Meet El Presidente!

Maidenhead Speakers Club – Monday 14 Jul 2014


July is always a special time as we hail the New Toastmasters Year in, and at MSC we are no different as we greeted new committee members & of course a new Club President!

Sergeant at Arms Paul Aherne was in good spirits & regaled us as in his usual witty & off-the-cuff style as we took to our seats on yet another warm (& fairly humid) summer evening at St Luke’s Hall. He then swiftly introduced brand new Club President Julie Farrell, who now proudly takes over for the next TMs year from Jacqui Hogan. Julie was brimming over with her trademark energy & enthusiasm as she told us of her plans for the next year on how she intends to run the club, also speaking of how far she’s come since becoming a TM over 3 years ago. She spoke with great honesty & alacrity too as she told us how she’s gone from ‘Panic to Published’ – overcoming panic attacks in recent years to becoming a fully-fledged published author, not to mention rising up the ranks of MSC to become Club President! We all wish her well, & look forward to her leadership at the club over the coming year. She also said her favourite part would be handing over the ribbons to the winners at the end of the night, which she duly did!

Toastmaster of the Evening Gerard stepped up next & started the night’s proceedings in his usual understated but efficient style, clearly signposting what was in store for us on a packed schedule, taking us through HATS, &  also introducing us to tonight’s all-important Timer, Gavin Collins.

Table Topics Master Mary Fraser was on-stage next as she hosted a slick & entertaining TTs session recalling those hazy, lazy days of summer -with the Best Table Topics Speaker ribbon going to Matthew Woolacott. Other speakers were John Callaghan, Nick Bailey, Steve Cann, Zahid Aziz & Doreen Gowing.

First prepared speech was Marco Davi, with his Icebreaker ‘Say Yes’. In an entertaining & inspiring speech, he spoke of how he moved from Italy to Germany, & how his dad taught him to ski without having ever skied himself. He also mentioned how his daughter wanted to see the photo on the back of his film camera! Next was Peter Needham, with ‘You’re Never Too Long in the Tooth’, speech #4 from his CC Manual. He told a wonderful, moving (& very funny) account of his sometimes uncomfortable experiences of having a brace fitted on his teeth as an adult, using this ‘simple’ theme to construct a very effective recount of his experiences. He also invented a new word – ‘bracism’!

Third speaker Richard Davies was doing a speech from his Advanced Storytelling Manual, with his unusually-titled speech ‘The Jar’. He told stories within a story, using word pictures to take us to the terrace of The Boutler’s Inn, which he used as a framing device to tell his tales. He told the unusual story of the slap and the kiss on a train journey, & also used a prop of a jar full of ping-pong balls to focused on cultivating the important things in life (such as friends, family, love) & not sweating the small stuff. And how there was always time for 2 cups of coffee! Final speech of the first half was Grant Oliver with ‘What’s Your Favourite City’. Much-travelled, he took us on a whirlwind-tour of the world & his experiences of other cultures, finally revealing his three favourite places at the end.

Following the break, it was time for Chris Boden to step up with a special preview (& rehearsal) of his World Championship Contest Speech no less! You had to be there, as they say, as I am at pains here not be reveal any details of Chris’s speech – which he will of course be performing in front of an audience of 5,000 in Kuala Lumpur. All of us assembled enjoyed this unexpected preview of Chris’s moving & inspiring talk, & he invited written feedback from audience members at the end for any areas where he could make any improvements. It goes without saying we will all be wishing you well for next month Chris with your excellent speech, as you step on that plane!

Best Speaker Ribbon was awarded to Peter Needham – well done Peter.

Evaluators Alan Grayly, Yohan McDonald, Lorraine Hamilton, Tony Searby & David MacLeod all did sterling work, & our speakers were all treated to first-class evaluations from our experienced team. David in particular had the tricky task of evaluating Chris’s Contest Speech, but gave some wonderful recommendations for Chris to take away to Kuala Lumpur perhaps – not to mention of bit of audience participation too for good measure, which is always good at TMs!

Best Evaluator Ribbon was awarded to Lorraine for a very animated & thorough evaluation of Richard’s speech.

Grammarian Sandra Davison gave a breezy report of ‘um’ & ‘ah’ usage, not forgetting those speakers who utilized her word of the day ‘resilience’.

The next meeting will be on Monday 28th July at 19:30. See you all there!


It’s Better to Travel…

Maidenhead Speakers Club – Monday 30 Jun 2014


This was an auspicious night at MSC, what with it not only being the final meeting of our Toastmasters year – but also an evening of ushering in the new President, and looking back over a successful twelve months! But more of that to come later…

New Sergeant at Arms Paul Aherne looked very at home in his new role already as he found a new gavel-banging technique to bring everyone to attention(!), and effortlessly kicked proceedings off with his trademark humour. Club President Jacqui Hogan informed us that this was her last evening in this role, but also reflected on how much she’d enjoyed the past year of being at the club’s helm. She also welcomed both our guests tonight before handing over to Toastmaster of the Evening Julie Farrell. Julie was full of her usual enthusiasm and bonhomie, clearly explaining tonight’s programme and the club’s protocols.

