Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’

This week, at Toastmasters, I attempted to pull off my first ever roast. ‘A roast’ is a speech that relies on wit, humour and satire to ‘poke fun at a person in a good natured way.’ Can you imagine? I can’t think of too many speeches that would be harder to pull off. However, in the Toastmasters system, you choose your projects and most come in bundled sets, so when you take on a certain manual or a pathway you take on every challenge in that bundle. I chose Special Occasions Speeches (from the old paper manual system), not realizing that one of the projects therein was “The Roast.”

I have a terrible track record with humorous speeches, having bombed abominably once or twice.

In conversation, I can raise a laugh, but I still don’t know how to use humour in speeches. In my nervousness, I over do it. I’m just not that funny. So, I avoid the humorous speech contests each year like the plague, and I never attempt comedic speeches. I know my strengths and humour is definitely not one of them.

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When I discovered there was a roast among the projects in Special Occasions, I was quaking in my boots. I wanted to put the manual back, but it was too late, I was already three speeches in. So I’m going to tell you a little secret. I repeated project 2, five times over a period of five months. I couldn’t bear to do the roast. So I put it off by repeating the project I preferred, “Speaking in Praise.”  At first, I wondered if I could get away with it, because surely people would notice I was doing the same project.

Strangest thing. No one noticed.

I spoke in praise of Charlotte’s Stitches, I spoke in praise of my father, I spoke in praise of Korucare New Zealand, I spoke in praise of Sam (my son with Downs’ syndrome), and I spoke in praise of my grandmother. No one said a thing!

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I could have gotten away with it longer probably, but I made the mistake of mentioning to one of the other members, last week, that I was scared of doing the roast.

He said, “You can’t not do a project just because it’s hard. You’ve got to do it anyway!”

The gauntlet was down. I was determined I was going to write a funny speech. I would ‘do it anyway!’ I determined that this week, I would roast our most senior member and club treasurer, at our Toastmasters’ meeting.

Did I roast him? Yes. Was I successful? I don’t know. I can’t seem to do funny conversational. I go immediately to clown and cartoon, and it often falls flat. My first two jokes didn’t get much of a response and I already had that sinking feeling. Various audience members told me afterwards they enjoyed my roast. I did raise a few laughs, but not anywhere near what I’d expected. Now, I know for sure that I’m not that funny.

However, what I do know is that I am brave.

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I am so proud of myself for doing that roast.

That’s a good feeling to have about yourself.

I don’t like to stretch my neck out any more than the next person, but I notice that when I do take a risk sometimes it reaps dividends. So, accepting a challenge is worth the effort, once in a while.

I was petrified of trying to roast someone. I did not want to do it. I would have procrastinated forever, if I hadn’t been hustled out of my cave. Roasting someone was something so far out of my comfort zone it was a new frontier. Yet, I accepted the challenge and went and did it anyway. Sure it wasn’t perfect. Sure, I didn’t captivate everyone, one guy looked down the whole time I was speaking and didn’t look up till the end. Sure, I didn’t bring the house down. But I did go out on the “stage,” into the bright lights, and deliver a bloody roast.

I think that’s pretty cool.

What about you? Have you ever thought of joining Toastmasters, or some other club? Have you stepped outside of your comfort zones lately?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Failures I consider valuable negative information – Dr. Goddard

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I got caught on the hop this week. I discovered on Tuesday that I was due to give a speech at Toastmasters the following day, and I had to come up with something in a hurry. I thought about Sam, my sixteen-year-old with Downs’ syndrome. In the four years I’d been in Toastmasters, I had not tackled the big issues. I’d spoken about all kinds of major things, but, I hadn’t had the courage to talk about Sam, and Downs’ syndrome, or anything about my life as a “special” mum. I still haven’t had the courage to talk about about my youngest son, who has Congenital Heart Defect, and the life and death surgery he went through twice at the tender age age of five. Similarly, I have yet to give a speech about my grandmother’s death, or those of my parents (both deceased within the last four years). I didn’t feel I could do them justice.

