Evaluating the blog

Firstly thanks to all who visited my blog for the Toastmasters project, especially those who left comments. More are still welcome.

Most useful are the evaluations of which I have received 2. Thank you very much Romana and Cassie.

Evaluation Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Both agreed that the blog was clear, well written, engaging, and frequent. There were comments about the variety. Both would have liked to see more, particularly personal opinions.

Romana would have liked to get an email when I replied to her comment, as this helps the conversation. It is possible to set this up in WordPress, but there are problems with security and privacy, so I have left it off. It does add to the feeling that I expressed in my speech that blogging provides a lot less feedback than speaking.

At least with a blog, people can read at their own pace, and I don’t have to worry about whether I speak too fast and forget to pause.

8 blog articles in a month is quite a lot, which was commented on by both reviewers. Romana thought they could have been shorter. Cassie suggested using categories and adding a “time for reading” note. I thought this was a good idea and I have added it.

I enjoyed writing the blog articles, but it is hard to think of enough topics. I think people who blog regularly blog often on the same topic and provide news and commentary. It is common for this project to blog about the toastmasters club as a means of attracting new members.

Cassie wants me to survey members to see if more people have accessed the blog after my speech.

So it might be some time before I add more to this blog, but who knows!

45 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Blog That Gets 400,000 Visits/m

the PARTY party – Preparing to Speak Professionally

a longer toastmasters speech: 18 – 22 minutes.

delivered on 17 September 2020

No I am not going to speak professionally. That would take a lot of promotion and time. It would be good for my ego, but that is not how I see myself. But this was a fun speech. I pretended to be a party leader, firing up the membership to go out and get us votes for the election.

The speech had 5 parts with times as planned

  1. 3 minutes: Welcome and thanks. Who are we? what is our schedule? I got some members to stand up and take bows for their work: Duncan for putting up the billboards, and Cassie for making the TV ad.
  2. 5 minutes: policy platform number 1. The Great Leap Backwards. This is borrowed from the McGillcuddy Serious Party. The idea is that the peak of civilisation was reached at the beginning of the 19th century at the time when European settlers arrived in NZ. It has been all downhill (a blind alley of progress) ever since. We should go back to a simpler time without burning fossil fuels and forcing people to slave over a computer all day. More people will work on the land and craftsmen will support them by making tools and bread etc. Entertainment can be provided by minstrels and story-tellers, and people can rediscover community.
  3. 5 minutes: policy platform number 2. Happyness. It would be everyone’s right to be happy. In fact everyone would be obliged to be happy. We wouldn’t copy the Americans and enshrine the pursuit of happiness in the constitution, which doesn’t seem to lead to much happiness itself. We would change the Bill of Rights to add the right to be happy, and any laws that make people unhappy would have to be changed. We would make it a crime to not be happy, but instead of punishing unhappiness people would get treatment. This would have the effect of emptying our prisons and stopping the use of psychoactive drugs as crime and dependency stem from unhappiness.
  4. 5 minutes: policy platform number 3. Abolish money. The use of money encourages the accumulation of wealth, which causes the vast mal-distribution of resources that causes deprivation and misery. Without money people will only produce what they need and what they can trade with their neighbours. Where wider trade is necessary we would go back to using pounamu (greenstone). This has the advantage that it would be very hard to hoard and can be made into jewelry even if it is not needed for tools.
  5. 3 minutes: summary. What do we still have to do before the election? How do we go out and sell the party and the platform? Why is it our time? How we are going to double our support every day?

How did it go?

I lost my train of thought a couple of times, and missed out on some material, so the times ended up being a little short (17:55). In general it went well. Nobody fell asleep. Some found it amusing. There was some audience engagement. Maybe I should have asked the audience some questions, or got them to repeat the slogans.

Rana did the evaluation. he was quite complementary. He recommended I use a cheat sheet so that I don’t forget what I was going to say. Useful, but if I prepare properly I shouldn’t forget. His challenge was to use more time, as this is the point of the project.

The timekeeper (Mitch) also commented that I could have added a little more detail to eke out a little more time from the speech.

