Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Fall Day in Freiburg

October has had a lot of celebration because of 90th Anniversary of Toastmasters on October 22nd. This added a little something special to yesterday's District 95 Division F Fall Contest in lovely Freiburg, Germany. Toastmasters every where are holding division contests in preparation for all of the district conferences that are coming up. This was the last step for Division F (South West Germany) on the way to our district conference in November. Much like the autumn colors outside, there was a lot of color in all the contestants talent and delivery. There was also an excitement in the air as contestants participated in Humorous Speech Contests in German and English and Table Topics (improvisational speaking).

I was really impressed with the very enthusiastic group of Toastmasters in Freiburg who were our hosts. The club had it first meeting in with 4 people back in September 2013 and as of yesterday they have more than 20 members. It is quite an accomplishment to think that a little more than a year ago the club was only the idea of one person and he was able to spread his enthusiasm and excitement to get the club started and with so good support they charted and now were holding a division contest! They're a German speaking club and they told us that they're planning on starting and English speaking club, you just know that they will do this. Hats off to this Toastmaster club!

We were privileged to hear former District 95 Area Governor and now Regional Advisor to Region 11, Morag Mathieson tell us about her Toastmasters adventure. Morag told us about her travels as a Regional Advisor and about a woman she recently met in South Africa who was too scared to speak at her own club and who recently did her Ice Breaker and is now motivated to continue on the path to being a Competent Communicator. She also told us that in our own challenges that we needed three types of people. First, we need Catalysts who inspire us to get started. Second, we need Champions who are there with us along the way, who can advise us in how we can deal with the obstacles that will pop up along the way and can advise and coach us as needed. Lastly, we need Cheerleaders, people who encourage us to keep going when we need a little spirit lifting.

Personally, I was very excited about yesterday's event, because I was actually competing in a division contest for my first time and in two different events. This is not something that I really thought would happen when I gave my Ice Breaker a few years ago. I'm pleased with the opportunity that I've had to develop myself in my public speaking abilities, this is something that is unique to Toastmasters and I can't tell you how much this has meant to me. One of the things that I really enjoy about an event like yesterday is to see the level of talent that was competing and looking at what I can learn from everyone and I will learn.

Within the two Table Topics contests (in German and in English) there were two good questions asked. In the English Table Topics contest we were asked what we would do with one extra hour in a 25 hour day.  In the German Table Topics contest, they were told that Santa (or the Weihnachtsman) wasn't coming, what would they do. As a contestant I only heard two of the English answers (one being my own). In Table Topics you only have a short period of time to formulate your response and depending upon the question and the circumstances at the time, you might be able to put together a brilliant response, but more often than not we come away thinking that I could have said this and I should have said that, but that is human nature and it teaches us how to think our our feet. I liked the German question and the responses because I like the diversity of ways that people celebrate that holiday, knowing that it is celebrated differently from country to country and even region to region within the same country. I can tell you now, that when we do get that extra hour in our days, I'll be ready.

I needed to leave the contest yesterday before the winners were announced. I've just seen that Ben Parsons won the English Table Topics and Kailey Peng won the English Humorous Speech Contest.  Norman Gräter won the German Table Topics and German Humorous Speech Contest. Congratulations to them and all the other participants. I'm curious to find out how the other contestants finished. The Division F Contest seemed like a great way to end all the celebrations related to the 90th Anniversary of Toastmasters that have been happening this month.

To all the Toastmasters who are considering coming to Frankfurt for the first ever District 95 Conference November 14th to 16th, I do hope that you'll decide to attend (the website is here). I was told yesterday that they're expecting around 300 Toastmasters from around Europe. For anyone who is curious to check it out, why not visit an area club (you can search for clubs here) and maybe you can even check out contests and all the wonderful workshops in your first ever district conference, and if you're ever in Wiesbaden, I'd love to have you visit my club.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Blog Action Day 2014: Inequality

This year’s Blog Action Day (BAD) theme is “Inequality” and thousands of bloggers and different organizations from around the world will be writing about it for the 7th annual Blog Action Day on October 16, 2014. Every year Blog Action Day raises awareness about a specific theme and it is always a learning experience for me and all of the participants.  This year is no different.

