist on CSI exclaim that it was the strangest murdrum ever reported and was not far off the mark for it is the killing of a man in a secret manner.
  • Keith detartrated his muffins from the residues of baking agent instead of removing the potassium salts from his grape juice in the making of wine.
  • John-Peter took a walkabout Down Under with aibohphobia (the fear of palindromes) describing it as the fear of native Australians who have gone walkabout.

Snacks were enjoyed and thereafter the recess was called. Finally the prepared speeches were heard. Ruth presented a Competent Communicator project 4 speech which requires the use of body language. She took us all on an 8-day holiday and re-enacted the packing of luggage, the arrival, de-stressing and her speech culminated in her 80 year old mother climbing a mountain at dawn. Her gestures amply augmented her wonderful tale that was a remedy for stress.

Rod, in his speech in fulfillment of a project 5 Competent Communicator, took us back forty years and had us roaring around the English Lake District in an Alfa Spider and competing in hill climbs.

In back to front order we eventually toasted the benefits of being backward, such as countries with a low carbon footprint, societies that are close to nature, people with a high propensity for love and prosperity of Japan based on reverse-engineering. After the loyal toast everyone was welcomed by the President and we all went home!