So I learned a lot from the exercise. I would have to do more work if I was to speak professionally, but can have confidence to give longer speeches. I look forward to hearing other members attempting the project.

Back to the blog

The toastmaster’s project “Write a compelling blog”.

The project requires me to write a minimum of 8 blog posts in a month. That means that I will be adding a post every 2-3 days to this blog during September. I will probably write about the things that occupy my thoughts:

  • toastmasters
  • cycling
  • work (technology)
  • politics
  • covid-19

I might also throw in something else just to confuse people.

So lots have happened since I last picked up my pen keyboard. In response to the pandemic, NZ has settled on a strategy of elimination and we experienced 5 weeks of stringent lockdown, followed by slowly freeing up until we had 2 months of almost normality. Now that we are in the second phase of a second wave it might be another 2 weeks of level 2 before we can breathe again.

So yesterday, I decided I needed to go back to the office and toastmasters. It was great to get back on the bike, and as a bonus the days have lengthened to the point that it was light at 7am when I left home. Traffic seemed as heavy as ever, and my legs seemed sluggish after days of inactivity.

My bike – I have acquired more lights since this photo was taken.
The sort of hazards I encounter cycling to work
A more scenic part of the commute

The office was mostly empty with only 3 others on my part of the floor. It was nice to visit a cafe for lunch and have some real conversations. Work meetings were online and I could have done everything from home just as easily. This is our new normal – we are allowed to go to the office but no more than half of us can be there at once. No more than 2 people in a lift at a time, and the stairs are marked, one set for up and the other for down. Most people are happy to stay at home.

Toastmasters at level 2 is much the same without the handshakes. We space the chairs out and probably our capacity is not much more than 10.

More people are scanning the QR codes, but still not enough. The only way we can avoid lockdowns is to know quickly who we are in contact with so tracing is quick. We will continue to get outbreaks. People and goods are coming and going and although we make the odds of infection form each interaction low, over time it adds up. NZ’s situation of many weeks of level 1 freedom interspersed with 2-4 weeks of restrictions when some gets through, is probably the best we can get. It would be nice to think we can share travel bubbles with the islands (without putting them at risk) or other countries (without putting us at risk), but that seems far off.

I wrote a speech (below) 3 years ago about voting and the election. I pondered how the chosen government would react to a war, a recession or earthquake. I didn’t think about a terrorist attack, a volcano or a pandemic, but I am happy with our choice, as I think the leadership we have experienced has been exemplary.

…and just as I write this, I learn that someone has died from covid-19 in Middlemore. It seems he has been in ICU on a ventilator for some time. It is very sad, and underlines how much we need to control the virus until we have effective medicines and/or a vaccine.

Time Travel

My humorous speech this year.  Good enough to win the club contest, but not placed at area contest.  (At least I won the area Table Topics contest as consolation)


I am a time-traveller.  To prove it I will go forward in time and see who will have won the upcoming election.  The process will take about 2 days.

One thing I cannot do is come back afterwards to this present and tell you the result.  You will have to travel through time along with me and learn it at the same time as everyone else.  In other words, you will have to wait.

Contest chair, Fellow toastmasters and especially the esteemed judges.

Time travel, also known as chronomotion, is real. We all travel in time and all only in one direction.  Sometimes we may seem to be travelling faster than others and sometimes we have a temporal head wind and the transport from one time to another seems very slow. We go through time faster as we get older.

We are sometimes happy about the passage through time. We say “time heals all wounds” or ”in the goodness of time”. Mostly we seem to resent it.  We talk about “saving time”, “the race against time” or even “the ravages of time”.  Some of us dream of being able to “turn back the clock”.

To really turn back the clock would require a time machine like that envisaged by HG Wells,   or the Tardis of Doctor Who, or Harry Potter’s time-turner. If you do go back in time you have to be careful of changing your own history. In “Back to the future”, Marty McFly almost prevents his parents’ marriage which would have had existential implications for him.

