Report by: Kevin Walsh.
The gift of speech is one of the most beautiful things in the world. It is good to talk and to listen to the language of the heart and the soul. That is what makes all the meetings of Fermoy Toastmasters such special and very happy occasions. All the more so as our latest gathering of Tuesday, February 26th in the ever congenial Youth Centre was our annual Speech and Evaluation Contest which marks such a great milestone in our year and season. It is a showcase for all of the skills and experience that represent the heart and essence of everything that Toastmasters are all about.
It is a delightful challenge to say as much as you can with the only the most essential amount of words in the limited time available of five to seven minutes ensuring that the speaker has finished speaking well before the audience has finished listening. The timekeeper with stopwatch in hand controls a set of multi-coloured lights with green coming on at five minutes, amber at six and red at seven which remains on until the speaker has finished. A little excess is neither here nor there in the normal run of things but in a contest once the seventh minute red light is switched on, contestants have only thirty seconds to finish or else incur automatic disqualification under the rules. Neither the club officers nor the contest judges have any discretion in this. It scarcely ever happens and no such difficulties presented themselves that evening. It is a compelling but very rewarding discipline because it obliges speakers to focus their thoughts, clarify what they want to say and then go to the lectern, deliver their message and then sit down with a job well done.
Four of our very finest members entered this year’s contest and as worthy exemplars of our great and noble ideals of fostering good communications skills and personal growth spoke with accomplished grace and style. Frank O’Driscoll told a very well-crafted and witty story of the selling of a motor car. Jerry Hennessy spoke on the perennial and ever engaging theme of romance. Johanna Hegarty recalled an encounter while out driving with a runaway horse. Mary Whelan drew inspiration from the Shakespearean dictum that ‘if music be the food of love play on’. All gave highly polished and accomplished presentations of memorable range and variety that evoked an enthusiastic response from the audience. It was so uplifting for all of us to listen and enjoy the art of the spoken word being displayed with such finesse and sparkling proficiency.
The actual decision of contest placings is a matter for a panel of judges drawn from other clubs as well as from our own who scattered around the room mark their score sheets with a one minute’s hiatus allowed after each presentation and some two minutes at the conclusion for the final adding up of the points. These ballots are then collected and removed to an appropriate place outside the room to be checked and counted with the chief judge also having the timekeepers report to ensure that no contestant has exceeded the time limit. The result is then returned to the top table and the announcement of the winner and second placed speakers are made.
But before that could take place the second contest of the evening duly began. The Evaluation competition sees a guest speaker deliver a seven minute presentation which is then carefully weighed up and assessed by the contestants. We are all about self-learning. But in that journey of discovery we do not go alone. Every speaker has an evaluator who gives their considered opinion on how the speaker performed, assessing their effective use of words, their keeping to time, on their use of gestures and voice projection and so on. It is the offering of a very positive feedback to enhance the speaker’s aptitude and progress for it is never to criticise but instead to offer all due praise and encouragement for what has been achieved while at the same time pointing the way toward ever greater improvement. No matter how good any of us may be, we can always do better. We build each other up with mutual support and encouragement.
At regular meetings every speaker receives just one evaluation. But in competition a multiplicity of views and opinions are given by the contestants. During the presentation the evaluators listen carefully and write up their notes, thinking carefully and forming their considered view on what they have just heard and seen. An order of appearance is drawn so that apart from the first all the evaluators leave the room so that they cannot hear what the other contestants have said. Each is then in turn called back in to give a brief and concise assessment. For the listeners and indeed the original speaker it is fascinating and illuminating to hear the range of opinions and suggestions given.
Listening to a very fine and impressive speech from Vincent Harris of Mallow Club were John Kelly, Denis O’Brien, Frank O’Driscoll and Johanna Hegarty, all of whom expressed their appreciation and understanding of what they had just heard: a speech drawn from personal experience as Vincent brought his audience on his journey as a young man following the emigrants’ path to England and in particular to Wembley, evoking the pathos of leaving the certainties of home to venture into the unknown, remembering those who helped him and of his successful entry into the world of work and independence told through the lens of nostalgia and warm feeling. The personal story, the human story, the story of the individual that holds within it the universal themes of setting out to make a better life somewhere else only to find there the strong pull of home all making for a greater depth and richness. Once again the judges after completing their score sheets, the same process of counting begins. Judges only have to submit the placings they have awarded, the actual figures given to each contestant under every category remain confidential.
Then the final announcement is made:- in the Evaluation Contest, the First and Second Places went to Frank O’Driscoll and Johanna Hegarty, while in the Speeches Frank O’Driscoll also emerged as Winner, with Jerry Hennessy as Second Placed Speaker. Both the first and second contestants in each category go forward to the next round of competition. Having received the heartiest congratulations of Club President Eilish Ui Bhriain, our happy quartet now proceed to represent us at the next round of competition in the Hibernian Hotel Mallow on Thursday, March 7th. However the joy and pleasure of Toastmasters is to be found at every meeting as it will be again on this coming Tuesday, March 12th, in the Fermoy Youth Centre at 8.15 pm. We look forward to seeing you all. For further information, please contact Mary Whelan at 087 7971006 or Kevin Walsh at 087 1228684 or log on to our mobile-friendly website toastmastersfermoy.com.