A Spark Of Inspiration

In May 2005, I went on a 3-day speech therapy course, where I met Barry Rix. He has become a good friend and has helped me a lot over the years. It was Barry who told me about Toastmasters and how it had helped him with his confidence and stammer. I thought: me join a public speaking club? Don’t be silly! But in January 2007, I went to Chelmsford Speakers Club for the first time. I joined that same night and did my Ice Breaker four weeks later.

I’ve often thought about how I gave my Ice Breaker so soon after joining. I think that if I hadn’t thrown myself in at the deep end, I’d have started making excuses, delayed the big day…and who knows how that would have turned out? 

One of my best decisions was to leave Chelmsford and join Kings Speakers, which gave me the opportunity to visit and join other London TM clubs.

I have always been pushing myself to look for different speaking opportunities. Now I’m proud to say I’ve spoken at different TM clubs, TM conferences, work, and at a Rotary club. I feel that I’ve made good progress but at the back of my mind, I’m always wondering if there are more speaking opportunities out there.

About two years ago I was at a TM event where I spoke to a lady from Spark. She explained it was a story-telling club. I joined the mailing list and received monthly emails about forthcoming events in London.

I wanted to go but I kept making excuses! At Spark you tell true stories and each meeting has a theme that your story must fit. So my excuse was always that I didn’t have a story that was based on the chosen theme.

In May, I received an email about a Spark event in Hackney. The theme was promises. This could be a promise you made to yourself or to somebody else. I thought no more excuses—I need to do this. Then I wondered what I could talk about.

That night I went to the venue alone. I introduced myself to the lady sitting at the entrance desk. I was very nervous and stammered on saying my name. Then I stopped, took a deep breath, made eye contact with her and said, “Brian Skelton”. I explained that I had a stammer to which she replied, “That’s not a problem, dear”. Then I said that I wanted to tell a story.

These venues are completely different from TM. It’s more like a club with tables and chairs where you can buy drinks. I counted twenty-five people as I sat at a table with only a soft drink for company, waiting to be called on stage.

The compare explained how the evening would go. He told the first story, then two other people went up and told theirs. Then it was my turn. You are allotted five minutes and I explained to the audience how I’d made a promise to myself to do something about my stammer. It took me a little while to get going and I noticed that I was speaking too fast. When I started to slow down, it made a big difference. In fact my story went well! 

Another difference to TM is that you speak into a mike. I found this really odd, after being told that I have good voice projection. 

There was a break after my speech, and I rewarded myself with a pint of cider, which went down really well! A lot of people came over and congratulated me. Then six more people told their stories. It was a great evening and I was really pleased I did it.

The people at Spark are all volunteers. They are fantastic and will help you with any problems or questions. It’s a really friendly event and you can feel that everybody is on your side, willing you to do well.

I know that Ben has been to Spark as well, so talk to me or him about it, if you’re interested in going. While it is different from TM, I know how important it is that we step outside our comfort zones. My advice? GO FOR IT!

The speech you can listen to here is a true story about a holiday I gave at another Spark event in July.

Where Leaders Are Made

It was a cold November evening in 2013 when I first stepped into Kings Speakers, all thanks to my dear friend Iyanka and his persistent encouragement. I made sure I sat at the back where I could not be seen or heard. Even though it is a Toastmasters club for people who stammer or have social anxiety, you would never think it. The speakers performed with such confidence, like they were professionals. I felt very intimidated and at that point I would have never dreamed that 3 years later I would be the club’s President. 

Given the opportunity and with the support and encouragement of others, you’d be surprised at what you are capable of achieving. Toastmasters and especially Kings Speakers is an environment designed for members to learn and thrive in a supportive and safe space and the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. While I had no ambition to become the president I was committed to overcoming my own fears and developing my skills. I made sure I attended and took part in every meeting and as a result of my dedication I was invited to serve on the club’s committee. Slowly I moved up the ranks and became the Vice President of Education and as the Toastmaster year was coming to an end, the Club President Graeme and Club Founder Harminder suggested that I should be the next president. Really?? Me?? How could someone like me be a president? All of the past presidents where men in suits and I am just a simple girl… All sorts of thoughts came up of why I wouldn't be good enough to be the president, but then I said to myself… hang on a minute if Graeme and Harminder think I am capable of doing this, then surely I should at least try and who knows when I could get an opportunity like this again. Thanks to their encouragement and belief in me, it gave me the courage to take on the challenge. 

The club was handed over to me in June 2016 and little did I know that I would have to lead the club through it’s toughest year to date. There wasn’t much time to settle in before I had to jump the first hurdle. Our beloved venue The Commander Bar was closing down and we urgently needed to find a new home for our club. Looking for a meeting room in a convenient location, close to a tube station at a very modest price in London is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The pressure was on. It was a nail biting search full of false hopes and with just days to go to the next meeting I had finally found our new home Number 63, just a minute’s walk from the tube station, in central London and all within our tight budget. And just when I thought I could relax a little, the challenges kept coming. Some members dropped out of the committee due to work and other commitments putting extra pressure on senior members, our member numbers were dwindling and as a result our Vice President of Education Paul found it increasingly harder to fill the agenda and had to seek out Toastmasters from other clubs to help us out. The club was at it’s lowest point and it was my responsibility to turn things around. 

I had a vision to take the club in a new direction and wanted my leadership to leave a mark and make a real difference. The first thing I set out to work on was our branding and online presence. Kings Speakers didn’t have a logo, a tagline or an up to date website. I felt these were really important in creating an identity and sense of purpose of what we are about and who we are. Our tag line - ‘Transform your biggest weakness into your greatest strength' really sums up what we have set out to achieve as we all want to excel at the the very thing we struggle with. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the new website to function and look but unfortunately I had no idea how to do it. We were so lucky to have Iyanka on our committee who is an expert in all things tech and design and I am so grateful for his patience when working with me and my fussiness and perfectionism and his incredible ability to materialise everything I had in my mind from the logo to the website. Having a blog was something I wanted to introduce as a way of not just communicating to the outside world but also for our own members to share their own experiences, which we can all find great value in. Our online presence and how we communicate to those interested through our subscription mailing list was a really important aspect of our marketing not by doing any hard sell but by simply letting people get to know us and what we’re about. We launched our new website before Christmas 2016 and that comforting feeling that I could relax a little started to set in… Iyanka informs me he needs to leave the club due to work commitments. He always found the simplest solutions to our tech and design problems and we could have never have achieved all we did without him. What on earth am I going to do now? As much as I wanted to wallow in self pity, there was no time for that and I took it upon myself to carry on with the PR duties of maintaining the website and our communication with members and subscribers. Iyanka made that really easy for me by teaching me and supporting me all the way, and if I can manage all of this techy stuff then anyone can! 