Table Topics Master Sandra Chavez came up with some excellent subjects around the theme of travel and the world (also reflected to a degree by our prepared speeches later too) to test our members’ impromptu speaking skills and, due to the shorter programme tonight, had the chance to call a fair few members up. First speaker Gavin Collins, on being asked where the one place in the world was where he’d make a trip to in his lifetime, surprisingly chose good old Maidenhead! He spoke of the multi-cultural diversity we have in our town, the huge opportunities available, and sang its praises so that we could only really agree! Next up was David MacLeod, who was asked to name his top tourist attraction in the country. He chose the London Eye – and gave us all a potted-history and insight into London’s famous big wheel. He revealed he worked for BA in 1999 – the company who originally conceived and sponsored the Eye in time for the Millennium. Next speaker Suzette King was making her debut TT speech – and did an excellent job. Asked whether she preferred to travel by boat, train or plane, she opted for air travel, and, to our surprise, revealed her past career in the RAF. She made a joke that they ‘paid her to go camping’… we’ll look forward to hearing more of her stories on this subject in future I’m sure.

Our next TT speaker was also tonight’s TimerTony Searby – stepping once again into this role at the last minute, but not at the expense of missing out on a TT! He was asked in which country he would like to spend one year in if he could, and opted for the USA, where he would pursue his passion for psychology at one of the top universities. Norman Rhodes was our fifth TT speaker, and was asked  to name the most beautiful place he’d ever visited. He revealed how well-travelled he was, and how it was so tough to choose one place – but opted for Bali, and told us all about why this place was so special to him. Next was Richard Davies – answering the question ‘what’s the first thing you do when you return for a trip abroad’. As usual, Richard found lots of whimsical humour around this subject to ponder, touching on the themes of unpacking, sunburn treatment, and how to dispose of those foreign coins that always weigh our pockets down, but our useless once we return home… Penultimate speaker Nick Bailey was asked, ‘if he were Christopher Columbus, what exactly would he put in his suitcase?’. He cleverly found some bizarre choices including a present for the Queen, a bottle of port, and last but not least, one change of underwear! Final speaker (and winner of tonight’s Best Table Topic Ribbon) was Jacqui Hogan, with the tricky question of ‘which celebrity would she take on a trip?’. She inspiringly opted for Richard Branson, knowing full-well she’d be guaranteed an upgrade on the plane to Australia and the best of luxury/VIP treatment all-round!

The first of our four prepared speeches tonight was by Mohammad Aziz, speaking of how he would make the world a better place. He added nice touches of humour as he spoke of the perilous state of the world, and how he’d love to see world peace achieved in his lifetime. This led though to the conclusion that he would have to take over the world himself, and become our supreme leader! He spoke of the advantages he’s enjoy (while making the world a better place), although he would need all our financial support!

Second speaker Rajeev Sawhney by way of coincidence, also has a speech that touched on the perilous state of the world. But his was on the much more serious matter of global warming and climate change, and the real dangers of what could happen if we don’t modify our lifestyles now and the way we harm the planet. He had some sobering statistics to back up his case, and urged all of us to act now, in a very persuasive speech.

The third speaker tonight was an Icebreaker Speech – surprising then that this was delivered by long-standing member Lorraine Hamilton! Lorraine has decided to re-visit the CC manual – and had the chance then to perform her Icebreaker 12 years on from the very first time when she was new to TMs. She came up with a very unusual autobiographical speech, full of humour, insight and pathos – keeping the audience on the edge of their seats throughout and leaving us with an inspired message.

Fourth speaker (and winner of tonight’s Best Speaker Ribbon) was Steve Cann, with his Advanced Manual PP presentation speech ‘Going Underground’. He gave a concise and detailed account of how London’s Underground network was constructed, and the effect it had on the face of travel in London. He made good use of historic pictures to back up his facts. including the evolution of the Tube map itself, and how the tube lines themselves created new suburbs as London grew in the last century.

General Evaluator of the Evening Eric Elliott then took to the stage, giving lots of good advice about the art of evaluation and how to deliver an effective one. Evaluators David MacLeod, Andrew Johnston, Grant Oliver and Helen Elliott all gave excellent evaluations, with David winning the evening’s Best Evaluation Speech ribbon. A special mention to Andrew too, who delivered his first-ever evaluation in fine style.

Grammarian Michael Williams gave a good summing up of the night’s umms and arrs, and also the use of the word of the day ‘deflated’ – although he was feeling anything but this himself!

Jacqui finished by formally (& literally) crowning Julie Farrell the club’s new President for the next TMs year, as she handed over and presented Julie with her Presidential medal Olympic-style! I’m sure we all wish her well in her new role. Jacqui also called up any committee members present to come forward to the stage, and kindly thanked them for all their support over the past 12 months in making her tenure such a success. I’m sure you’ll all agree that Jacqui has been an excellent President for the club over the past 12 months and done us proud!