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But, when Toastmasters asked me to do my first speech of the year, I decided the time had come to delve a little deeper and share more of my personal stories. In Toastmasters, they say that personal stories are the most powerful, they are the speeches people remember. I decided I would share the story of Sam’s arrival in my life and being a parent of a special needs kid. The speech title, ‘The Road Less Travelled,’ comes from the last verse of one of my favourite poems, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I opened my speech by recounting the story of Sam’s birth, in more or less these words:

When I was pregnant with my second child, I was thirty-six. My doctor recommended I take an amniocentesis test, which tests for any abnormalities in the child. I agreed and booked in for the test.

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But, the night before I was due to go into the hospital, I woke up at exactly 11 o’clock at night, with an epiphany. I sat up in bed and asked myself,

‘What would you do if there was something wrong with the baby?’

I knew I could not go against my moral code and abort it. So, literally at the eleventh hour, I cancelled the test.

Some months later, after a difficult birth, my midwife handed the baby to me with the words, “I’m sorry, but I believe your son has Downs’ syndrome.”

My world, my life as I knew it up to that point, ended, and a whole new life began in a whole new world. It was one I knew nothing about, and I had a lot to learn!

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Downs’ syndrome is a genetic condition which results from a third copy of the 21st chromosome.

One in six hundred babies are born with Downs’ syndrome every year in New Zealand. The condition entails delayed development, low muscle tone, and this combined with a large tongue makes it very difficult for many Downs’ syndrome kids to talk clearly. 70% of girls with the syndrome will be understood by anyone outside their immediate family and that figure drops to 40-50% for the boys.

The things that our normal babies take for granted, like sitting up, standing, walking, none of these things come easy for a special kid. Every step is hard won. Sam was three-years-old before he could crawl, five before he could walk, eleven before he was potty trained during the day and thirteen before he was dry through the night.

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We special parents say, ‘it’s like taking one step forward, two steps back.’

Therefore every milestone achieved, every hurdle crossed, with these kids is such a triumph. You feel so proud of them you could burst. I know how hard Sam has worked to learn how to do every little thing.

Being a special needs parent has enriched my life. Sam has taught me so much; I have gained so much from his example. He’s taught me humility, patience, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness and how to care for the underdog. I would say most of all, he has taught me how to be present. For Sam, there is no future. He doesn’t have the ability to look ahead and imagine outcomes, there is only right now.

Sam is always present. That lesson in itself has been a gift.

The road less travelled by continues to reap dividends, and I am so grateful I accepted the challenge.

Thank goodness. Imagine what I would have missed out on!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“There’s not one path. There’s not even the right path. There is only your path.” – Nietzsche

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“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”~ Maya Angelou

This famous saying is one of those truisms that seems well said when we hear them as young people, yet sinks in deeper and deeper the older we get, the more we realize the profound truth.

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Today marked a certain milestone.

My youngest son turned thirteen. He boldly crossed the threshold to teenager. To commemorate, I gifted him his grandfather’s razor. Though he isn’t shaving yet, he soon will be. The razor is good quality and with continued care will last him for years. I know the gift hit the spot because he examined the razor minutely, popped open the lid and looked inside. He had to plug it in and turn it on. As he navigates these wild waters of his teenage years, I want him to feel supported and to feel loved.

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I’m glad he liked his gift, and I’ll freely admit I’m relieved he’s not using the razor, yet. He might be jumping with giddy glee from milestone to milestone, but, poor mama back here needs to sit down a minute and get her breath. We’re at the stage now where his childhood is hurtling by so fast it’s giving me whiplash.

Today also happened to mark another important milestone.

It was the day my beloved “adopted grandfather” Bruce left Toastmasters. He retired after having been in the speakers’ association for twenty-six years, much to the chagrin of all present, especially me.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t know either of my grandfathers. Both sets of my grandparents lived in England. As a consequence, my entire life, I’ve idolised grandfathers and that patriarchal figure in the family.

In my writing, the grandfather figure always plays a key role. In the series I’m working on at present, the Chronicles of Aden Weaver, the first book starts off with Aden’s conflicted relationship with his ‘Papa Joe.’ It ends in the third book, which I’m writing at present, The Last Tree, with Aden now the grandparent telling his grandchildren a bedtime story.

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My maternal grandparents, Evelyn and Alfred Leonard

To me, that is the penultimate circle of life, when you have the child and the elder present in a story. I may have never met my own grandfathers, however, I can indulge in the experiences I missed out on by vicariously living through my characters, and I must say it is very soothing and healing to do so. I thoroughly recommend it.