While attracting guests to the club was a big priority, building a strong and connected culture amongst our members is vital. It was really important to spend time together outside of the club and to give us a chance to get to know each other as people and create genuine friendships so after a meeting we always go to the pub next door for some banter and have a good catch up. I do love any excuse for a get together so I organised our Christmas social, a prime opportunity for members to show off their dancing skills. Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of this but let me assure our members know how to boogie! And I couldn’t wait all the way until next Christmas for another social so I organised a walk on Hampstead Heath in May. It was a great turnout and wonderful to create memories and spend quality time together away from Toastmasters. We even had an honorary four legged member joining us for the day!

To break up the monotony of meetings and to provide our members with an opportunity to gain new skills, I organised 2 workshops through out the year. We are very fortunate to have published author Ben Starling as one of our members and he very kindly created a workshop sharing some of his writing tips and tricks in a bid to Lift our Language and improve our speech writing. The second workshop was created by fellow Toastmaster and empowerment coach Christine Alaby where she gave us some practical tools to tackle nerves and feel more confident and empowered while giving a speech. 

 

To develop my own skills and knowledge I wanted to learn as much as I could about leadership. I am a bit of a geek so I used any spare time to watch lectures and talks online as well as listening to podcasts when I’m cleaning the house or reading on my commute to work. One of my favourite leadership and public speaking experts is Simon Sinek. When I heard he was giving a talk in London I knew I had to be there. He was signing books after his event and I had the chance to meet him and asked him to sign books for Kings Speakers so that I could share Simon’s work with the rest of the club and I was able to briefly tell him what we do and he absolutely loved it! Definitely one the highlights of the year.

One of the reasons why I love Simon’s work is that he emphasises the importance of working together and taking care of each other and that is something that really stood out to me through out this whole year. My vision and hope was to turn things around for the club and I am absolutely delighted that we have indeed managed to do that. We have achieved 10 DCP points which is the highest amount of points a club can achieve making us a President’s Distinguished Club. These points are made up of attending training, completing speech manuals, advanced manuals, leadership manuals, paying dues on time and taking on new members. We have also matched our record membership numbers. We have gone from struggling to fill the agenda to now struggling how we can fit everyone on the agenda. The reason why we where able to achieve all this is through great teamwork and taking care and supporting one another. Harminder was always there for guidance and advice and he played a key role in communicating with guests and turning them into members. Paul took excellent care of new members and got them settled in the club, organised mentoring and helped them to begin their Toastmaster journey as well as ensuring we had a packed agenda. Brian is always volunteering to help and has been a great support as well as inspiring us all with his Distinguished Toastmaster Award, the highest honour any Toastmaster can achieve. The rest of the committee and members have also shown so much dedication and made such valuable contributions to the club. 

This blog is much longer than I had intended and there is so much I have missed out, but if I keep writing it will end up being a novel! I just wanted to share some of the main challenges and highlights of the year. I am as grateful for the challenges as I am for the highlights, because had it all been plain sailing I wouldn't have learnt a thing or grown as a person. It’s been such a great year and experience, I’ve really loved it and I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of the encouragement and support and for giving me this opportunity, for believing in me and trusting me to lead the club, I can’t express how much it means to me. 

So if you thought Toastmasters was only about public speaking, think again, after all the Toastmasters tagline is - Where Leaders Are Made

Why Joining Kings Speakers Was The Right Decision

When I first joined toastmasters back in June 2012 I didn't realise it was a Toastmasters club. It had been advertised on meet-up as King's, a public speaking group for people with a stammer or social anxiety. I wouldn't necessarily say that I have either but I certainly had one huge fear of public speaking, such a fear that I found it impossible to do a presentation in uni, such a fear that I would avoid any type of situation where I may need to speak out in front of a group, such a fear that if I had known at the time that it was a Toastmasters club, I wouldn't have set one foot inside that door.

 

You see, I had a misconception, I had heard about Toastmasters and thought of it as this big club where people went to show off how amazing they were at public speaking, where people with amazing grammar and command of the English language spoke eloquently and with sophistication, I could never stand up and speak in front of these people!! However this club advertised on meet-up sounded friendly and encouraging, so a much easier way to face one of my biggest fears. After all, it was in a pub, so I could at least go for a pint if it all went really badly, or indeed if it all went well. Win win.

 

Well it turns out Toastmasters sometimes is a little like that, members at King's can give the most amazing, inspiring, well-structured speeches that we all look up to, but it's not a competition, well, you can win best speaker/evaluator/table topics, what I mean is, it's not competitive. Each member of King's are there to better themselves, and to encourage each other, egging each other on on our personal quests to better ourselves and become comfortable with public speaking.

I still remember my first night, I did a table topic and it was absolutely terrible, I think I lasted 10 seconds and that probably includes the walk up there and back down again. So embarrassing I felt awful, but then, for some reason, I stuck around at the end of the night, had a chat with the other members, they didn't care how badly I had done, I was new and they had all been new at one stage, the rest is history.

 

It wasn't long before I was signing up for the various roles, each one giving me more and more confidence to stand up and speak in front of an audience, then, my first ever speech! Oh my god, was I nervous? Yes! Did I get through it? Yes! Was it awful? No!!! It felt amazing, yes of course I was shaking, with the adrenaline running through me, but for the first time ever it felt positive, an achievement rather than something scary and horrible.

 

Next thing I had a presentation to do in uni, but instead of running away and making excuses that I couldn't be there, I was right up there, me, doing a presentation! Was I scared? Yes! Was I shaking a little? Yes! Was it the worst thing in the world? No!! Now, this can only come with time, a little bit of practice, and the right supportive environment where you're allowed to make mistakes, allowed to be nervous, allowed to grow and get better and be encouraged to do so from a room full of smiling faces. Who could ask for better?!