Julie shows off her well-earned Presidential medal!

Julie shows off her well-earned Presidential medal!

The next meeting will be on Monday 14th July at 19:30. See you all there for what promises to be I’m sure another wonderful night of speeches at MSC as we start the new Toastmasters year!


Sizzling-Hot Speeches at Maidenhead Speakers

Maidenhead Speakers Club – Monday 23 Jun 2014


On a hot humid July evening (with temperatures more akin to a mid-summer in Mississippi than Maidenhead) the faithful few gathered for an evening of sweaty heat, but stimulating speeches. Whilst the heat did keep the numbers down, the gusto of our Sergeant at Arms  Doreen Gowing and Toastmaster of the Evening Zahid Aziz quickly replenished the energy. Doreen encouraging those sitting at the back of the room to come forward to fill the front and create a more intimate space, and it worked!

Club President Jacqui Hogan encouraged the audience to use descriptive words to capture to mood of the warm weather, and, after a quick round of audience participation, she proudly presented our newest member Suzette King with her Maidenhead Speakers name badge. Welcome aboard Suzette, the adventure starts here!

Zahid opened the proceedings with his customary energy and enthusiasm, explaining the importance of H.A.T.S. and introducing our Timer for the evening Tony Searby, and Grammarian Cheryl Brickell.

First up to speak this evening was Moyn Islam with his speech entitled “The Four Principles of Success”. Moyn delivered a confident speech outlining the notion of being “lazy by default” and developing strategies to ensure success.

Next to speak was Alan Grayly. Alan’s speech entitled “Fly Like a Butterfly” focused on the use of body language, and  he spoke of the three main elements of the Butterfly stroke, Timing, Flexibility and Rhythm. He used gestures to describe the beauty of the stroke and left the audience ready to head for the pool to give it a try!

Our third speaker was Richard Davies, delivering his tenth speech from the Competent Communicator manual. His inspiring speech entitled “Words of Wisdom” outlined four key points to apply to life: Work hard, develop wisdom, have courage and take note of feedback. His closing statement concluded his speech perfectly. “You have one life, live it!”

Following these three inspiring speeches we broke for an early tea break, and Doreen ensured that everybody was back in their seats ready for second half. Sadly this was the final outing for her as our Sergeant At Arms… Next week we will see another take on the role as our new TMs year begins! Zahid thanked Doreen for all she has brought to the role over this last year – we’ll will all miss her warm smile at the start of every evening.

The last prepared speech of the evening was an Educational Speech by Monica. Her speech entitled “I Did Not Prepare This Speech” focused on Impromptu Speaking, and the difference between an unprepared and an unrehearsed speech. She described techniques,  used examples of Impromptu speaking in a business context, and also speaking during an ‘elevator pitch’.

After the prepared speeches we headed into Table Topics territory. Our Table Topics Master for the evening Mell Sheppard created a series of fantastic topics that put our participants in the role of Agony Aunt/Uncle for a newspaper – ‘Mell from Maidenhead’ needed advice on a series of moral dilemmas!

Nick Bailey tackled the difficult task of deciding if Mel’s £5000 of savings should be spent on her sick pet dog or used to help pay for a house move. Nick revealed his kind heart by eventually settling on saving the poorly dog, and was adamant that she should avoid ever owning a cat as they “do things in the garden that make the front doorstep smell!”.

Next Jules Abernethy was tasked with advising Mell after a small car accident. Sadly Mel had reversed into a Porsche causing some damage, but nobody had witnessed the accident. What would you do? Jules assumed the role of Agony Aunt completely, ultimately advising that she writes an unsigned note explaining what had happened and leave it on the windscreen, easing the guilt Mell was experiencing. This would ensure that whilst Mell’s conscience is clear, her bank account remained safe and insurance-claim free!

Picture this – you are working on a large proposal, ans a potential customer offers you tickets to see your favourite band as a sweetener. What do you do? Clive Pugh asked more questions around the subject and offered to explore other options with his usual command of body language and humour before deciding that honesty is always the best policy.

Mell has entered a pub quiz with a top prize of £10000 being donated to charity and, as luck would have it, happens to be in possession of the quiz answer sheet! Is it OK to cheat if it’s for charity? Gavin Collins reminded us of those childhood days of trying to cheat at tests in school, advising that whilst the short term gains may seem tempting, in the long term honesty is the only way forward!

Would you lie to the Police if a friend asked you to? Tony Searby had to wrestle with this one. He began by asking more questions around the original dilemma, and exploring what may be going through Mell’s mind. Once again honesty won the day, and Tony advised Mell to do the law-abiding thing!