Spending time around my “adopted grandfather,” Bruce, has been a real tonic these last few years, also. I’ve enjoyed our friendship. Meeting him at Toastmasters each week has been a hoot.

On that day, nearly four years ago, when I dared try Toastmasters, I went along sceptical and highly self-conscious and absolutely terrified at the idea of tackling my all-time biggest fear, public speaking. I made myself go by assuring myself I didn’t have to join; I was just ‘going to have a look.’

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When I arrived, I saw two silver haired gentleman standing talking outside talking. Bruce shook my hand and welcomed me warmly.

I felt an instant gravitational pull towards this venerable elder. I sat next to him for the rest of the meeting, and Bruce brightly asked questions about me at every opportunity. He said he was 96-years-old, a war veteran. He had recovered to sprightly good health after having both knees replaced at the tender age of 90. I had made a friend.

Needless to say, I joined the club.

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After the nerve-wracked, heart-thumping, knee-knocking experience of delivering my first speech, I walked to the back of the room and Bruce stood there, clapping.

He said, “Congratulations, my dear! You’ve been blooded.”

It was something only a patriarch would say, and I loved him for it.

For the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be guided by him through many of my speech projects. At Bruce’s farewell party today, held not four days out from his 100th birthday, our club said heartfelt goodbyes.

I gave a one minute speech and said, “Everyone asks Bruce, ‘what’s the secret of your longevity?’ It’s not vegetarianism. He makes every single person he meets feel special. For that reason, everyone he meets loves him. Bruce is surrounded by love everywhere he goes. That’s the real secret to his youth.”

Which brings us neatly back to where we started. How will you be remembered? By the way you made people feel.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”~ Malala Yousafzai

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“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche.

I missed the mark with a speech at Toastmasters this week. With a topic I knew well: writing, and raising children. I flubbed a few lines, got some words mixed up and forgot a key point, and felt it was an overall disappointment.

It was another one of those notches in the belt of life’s defeats, which turn into teachable moments only in hindsight.

I knew I hadn’t hit the mark even at the time I was speaking. I could feel the audience’s attention slipping. I didn’t have them in the palm of my hand, the way I do when I’m in the zone.

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After the meeting, instead of shaking my hand warmly, there was some avoidance. I came home and watched the video back. I saw that I started the speech with a sigh, which is never a good thing. I used the wrong word in a couple of places without realizing, and that had changed the message. I waffled on at the end. It was a disaster. No wonder people avoided me afterwards.

I felt disappointed. “You picked the wrong word,” I said to myself, watching the footage. “If only you’d stopped and taken a silent breath.”

I berated myself on and off for about half a day. After that, it wasn’t that I felt bad, I felt nothing. I was blank.

Which brings me to the point, how useful are the things we say to ourselves? What effect are they having on our lives?

In my case, I went to that giant therapist in the sky, Facebook, and shared via status update.

Normally, my posts about stuff on Facebook might garner six or so “likes.” When I went back online the next day, I saw that my post had 22 “likes” and there were comments: beautiful, heart-felt encouragement.

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Friends had taken the time to remind me of the steps forward I have taken. The words melted my heart. I sat there and wept into my keyboard like a baby, until my tea went cold.

Later, I dried my face, made a fresh cup of tea, and I could feel the difference within. The veil had lifted. The blankness was gone. I could feel again, I could smile again. I was free. Wow. What a revelation about the power of the right words and a good cry. Thank you again to all my beloved friends.

By sharing with others, by caring about others, and by practising the mindfulness of saying loving words to ourselves and those around us, all manner of ills in this world can be healed.

The right words at the right time can be good medicine.

I remember back in the day, about twenty-five years ago, I read a small, life-changing book called “Creative Visualization” by Australian author, Shakti Gawain. https://www.amazon.com/Creative-Visualization-Meditations-Imagination-Create/dp/1511326948

That was when I became introduced to this idea of the manifestational juju of the words we say to ourselves. I learned we can radically alter the experience we have by changing our inner dialogue. Gawain taught about the benefits of saying positive statements to ourselves, which she called daily affirmations.

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In essence: we can aid and sustain ourselves by saying the right words.