 

When I sat back down after my presentation in uni I knew I had made the right decision to join this public-speaking group of mystical origin, I am a member of a toastmasters club, yes, me.

Joyce 

 

Humorous Speech Contest 2017—Coming Soon!

September is coming

September is fast approaching and that means our thoughts, twitching with excitement, wander back to the most important historical event ever associated with that auspicious month. But what could it be? Instantly springing to mind are:

  • 1 September 1159: The death of Adrian IV, the only English Pope.
  • 3 September 1848: chewing gum is produced commercially for the first time.
  • 13 September 1902: Harry Jackson becomes the first person in Britain to be convicted on fingerprint evidence.

All perfectly sensible guesses—which I’m sure occurred to you too—but wrong, I’m afraid. I refer to that stellar annual event (I am reliably informed) that has saved marriages, ended wars and filled hospital beds with victims suffering from cracked ribs. I refer, of course, to the first round of the Toastmasters Humorous Speech contest this September.

I am uniquely qualified

And, as your Vice President for Public Relations, I happen to be uniquely qualified to write this post. In fact the events upon a balmy 3rd September, 2015 evening will stay with me until I draw my last breath. Allow me to explain…

…But before I do, I’m here to encourage you to enter the Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest. To take all you’ve learned from the Competent Communication manual, and put it to new and exciting uses. Be brave—step outside your comfort zone—ignore my clichés—and give it a try! Nothing compares with the thrill of having the room laugh at your carefully constructed joke; to risk deafness at the hands (literally) of a wildly clapping audience. 

Learn your craft - google your way to glory!

Some people are naturally amusing. The rest of us have to work at it. Remember that professional comics dedicate years to perfecting their craft. As a first step, I’d suggest you google “Secrets of delivering a humorous/funny speech” because lots of articles will come up. Here’s one I just read and I think is useful: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Funny-Speech

A google caveat

Please remember, however, that you are googling how to write a humorous speech, i.e. the structure of a humour speech or story. Toastmasters requires that the actual content be original. We’re looking forward to hearing your own original stories!

That balmy 3rd September, 2015

So, what makes me uniquely equipped to encourage you to enter? What life-changing events transpired on that balmy September evening two years ago? Not wishing to blow my own trumpet, it is with considerable shyness that I admit to holding a Toastmasters’ record. They are still designing the certificate.

I was the only speaker to enter a Humorous Speech contest at our club on September 3rd, 2015 and achieve no laughs. Not one. 

This coming September

You can only improve on my performance. Please don’t make the mistakes I made! Do your research, understand the mechanics of humour and then deliver. Be sure to enjoy the experience as you google your way to glory! I’m told that making people laugh is a great high. Don’t forget to tell me what it feels like because I’ll be your Contest Chair. 

By the way, Robert Pakter, interventional radiologist at Hopkins Medical confirms it is possible to crack a rib from laughing. 

St Mary’s Paddington will be on stand-by...

 

Ben Starling 

Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone - Try A New Role!

Okay. You've done your self-introduction Icebreaker Speech and survived. Well done! You've started your personal journey to becoming the best public speaker you can be. Hurrah! The first time you stand up on stage is the hardest. The good news is that it only gets easier every time thereafter.

 

New Skills to Gain

 

The Competent Communicators Manual--the first 10 speeches in the Toastmasters curriculum--guides you through developing the basics of speech delivery. But there are so many other different public speaking techniques to learn which will round out your public speaking skill set: impromptu speaking, facilitation, time management, diplomacy, leadership and more. And the various roles you see at Toastmasters meetings each give a different opportunity to improve these skills.

 

Visit the Kings Speakers page at the Easyspeak Toastmasters website http://toastmasterclub.org/view_agenda.php?t=26120. Log in and click on My Participation / Sign Up For Meetings. Then you'll see where you can sign up for your next speech. But there are also a variety of roles next to which you can place your green tick mark (only one tick mark per meeting)! 

 

Roles To Try in a Toastmasters meeting

 

There are 7 functional roles that must be filled so that Toastmasters meetings can proceed smoothly. Here is a short description of each of them from easiest to most challenging (in my opinion). You can dip your toe in with a Harkmaster or Timekeeper role and work your way up to... Toastmaster!

 

  1. Harkmaster - Take notes on what each speaker said during the evening. Then at the end, stand up and quiz the club on what was said with questions from your notes. Toss chocolates to whoever gets the answer right.
  2. Timekeeper - Keep a record of the time elapsed for everyone who speaks on stage during the evening. Give a report at the end of the meeting.
  3. Table Topics Master - Invent fun questions on a theme for members to speak on for 1-3 minutes and invite brave participants to the stage.
  4. Grammarian - Note interesting phrases, metaphors, alliteration, images that you hear during the evening and give a report at the end of the meeting. Also introduce a Word-of-the-Day, and give extra kudos if any speaker uses it.
  5. Speech Evaluator - Commend, Recommend, Commend. Find the good points in one speech you heard and identify one challenge for the speech-maker to work on for next time. Present your evaluation at the end of the first half of the meeting.
  6. Table Topics Evaluator - Commend, Recommend, Commend. Find the good points in the table topics you heard. Try to identify one challenge for all participants to work on for next time. Present your evaluation at the end of the second half of the meeting.
  7. General Evaluator - Commend, Recommend, Commend. Give an evaluation of the speakers on stage (other than those who made a formal speech or did Table Topics). Present your evaluation at the end of the second half of the meeting.
  8. Toastmaster of the Evening - Guide the entire meeting, announcing and welcoming each speaker to the stage. Welcome guests. Maintain timeliness. Clearly explain each segment of the meeting. Thank all participants at the end of the meeting.

 

Come Join the Fun!

 

As I write this summary, I realise... I've never been Toastmaster before! So, I'm off to Easyspeak Kings Speakers page on the Toastmasters site to sign up for a new role. 

 

Step outside your comfort zone today. Please come and join me!
 

Robin

Overcoming Fear and Stammering - Different Nationalities, Same Solutions

Fear doesn’t recognise nationalities; nor does it understand cultures or languages. Instead, it finds a comfortable home in whoever suffers from shyness, social anxiety or a stutter. At Kings Speakers, of course, we learn to look fear in the eyes, and smile. But what about those who live thousands of miles away and cannot attend the club?

