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I Pulled A Knife On My Audience

October 26, 2016

Rodney, Bill isn’t here. Can you be Toastmaster today?

You mean for the meeting that was supposed to start 2 min ago? . . Sure.

I was sitting quietly minding my own business, waiting for the meeting to start. I enjoy Toastmasters. It’s a club dedicated to helping members become better speakers. In addition to speaking, Toastmasters gives members chances to learn how to provide constructive feedback, speak extemporaneously, and conduct meetings. It’s interesting to watch someone who might be accomplished at prepared speaking, make the transition to conducting a meeting. Or, watch someone who is completely comfortable providing feedback to someone else’s speech, be asked to speak for two minutes on. . .

Tell us about a time you had to travel more than 100 miles from home. . And GO!

Conducting a meeting can be especially intimidating. It seems simple enough. All you have to do is follow the agenda. Introduce the next thing on the agenda and try to not get in the way. It’s harder than it looks. I used to be a corporate trainer. Training looks easy. In fact, the better you are at it the easier it looks. 

All you do is get up and tell them what’s in the book.

And yet, if you’ve ever attempted to teach a group, you probably had a different experience. It’s about gauging the class. Asking follow-up questions to test understanding. Rewording concepts that are at first confusing. There’s an art and a science to it. Conducting a meeting can be the same way. 

I carry a knife. It’s not a big scary dangerous knife.

 It is the most expensive knife I’ve owned. But, mostly I carry it because I might need it. I don’t live in a dangerous area and I cannot imagine needing it for self defense, although, it’s there if I do. Mostly I use it for the day-to-day things that come up where I need to cut something. A package in the mail? Need to apply packing tape? (Although, a ball point pen is superior. Honestly, try it sometimes. Just poke the pen through the tape to “cut” it.) But, need to cut a piece of string, or a sandwich? 

A pocketknife is just something that I always have. My only complaint about this particular model, is that the tip isn’t strong enough to pry with. But, the point is that I consider it part of being prepared. Often, I’ve loaned it to a friend or coworker. Maybe they got a package in the mail. Or they needed to cut a paper in half. (But, if they are using packing tape, I show them that ball point pen trick.)

My friends know that I have my trusty little Kershaw. At times, they even expect it.

Hey Rodney, can I borrow your knife?

And that’s what went through my mind yesterday at my Toastmasters meeting. 

Rodney, do you want to get up with zero prep time and try to conduct a meeting for 20 people, the contents of which you will see for the first time when you step to the podium?

Sure! Let’s do this.

It’s about preparation. I didn’t expect to conduct yesterday’s meeting. In fact, I had to stand there in front of the room and read the agenda out loud.

Danny is down for Word-of-the-Day. Is Danny here? No? Janet, would you mind providing a Word-of-the-Day for us? Great. Now, who do we have scheduled as speakers?

No prep time whatsoever. And yet, I’ve been preparing to lead that meeting for years. It started in elementary school giving a horrendous speech for fifth grade class president. It continued during a two year proselyting mission for my church. I was preparing during years of leading scout meetings, keeping a dozen boy scouts on task as we learned about knots or plants or snow camping. It was during years as a corporate trainer teaching adults how to use computers. I have been preparing to conduct that meeting for literally my entire life. 

The meeting went great. It didn’t go exactly as planned, but that wasn’t the point. The speakers gave interesting, inspiring speeches. The first speaker, Sandra, is still new to the club. She talked about being pregnant and getting a interview at Google, her dream job, at the same time. The second speaker, James, is a past club president.

So, James, think you can follow that? Are YOU pregnant? 

My introduction got a laugh. The evaluators provided encouragement and the extemporaneous speakers did a brilliant job addressing the day’s topic: Presidential Politics. Overall a great hour. 

I carry a knife because there are times I might be asked to use it on a moment’s notice. I’m glad I had it sharp yesterday.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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