Here’s a good example. About the FB post on the “failure” of my recent speech, friend Sharon Hinckley said wisely, “Could you lose those ‘high expectations’ and just go out there and have fun?” She altered my perception and let in the light by using the right words.

The right phrase can alter the atmosphere of our lives and elevate the tone.

The truth is, our inner dialogue is always going on anyway, and so we might as well use it to our advantage. The first step is to come up with some phrases which work for us. The next step is to remember to say them to ourselves a few times daily. *Tip: try making it part of the daily routine so they end up becoming automatic. *Tip Two: try thinking of three things each day you are grateful for.

To return to the question I started with: how useful are the things we say to ourselves? They’re potentially life-changing, if we use the right words. What we say matters.

Have you ever tried doing affirmations? Do share…

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“To transform your life, you must find a way of being grateful for what you have now.” ~ Rhonda Byrne

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

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When the upper-ups at IWSG headquarters decided to bring in the Question of the Month, earlier this year, I admit to not exactly clapping my hands with glee. I opted out at first.

You see, I like to write every post from the point of view of sharing either what’s been going on for me, or what I’ve been thinking, or doing creatively, or experiencing through my kids and my family. As ‘the Question’ was only a suggestion, not a given, I decided to make my own choice as to this blog’s content.

I wanted to remain true to my ideals. Yet, as the year went on, I noticed other #IWSG bloggers I visited always answered the Question. I began to feel like the only kid on the playground, while all the other kids are jostling for elbow-room in the sandpit.

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Long story, short, last month I answered the Question. It was fun. I imagined myself one of the big gun authors being asked a question about my writing career by a newspaper reporter.

December 7, the IWSG Question of the month – In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

Great question!

I see myself with the series, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, finished and published. I see spin-offs from the series, evolving naturally. I can see the books being made into some sort of local production, either theatre or movie, or maybe artwork springing from it, or the series being made into some sort of video game.

I see myself blissful at work on the next book/s.

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Have you heard of making a “vision board?” I saw the idea on an Oprah show back in the day. You create a pictorial poster of what you hope to achieve. I preferred writing down my dreams. I call mine a “wish list.” Each year, on my birthday (which was the day before yesterday) I update my wish list for future dreams and goals. For more than ten years now, at the bottom of each list, I’ve written the same line. “Peter Jackson turns my books into movies.” That’s a big dream, however if we’re talking about what I really want to achieve in five years, then!

My plan to get there is to keep on writing. Write. Write and learn. Learn and write.

I shall also keep on networking, which is a necessity these days, to be active on social media and create an active digital footprint. I’ll carry on blogging, tweeting, putting content on my YouTube channel, and pinning on Pinterest. I’ll keep on building my email list for my *Newsletter and putting out quality content.

(*For Newsletter, e me at yvettecarol@hotmail.com put “Subscribe” in subject line, you will automatically be added to the family!)

I think it’s important now that I have overcome my fear of public speaking to keep up the public speaking to improve my self-confidence levels.

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Then, we come to the most important thing I intend to keep on doing. Those who have known me on the ether for a while will have heard this story before, however, I always find its worth repeating. Back when I was into multi-level marketing, our very wealthy, mega-successful, charismatic leader took me aside one time, to pass on a gem of her wisdom. I remember we were standing in the car-park, after an evening meeting.

She said, she was going to pass on the single most important thing I had to do.

‘I don’t mean just in business, I mean in life. Forget about the money, building a business is not about that. You must think one way and one way only. There is only one thing you need to do. And that is, Spread the Love. Everything you do, everything you say, every action every day, you Spread the Love. That’s all you need to do.’

I really took the message to heart. I went away from that night and I have applied that principle to everything I’ve done since. It works for me.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘New Zealanders by nature of our isolation just go ahead and do things our own way. That’s the New Zealand spirit.’ ~ Peter Jackson

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Do you remember the Humorous Speech Contest I’ve been sweating over? I took one in the eye. I didn’t even place.

It’s a process, losing.

I think I must have gotten full of myself there for a while. You see, even though public speaking was my number one fear in life until a year ago, through tackling it, I seem to have somehow discovered an unknown resource. People keep telling me I’m good at it. I keep saying, ‘Am I?’ with a dazed look. I really have been genuinely moved and pleasantly surprised. In fact, the joy of back-patting has become so addictive, I’m a Toastmasters convert.