Office politics are a minefield at the best of times. You work with a great team, all of whom happen to be women, and have been accused by some in the office of discriminating against men. After conducting several interviews, you realise that the best candidate for the new opening in the team is a woman. Should you hire her or give the job to a male candidate to prove you do not discriminate? This was the tough choice Mell wanted Eric Elliot’s advice with. Eric placed himself in her shoes and explored the feelings involved, concluding that Mell should do what was best for the company, best for the team, and best for her own peace of mind… hire the woman she believed was best for the role and to leave the ‘office whisperers’ to worry about it!

Finally Mell from Maidenhead disclosed that her best friend was about to get married. Unfortunately after an alcohol-fueled evening her friend’s fiancé had made amorous advances toward her, and had left her in a moral dilemma. Lorraine Hamilton looked at this bombshell from two perspectives – the heart and the head. She examined what would happen emotionally if she told her friend the news, and the logical implications, concluding that she felt it was better to follow her head in this situation!

Overall a very honest bunch of Toastmasters! From here, we headed straight into the evaluations.

Sandra Chávez evaluated Moyn’s speech, covering the aims of his speech and gave examples of his success in meeting the criteria. Sandra used the technique of Commend, Commend, Recommend and Commend to shape her feedback and provided a great evaluation.

Next was Helen Elliot,  evaluating Alan’s speech – and she managed to capture the same enthusiasm and joy of swimming that Alan had projected. With simple, elegant and understated gestures, she highlighted Alan’s own successful use of body language to convey his message.

Our next evaluator was John Callaghan who, like Richard, is a master of using humour and storytelling throughout his presentations, and was quick to pick up on these elements of Richard’s speech. John also mixed a recommendation amongst several commendations whilst covering every element of Richard’s speech.

Following the General Evaluator Paul Aherne and Grammarian’s reports, Zahid once again took the reigns and closed the evening with the same amount of good cheer that he had shown at the start of the night.

In closing the meeting, our Jacqui congratulated Zahid on his energetic performance for the evening and his ability to think on his feet and deal with a technical issue without breaking his stride. She then handed out the winners ribbons to Jules for Best Table Topic, John Callaghan for Best Evaluation and to Monica for Best Speaker. All that remained was to say our goodbyes, clear the room and head back out into the warm night air after a thoroughly entertaining evening.

The next meeting will be on Monday 30th June at 19:30. See you all there for what promises to be I’m sure another sizzling night of speeches at MSC!


Scouting, Storytelling and the EU!

Maidenhead Speakers Club – Monday 9 Jun 2014


Bang on the dot of 7:30pm, Doreen Gowing, our Sgt@Arms,  tried to catch us out with the chairs facing another direction, but everyone rose to the challenge. Change is good!

After President Jacqui Hogan handed over to the Toastmaster of the Evening Monica we found out that this was to be an evening of storytelling… the chairs had been arranged to give a more intimate environment for our two storytellers after the break.

Alan Grayly gave us an excellent explanation of the benefits of Table Topics and proceeded to introduce his topical session on countries in Europe. Nick Bailey kicked us off by telling us that he didn’t like France, giving us some personal examples! Then he tempered his speech with some reasons why France wasn’t so bad after all. John Callaghan was asked to tell us about Sweden, which I thought would be tough task. But John rose to the occasion by saying he would tell us four things about Sweden, which swiftly turned into a humorous six things with audience participation. Helen Elliott followed with a vivid description of German waitresses carrying impossible numbers of foaming beer steins, and Richard Davies demonstrated a classic Table Topic delaying technique of talking about everything except Poland… until he remembered a story of his own. Zahid Aziz also demonstrated a tactic, this time of asking the audience for their help, while he tried to think of something interesting  to say about Belgium… a problem we all have. The final speaker was Doreen Gowing who spoke entertainingly of her adventures in Spain.

Then it was time for our prepared speeches.

Mohammed Aziz gave us an intriguing view of the reasons behind fasting for Ramadan. For him, this was an opportunity to think about those in the world who did not have enough to eat (although he also said his wife thought a diet was a good result also). Scouting was the topic of Matthew Woolacott‘s speech, with the title ‘Dib Dib Dib’. With a reference to his own speech preparation, he advised us all to be prepared. I will never venture into the woods at night anywhere, but especially not after Paul Aherne‘s speech about his Valentine’s Day experience and Camp 19. More scouts, but this time they were Ninja Scouts. Be afraid, be very afraid… of getting lost!

Following the break, we then settled down for our storytelling session.

Holiday stories are rarely told with such joy and enthusiasm as Julie Farrell‘s speech on the three wonders of Agra. She took us from the beauty of the Taj Mahal, to her wonderful hosts the Khan family – with their philosophy of ‘guest is god’.  When I heard the title of Eric Elliott‘s speech ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, I felt sure it was a reference to a Beatles’ song! But no. This turned out to be a story of hardship, painting and curtains – a mess of paint and white spirit. And the message that your children’s health is more important than a dirty house.