If people cannot come to Kings, then the Kings message can be taken to them. And this is exactly what we do. For many years, I have been fortunate enough to work with charitable organisations in Europe, helping to run courses which range from weekend affairs to 9-day youth camps. These are aimed at those who stutter, coaching them to become more confident communicators, building their self-esteem and changing their belief systems. 

One such youth course was last October in a remote forest in northern Italy. Delegates came from countries as varied as Iceland, Israel, Portugal, Holland, Italy, and of course, the UK. A group of about 25 adults, aged between 18-26 assembled nervously on the first day. The tension, anxiety and sense of anticipation was radiating from their faces, as they arrived, not knowing what to expect. But what followed was a whirlwind of interactive workshops, games, outdoor pursuits, and experiences all aimed at helping the delegates to grow in confidence. Although there were workshops in public speaking, body language, building connections, understanding fear etc, there was no classroom, no blackboard, no lecture notes. In fact, there were no lectures. Everything was interactive; everything was done outdoors, under rustling trees and the whistling wind. And in the evenings, people took turns to help cook, and the communal dinner was decorated with friendships, laughter and Italian house wine. Then of course, there was an after-dinner party every night…..and for those people like me, who have the dancing ability of a three-legged donkey, there was the option to chill in theforest, enjoy conversation and connection, with the Milky Way glimmering overhead and the night creatures singing their chorus. And like this, the nine days quickly disappeared in a colourful blur.

The delegates may have arrived nervous and unsure, but they left the camp with hope and excitement and new friends.

The skills I have learnt at Kings Speakers are helping me to run such workshops. Kings Speakers may be a public speaking club, but like all Toastmasters clubs, it’s much more than that. It’s a personal growth program. It’s a fear-destroying program. It’s a belief-system changing program. Public speaking just happens to be the medium. And fear? If fear is the disease, then personal growth is the cure. And it works for every nationality, and every culture. 

I am proud to be part of Kings Speakers and to help spread the message.

Harminder Dhillon 

 

My Journey to Toastmaster

I’ve always stammered; hence I never enjoyed public speaking. I was the quiet person both in my family and at school. So my parents took me to the LAMDA drama school and Stagecoach Performing Arts to try to help. Sadly, it didn’t improve things. In fact I hated them!

My dyslexia and speech impediment have been a long-term burden. I gained a place at Nottingham University but being far from home, I knew I’d get little family support. But I was determined to do my very best there!

My degree was in biochemistry which involved many presentations in which I had to explain my findings and results to my fellow students. I got around this by uploading private Youtube videos for my lecturer. 

The reason I started public speaking at university was because I met this Polish student who asked what my name was. But her great beauty got the better of me and I couldn't say it! I felt so naked and embarrassed. Finally, I claimed I didn’t know my name, which didn’t go down too well…

So I joined my university public speaking society and enrolled in Level 4 diploma presentation skills. I did 20 presentations on cancer, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It felt like I was about to give birth to my heart—but somehow I got through them.

When I completed my degree, a friend recommended Toastmasters so I joined King’s Speakers. The club specialises in people with stammers and social anxiety. They are a wonderfully supportive and experienced club and none of my difficulties are new to them. The president takes time to help with my breathing techniques and while it’s not easy, I’m definitely improving. I’ve only been a member for a few months but am already up to my seventh speech. With each one, I take a step forward…and grow in confidence. 

 

My greatest thrill is when the audience laughs during a speech! I remember when I was describing how I struggle at job interviews. The room was silent. Two dozen people were nodding in sympathy and understanding. Then I explained that when things were going badly, I’d start flirting with my interviewer—male or female! After a few disbelieving glances, the whole room erupted—I’ll never forget that feeling! It was such a rush!

One day, I will talk without stammer. That’s my goal and what an achievement it will be! Maybe I’ll become a world-class public speaker or even a stand-up comic. No matter what happens, I’m enjoying my Toastmasters journey.

 

Thanks so much, King’s Speakers!

 

Vibesan Illampooranan

 

Add Some Humour To Your Speech

There are few speeches that can’t be lifted with a little humour, and here I’m going to explain two rhetorical devices that are comedic favourites. Both take a level of thought to craft successfully, but the end result is well worth the effort. They have something in common: both rely on the unexpected for humour. They achieve this by (mis)leading the listener with their opening sections before going off in another direction. 

The first is bathos.

Bathos starts off by building a serious and powerful scene, then wrong-foots the audience with an unexpected punchline.

 

Examples: 

 

  • Sarah: “Once we had something that was pure, and wonderful and good. Something others only dream of. What’s happened to it?

David: “You spent it.”

  • For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.
  • He spent his final hour of life doing what he loved most: arguing with his dog.
  • Through the verdant plains of North Umbria walked Waylon Ogglethorpe and, as he walked, the clouds whispered his name, the birds of the air sang his praises, and the beasts of the fields from smallest to greatest said, “There goes the most noble among men” – in other words, a typical stroll for a schizophrenic ventriloquist with delusions of grandeur.

  

The second device is difficult to say, easy to understand and highly effective when crafted skilfully. Meet the paraprosdokian. 

Paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the listener to reinterpret the first part. So you lead your listeners along, framing your words in a way that makes them expect a certain outcome. When the reversal is employed, they experience a little shock—followed by humour—when they realise they were led astray.

Examples:

  • I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, not screaming and yelling like his passengers. 
  • Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.
  • Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak. 

The comedian Emo Philips is a master of the paraprosdokian. One of my favourite examples of his (dark) genius is: “I don’t know why I got into trouble with my girlfriend’s parents for not opening her car door. All I did was open mine and swim for the surface.”

Bathos and paraprosdokian—both are fun to construct and funny. Why not try using them in your next speech?

Ben-Starling.com

 

How I went from dreading public speaking to finally enjoying it!

It's a Thursday evening. I've just worked a ten hour day. All I want is to get into bed and switch off from the world. But I don't. Instead, I'm on a train. My stomach is bubbling away, this familiar dread haunting me. I still cannot believe I am doing this. I must be crazy. I am voluntarily going to a meeting for public speaking. Doesn’t sound appealing does it? There are at least a thousand things I would rather be doing. But there's one thing in particular that is tightening that nervous knot in my stomach. Public speaking is my idea of hell. I have a stammer. 