5 Speeches Award, 2016

I’ve always felt alien to everyone else, and that my particular gifts with writing, creating, and communicating were burdens for other people in some fashion. My entire life I’ve been told I’m too loud, and that I’m too expressive. Now, these very traits which have been my afflictions have undergone a process of alchemical transmogrification. They are now revealed as perfectly suited for public speaking. I can easily pitch my voice to fill a room and I can bring a story to life. I can also write a speech.

Last year, I won the first round of the speech competition and came second at the District level. Secretly, I wanted to win the District Contest as well.

It was like I was competing against myself. I poured weeks into figuring out how to write humor, Funny, Me? And Funny, Me! And, I didn’t just pay lip service, I utilised all the advice given. I followed every lead. I watched comedians, and other humorous speakers, I read humorist blogs. I wrote my speech and rewrote it a dozen times. Finally, about a week prior to the competition, I started trying to learn the material. I practised, rehearsed, refined, and edited my speech, ‘You Call That Progress?

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Wednesday, 31st was the day of the Contest. There were five of us in the fray. It’s a strange animal, the contest. Some people thrive in those situations, others don’t. When you’re faced with judges holding pens at the ready, as they frown over their scoring sheets, the words start to get jumbled in your head.

While I’d imagined a year of my attending Toastmasters meetings would have helped banish the nerves, no, it was just as terrifying as the first time. I found the speech I knew so well at home suddenly became slippery and ethereal, slithering through my fingers. The same thing happened last year, when I went blank in a couple of spots. I did recover and carry on, but it had rattled my composure. And any humorist worth their salt will tell you, it’s all in the attitude. Once you lose the swagger, you’re lost.

The person who won deserved to win. Her speech was amazing. What got me was that the lovely friend who came second, put his speech together in 10 minutes! Agh, the injustice.

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I went through a real journey after the Contest. First, I came home and sobbed a bit. Then, I watched the video of my dress rehearsal which I’d put on my YouTube channel, and it made me laugh. I watched it a few times and the laughter made me feel better.

Then, I realize how pleased I was for the winner. She’d said to us in the kitchen beforehand, that this was really far outside her comfort zone. She’d challenged herself to do it because it was difficult. I felt that kinship that we co-contestants feel, and there really is a sisterhood there, because we know how hard it is to do. We admire each other. The respect is earned. So, I made contact with congratulations and posted flowers on her FB page. It really felt good. I had come full circle.

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After sharing the news of my defeat with friends on Facebook, one replied, “Maybe sometimes we try too hard?” Burn!

I know I tried too hard. That’s one of the things I need to learn is, how to relax while I strive.

One of the other losing competitors and I consoled one another as we left the club on Wednesday. I said, “At least we competed.” She said, “Yes, it’s always good for the experience.” What a brilliant way of putting it. We did it. Yeah. Go, us.

As L. Frank Baum once said, ‘The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.’ What have you done lately despite being afraid?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating

Yvette K. Carol

“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” E.E. Cummings

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https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC08zS1p4-H-y_xmMAuL41Eg

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The thing about writing humour is that everyone has a different sense of humour.

I remember having a conversation about this with a friend. She said, their family had invited the son’s new girlfriend over, to join them for dinner. After the meal, they thought they’d watch their favourite show, with the idea that laughing would bring them all together. So they put on a comedy which they knew was side-splitting, ‘Little Britain.’ My friend said that she, her husband and sons were rolling off the couch, nearly crying with laughter, while the son’s girlfriend never cracked a smile throughout the whole show.

Humour is personal and deadly serious.

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I promised readers I’d share my journey towards the holy grail of engaging the funny bone. Let’s say, it’s been an interesting process, so far.

In my last post, there was a great moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth about having to write the material for my humorous speech.

I got some helpful pointers from a number of responders. With regards my first idea for material, which had been my mother and her dementia, a friend on social media – the wonderfully gregarious Lord David Prosser  – countered with a great comment.

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‘If you get the chance to read the Deric Longden story Lost for Words or get the chance to see the TV film that was made starring Dame Thora Hird you’ll see that the subject of dementia can be dealt with i a funny, charming yet sympathetic way. Because we see the humour in a situation doesn’t make us uncaring towards people suffering that illness, it just means the particular situation was funny.’ ~ David Prosser

Thanks, David.