One possible complication of time travel is a man could travel back in time and father a child who grows up to be him.  In that case he is his own father and grandfather and great-grandfather,… and so on.  Robert Heinlein wrote a story where the hero was father AND mother to himself.  Work that one out!

Fictional time travel tends to get complicated but in fiction, the paradoxes all seem to be resolved by the time traveller not changing the past, but actually enabling the present.  They act as they need to act to make the past line up with their experience.  Harry Potter went back in the past and summoned the patronus that he had seen before at the same time.  Nothing actually changed.  This is because fiction has to make sense.  We all know that reality is not so constrained.

So! what if we really could control time?  We could read next week’s newspaper to see the election result. Or would we look at the stock prices, or lotto numbers to make wise investments.  We could travel back in time to significant moments in history to meet the heroes or villains.  Or we could rescue extinct animals from the past.  Imagine having Moa in the Zealandia sanctuary.

Many of us would like to go back to fix some mistakes we have made.  Think of all the embarrassing moments that could just disappear.

At least it would be nice to be able to skip the boring bits.  Imagine going to an airport 2 hours before your flight, checking in and then immediately getting onto the plane as it is about to take off.  No wandering aimlessly among the shops, staring out the window at other people’s planes taking off, or drinking endless cups of coffee.  It would of course, not be welcomed by the duty free shop owners, which rely on a captive audience to attract our money.

But! Is it possible to change the flow of time?  Physics says the answer is a definite maybe.   There is nothing in the laws of physics that says time has to travel only in one direction.  It is possible that somewhere in the universe time runs backwards and all we have to do is travel there.

Wormholes are tunnels that connect two parts of the universe together, Like the Mt Victoria tunnel, the two ends might be in different places, but they could also be in different times.  We could travel through the tunnel and instead of finding an airport, we could see a swamp with Moa running around. Wormholes seem to be possible, but they would require enormous energy which could only be provided by harnessing the gravity of black holes. Unfortunately there are no black holes in New Zealand, apart from perhaps the airports’ duty free shops.

The possibility of time travel does interesting things to the language.  How do we talk about an event that occurred in a past time, but later in our personal time line? Did it happen, or will it happen, or will it have happened, or has it will have happened?

After coming back from a trip to the future do you tell people about the things you have seen will happen?

Can we we say we saw something next week, or promise we will do it yesterday?

If you meet yourself in another time what form of address do you use?  Is it appropriate to address yourself as “you”?  Or is it “Hey me”?

I can’t rule out the possibility of time travel, but I can confidently say that humans will never master the ability to travel backwards in time.  I know that humans will never control time because I know that humans cannot be relied on to control ourselves.  If we ever will have developed the ability to travel backwards in time then someone has will have misused it and travelled backwards and sold the technology to the future past.  That means that if time-machines ever exist then they will always have existed. You couldn’t hush that sort of thing up!

So now my time is up and I should teleport back to my seat one step at a time.  We have all travelled 7 minutes during the course of my speech. Isn’t the future a wonderful place? I hope that I have used my time wisely and that you will not think that I have wasted yours.

Toastmasters speech on voting

“Democracy is the worst form of government,…  except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”

Fellow toastmasters and welcome guests

This quote from Winston Churchill evinces our love/hate relationship with voting and government.  There are many forms of governance with various levels of participation from Anarchy to Dictatorship.  Our form of representative democracy gives us very little control over decision making but it has one big advantage.  The possibility, probability and perhaps even certainty of regular and orderly changes of government.  Because there is nothing that keeps a government in check more than knowing that sooner or later they will become the opposition.

Over the next 7 weeks we will have the chance to decide who we want to govern us for the next 3 years.  This is our only chance to have our say, because after the voting is finished we go back to being passive recipients of government decision making – good or bad, competent or incompetent, benevolent or malevolent.  So how can we decide?  Are we hard-headed rational actors, or do we decide based on feelings?  Do we like a party’s policies or do we even trust them to follow through?  Do we know who is on a party’s list, or do we just vote for the leader?