I have stammered my whole life. From dreading answering the register in school (just my luck I had a teacher called Mr Wilimont!) to hating class presentations, I've felt all the pain of having a stammer. Yet, it is something I have never let define me. I have worked on it my whole life to the point where I can control it. It has almost become a second thought. But I wasn't going to settle for that. I wanted that extra push, that extra practice so I can stand before anyone and inspire them with my words. The reason? Because I want to be an officer in the British Army.

I found out about King’s Speakers, one of only three Toastmaster public speaking clubs in the world aimed at those with a stammer or social anxiety. I walk up to the meeting door, my stomach still somersaulting. My mouth has gone dry. I think about turning back, just going to the pub I passed. But I know that I won't. I need to be here. I sigh. I walk through the door. I have never looked back.

King’s Speakers is really a club like no other. With a variety of stammerers, members with anxiety and those who just want the practice, the atmosphere that greeted me was amazing. It was so relaxed and supportive. I was blown away by the fantastic speeches I heard from people who had a stammer like me. It was the first time I had met other adults who stammered. I was in complete awe of them. I wasn't alone in the world! When I left, my whole body was buzzing. There was one emotion that filled me. I was inspired. I was inspired by every single person I had met. They refused to be controlled by their fears. They were there to face their demons head on. I knew that I could too. 

That was six months ago. My demons are firmly being destroyed every session. With the fantastic support of other members, I raced through every speaking role I could. Then it was on to the real fun… The speeches. I have just completed my third one with my fourth already in the planning stage. The feedback has been amazing with each one. The sense of achievement has been unreal.

    The benefits are already showing. I have blitzed all my army interview stages so far, with feedback including how impressive and confident my presentations have been. I am now down to my final assessment in May. My only fear about applying for the army had been that my stammer would hold me back. With the support of King’s Speakers, I know that my stammer isn't even an issue anymore. 

Of course, the nerves still come with every speech. But speaking in front of people isn't the hardest part of King’s Speakers. Walking through the door for the first time is. Once you are through, you can achieve anything you want with hard work. You just have to decide that you want it. And the crazy thing? I now actually enjoy public speaking!

Accepting Yourself and Your Stammer

Two years ago I made one of my smartest moves. I joined Kings Speakers, part of Toastmasters International 90 year old worldwide organisation of nearly 16,000 clubs with around 350,000 members in 140 countries. Kings Speakers so named after the film The King’s Speech and is one of only 3 TM clubs in the world specifically for anyone with a stammer or other social anxiety

I’ve had a stammer on and off all my life and have tried numerous methods to “cure” myself of it. Hypnotherapy, NLP, Meditation to name but a few and none of these worked. This was largely my fault as in joining Kings Speakers I realised that there wasn’t anything to cure, it was a question of accepting whom I am and being happy with that.

It was all about learning that in any face to face communication, the words that come out of your mouth only account for around 10% of the total communication, the remaining 90% is communicated by your physiology eg. your facial expressions, eyes, mouth, and all other body movements, even the tonality of your voice and the clothes you wear and the way you walk up to the stage or wherever you’re speaking from. I learned that the communication starts long before the speaker has opened their mouth.

Therefore, the odd stammer is not going to make any difference whatsoever to the overall communication and if you’re authentic and sincere, the listener(s) will get 100% of what you’re saying totally regardless of any stammer or disfluency.

I have given several speeches within the club, and have also filled many of the other functions which involve speaking at the meeting to give a report, e.g. Timekeeper, Evaluator, Table-Topics Master, and Toastmaster of the evening.  It has given me untold confidence to speak in front of a group.

Thus, I learned that if I’m not bothered by stammering, other people aren’t going to be bothered by it either and if I get that others aren’t bothered by it, I’m going to be even less inclined to be bothered by it and probably won’t even think about it. I learned that stammering is no more important than whether or not you wear glasses or hearing aids or the colour of your hair. If other people get that I’m being myself, sincere and genuine they will be truly interested in what I have to say and not bothered in the slightest bit if I do stammer on the occasional word.

Being heard

One of my greatest inspirations has been David Seidler, the screen writer of the film The Kings Speech When he accepted his Academy award for best original screenplay, he said on stage “I accept this award on behalf of all the stammerers throughout the world, we have a voice, we have been heard.”

He also said on another occasion said that the King’s Speech therapist Lionel Logue effectively taught the King that he was no longer the “stammering King” but that he was just the King who occasionally had a stammer. Therefore, whatever your name is, you’re not John or Alice or Peter the stammerer, you’re John or Alice or Peter who just occasionally has a stammer.

 

Tony Weiss

 

 

My Experience of The International Speech Contest

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This time last year, I preparing for the annual international speech contest that Toastmasters International arrange each year.  I had competed the previous year and had reached the Area Contest where I came third, this year I was hoping to do that little bit better, but I never dreamed that I would end up speaking in front of 250 people from all over London and giving a speech about my stammer.

Finding the right speech topic is often the most difficult part of the whole process.  Toastmasters allows you to speak about any subject, but for a successful competition speech the speech needs to be motivational and inspirational to the audience.  I have a young daughter and she often provides the inspiration for my speeches.  When I began planning my speech, my daughter had recently started to learn to swim.  Unfortunately, things were not going to plan and she cried and cried when she got in the pool.  However, in adversity, she suddenly took a deep breath and began to do as her teacher was telling her to do and with arm bands began to swim across the pool.  Here was my inspiration.  I just needed to craft a speech around the topic of overcoming demons, for my daughter it was swimming.

The first speech that I gave in the competition is the Club Contest, where you compete against fellow club members.  The competition was fierce, and the standard was exceptional.  I gave my speech in two parts one about my daughter and the second part was about giving a speech and the feelings that people have when they give a speech; how scary giving a speech, standing on a stage all alone, with everyone sitting and watching you.  The speech went down well, and the audience empathised with the speech.  I won the contest and was on to the next round, the Area Contest.

However, I did not have long to bask in the glory of winning the Club Contest, because after the contest, I received feedback on the speech from a very experienced Toastmaster.  He said to me that my speech was good, but it needed to be so much better if I wanted to go any further in the contest.  He advised me that what I really needed to do was to try to come up with a time that I had struggled to over come something and that ultimately, I succeeded.  This would allow a greater audience to empathise and be inspired by the speech and with any luck I should do well at the Area Contest.