I’ve been taking part in Blog Action Day since the first one back in 2007 and I’m happy to continue this tradition. I read about the theme that was selected a few months ago and I was thinking about it when I recently gave a speech about the famous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream” speech. I briefly thought about recording myself doing a version of that speech and making it part of my efforts for this year’s theme, but I decided to put that on the back burner for the moment so that I can do an article that is still timely and relevant.

What got me originally thinking about Dr. King’s famous speech was driving in my car one day with my family I heard part of this speech through our car’s speakers, but I was quickly surprised to hear that the speech had been put to dance music and was now a popular pop song in Germany (maybe other parts of Europe for that matter, but I can’t say at this moment). While I was listening to the song, I was thinking how cool is this that a big message from the 60’s was being picked up and taken by a new generation. I don’t know what will happen with this song and what the impact will be but the possibilities are endless, when you consider the inspirational and motivation aspects and what effect that they can have on people and incorporating this into a popular song has that much more possibility to spread the message.  One point of my speech was the torch of Dr. King and his message in the 60’s being picked up by another generation and made a new.

In his famous speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963 (now more that 51 years ago), Dr. King says I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.“ Doesn’t this speak to parents everywhere, we all want a better world for our children? Dr. King’s speech hits on civil rights, discrimination, and inequality. I think that if were giving the speech on Blog Action Day (October 16, 2014) he would probably mention the following things as well.

  • People are often treated unfairly because they’re older or younger
  • People are chastised because of who they love
  • Society today is a lot more polarized with people not willing to listen to other people with different beliefs
  • Religious toleration is at an all-time low
  • People are unwilling to consider new information that might conflict with their personal dogma
  • College education (and education in general) has become so expensive that it becomes more and more out of reach
  • Women and African Americans tend to earn a lot less for the same work as white males
  • Money has long be a divider, but today we’re living in the time of the 1%. Add to this the statistic that the world’s richest 85 people own as much as 3.5 billion people of the world’s poorest people was a big topic of conversation at Davos earlier this year (Richard Fuentes mentions this here)
  • He might even have a few other things to add
Duncan Green, Senior Strategic Advisor at Oxfam wrote an interesting article about inequality. He tells about a few years ago when he was promoting a book of his “From Poverty to Power” in the U.S. and he had to replace “redistribution” with “rebalancing”, because it had become so politically loaded in the U.S. Unfortunately, this is not the only word that has had its former meaning hijacked only to put images in people’s minds that will almost stop any positive discussion and turn it into a heated political discussion where many people will immediately tune you out. Sadly, there are many topics that we can hardly have a sane conversation about any more.

Mr. Green mentions that inequality should not just be equated with income (or money) but views it as “the division of the world into haves and have nots is at its root about power” and the gap between those that have it and those that don’t. He also suggested that we need to be better telling the story of inequality and where the fight has been and is being won. You can think about the abolition of slavery and women getting the right to vote. When we claim to profess and embrace Democracy in much of the world, then we should stop ignoring inequality and so much of the world’s population.

When I think about "Inequality" today, I realize that it means so much more than ability to vote, be hired for a job, eat in a restaurant, or to sit wherever you like on the bus. I encourage you to have a look around the Blog Action Day website, to look around the web to see what people are doing for Blog Action Day 2014, you can also look for #BAD2014, #Bad14, BlogAction14, #inequality, and Blog Action Day as hashtags and keywords. There are some good ideas of how you can participate at the Blog Action Day website, which also links to conversations that they’ve had with some of the sponsors of this year’s event (like Oxfam, All Together Now, and Global Voices).   


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