Thursday, 29 April 2010

Learn to Speak like Clegg Cameron and Brown - ASC national conference

Left: The Park Inn Hotel; Right rowing boats on the Ouse.
The national Speakers Club (ASC) Weekend Conference and Competitions

York 2010

impressions of a “Newbie”



Have you been watching the media analyse the speaking abilities of Clegg, Cameron and Brown?

Could you make a speech yourself?

Do you know in the UK there is an organisation with over 100 clubs where people meet fortnightly to learn how to make a better job of giving speeches? – whether as beginners, learning how to get over their nerves and just say a few sentences – or as ace speakers.. entering competitions .. such as the ones I attended this weekend.

It is the first time I have been to an ASC (Association of Speakers Clubs) Finals and Weekend Conference - Would you like to hear about my trip there, to York? - You may if -

1. If you are a person who attended the conference - so you can enjoy reminiscing

2. If you are a Speakers-club person who missed the conference – so you can see what you missed

3. Most important – if you are a person who doesn't know anything about speakers clubs but who might become more interested and take the plunge in a local club – I recommend it!

Five years ago I joined Craven Speakers Club in Skipton, Yorkshire, and became “hooked”. (Craven is the name of our area – our group of 15 people are not at all craven – indeed, after a attending a few meetings, however shy initially, our members all become very brave. Well braver.)

What happens at a Speakers Club? Members of speakers clubs practise giving mini-prepared speeches and three minute unprepared “on the spot” speeches, like the radio programme “just a minute”. Then the more experienced members evaluate the speeches. They give really helpful tips showing how presentation can be improved, such as:

“More pauses - ”

“Look at the audience -”,

“Gestures- Don't clutch the lectern – don't wave your arms around all the time – but do use gestures to illustrate points.”

“Use more word pictures- similes, more adventurous vocabulary” etc”.


We learn from seeing other speeches analysed and by preparing speeches ourselves with the aid of a helpful manual. Skipton is a small friendly club and each fortnight there is opportunity for nearly everyone to perform or carry out some job if they wish, from operating the lights to manning the raffle, from delivering a speech to evaluating a session.


There are Speakers Clubs throughout the country linked within The Association of Speakers Clubs:- 115 clubs in England, Scotland and Wales..


We all have annual competitions in our club and the winners then go onto competitions at Area level and District level and then the finalists from the eight Districts compete at the National Conference. This year the conference was being hosted by our District – the Eastern District - which has nine clubs and stretches from us in Skipton, via Bradford and Leeds and York all the way up to Newcastle.


Now I just love going to our local meetings, but have not had much interest in the area and district meetings –due to time constraints and distance. However when the National Conference was to be held in our district, and when I could see how much it meant to the more experienced members of our club, who had been looking forward to it over a year in advance, I changed my work arrangements specially so that I would be free to go this weekend, the 23rd April 2010.


So, after a hard morning sorting my calendar and other last minute jobs,: .. Friday afternoon found me driving the two hours from Settle to York, wondering if I would find somewhere to park close to the hotel without having to pay more than £10, and hoping I could be helpful to my club and region by carrying out my allotted job of helping steward the tombola.


The traffic built up.. and up..and the roads became more and more urbanised as I progressed east, away from quiet Settle and Skipton. More and more stressful - Would I get caught by speed-cameras as a struggled to remember whether I was in a 20, 30, 40, or 50 miles an hour zone? I kept braking every time I drove over those wretched white lines with a yellow box nearby. I had chosen to go via Ilkley, Otley and Tadcaster. (Should I have gone by train? – but no – then I would have been stuck with no transport at night.)


Two years previously I had travelled with ASC friends to the same Park Inn Hotel. It is on the bank of the River Ouse in the centre of York. It was to an ASC meeting to hear Archbishop John Sentamu who was then the “ASC Speaker of the Year”. I approached York along the A64. Would I would miss the turnoff as had one of our members who had overshot and almost reached Scarborough? (I have to include this - it is part of the folklore of our club). I turned off, one turning too early, but no matter, it brought me safely to the same NCP Carpark just before the station that we had used on that occasion – and arriving at 4.05 pm meant that I would only have to pay £2-40 the night rate. The car parking man was helpful and friendly

The tombola stand
Relief!

I was here.

I slipped into the hotel, registered, and found the Tombola Stand.