Our evaluation team of Michael Williams, Mell Sheppard, Fatiha Lafkar, Chris Boden and Norman Rhodes did a superb job of identifying the gold nuggets in the speeches they evaluated, together with clear examples of what was done well and how improvements could be made. It was hard to believe this was Michael’s first evaluation, and I so admire Chris’s ability to give an evaluation with almost no notes. Jacqui Hogan followed with a General Evaluation of the whole evening, giving feedback to table topics speakers and evaluators in particular.

Finally Grant Oliver, our Grammarian and ah counter, told us who had used too many ums and ers. It was a good evening, as we used very few – Tony Searby also did an excellent job with those all-important timing lights, which were meticulously observed tonight!

Impressively, on an evening where we had lots of table topics, together with five speeches – two of them advanced – we finished only a couple of minutes late.

The next meeting will be on Monday 23rd June at 19:30. See you all there for another classic night of speeches at MSC!


A Night of Celebration!

Maidenhead Speakers Club -Monday 12 May 2014


President Jacqui Hogan opened the meeting with the fantastic news that the District 71 International Speech Contest had been won by Maidenhead Speakers Club member Chris Boden. Chris will now compete in the International Speech Contest final in Kuala Lumpar against the rest of the world finalists.

This was a momentous moment in the 30 year history of Maidenhead Speakers Club. Further honours were awarded at the District Conference, including a commendation for David MacLeod and a medal for Norman Rhodes for 28 years’ service to Toastmasters.

Past President Nick Bailey displayed the tankard that had been awarded to the club at the annual conference and also advised that due to growth, our District 71 was due to become District 91.

Seargent at Arms Doreen Gowing encouraged all members to start each day looking forward to the promise of a new day.

Toastmaster of the evening was Steve Cann who ran the evening with a theme of “your favourite sandwich” as it was National Sandwich Week. This resulted in some fascinating revelations on what members ate for lunch!

The first speaker of the evening was Tony Searby with a speech titled “The Stories We Tell Ourselves Part 1- Connoisseurs or Philistines.” This described a famous wine-tasting experiment where tasters had to decide between an expensive and an inexpensive wine; unsurprisingly the tasters chose the expensive wine. However there was a twist as both wines were the same!

The second speech was provided by Mohammad Aziz titled “Journey to a Million.” This recounted his experience of trading currency on the 4X market. He is making a profit on his trades but this is not yet enough to allow him to buy a Ferrari!

“How Disruptive Technologies Will Reshape Our Worlds” was the next speech by Rajeev Sawhney, which predicted the future effect of technology on manufacturing and social media. He described a recent advancement where a kidney was printed on a 3D printer using living cells harvested from stem cells. His conclusion was for parents and teachers to instil values to use technology in the right way.

The final speech “How to Plan, Deliver and win a Table Topics Session” was delivered by Zahid Aziz. This was a longer educational speech from the Professional Speaker manual. This speech provided many suggestions for impromptu speaking including having the right mindset, keeping calm, breathing deeply and having a structure to your response.

With this speech fresh in their minds, the table topics speakers each talked about a subject posed by Table Topics Master Gerard.

Emilio Saev described his dream career. James Driscoll described the restaurant he would most like to eat at. Grant Oliver described the university he would like to attend. Matt Woolacott explained which charity he would donate £1million to, and finally Julie Farrell described one thing she would change in the world.

The evaluation section of the evening was carried out by evaluators Yohan McDonald, Lorraine Hamilton, Sandra Davison and Steve Catchick with Richard Davies as General Evaluator. Grammarian was Clive Pugh and Timer was Andy Johnston.

There is much to be proud of at Maidenhead Speakers Club. With a 30 year history, recent speech contest success, club awards and a steady supply of new members wishing to improve their presentation skills the club is well placed for continued growth as we await the start of a new Toastmasters Year.

The next meeting will be the Club AGM on Monday 19th May. The  meeting will start with the AGM (and the naming of the new committee), followed by the usual speeches and table topics. Hope to see as many of you there as possible on this very important date in our calendar!

Dun Laoghaire Conference Success

Please see below for Division Governor Vanessa King’s full report of the Dun Laoghaire Conference at the weekend.

Big congratulations once again to our very own Chris Boden for being crowned the winner of the Division International Speech Contest – he now of course goes on to represent our District in the finals in Kuala Lumpar. Excellent work Chris – what a star!

Congratulation too to Vanessa for being elected the new Lt. Gov Marketing for the new District 91 – we’re very proud of both of you!

Division H, District 91

Dun Laoghaire… it’s only taken 5 months for me to be able to read and pronounce the name of the place and I can finally spell it!

Over 300 toastmasters from across the UK and Ireland gathered at the Royal Marine hotel by the sea in Dun Laoghaire. Toasties from Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Leeds, London and Cardiff and so many places in between. Of course, the most common accent I heard was the gentle lilt of the Irish accent.
Dun Laoghaire is right on the sea, although my room had a great view of the roof.. but it didn’t matter because I hardly spent any time there! My two aims for the conference were to go to everything and to sing at the craic on Saturday night. I achieved this and so much more..