Restructuring has hit parliament and the MPs are having to re-apply for their jobs.  The roles are open to anyone.  Now the parties and MPs are presenting their CVs and turning up for job interviews.  It is a 3 year contract with likely extension if they show competence.  The unsuccessful candidates will have to wait another 3 years to apply.  Anyone who has served on an interview panel will know what to look for in a candidate, and what can go wrong if you choose the wrong person.

Democracy is hard!  It is up to us to put some effort into the choice.  If we go into the ballot box with no idea how we will vote then we are failing in our duty.  We have not prepared enough and are likely to make an ill-considered choice. If we don’t bother to vote because we can’t put any attention to considering the options then we deserve any negative consequences.  We have seen overseas with Brexit, Duterte, and Trump that elections can make a big difference.  We have also seen elections where there is no real difference as the ruling party doesn’t allow it.  Luckily in New Zealand none of the choices are likely to lead to disasters, but the parties vary enough that voting does make a difference.  So it is worth our while putting some effort into the choice.

As toastmasters we should be listening to politicians’ speeches and evaluating them.  We want to know how they are trying to manipulate us.  What rhetorical devices are they using?  Any awkward alliterations? Advertorial style metaphors? Hyperbole, puffery and exaggeration? Do they repeat themselves again and again and again and again? Is understatement likely?  I think not!

Are they appealing to our minds, our hearts, our souls or our stomachs?  Or do they appeal to baser emotions: fear, envy, greed or hatred? Are they concealing something?  Are they trying to fire us up?  Or put us to sleep? We should also be thinking about our listening skills. Are we hearing what they are saying, what they are implying, or what they are keeping silent about?

Do we remember what the government promised 3 years ago?  Have they delivered?  What are they promising for the next 3 years.  What are the other parties promising?  Do we trust them to deliver?  What happens if circumstances change? (a war, a recession, an earthquake perhaps), who do we trust to be capable, flexible and honest?

I urge you to go out and listen to the candidates, read their manifestos, read the commentaries in the newspapers and talk to people you trust.  You should have the opportunity to meet your local candidates.  Go out and engage them in conversation.  Most of them will be quite different in person to what you see on TV.  Ask them the hard questions.  Listen carefully and respectfully.  No matter whether you like their policies, pretty much all MPs go into parliament wanting to make things better.

You might choose to stay away from political blogs.  They will typically be biased in favour of or against some parties.  The comments could make you want to give up the thought of voting.  The newspapers, radio and TV DO have some bias.  Try to recognise bias, and think around it, but also remember that it might be you that is out of step!  There are good objective and well researched commentary sites, but really you should go to the sources (the candidates and the parties) and make up your own mind.

If you find someone or some party that you really want to be elected then think how you might help them.  Consider joining the party or donating.  Volunteer to help them with mailing or door knocking.  Put up a sign on your front lawn and be prepared to talk to your neighbours about your choice.  As a member of a party you get to do some work, but you also get to have some say in what gets done.  Use your toastmasters’ leadership skills and join the local committee.  Or better still use the speechmaking skills and become a candidate.

Most of us will not display that level of commitment to any one party or candidate.  But still we can carefully weigh up the differences.  Is it tax cuts or welfare?  Business or environment? Regulation or deregulation?  The differences are not always clear,  but we should be clear about what we are looking for to be able to choose the best representative for us.

How do the promises of the various parties match our own morals and philosophies?  What have they done in the past that has gone well or badly?  All of us will have our own core concerns.  Do we value honesty or are we prepared to accept being lied to for the sake of getting things done?  Do we value openness in government or do we accept that the government knows best and doesn’t need to share the details.

Some people will say that it doesn’t matter who we vote for, because they are all liars, and they all put themselves first.  “Don’t vote it only encourages them” some might say.  But I think this is cynicism and just encourages the worst practices.  While none are perfect, there are differences and you can choose to vote for the ones that best match your values.  Competence and ability are required, as also are passion and respect.

In New Zealand we get two boxes to tick.  One vote for the local candidate should go to the best candidate, regardless of what party they come from.  Feel free to split your vote if you want!  The second tick is for the party.  Remember that the party vote determines who is the government, so be careful who you give that to.