Yes, I was needed on the stand, and would just have time to go and find a bite to eat in York before starting at 6pm. It was nice to have a roll and be needed. Sorry, I mean a role. I actually bought a packet of chips and tomato ketchup. And I found a superb shop called “Hawkins Bazaar – because life is too serious” Selling tricks, optical illusions and fun games -more of that on Saturday. Back to the conference for my stint on the tombola stand.


“Five tickets for £1-00. Roll up, roll up. Lots of valuable prizes. Tickets ending in five or nought.” Eileen showed me a box of spare prizes for situations when we could not find the relevantly labelled prize. Our stall was at the top of the entrance stairs we saw people as they stepped up, and we welcomed them.


At 8pm the topics competition started. Over 200 people packed into the large hall to watch ..

The eight contestants were introduced and then all except the first person, taken out.

The topic that each person had to speak on was ...

The Eight Topics Speech Contestants
“ Happy returns”.

It was fascinating to discover the different interpretations each speaker gave for this topic especially as each had not heard the previous speakers.

How many different themes can you think of based on “ Happy Returns” – apart from the obvious “Many happy returns” for a birthday?

…. (Long pause while I let you think)

As each person stepped up on to the end of the very wide stage they were told the title. I scrutinized each speaker as they were being told. Their composed, smiling expressions did not change. If it was me I would be grimacing or rolling my eyes, or closing them as I desperately tried to think of something vaguely relevant to this topic. If they were following the standard recommended advice, they would be thinking up an aim for their speech, a punch line finish and a punch line start, all as they stepped up onto the stage, and walked to wards the chairman who showed them a card with the words HAPPY RETURNS.

“Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen...” The first speaker started and the time keepers set the two clocks going to time the speech – It should be exactly 3 minutes long. The speakers could see the lights but the audience could not easily see the lights which was a shame – if the speaker over runs or under runs they are penalised. I find, as member of the audience, that watching the lights adds to the excitement. Will the person manage to keep going for thee minutes? Will they get carried away and overrun... and as the time is nearly up, how are they going to finish?

Well, did you think of eight variations on Happy returns?

1. The first lady spoke about bank interest rates. “We are not getting happy returns a the moment,” she sadly said, which brought a supportive laugh.

2. The second, Dilwyn, spoke about Biggles – I am still not quite sure of the link – was it that there had been lots of Biggles annuals so that Biggles was now very old – hence lots of birthdays. Or was it because Dilwyn liked to read Biggles books. Or was it because the aircraft returned safely. (I have since been onto the internet – yes there is one book “Biggles fails to return”. Anyway Dilwyn waxed lyrical about Biggles Books. He had a strong Welsh speaking voice with lots of pauses and drama and we enjoyed hearing him.

3.The third, a lady, started talking about the people unable to return to the UK by air because of volcano dust but then switched to the upcoming Football Competition in South Africa and hoped “our boys” would win and so have a happy return. (She won!)

4. The fourth talked about returning to places you had been before – but that returning to the past too much is not  wise  and it is better to look forward. A car has a big front windscreen, but only a small mirror for looking backwards – It is more important to look forward. (This one came second)

5. The fifth - a lady with dark hair - Can someone remind me of her slant on the subject?

6. The sixth, a man, talked about why a person would be happy to return to the UK from Australia or Canada

7. The seventh talked about leaving things on trains, and about their sentimental value and the relief if the item was returned – that struck a chord for me.

8. The eighth talked about buying birthday cards that were small enough to fit into you jacket pocket, got onto shop lifting and then somehow got onto “Manual Handling Regulations” (MHR).

Eight different interpretations of the one phrase!

Scattered amongst the audience were eight judges with forms to fill in for each contestant – I really admire the judges – a three minutes speech, 30 seconds silence afterwards to write notes, then another two minutes of so whilst the next contestant entered and put on a microphone – how did they sort it all out!!!

They had 15 minutes to confer, then the chief judge came back and gave a report on how the topic speeches could have been improved in general and announced the three winners. All eight were winners in that they had all won their regional competitions.
The contestants were videoed, and if I send off for the CD, I can watch them all over again.

The three topics winners receive their trophies (Order: third, first, second)

I helped sell some more tombola tickets then collected my car and drove to where I was staying, reflecting that I had had a productive evening.


Saturday


I'll keep Saturday short – unlike the AGM

Saturday morning was the AGM. I won't go into the business- someone, somewhere, will write up the minutes. We were introduced to the new committee. It was going to be a 2 ¾ hour session with no breaks. Someone asked for a break but we were told just to take comfort breaks when we individually needed one. After about an hour and a half I decided that I needed one ..and having got the flavour of the AGM, had seen the new committee, and was very grateful for the committee for doing the work for the ASC, I  escaped into the sunlight.




