Thursday, October 22, 2009

Raise a Toast to the Masters

Yesterday, 22 Oct 2009 I attended my first ToastMasters session. It was, like most other things these days, in my office. Although I have known the existence of such a system for the past three four years, I had never pictured me as joining it. Call it fear of crowds, lack of time or plain simple lethargy. The one in my current workplace is pretty new having had just three sessions to date. This time around, joining the club had been on my mind for a few days, thanks to the propaganda by well meaning colleagues. Thursday afternoon 3:00 to 4:30 pm, I marked in my mental calendar when I was reminded of the session this Tuesday.

Comes Thursday, I rush to office at 9:30 am, having been awakened to the day only 30 minutes before. This, however, was to attend another 3 hour session on a technical topic. Going late into that session, I made my presence felt with a few questions before returning to my own work during a break in the session. Squeezing the planned and unplanned work into the available time frame, I had the 3:00 pm session somewhere in the back of mind. Yet, I couldn't reach the meeting until by 10 minutes past the hour. Thankfully, the organizers were not particular about giving a distinguished welcome to late comers, so I go and settle down in a chair towards the farther end of the attendees.

To start the session, we had introductions of the role players for the day followed by what was called a Ice breaker speech. For the roles, we had a grammarian, ah-counter, timer and two evaluators. This was followed by a Prepared speech. Then came the table topics section whether random topics appeared out of an orange colored box hoping to be converted within 30 seconds into beautiful 3 minute duration speeches. The duration for the speeches was always marked by green, yellow and red flags meaning not much different from the traffic lights of the same color. Red meant stop while green and yellow indicated decreasing time left for the speech. The speakers were volunteers from the group who had the nerve to walk up to the podium and try their luck with the Pandora's box decorated by orange gift wrap paper. I was the 4th of 8 speakers of the day and got the topic "God cannot be everywhere, so He sends Mothers". The topic was a nice one and I started my speech after some 20 seconds of preparation, not sure whether it was enough but eager to get the speech over with. The speech was within the time limits although I went as far as to get the red card flashed at me. The duration 2:27 seconds, I was told later. Did I do justice to the good topic? Not sure, but it sure filled the given time with the ideas that flowed into my mind on seeing the topic. At least some people seem to have liked it . The other topics were innovative and speakers very varied, some racing the finishing time and some just to short, but the content always interesting and thought provoking. After the table topics, were the evaluations and the reports from the role players, who made it a diplomatic affair by not putting a hammer down on anyone. The evaluations marked the end of the day's session and a tentative date for the next one was announced. A coffee break followed and then everyone made their way back to their own virtual worlds revolving around the computers at their desks.

The session will, however remained etched in the memory of people like me, for whom it was the first of its kind.

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