On Friday afternoon I attended a workshop held by Jock Elliott, World Champion of Public Speaking…

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Division H Selects Its Best

Please see this excellent blog post (from Division Governor Vanessa King) on the International Speech Division Contest at Capel on April 26th – with our very own Chris Boden victorious as best speaker!

Division H, District 91

Saturday the 26th of April dawned bright and sunny. The Areas had selected their best and they were gathering in Capel for the showdown…

Well, it wasn’t quite like that, but it was an awesome day. The morning started with two truly inspirational workshops, the first on Leadership by Past Division Governor Chris Howell. We were guided through topics such as what good leadership looks like and reflecting on our own practice and personalities as leaders. I was particularly inspired when I was encouraged to think about what Toastmasters would be like if anything were possible. I see Toastmasters International as the ‘go-to’ organisation for communication and leadership training. There’s simply no better way to learn and improve by regular practice and positive feedback.

The second workshop was lead by Immediate Past District Governor Freddie Daniells. We felt what it was like to finally reach the World Championship…

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MSC 30th Anniversary Club Dinner & Tall Tales

by Steve Cann

A fun night was had by all at MSC at Burnham Park Hall as members and special guests enjoyed an evening of dining, Tall Tales and the celebration of 30 years of the club (since chartering back in April 1984). Special guests included Division Governor Vanessa King, and not to mention our very own Chris Boden, fresh from victory earlier in the day at the Division International Speech Contest in Capel – well done Chris.

Guests starting to arrive!

Guests starting to arrive at Burnham Park Hall…

Club President Jacqui Hogan kicked off proceedings by listing some key events that took place during the year of 1984, including the birth of Prince Harry, Torville & Dean’s Olympic triumph, and the demise of the pound note!

Club members & special guests assembled at Burnham Park Hall.

Club members & special guests all seated and ready for the evening to begin!

After our yummy 3-course dinner, Jacqui then presented Norman Rhodes with a certificate and engraved pen to commemorate all his work over the past thirty years since he formed Maidenhead Speakers back in 1983 (with the club officially chartering in April 1984).

A very proud-looking Norman with his certificate & engraved pen, commemorating 30 years since founding the club.

A very proud-looking Norman with his certificate & engraved pen, commemorating 30 years since founding the club.

We then moved on to the Tall Tales Competition – an annual fixture at the MSC Dinner.

First speaker Monica‘s tale ‘Napoleon & Brandy’ cleverly used the names of famous alcoholic drinks brands as character names as she wove a story of lawyers & courtroom intrigue, and Mr Brandy cleverly won his case!

Next speaker Mary‘s tale ‘Imagine’ concerned a trip with fellow-Toastmaster Doreen to a conference at London’s Albert Hall ‘Imagining the Future of Medicine’. On being called up onstage at this event to voice her opinion, Mary was uncharacteristically speechless… until she broke out of her dreamlike state and came round to the voice of Doreen imploring her to ‘wake up – we’re in Maidenhead’!

Next was Ian‘s ‘Ale Tale’. He spoke of MSC’s birthday being during the same week as Shakespeare’s 450th, before imploring us all to ‘Drink British’ (as that was surely what The Bard would want), from Rebellion to Spitfire, and Doombar to Tanglefoot. And reminding us that alcohol is good for you… it kills off the least-productive brain cells!

Fourth speaker was Tony, with his ‘Tall Tale with No Name’ (later christened ‘My Little Tortoise’ by Jacqui!). He spoke of Mary – a 9-year-old girl – and her pet tortoise called Norman, whom she took everywhere with her to the point of obsession. This all sadly ended one day when Norman suddenly died and went to Tortoise-Heaven… or did it?!

Penultimate Tall-Taler Doreen spoke about her father’s motorbike – his pride and joy – and a joyride with her cousin when they decided to secretly take it for a spin as early-teens in Limerick, with the police soon in hot pursuit! Doreen completed the look with a helmet prop and some expressive body language, as she finished her tale by telling us that the policeman who eventually confiscated the bike ended up crashing into a ditch!

Final speaker Eric‘s talk ‘The Latecomer’ was an ingenious story of how an habitually-late-for-work employee came up with a tall tale of his own of alien abduction in order to placate his long-suffering foreman. But after his whirlwind galactic trip was over, the aliens returned him to Earth an hour too late (not realizing the clocks had gone forward), and, despite a mad scramble to get to work on time, his boss didn’t believe a word of this extremely tall tale… of how he could’ve possibly got out of bed and ready for work in ten minutes flat!

Eric was voted Best Tall Tales Speaker, and was presented with the much-prized trophy by Jacqui. Well done Eric!

Jacqui awards Eric his prize as Best Tall Tales Speaker of the evening.

Jacqui awards Eric his prize as Best Tall Tales Speaker of the evening.