You may decide that no party or candidate is worthy of your vote.  Think carefully about this.  We don’t expect politicians to be perfect.  They are human after all.  If you object to them all then perhaps you may choose not to vote.  I would recommend going into the voting booth and writing “no confidence” on the paper.  It will be recorded as an “informal” vote.  It doesn’t count.  It will go into the same box as those who intend to vote, but make some mistake.  However it is recorded, and is not the same as just not bothering.

In other countries, in other times people have had to fight for democracy.  In other countries, in other times ballots are accompanied by bullets and voting is dangerous, yet still people risk turning out to vote.  In other countries, in other times people have carelessly given up the right to vote and then suffered the consequences.  We are lucky.  We can vote for the candidate of our choice without any risk to our safety or employment.  Not voting would be disrespectful to our predecessors who fought for our rights and to those in other countries who would love to have our power.

The election is not really for the candidates.  It is about us and our chance to influence the next few years in New Zealand.  This is our chance to make a difference.  The candidates are working hard to be noticed by us.  The promises, the candidate meetings, the debates, the hoardings, the pamphlets, the kilometers of travel, the door knocking is all for us.  They may ignore us for the rest of the 3 years, but now is our time.

Remember! We each have one vote, so use it and use it wisely.

Club speech contests

So 3 club contests entered for 2 firsts and a second.  It sounds better than it really is.  I was very unprepared for the Midcity humorous contest.  I think the basis of the speech was good, but it needed more preparation and I needed to work the laughs better.

Still, winning both Avon’s and Midcity’s table topics is not bad.  Will I be able to get to the area contests?  I think the Area contests should be winnable, but the divisions will be hard.  Would I want to go to Invercargill?  I suspect I will miss out because of the timing anyway.

It was fun being contest chair at Avon (25/08/2016) and my speech would have needed a lot of work to be competitive there.  Some things to work on.  Always a lot to learn at toastmasters.

Competent Communicator

So I have finished 10 speeches (July 2016).

Thanks Terry for the evaluation.  Yes I agree it didn’t exactly fit the requirements of the project, not inspiring enough.

I still have another speech to do on Tuesday in Christchurch.  I could do the same again (with visual aids) or I could do an entertaining speech.  Can I write another speech in time?

Toastmasters – Club Leadership Training

Having undertaken to be a club officer in 2 clubs, I need to do some training.  To get points for the Distinguished Club Programme for the clubs, I will have to do training in both Wellington and Christchurch.

Last night was in Christchurch.  The training took place in a baptist church a long way from my normal haunts in the CBD.  There were more than 80 attendees after more than 70 had attended on Saturday.

The MC, Shen, and other speakers/facilitators were articulate as expected and it all ran to time.

First was a workshop with other VP Memberships (my officer role at Avon).  we discussed how to encourage new members and meetup seemed to be a popular advertising choice, but local newspapers and neighbourly seemed to be worth trying too.  At least one club had the problem of not wanting to encourage new members because of lack of space, or time.

Other workshops I attended covered marketing, making meetings moe exciting and using the CL manual.  There was a joint session on DCP (Distinguished Club Programme) and Rob gave a talk about the region G newsletter which he is going to be editor for.

Supper was good (although the only hiccup of the night meant that it was not quite ready on time).  It was good to meet so many toastmasters.

Things I need to do:

  1. Update the new member sheet for Avon club
  2. Think about membership activities to try with VP promotions for Avon
  3. Find a replacement for Avon.

I also got some ideas for Midcity,  particularly about getting a calendar together and getting people to work on their CL manuals.


Toastmasters is a system to help learn public speaking.

I have been going to 2 groups as I split my time between Wellington and Christchurch

In Wellington I go to Mid City group on Thursdays


In Christchurch I go to Avon group on Tuesdays


and I have also been to a group in Petone which meets once a month on Friday


I think I have become more confident in general and better able to construct and deliver a speech/presentation that people want to listen to.