I spent two hours in the sun exploring York. A quiche and a mushroom and beansprout salad in an ancient church used as a restaurant sustained me and then I walked beside the river, watching the oars-ladies in their rowing boats. I visited the Observatory in the Museum Gardens which has a telescope built in 1850. I watched the people sunbathing in the gardens. I reached an open area of grassland beside the river. . Then I returned ...via the Hawkin's Bazaar.

I had fun. I bought a variety of objects (mostly small and plastic and made in China, I am afraid) - objects that school children use to drive their teachers/parents up the wall: Colourful plastic tubing woven springs that shoot across the room when released; Paper rolls on a stick that flick out into a wand and flick back again. I bought a mirascope - an optical illusions toy that I had wanted to buy for a long time. I bought a little box that makes a variety of sounds -including wolf whistles, a door bell, “bing”, a burp “burp” and clapping (clapping) – “This sound will do at the ASC conference,” I thought, “if my hands were getting tired of clapping”.


In the afternoon I watched the speech competition.

I attended the dinner with speeches. The food was tasty – Lamb shank - established to be British lamb after we had politically asked the waiter.

There were some well tought out speeches. The new Chairman's son gave a speech – He had just joined his local speakers club last year, so was full of enthusiasm about speakers clubs.


Yes, pleased though I was to have seen the committee, heard some superb speeches and heard the judges comments, the best part was to have met people from other ordinary clubs from all over the country and to know they are enjoying their regular club meetings as much as I do.


So find out if there is a local Speakers Club near you! Invite your friends to it! Join - and may be you will enjoy it and have many happy returns.


http://www.the-asc.org.uk/

And if you live near Skipton: http://www.craven-speakers.org.uk

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Political Candidates and Election hustings at Settle

Today - 27 April - Churches Together in Settle oganised an election forum for our three main candidates and it was held in St John's Methodist Church.
Here they are - thirsty - and the questioning has not even started!
Father Tony Boylan (second from left) was in the chair and he chaired it efficiently.
We had had to submit our questions by yesterday, and this morning he and Sally Waterson and another lady (C) sorted the questions. C sat in the front row with a clock and a very large green card saying "30 seconds" and a red card saying "Time", which she held up after each candidate had spoken for about 2 minutes.
Third from the left above, is Helen Flynn, the Liberal Candidate. The man on the right was standing in for the Labour Candidate who could not come, and the man on the left is the Conservative Candidate, Julian Smith.
 The question they allowed me to ask (out of the three I submitted), and which I was able to present as the penultimate question was:

"The main wildlife charities in the UK have drawn up a pledge saying "I pledge that if I am elected, I will do all I can to help to stop and reverse the decline in wildlife", and the list includes 10 ways/pledges .

Nine of the sub pledges are about British Wildlife. The tenth is:
'I pledge to reduce our damaging impacts overseas by working to end the destruction of tropical rainforests and protecting the wildlife of the UK Overseas Territories.'
On the website that describes these pledges I notice that the Liberal candidate has signed the pledge, but that the Labout and conservative candidates have not sidgned the pledge. I wonder if the Labout and conservative candidates will read and sign this pledge of at least sections of it."

Both Conservative and Labour people said what a lot of emails they were getting asking them to sign so very many pledges but yes they would look at it and would most very probably sign once they had read it.
http://www.wildlifepledges2010.org.uk/
In the foyer afterwards I talked to Robert who had had a much stronger question about biodiversity he would have liked to ask.  But he was then able to ask Julian Smith a question which I had also submitted but which I had not been able to put:
"What should we be doing about population?. The world population and our population is increasing, it cannot do this forever..."
Julian Smith threw the question back at us and genuinely wanted an answer.  (The Liberal Lady had mentioned in one of her answers, in challenging capitalism - that we needed to rethink "Growth")
"At least we need to discuss it more" I said. People don't even discuss it.


