Best Laid Plans

I belong to a couple of interesting clubs. I tell you they’re interesting so you know and don’t sigh and roll your eyes when I describe them.

The Alternative Book Club is one of my favorites! In a Normal book club, you read books and discuss them. In this club, we discuss books and then WRITE them. We write collaboratively–all 9-13 members. We’ve done 5 and are working on book 6. Because we have Toastmasters as a common element, we took the books to the annual convention and were featured sellers in their convention store. Because of the rules of this store, we couldn’t promote it outside the room by having signing parties or other activities like that, so we handed out bookmarks with the information on it. The Spotlight series, as we call it, features a different editor in each book, and I edited the Spotlight on the Art of Generating Energy.

I cannot describe our meetings very well because very few people experience mental excitement when communicating. Doesn’t that sound snobbish. When was the last time you got together with a group of people just because they were fascinating to talk to? You go to a party or a barbecue and you talk about the kids and the weather and work. Do you ever talk about Grace, Resilience, Significance, or Fear and their affects on people? Do you ever get into a lively philosophical conversation about how to handle adversity? About the only time I get that kind of input and output is in my Bible Study or Church. And there is no test there. In this club, once we have discussed the topic, you’re expected to take one aspect about it and write 5000 words on it. In Generating Energy, I had to expound on getting the right Chemistry…the best mix of people to get the job done. If you watch any recurring show, especially action shows where there is a threat to be dealt with, you see how important this chemistry is.

This group of people is WEIRD! We shouldn’t be friends. Our members are between 25 and 75 years old. They are in human services or computer programmers. They are descendants of the Mayflower and people who have arrived in the US within the last 3 or 4 years. They are stay-at-home moms and entrepreneurs. They are all different colors. They are great-great-grandparents and parents of toddlers. They are married, divorced, widowed, and single. I go through withdrawal when I don’t see them every week. When we get together, the ideas and the possibilities are flying at such speed, I’m surprised there aren’t sonic booms in the room!

We sold 21 books at the convention. We don’t have enough money from sales to publish another book. ARGH!  When we first signed up to sell our books last time, they reviewed them and chose 3 of our books (we’d only written 4 at the time!!!) and no one else got more than 2. There was a catch though. We had to bring 150 of each of the 3 books to the convention. NO PROB!  If we sell 60 of each book that should cover most of the costs! So we printed up 450 books…we sold 12. There was no promotion, no mention, no help in advertising. We had a little bitty logo posted on the screen. One lady had a speaking slot dealing with corporate Toastmasters clubs and how to build those. She got to mention her book from the stage and had a signing party afterward. She had her book on display this time, but it was off in a corner. So, now we have allllllll this inventory and though we have it in a book store and available on Amazon and Lulu, the books aren’t flying out.

Our current project is Spotlight on the Art of Speaking. It is tailored to Toastmasters and other speakers, but it’s good for people that have to give toasts at weddings, leadership seminars in businesses, and teaching seminars in schools. Because we have no deadline, and possibly because it’s summer and everyone’s plans are in a kerfuffle, our attendance has dropped precipitously.

The second club I belong to is the Competitive Speakers Club. It isn’t a sanctioned Toastmasters Club because we meet virtually, we pay no dues, and all we talk about is winning the World Championship of Public Speaking.  We have watched hours of speeches from winners and losers of contests going back 8-10 years. We came up with a formula for writing the perfect speech, delivering the perfect speech, and thanking all the little people. We trained the speakers in our little club and 3 of them made it to the district level! The winner went on to the regional finals last year and this year’s winner went on to the semi-finals. The formulas for the speech and delivery were followed to the letter, and our guy didn’t win. He chose an international theme, he explained his purpose to the audience (not like a teacher, “This WILL be on the test!”), he told his 3 stories with supporting points, he had a call to action and he was very entertaining! What happened?

One of the top 3 winners mentioned the military. That was one of our 3 big No-Nos. His point was vague…fix it even if it isn’t your problem. Another one used regional stereotypes that wouldn’t be on the radar for most of the international audience, and her point was to make everyone aware that you can’t demand a level playing field if you’re letting your prejudices keep you from giving everyone around you a level playing field too. Good point, but the regional humor was another big No-No. The winner this year had a point that um, hm, well, I think it was making everyone feel like family? The speech was very entertaining and featured this tall, lovely black man in an Indian Wedding outfit trying to fit in with an Indian wedding tradition of protecting the shoes of the groom. He called it an unbelievable story. I called BS because I believed it. Both he and the 2nd place winner had one story with three points instead of three stories. The point is this: Our guy did everything right and lost. The top three did MAJOR No-Nos and won.

The Toastmasters learning method is:

  1. Everyone jumps in
  2. Practice a new aspect of public speaking every project
  3. Get feedback from your peers
  4. Apply it on your next speech

You can see how we used this model in writing our books. You can see that is how we improve our chances in speech contests. There comes a point where you aren’t just working on the surface anymore. Use this topic. Try this hand gesture. Move from the Left to the Right instead.

One of our writers had particular problems writing his chapter because he could only write in 700-word bursts. He had a wonderful story called, “Look Up!” but he just touched the surface. He didn’t use it as a metaphor for life in a more in-depth exploration of humanity. We made him re-write it. It has since been designated as “The Intervention” with cued scary music and something from Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I. Ok, so I used Inquisition instead of Intervention, but the effect was the same. Each time we wrote a chapter for one of our books, we had to dig deeper into the meaning of the words and the phrases that we used, we had to dig into the psychology of the stories and delve into the philosophical abyss that is at the core of our very being! (And not because we got 1000 words in and didn’t know where to go next!) Getting together to discuss books and contest speeches now, we take this kind of approach and we have made some shattering discoveries that we endeavor to put into a 700-word speech that might, just might change someone’s perspective and nudge the world into a better place.

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