Norman returned to the stage to finish off the evening, telling us all about his MSC experiences over the past 30 years as the club moved to various venues. He mentioned proudly that 13 of our members have gone on to be Area Governors, 3 have been District Governors, and 1 has received the prestigious President Citation. MSC  throughout its life has also twice organized the Spring Conference, and he also mentioned key long-standing members such as tonight’s winner Eric Elliott (who joined the club in 1984), and David McLeod and Joyce Jackson who joined in 1993 – Joyce later to become his wife when they married 17 years ago.

That concluded what turned out to be a most enjoyable and celebratory evening! A special mention must go to Nick Bailey for all his hard work in organizing the dinner so efficiently; Sergeant at Arms Doreen Gowing who presided over the evening; and Paul Aherne, who did an excellent job as Timer during the Tall Tales Contest.

Hope to see you all tomorrow (April 28th) for our next regular club night at St Luke’s Hall!

Informed, Invigorated & Inspired

Maidenhead Speakers Club – Monday 14 Apr 2014


Another 5-star evening at St Luke’s Community Hall from the Maidenhead Speakers’ Club meeting. It never fails to deliver!

Sergeant at Arms Doreen Gowing opened the evening with a wistful tail about sawing a tree – with her wise words to let the saw do the work. This was followed by President Jacqui Hogan’s welcome to members and guests, and with the good news at the success of our members who participated in the Area 21 International Speech & Evaluation Contest at Burnham Park Hall on April 5th. Final results:

International Speech
1st Chris Boden
2nd Karen Szulakowska
3rd Jane Penson (Chiltern Speakers)
1st Yohan McDonald
2nd Karen Szulakowska
3rd Phillip Sheehan (Chiltern Speakers)

Chris and Yohan now go through to the Division H Contest on 26th April. The President congratulated all the participants and winners alike for a great contest.

Toastmaster for the Evening Karen Szulakowska (she’s had a busy week!) opened the next section of the evening with a helpful explanation of the night’s format.
The evening was uncharacteristically turned on its head this week, starting as it did with the prepared speeches – two new speakers, and two advanced speakers covering the whole spectrum of our club’s membership.
Tony Searby gave an engaging Ice Breaker to introduce himself to the club, and he told how president Jacqui Hogan had inspired him to join TMs (when he heard her speaking at an event some months ago).
Michael Williams (who had stepped in at short notice, despite being a newer member) delivered a speech that was entitled ‘Sink or Swim’, telling us to visualise what we would want to achieve, and how this can enable our dreams to happen. An accomplished, powerful speech, with lots of things to think about.
Bravo to both of the new members – and it struck me that we are really unlocking some amazing  new speaking talent at the club.
Steve Catchick spoke next and delivered a speech entitled ‘The Secret Sales Force’ – telling us how a good sales technique is actually about being a good listener.
Final speaker Monica gave a compelling speech from an Advanced Manual about the ‘Winning Proposal’ – encouraging us to consider the intrusion of mass surveillance on our lives.
Two interesting and eye-opening speeches from our established members.

After the break for tea and biccies, the meeting then switched to the Table Topics session lead by Mohammad Aziz, who has (btw) a great sense of humour. He called upon Jacqui Hogan to talk about her Most Memorable Moment in TMs, and she gave us an anecdote about her first evening ever at a TMs meeting, delivering the story by acting out each part of the tale – which had everyone roaring with laughter. Romain Barraud spoke about his favourite cartoon super-heroes back in France when he we a boy growing up. Grant Oliver answered that eternal question ‘Apple or Microsoft’? And Doreen Gowing told us about Going to the Moon. Accomplished TTs speaker Mary Fraser managed to cram so much into her impromptu speech ; a reference to the previous topic, audience participation, humour, winding-up with a structured conclusion (all in the space of less than 2 minutes!). Emilio Saev concluded the Topics session by speaking on the subject of movies. I agreed with Emilio’s sentiment that frankly… who isn’t a fan of the Rambo movies???

The meeting then moved into the Evaluations phase, with evaluations  delivered for each of the speeches from the Evaluation team, headed by Lorraine Hamilton. 

So… (my filler word!), don’t miss the next meeting on Monday 28 April – and prepare to be entertained, amused, informed, invigorated and inspired once more. I look forward to seeing you all there!

Club International Speech & Evaluation Contest in Full, with Pics!

Maidenhead Speakers Club – Monday 24 Mar 2014


Monday 24th March saw the 2014 International Speech & District 71 (as Toastmasters stalwart Joyce was happy to remind us) Evaluation Contest come to MSC. The theme of the evening seemed to be questions, with questions asked over the course of the night including: ‘Are you living your dream’, Whose life are you living’ & ‘Have any of you ever been propositioned by a ladyboy!’ What wasn’t at question, however, was the quality of the speakers.

After Sergeant at Arms Doreen Gowing opened the evening in her usual enthusiastic fashion, & President Jaqui Hogan clarified where the latter rounds would take place (hopefully not via a Malaysian aeroplane), Contest Chair Monica took over. She did a fantastic job, organising the contest in a confident yet efficient manner, & entertaining us with some great audience participation along the way. A particular highlight of this was Doreen’s ‘Just a Minute’ routine on body language, which ended with some fantastic body contortions centre-stage – much to the bemusement of the returning counters!