Almost immediately, I went home, back to my keyboard and I began working on the speech again.  I could not rest upon my laurels as I wanted to do as well as I possibly good.  This was potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity to go far – who knows, I may end up in the final in Washington DC representing my country. I could but dream.

So I came up with a speech, keeping my daughter’s swimming experience but also interspersing it with my own struggles with my speech.  I have struggled with a stammer for most of my life, the worst time was when I first started work and had to answer the telephone, these were terrible times, but ultimately with the support of friends and just putting myself out there I have managed to gain confidence that has limited the times that I stammer.

The speech was written, but now I needed to practice it.  There was a club meeting between the two contests and I was able to give my speech before the club.  I was confident before the speech.  I gave it.  But people did not like it as much as they had before.  What had gone wrong.  I must say that I was devastated.  The Area Contest was a week away, I had friends coming to support me. But the speech was no good.  Back to the drawing board.  I worked through the speech, line by line.  Word by Word, making it flow better.  Making it funnier.  Making it better.

The day of the Area Contest.  A room of about 75 people.  Friends there to support me.  People from Kings Speakers supporting me.  The competition was great.  I went last.  Nerves jangling.  Away I went.  People laughed.  People looked engaged.  People looked as if they enjoyed it.  I came third at the contest the year before, could I do better?  The speeches had finished, the judges had considered their results and now it was time for the announcement.  In third place was ……. (not me).  In second place……. (not me – ah well – I’m sure I have not won).  In first place was ……. Graeme Bass.  Oh my I’ve won.  I’m in to the next round of the contest!  The Division B contest.

The Contest was held at the Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden.  An audience of 250 people. Competing against the best speakers in West London.  Oh my.  This was nerve wracking.  The fellow competitors were amazing.  The hall was enormous, yet we did not have any microphones.  We had to rely upon the power of our voice.  I had bene practicing in a church hall, which helped immensely.  There were six competitors and I went fifth.  I gave the best I could.  What a feeling everyone laughed.  I wish I could have stayed on that stage forever.  Sadly, the competition was too strong for me and I did not win.  But what an amazing experience.

The speech contest last year was a great example of the Toastmasters’ experience.  Thesupport that I received from Kings Speakers and other members of the Toastmasters’ community was incredible and that sums up the people who are members of this great club and organisation.

Preparing Your Speech

One of the great things about Toastmasters is that the organisation (and your mentor, if you have requested one) holds your hand at every stage: from the moment you sign up to give your speech, until you get up on stage…and then, when safely back in your comfy chair, a fellow club member gives helpful feedback.

The Competent Communication manual (your starting point on your Toastmasters journey) consists of ten projects, each of which addresses a particular aspect of speech making (like body language, persuasion, using visual aids). The first step is to read the manual so you understand what you are intending to achieve with a particular project. Then it’s time to think of a subject that allows you to achieve your objective and begin planning your speech. Here are some guidelines that apply to all speeches.

 

I’d suggest that the “high level” components include:

  1. Relevance – choose a topic that will be of interest to everyone in the room. It could be something in the news, maybe an issue we’re all familiar with. Equally important, think carefully about your audience and be careful not to include material that could offend.
  2. Clarity – your message must be clear and easily understood. You only have five to seven minutes, so don’t try to make lots of points…make one!
  3. Passion – pick a topic that excites you!
  4. Interaction – passive listening can be boring and experienced public speakers know an audience gets more from a speech when people are involved. So look to incorporate feedback by inviting opinions. A powerful device is to pose a question at the beginning and build towards the answer…drawing your audience along until you cross the “question answered” finishing line together.
  5. Memorable – your message should confirm or reinforce a deeply held conviction or, (better still), get your audience thinking for the first time or differently about a subject. 

With those points in mind, we need to look at the structure, or “middle level”, of your speech. In a short speech, you should divide it into three sections: introduction (say, 20%), body (say, 70%) and conclusion (say, 10%).

  1. Introduction – grab people’s attention with a thought-provoking opening that states your premise (e.g. “School children should meditate for ten minutes every day”). Asking a powerful question also works well here (“What is the most important thing missing form a child’s school day?”), then answer this question and explain that you intend to convince the room of your viewpoint. You could ask for a show of hands at the start and finish to gauge your success.
  2. Body of speech – here you will build your case with supporting evidence. Pick three or four examples that support your premise from different perspectives. You might (a) describe a personal experience with your own child, (b) quote a research study by child psychologists, (c) pick a school in which, following the introduction of meditation, bullying went down and exam results improved and (d) quote feedback from delighted parents.  
  3. Ending – you can now restate your thesis and “prove” your premise by reminding the audience of your supporting evidence: “So child psychologists, teachers and parents all agree that…” Finally, end on a memorable thought that could, for example, suggest that society as a whole (and perhaps the economy too) would benefit if the present generation of children left school less stressed. 

Finally, have you ever wondered why Winston Churchill and Barak Obama’s speeches are enjoyable and powerful? It’s because they increase impact through the use of rhetorical devices. Skilfully employed, these devices will lift (and make memorable) any speech. You can explore a number of them here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK6yjJGp1v0 I’ll be blogging soon about using rhetorical devices in your speeches.

 

Ben Starling

Top 10 Tips to Win a Speech Contest

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It is competition season at Toastmasters International.  Each member of Toastmasters is only 4 wins away from representing their country at the International Speech Contest in Vancouver in Canada.