However, for the upcoming Speech Contest, I decided to go with the same topic I covered last year, something I know intimately – being a parent. Since then, after many anxious, feeble attempts at writing it, and wringing of hands, I began to despair I’d ever be able to write anything good ever again!

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I watched footage of award-winning humorous speaker, Jeanne Robertson http://www.jeannerobertson.com (thanks for the link, Jenny), and read a post or two by my friends who write funny blogs, like the self-confessed undie chronicler, Jenny Hansen, https://jennyhansenauthor.wordpress.com/ and sweet blogger, Bun Karyudo, whose excellent “Lovingly Hand-Crafted Humor Blog” is always good for a chuckle.

I thought Bun’s recent post, Teaching My Son to Swim? It’s Just Not Going to Happen https://bunkaryudo.wordpress.com/2016/08/13/teaching-my-son-to-swim-its-just-not-going-to-happen/ was hilarious.

Here’s an excerpt, where his wife is convincing a reluctant Bun why he ought to teach their son to swim:

“When someone makes a promise, isn’t it only right to keep it.”

When someone made a promise, I nodded, it was only right to keep it.

“Right then,” she said, “I promised our son you’d teach him to swim. How can you possibly refuse?”

Bun, however, has a natural gift for turn of comedic phrase. I don’t!

Still stumped, I gazed upon these people’s brilliance and felt unable to produce anything of credibly feather-tickling value myself.

I’ve been having the same conversation everywhere I’ve gone, what makes comedy?

This week, a friend asked me, ‘Look at this way, what makes you laugh?’

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Terrific question. I can tell you, one-liners leave me cold; I prefer it when there’s a storyline, and the humour comes through what happens.

A light went on! I realized that my earlier attempts had failed, because each was basically a series of one-liners strung together.

Yesterday, my two youngest sons left to spend the weekend with their father. Last night, I relaxed and listened to some music, as you do. I was thinking about how different childhood is for kids these days, compared to say, when I was young, or say my parents, or their parents before them.

A few words wafted by me on the wind. If you consider that my grandmother was born in 1901. She lived in the “pre-nuclear age…” I thought, Gran had perfect recall, while I have trouble remembering something from one room of the house to the other… that’s a funny idea! Lucky for me, I was fleet of foot and captured the words before they flew on by.

I had the start to my speech.

The concept of comparing childhoods in our family, from my gran through to my youngest son, gave me the all-important narrative I needed. The rest flowed from there.

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Here’s an example of the content as it stands so far: ‘They say there are more crazy people on the streets these days than ever before, we parents get warnings to keep an eye on our children’s whereabouts at all times. I know my children’s whereabouts – couch one and couch two in our living room, where they can get the wifi.’

Therefore, the raw material for my humorous speech has finally been produced. A labour of love, no less.

Now, I just need to figure out how to deliver the speech to achieve maximum impact. Wish me luck! Any tips for comedic timing/inflection that works,  please let me know! There’s a chocolate fish in it for you (nah, just kidding).

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It is impossible to look cool while picking up a Frisbee. ~ Peter Kay

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Since I put my name forward to compete in a Toastmaster’s “Humorous Speech Contest,” a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been working on the dilemma of material. Or, lack of it. The race has been on to write something funny.

I have spent days wondering what I should write about.

My hairdresser came over to give me a trim. She has her aging parents living with her, one of whom is blind, while the other has Alzheimer’s. The stories she told, of the mishaps going on in their household, had both of us nearly crying with laughter. I thought, ‘this stuff is priceless.’

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I thought about my own family’s hilarious stories, about my mother, and her dementia. I put it to the arbiters of taste in my circle. The resounding answer was, ‘No, don’t go there. Mothers are sacrosanct.’ Then, I read an article the other day, in which a woman, whose mother had died with Alzheimer’s, decried another guy, who had written a piece about his mother “going mad.” She said, it was ‘cruel and inconsiderate’ to mock those whose parents had dementia.

I realized that my first two ideas were hot-button topics! I decided “not to go there.” In a contest situation, the idea is to appeal to the audience, not turn people away.

What is funny?