Karen Szulakowska  was the first contest speaker, giving a fantastic talk on the power of the pause, & the strength of stillness. Her speech techniques were also impressive, with plenty of questions & no less than nine instances of alliteration.

Steve Catchick gave a hugely entertaining speech on why Gap Years are too Good for Kids, telling us how having declined the opportunity as a teenager to join the army instead, he decided to take a much-later gap year in his fifties. He told us stories of how he nearly brought an interesting new wife home; fractured his ankle jumping off a cliff in New Zealand; and, to top it all off, joined Maidenhead Speakers!

Yohan McDonald asked us to ‘Imagine a Life Where Nothing was Impossible.’ His speech, entitled Beware of the Bull took seemingly small events in his own life (such as seeing a girl in the bar, or crossing a bull-field with his family), & made them relevant to all us by discussing what our fears really are. He also mentioned how this fed into his experience of joining Toastmasters.

Richard Davies was fourth, with a speech entitled ‘Slow and Steady’. His performance however was anything but slow, entertaining us with a speech filled with interesting & bizarre stories & characters – whether that was Humphrey being caught looking at pictures of transvestites, or Barry the Boss opening up a tropical fish shop!

Chris Boden was the penultimate speaker in the Contest (sporting a fantastic tie) which preceded a fantastic speech about throwing yourself in (sometimes literally!). He also proudly told us how he can now cook three vegetables!

Finally, Zahid Aziz closed this part of the contest with his speech ‘Follow Your Dreams’. Opening & closing with quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt & Walt Disney respectively, he told us how the difference between those who are successful & those who aren’t is simply having the courage to follow their dreams.

The winner of the contest was Chris, with Karen also going through to the Area Final as runner-up.

Champion Chris receiving his certificate & trophies from Mark for winning the Club Speech Contest.

Champion Chris receiving his certificate & trophies from Mark for winning the Club Speech Contest.

Karen receiving her certificate from Mark for finishing runner-up in the Club Speech Contest.

Karen receiving her certificate from Mark for finishing runner-up in the Club Speech Contest.

With the Speech Contest now over, attention turned to the Evaluation Contest. The guest speaker was Tsitsi Madxingira from Chiltern Speakers who gave a highly accomplished talk entitled ‘Rescue the Dream’. Continuing a trend set throughout the evening of inspirational speeches, Tsitsi asked us if we were living the life we wanted to live, comparing this general problem to her own experiences of choosing the University Course she wanted to do – rather than the one her parents wanted her to do.

Fatiha Lafka opened the Evaluations, commending Tsitsi on her structure, humour & confidence. She recommended that perhaps Tsitisi could make more use of the stage.

Karen Szulakowska noted Tsitsi’s ‘advanced’ technique of using non-rhetorical questions. She also encouraged more stage use, recommending ‘definite movements’, both with the body & face too. Karen also noted how good a speech this was considering it was only Speech #4 in the CC Manual.

Zahid Azir was next, & he commented on the speech title – ‘capturing our imagination’  before she’d even started speaking. He recommended that she could use even more vocal variety, & make hand gestures bigger & less localised.

Yohan Mcdonald commended Tsitsi’s ‘powerful & purposeful message’ & enjoyed her use of ‘colourful’ language, such as the phrase ‘dream assassin’. He recommended that she perhaps minimises her use of notes for her next speech.

Steve Catchick was impressed by Tsitsi’s structure, noting her use of the ‘power of three’ throughout. He thought this helped portray a simple message that we could all follow, although he thought her use of non-rhetorical questions was brave, but ‘risky’.

Finally, Jacqui Hogan brought her characteristic personality & humour to her evaluation, linking the three ‘fears’ Tsitsi had identified with participating in a Contest or Table Topics! She closed by saying that she does have a dream too… to hear more from Tsitsi!

Yohan won the Evaluation Contest, with Karen again taking second place. Both will participate in the Area Final on the 5th April.

Evaluation Champ Yohan receiving his certificate & trophies from Mark.

Evaluation Champ Yohan receiving his certificate & trophies from Mark.

Karen (alongside Mark & Monica) back again to receive another runner-up certificate, this time for the Evaluation Contest.

Karen (alongside Mark & Monica) back again to receive another runner-up certificate, this time for the Evaluation Contest.

Monica closed the contest by giving thanks to Chief Judge Sandra Davison & her team, as well as timers Mary Peter, and counters Mell and Norman. The extended but fruitful evening closed with the prizes being presented by Area Governor Mark Emmanuelson.

Well done to all the speakers who participated, & we hope to see as many of you as possible to support them at the Area Contest at Burnham Park Hall on April 5th, at 9am.
Our next regular club night in Maidenhead will be even sooner – next Monday, March 31st.