I have been on the internet and see from this page that we actually have 8 candidates in our Skipton and Ripon constituency http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/election2010/results/constituency/e03.stm
Bernard Allen British National Party
Roger Bell Independent
Helen Flynn Liberal Democrat
Dylan Gilligan Youth Party [The] - age 17
Claire Hazelgrove Labour - age 21
Robert Leakey Virtue Currency Cognitive Appraisal Party
- age 95
Rodney Mills UK Independence Party
Julian Smith Conservative



The Day the Trees start to go Green

I always remember each the date April 27th as the date that the trees are significantly coming into leaf down at Settle. (the by May 27th -or is it 17th - the leaves are out fully. But his year as we approached 27th April the trees, with the exception of some hawthorns, have remained very ungreen. So spring is really late (as if lots of people have not been saying this anyway)

The daffodils have been splendid in lots of places - Ripon Daffodil Bends, round Pately Bridge, at the two Langcliffe road signs.  It is mainly because they were held back by the cold weather and now that they have come there have been no stong winds to flatten them. but i also wonder if it is a result of lots of plnating in the last few years.

Today I went up to Colt Park Wood, which is quite a bit higher than Settle - the Ash flowers were just coming out. We found Moschatel and Alternate-leaved Golden-saxifrage in flower. The Bird-Cherry buds were just swelling and starting to open.

The rooks in the rookery were contributing to the nitrogen content of the soil.. I can see why nettles do so well in some parts of the wood!

The Hawthorn buds were just starting to open - I tried eating one.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Anthoxanthum odoratum - Sweet vernal-grass

Grass of the Month


I'm going to tell you a poem .. one that not only has secret hidden tips on how to identify this grass of flower rich hay meadows .. but also revels in the joy of finding it.

The picture on the right has two Sweet Vernal-grass heads in the foreground and a barn with a traditional haymeadow beyond. (It was actually taken in early June)

Sweet Vernal-grass, which starts to flower at the end of April or beginning of May, is one of the first grasses to flower - apart from Blue Moor-grass in northern limestone areas and Annual Meadow-grass which flowers all year.
It has small flat leaves and the emerging leaf rolled - like Common Bent-grass, and several other common pasture grasses - but it is distinctive in having hairs at the edge of the base of the leaf blade.







 April: Sweet Vernal-grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum)

I spy you in the meadow
I spy you in the wood
I scent you in the hay stack
You make me smile -It's good.
Small upright head you greet me
With dandruff-like white flecks
I see your flag leaf waving
What will you think of next?
And when you try to hide you
In grazed and grassy glades
That golden green it sparkles,
Under your drooping blades.
I pounce, lens at the ready,
to see if I am right
I look at blade base edges
Yes - whiskers there alright.
With shoot held close to my eye
Your roots are close to nose
That coconuty coumarin
Smell slowly on me grows
I spy you in the meadow
I spy you in the wood
I scent you in the hay stack
You make me smile -It's good.

Explanation: -
1 I spy you in the meadow
I spy you in the wood
I scent you in the hay stack
You make me smile -It's good.
Sweet vernal-grass is the only common grass to have a smell, and it gives the scent to hay.
It grows in traditional flower rich hay meadows - but will grow in other places too such as woods, road verges and your garden
2 Your upright head it greets me
With dandruff-like white flecks
I see your flag leaf waving
What will you think of next?
It has a long oval/obovate head. There is an appearence of dandruff on the inflorescence head. This is due to the long white stigmas and also the filament stalks of the white anthers get left behind. It has a short flag leaf half way up the plant.
3 And when you try to hide you
In grazed and grassy glades
That golden green it sparkles
Under your spiral blades.
It is a small tufted plant with flat blades and the emerging leaf rolled, so could look like the very common grass Common bent (Agrostis capillaris) with which it grows. But its blades are a little bit wider and the under surface of the blades are a slightly orangish shining green. The blades spiral very slightly on their own axis, and droop very slightly so it is possible to see both surfaces at once.
4 I pounce, lens at the ready,
to see if I am right
I look at blade base edges
Yes - whiskers there alright.
What it says.
5. With shoot held close to eye
Your roots are close to nose
That coconuty coumarin
Smell slowly on me grows
The smell of coumarin can be described as like coconut but also like creosote. the smell gets stronger as the plant dries.
Sweet woodruff, a white flower found in ancient woodlands has shoots with this small too and it is/was sometimes picked and dried and stored with linen to keep it smelling nice
6. I spy you in the meadow
I spy you in the wood
I scent you in the hay stack
You make me smile -It's good.


Looking down onto a grazed tuft of Anthoxanthum in mid April



An individual shoot held up to the light.
See the hairs at the base of the leaf blade.
You can see here that the emerging leaf is rolled - the part on the right is not a stem coming out but a blade rolled up.



View through Swiss army penknife-lens.
See the hairs at the base of the leaf blade.
The hairs show up well in the shadow.
1mm squares on the graph paper.