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I have wracked my brain, and done a bit of research.

I’ve learned from reading various comedian’s blogs that humour comes from the unexpected. We laugh because we’re led to expect one thing but are given the opposite instead.

I began to experiment. Going back to the subject of raising kids for my subject matter, I wrote a short speech.

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According to what I read, one’s success with a “humorous speech” depends less on content than on the delivery. In the latest Toastmasters magazine, it was reported that the speaker, Palmo Carpino advised, if you want to go from good to great, is “It’s not so much about building a library as it is about building your reflexes.” Paul, who is active with the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, says, “This is what usually separates the “ok attempts” scribed into a written speech from the “memorable point illustrated in a memorable manner.”

The next time I saw my nephew, I tried out some of the so-called “funny bits” in my speech on him. He gave me one of those face-spreading smiles you give, when something isn’t really funny. My jokes had flat-lined.

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I reworked the speech completely, remembering the rule of the unexpected. I practiced it again and again, by standing up, marching about and testing the delivery, the pauses, the inflections.

That’s what you have to get just right, the sound and timing of your material.

I tried rearranging each piece so as to take the audience in one direction then, casting about for the punch line which turns the listeners in a different direction. Bouncing it off myself and others.

I’ve received some great tips and ideas from people. The top two would have to be, ‘Just be yourself and let your character shine through.’ A great resource, according to a writer/artist friend of mine, Steve Attkisson, is Gene Perret’s Ten Commandments of Comedy. This is ‘one book that has been instructive and entertaining.’ I intend to withdraw this book from the library, to read next. I know I need help.

Will the audience laugh? Only time will tell!

In the end, I’ll get it right. Meantime, I thought the lessons I’m learning along the way might be valuable. As I figure out how to write a humorous speech, hopefully, what I share via my blog might also benefit someone else. Ain’t the internet cool?

How do you write funny? Any tips to share? Send help. Please. Or chocolate.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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My advice? You wanna look 20 years younger? Stand further away. ~ Jeff Green

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

At this same time last year, the president of our Toastmasters club asked us, “Who wants to enter the Humorous Speech Contest?” Out of the twenty-five people in the room, four people put their hands up. I put my hand up, too. I’d only joined Toastmasters the month before and I had no idea what was involved. Yet, a number of people I liked and admired, had put themselves forward, and I felt it was only right I should join them.

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In my mind, I imagined we’d be delivering our talks, as we did each week, to one another, in the usual club setting. Have a laugh. A cup of tea. End of.

Little did I expect what was to follow.

When I trucked up to our club rooms to give my speech in the contest that day, I was surprised to find the room was full of people. And at least half the people there were strangers. This is always a big step up for any aspiring public speaker. That moment when you go beyond the friendly faces and atmosphere of your club setting.

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My reaction was to go into panic and meltdown.

No one had warned me. I had had no idea that this contest was on a big scale. Turns out there are four big contests in Toastmasters a year, and all of them work to funnel the best speakers in the country to the top of the pile. At the end of each year, the best speaker from New Zealand goes over to the Annual International Convention, this year being held in Washington D.C, to compete against the best speakers from all around the world. Like, it literally couldn’t be any bigger. So, for the club level contests, there have to be guest judges, a contest chairperson, tally counters, the works.

Now, I’m not a competitive person. I never have been. I only entered thinking I was participating in something a bit fun within my club. Once the event was under way, I was terrified, thinking about the scope. I was waaaaay out of my comfort zone. But, it was too late to back out.

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Long story, short, I ended up winning. The moment they called my name, I thought, Oh, crabapples, now I’m going to have to compete at the next level. I tell you, there is no way I would have put myself forward into that position, if it hadn’t happened completely by accident like that. So it was a comedy of errors to get to that point. Like a row of dominoes.

Anyway, on the night of the next level of the competition, my nerves were off the charts. It was the only time I’d experienced a panic attack. When I started speaking, my nerves got worse and worse rather than weaker and weaker. So much so, that I ground to a halt twice during the delivery and went completely blank. I felt I’d flubbed it. But I won second place.

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I came home, shakily, needing a week to recover. I had never been more afraid. I had never felt more exposed. I had never felt more adrenalin. I said to myself that was one of the worst experiences of my entire life. I’m never doing that again!