 

Here are my top ten tips to be a success in the contests:

 

  1. Look at the Judging Criteria – all speech contests are judged by members of Toastmasters using a set criteria.  The criteria can be found at (https://www.toastmasters.org/~/media/A26980987C5643BBAFB6F9FA367A6F65.ashx).  Look at the criteria and try to get your speech to score as highly in the criteria as possible.
  2. Make sure the speech has an emotional impact on the audience – every story that you will ever have heard will have a beginning where the scene is set, there will be a hero (in the case of a Toastmasters speech this is best if it is you), the hero will then go through difficulties but at the end of the story, with the audience willing the hero on, will overcome those difficulties.  Think of any story that you heard of a child and the same structure is used (think of Cinderella or Snow White or even a more modern classic Frozen (you can guess that I have a young daughter), they all have the same structure.  Your speech should follow this structure as it will have an impact on the audience;
  3. Try to be funny – whilst this is not a humorous speech contest, it is amazing how the speeches that generate the most laughter are often the speeches that do well.  The audience is there to be entertained.  Who does not like to laugh.  Try and inject humour into your speech – it will make it more memorable and fun to give.  There is no greater feeling than standing on stage and making people laugh.
  4. Concentrate on body language – not only do you receive 10 marks for body language – good use of the stage and body language will do two things, firstly it will relax you by moving around you will not be tense and will give the appearance of being confident.  It will also make the audience more engaged in the speech.  The body language should be natural and not forced.  This will need practice.
  5. Practice. Practice Practice -   This is your moment and you do not want to leave anything to chance.  Try and practice in front of someone who will provide you with constructive feedback.   If you do not have anyone to practice in front of, practice in front of a mirror.  It is also a good idea to try and video the speech when you are practicing.  It is amazing how many movements and tics that you have that you do not know that you do, whether it be rocking from side to side or cupping your hands.
  6. Timings – the speech must be between 5 and 7 minutes.  In a speech contest you do not get told that you have gone over time,  You are simply disqualified.  The timings are not something that you want to be worrying about.  So make sure when you are practicing you are also timing yourself.
  7. Visualise – you can only practice so much.  However, I find it really helps to visualise how you are going to perform.  Imagine it going well and the audience are engaged and enthused by the speech that you are giving.  This will assist with your confidence when giving the speech;
  8. Get to the venue early – There can be nothing worse than rushing to the venue and being late.  It is so important to get to the venue in plenty of time.  Once at the venue, go up on stage and look out.  Try to visualise giving the speech.  This will help you relax and will make the experience much more enjoyable;
  9. Deep breath and go for it – This is your chance, you’ve done all your preparation, you are ready, now go for it and give it your best chance.  You’ve given many speeches (at least 6).  You’ve done it before.  There is nothing to worry about .  Just get up and give it your best shot.
  10. Enjoy it – The audience are there to hear you speak.  You have something to say and you are there to entertain the audience.  This is a great experience and one to enjoy.

 

Good luck everybody.

 

Feel Empowered about your Speech in 4 Steps

I don’t know about you but I personally dislike preparing for a speech. I find it boring.  

Nevertheless! I do always prepare for a speech. And so I want to share with you the 4 steps I take to prepare for a speech. These steps will get you feeling empowered to deliver your best speech.

Some of the steps you will be familiar with. But hold tight, because a couple of them may be new to you.

1st Step – Planning Stage

As the saying goes by Benjamin Franklin, “if you don’t plan, you plan to fail”.

Therefore, depending of the length of the speech, spend 20/40 minutes on the planning stage.

Write out all your ideas and then separate them into three sections: beginning, middle and end. You may end up writing 2-3 drafts before you have your final piece.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up with a whole novel that needs to be trimmed, before you can even think about forming a beginning, middle and end….Tough times!

 

2nd Step - Practice

The next step is to practice about 10-20 times. Practice both in front of an audience and alone with a timer.

Get feedback from your practice audience and make the necessary changes. Then practice more, until you no longer need to stare at your notes.

I love this quote: “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent”. Bobby Robson et al.

I love it because it means that you don’t need to be perfect. To me there is no such thing as a perfect speech. One person may view your speech as perfect and another may view it as incomplete. It’s all subjective. And so don’t focus on being perfect. Instead focus on being an expert of your speech, to the point where it simply shines out of you.

 

3rd Step – Warm up Your Voice

This is something I enjoy doing because it puts me in a funny mode. When you try this (if you haven’t already), you’ll chuckle at the funny noises you never knew you could make.

Watch this presentation for instructions on how to warm up your voice:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIho2S0ZahI

 

I warm up my voice approximately 10/20 minutes before I go on stage. Warming up your voice allows you to set a more powerful and smoother tone. It also helps you manage your nerves because you’re focusing of getting ready to present, as oppose to worrying about how your delivery could turn out.

 

4th Step – Manage your Nerves

Talking about managing our nerves, we have all experienced being nerves before and during the delivery of a speech (if you haven’t then you’re not normal : ).

Yet there is a very helpful strategy you can use to manage your nerves, rather than your nerves managing you.

The key is the use visualisation. Close your eyes and see yourself delivering your speech in the way you want to deliver it. For example, see yourself speaking on stage in a confident manner.

I personally take it as far as seeing myself make a mistake and gracefully continuing with confidence.

Doing such visualisation, tells your mind and body how it is you want to feel and perform on stage.

As you visualise, take in all the positive feelings and thoughts, magnify them and picture yourself performing with conviction. This will greatly calm your nerves because you are focusing on a positive outcome, rather than worrying about your performance.

Once it’s time to deliver your speech, your mind and body will naturally perform in a similar manner as when you were visualising.

Visualisation takes practice. Especially if you dislike giving speeches.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend it. It will help you move out of your own way to showcase the best version of yourself.

Remember, we are not trying to be ‘perfect’. Just be yourself (faults and all). Your authenticity is what will draw the audience to you.

 

Final Tip

I’d like to leave you with a quick and effective tip that also helps manage nerves. Each time I’m about to go on stage I say to myself “just try your best. If you mess up it’s absolutely fine. Learn from it and don’t forget to laugh about it”.

This thought process allows me to be my own cheerleader. It also helps me to not take it too seriously.

Then paradoxically, I end up delivering my speeches just as I had visualised (most of the time)!

So give these steps a go and let me know how you get on. I’d love to know!

 

You can contact me at:

chrissy@empowerment-coach.co.uk

For Instant Confidence Tips visit my Instagram: Chrissy.Coach

If you’d like Personal Coaching in this area do visit my website and get a free 1 hour Powerful Coaching Taster Session:

www.empowerment-coach.co.uk

 

All the very best on your Toastmasters journey!

Warm wishes,

Christine Alaby

Empowerment Coach & Confidence Specialist

The Dreaded Thursday - Ben Starling

The dreaded Thursday had arrived and I shouldn’t be here.

Why on earth was I putting myself through this? I could have been home, relaxing. Watching TV. Writing. I’d made a terrible mistake, but it was too late to back out. How had I (AKA Mr Never-Speak-in-Public. Ever.) allowed myself to be talked into this?

7.22pm and my name was called. Applause. Panic. Light-headed, scarcely able to walk, I dragged myself onstage. I shook the smiling Toastmaster’s hand and moments later, with my head stuck above the parapet, twenty-four (I’d counted them) gun-sights levelled on my sweating forehead. That’s when a black hole swallowed every background noise and the room temperature leapt thirty degrees. 

The countdown had begun weeks ago. I’d struggled through a number of roles at King’s Speakers, like Grammarian, Harkmaster, Table Topics. But this was different. I had to deliver a 5-7 minute speech to a packed room. Instead of running (as I’d intended doing for the rest of my life), here I was, and my voice was about to croak and wobble. My chest would lock and I’d run out of air. Like in that recurring-nightmare speech I failed to deliver a quarter century ago. Think gulping goldfish. Think bolting for the door. Think shame.

I hoped no one saw my shaking hand as I placed my notes on the lectern. I took a deep breath but at least I had a plan: I’d stare at a dark patch on the far wall. For variety, I’d study my feet. Imagine that the room is empty, I told myself, like the one I’d been practising in all week.

And—so—it—began.

A minute in, I forgot my lines. But I just about saved the situation by checking my notes. And in those dreadful five seconds (or was it five hours?), no one smirked. The walls didn’t rush in to crush me. In fact, nothing terrible happened at all.

Condemned men can afford to take risks and I’d inserted a few words that bore a distant resemblance to humour. Though delivered too quickly, a couple of people actually laughed. Laughed!

I looked around and everyone was smiling. At me. And the smiles weren’t because they’d deciphered my fluffed joke—they were smiles of encouragement. There was our founder, nodding his support and I could read the thought bubble over his head: you’re doing fine!

When the green light flicked on, I wound it up. I forgot my conclusion without which the speech made little sense. But it didn’t matter because people were clapping. That was when I realised everyone had been in my place before. They knew what it felt like. That we were a team united by a common goal: to improve out public speaking together.

My next speech was a little better, my third (I’m told), was better still. And each time, the fear level dropped.

I’ve visited several Toastmaster clubs and each is unique. Attracting members with speech impediments and social anxiety, King’s Speakers really does set the standard for support and encouragement. Over sixteen months I’ve watched many people battle their demons. And win. And as a club, we’ve all shared their sense of achievement.

Who’d have thought that in a matter of months—not just months, but fun, interesting and rewarding months—the dreaded Thursday would become the highlight of my week?

If they can do it, I can do it. If I can do it, so can you.

 Ben-Starling.com

 

My Journey in Toastmasters - Brian Skelton

In May 2005 I attended a 3 Day Speech Therapy course with the Starfish Project which is a non – Profit making organisation that helps people who stammer.

During those 3 days amongst other things I was taught a Breathing technique which helps me to control my stammer it will not make my stammer go away but it gives me control over something that has controlled me since I was a young Boy.

On that Course I met Barry Rix who has become a really good friend of mine, Barry Helps to run the Essex Starfish Support group, He told us about Toastmasters at one of the meetings and how much it had helped him. Barry helped to start Chelmsford speakers. I went to the first meeting in January 2007. 

 I did my Icebreaker on the 7th February 2007 that night I won the best speaker of the night award which I have framed and have it hanging on my wall at home.

There have been a few turning points for me since I completed my CC and CL awards and the night that I was the Contest Chair of the Humorous Speech and Table Topic contest at Chelmsford Speakers was one of them and really showed me how far I had come and how much more confident I was getting and how much I was pushing out my comfort zones.

Until I joined the Committee in 2010 as the Sgt at arms I had not realised how much work that goes on in a Toastmasters club, the meetings once a fortnight do not happen by magic. 

I sighted that the Advance Leader Silver Award would be my biggest challenge if I wanted to go for the DTM award. Which is when I was advised that if I was the President of a Club it would help me if I wanted to be an Area Director? 

I was the Chelmsford Speakers Club President 2012 –13 which was a big step for me to take. I joined Brentwood Speakers and helped to Mentor the club in 2013-14.

I left Chelmsford Speakers in 2014 because I needed to push myself and joining the London clubs really helped me to do that.

I joined Kings Speakers in 2013 which is a Toastmasters club for People who Stammer or have social anxiety. I first went along only intending to do a few speeches and to help out at a few meetings but I found that the club has really helped me a lot I think it is because I am helping other people and seeing how well all the other club members are doing has really pushed me on.

I was the Area 33 Area Director 2014-15 which was hard work and I learnt so much doing this Job and I am continuing to learn all the time I think what helped me as well was that I was new to Area 33 meaning that I had to go and introduce myself to all the Presidents and the members of the clubs in the Area. My assistant Sophie Xu who was a member of St Pauls Speakers in Area 33 really helped me a lot. I also did the HPL project on being the Area 33 Director which helped me to gain the ALS award.

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When I was made the Area Director of the Year 2014-15 for District 91 this was an amazing moment I really could not believe it when I went up to collect the award from District 91Director Hillary Briggs I was in Tears.

I also completed the ACG award Helping to mentor new Member Chrystele Scariot from Kings Cross Speakers which was so Rewarding seeing Chrystele grow so much in Confidence and really pushing out her comfort zones. 

Planning and holding a Workshop at Kings Speakers “How to listen effectively” was a Great thing to do and receiving a lot of Positive Feedback was Fantastic.

I am planning on doing the CC Manual again and I would like to do some other things as well. At the Moment I am Area C33 Assistant Area Director helping Tia Atanasova Who is the Area C33 Area Director who I meet at Kings Speakers. 

I did my Icebreaker Speech at Chelmsford Speakers February 2007 and my Last Speech for my ACG August 2016 at Kings Cross Speakers. 

My Confidence has really grown if someone had asked me before May 2005 about joining a speaking club I would have told them to go away and not to be so silly.

I would like to thank everybody at Toastmasters for all there help over the years.
Especially Barry Rix who introduced me to Toastmasters. 

My Favourite saying – If you keep on doing what you have always done you will keep on getting what you have always got.

Brian Skelton DTM
Area C33 Assistant Area Director