This week, at our club meeting, El Presidente asked, “Who wants to enter the Humorous Speech Contest?” and I found myself putting my hand up. I know it’s going to be utterly terrifying. I know I’m going to want to kill myself for putting myself in that situation, on the night of the competition. Yet, I put my hand up.

Why?

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Because it’s like I’m in competition with myself: I have to do better than I did last time. Not to come first. But to deliver the whole speech and not to freeze up when I felt so previously stricken.

Yeah, that’s the crux of it: I want to do better than that.

It’s a personal challenge. I’ll let you know how I go.

Which personal challenge are you the most proud of overcoming?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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I think my securities far outweigh my insecurities. I am not nearly as afraid of myself and my imagination as I used to be. ~ Billy Connolly

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

My grandmother was a fairly formidable creature. Nan Hefferan was the only one of our English relatives who made the move to New Zealand. “And, she made the move at the age of 79!” as my father is fond of saying.

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Gran lived here for the last nine years of her life. For most of that time, I lived five minutes’ walk away. She was the only grandparent I had the privilege of getting to know.

I’ve always revered grandparents, I guess because I grew up far away from mine.

Where my older sisters had grown to the ages of seven and five in England, my brother and I were born here, and our only relationship with our grandparents had come through letters, and parcels at Christmas.

In person, Gran lived up to my every hope of what a grandmother would be. She was a truly exceptional, wonderful woman, who had achieved a great deal in her life.

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I enjoyed getting to know her.

Born in 1901, she had lived through the last World War. Her memories were revelations of another era, and therefore, truly fascinating.

We had lunch every week, on a Tuesday, just her and I.

Mostly, she would talk. I would listen to all of the family stories I had never heard before. Through this precious human conduit to our family’s heritage, I gained glimpses of a different life. Gran told of a lost world: that of the past, and all the amazing things that had happened there, to members of our own family, our shared ancestors.

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Being a writer, I had to ask questions. I wanted to know more: what else happened? Why? When? All she needed was a gentle prompt.

She had what they call, a “pre-nuclear age” memory, i.e. she could remember facts, figures, dates, and names with precision.

To my creative mind, her details painted pictures.

Gran was also a great cook. On every visit, there would be some humble, great lunch. Meat pie she’d made herself, right down to the pastry, served with gravy, potatoes, peas and carrots. Or her famous cheese and onion pie, so heavenly, her homemade short savoury pastry crust was divine. She would always make the dessert herself, a cake, or a sponge, or a steamed pudding. There would be custard or cream. And tea served in a teapot on a tray with china tea cups with matching saucers.

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She liked to feed me until I couldn’t eat another bite.

After our delicious lunch, we’d take our tea and shortbreads, or chocolates, over to the comfortable chairs in the living room. There, Gran would start to talk, about her life and the stories of her parents.

She would talk all afternoon, and I would listen.

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I could not leave my grandmother’s home without her saying something significant. It was to me, as if she lived so close to the veil, that any moment could be her last and she lived with that truth. No moment was to be wasted.

After giving her that final hug, I’d walk towards her front door, and Gran would say, “Remember, my dear, reach for that star and you will get there.”

Or,

“Remember, my dear, whatever happens in your life, if you look for the silver lining, you will find it.”

I’d walk home with those parting words. I took that sustaining, empowered, heartening feeling away from every visit.

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I’ll be ever grateful to Gran, for having the courage after her husband died, to move to the other side of the world. She wanted to be with the family for the last part of her life. Our lives were enriched.

This week, I’ll be delivering my tenth speech for Toastmasters. The project title I had to tackle this time round was “Research your Topic.”

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I decided to talk about my grandmother’s contribution to the war effort.

Gran inspires me to be a better person. It does bother me, that all the wonderful things she achieved during WWII boil down to a yellow newspaper clipping, which lives in a drawer at my father’s house. So, part of the theme for my speech, is to bring light to the lack of the female voice in history.

Have you ever asked your mother or your grandmother what she did in her life? The least we can do is to ask the questions and wait for the answers. Our daughters and granddaughters may ask us for the stories one day.

There is so much more to say. Talk to you later.

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Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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What you do when you don’t have to, determines what you’ll be when you can no longer help it. ~ Rudyard Kipling

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com