Report by: Kevin Walsh.

Let us enter the meeting room of the Fermoy Toastmasters Club in the riverside Youth Centre at their penultimate gathering of the current season held on Tuesday, April 24th. It was a bright and clear evening and so lovely to see a rowing team glide by with their oars flashing on the majestic waters. By 8.15 a large attendance had gathered and President Kevin O’Neill called proceedings to order with brief but ever cordial words of welcome. Our Toastmaster or chairman of the meeting was Fanahan Colbert who for the next two hours guided things along with an appealing lightness of style and warm humour that quickly fostered a responsive and enthusiastic spirit. Meetings are meticulously planned and organised by our arranger John Sherlock who as always does such an outstanding job. But inside every meeting there is always spontaneity and immediacy as expressed in the topics session where members are asked to speak on any subject for two minutes with further one minute add-ons by other participants.  One member is assigned the task of choosing the themes for the night and taking her position at the top table, Mary Whelan provided us with a very lively and entertaining topics session that paved the way most effectively for the set speeches that were to follow

Club President Kevin O’Neill welcomes everyone to the club meeting of April 24th 2018. To left of picture is Fanahan Colbert acting as Toastmaster or chairman of the evening’s proceedings with ease and assurance and Mary Whelan prepares to share her selection of topical and thoughtful themes for the off-the-cuff section of the meeting. Good topics sessions make for good meetings as we so happily enjoyed that evening.

      Speeches are not random or without purpose but rather fulfil a specific purpose as laid down in one of the communication assignment manuals such as that of using the right words to convey your meaning with clarity and understanding and avoiding all jargon which was the task taken on by Patricia Neilan in a very engaging and quicksilver speech on the ever relevant subject of motivation.  Standing with assured confidence and ease at the lectern, Patricia recalled the long journey that brought her from her native Mexico to Ireland and in particular the huge linguistic leap from Spanish to English, opening the way to a new life here in Ireland with her husband Seoirse, a successful career in IT and active membership of Toastmasters. Indeed she told us of how joining our club was one of the best and most beneficial things that she has ever done.

     There are two types of motivation, she said: one based on an anxious wish to avoid failure in your chosen sphere of life, work and activity, and the other and far more positive and fulfilling one to improve and to build a better future, to enhance your capabilities and to advance on the road of achievement.  Life is hard but we can all do something about making it better. Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without patient and dedicated effort, but all the hard work in the world amounts to nothing if it not driven and sustained by that initial spark of enthusiasm, the motivation to reach out and seek to do something fulfilling and rewarding with your life.  This was such an edifying and uplifting message that drew from evaluator Michael Sheehan a hearty Muchos Gracias – Many Thanks in Spanish which drew a very warm and full-hearted round of applause.

     It is always such a pleasure to welcome a new member go to the lectern to deliver their maiden or Icebreaker speech, as we did that evening with Mark O’Brien of Fermoy but now resident in Kilworth.   Father of his son Ollie and looking forward to getting married later in the year, Mark in a few short minutes gave us a lovely and most enjoyable overview of his life so far, a life that tells a powerful story of reinvention as he told of leaving school at sixteen to work in the construction industry. But after a few happy years thus engaged, he began to feel a sense of wanting to do more and find greater satisfaction. At twenty-one he returned for further education to CIT and acquired a degree in engineering which opened a whole new and exciting career for him, progressing further to gain a Masters in Pharmaceutical Engineering, engaged now in industry, a designer consultancy and has returned to CIT no longer as student but as lecturer. Following on Patricia’s theme of motivation, Mark has shown how it is possible for anyone to begin again and set off on a new path in life, receiving a very warm and welcoming evaluation later from John Kelly. We welcome Mark to our club and thank him for choosing us and wish him well on his new journey of personal growth and enjoyment. We look forward to enjoying the richness of his contribution and above all the pleasure of his friendship.

     Eilish Ui Bhriain took on the challenge of describing a dramatic incident form her own personal experience with a heart-warming animal theme and introduced her story by talking of her love of dogs and cats and with special fondness recalled a cat of years ago who was so closely attached to her father to the point of springing out from the roadside undergrowth and walking back home with him. The central incident however concerned a dog she witnessed wandering apparently lost and abandoned in Patrick Street, Cork. The poor creature seemed destined for a sad end straying out into the traffic until it transpired that all the time he was under the watchful eye and command of a man on a bicycle. Eilish had skilfully built up the tension as we were all drawn into the story and waited in suspense for what the outcome would be:  in its surprising nature, the ending was all the happier and we will long remember with special fondness this doggie tale told in such a relaxed, natural and easy style that underscored its uncertainty. Another notable feature of this speech was the use of the flip chart with illustrations of beautiful cats and dogs that were so charming and delightful, which drew the praise and admiration of evaluator Kevin Walsh.

Timekeeper Tim Fitzgerald pictured with Tricia and Seoirse Neilan together with other members at the club meeting of April 24th 2018. The role of Timekeeper is essential at any meeting operating the system of green, amber and red lights marking the fifth, sixth and seventh minute of set stage speeches. At the red light speakers are expected to bring their presentations to their conclusion and resume their seats. Everyone is allocated the time in which to have their say and utilise it to the full. By significantly going under the allowed time a precious opportunity is left abbreviated for the entire time allocation should be used for the speaker to develop and share their thoughts, views and ideas and thereby helping to achieve their true potential. Going significantly going over the time is to take away the space that rightly belongs to someone else. It is a beautiful system of balance that sets limits not to restrain expression but to enhance it and is a wonderful discipline obliging speakers to cut away all superfluity and to clarify in our minds what we want to say in as light and economical a style as possible before yielding to the next person to rise and make their presentation. The efficient and optimum use of time is at the heart of the Toastmasters ideal. This also applies in the informal topics sessions with two minute contributions for the initial response and one minute allowed for add-ons, these time limits marked by the ringing of a bell by the timekeeper. Also a record of the duration of each speech and phase of the meeting is kept and read out as the Timekeepers’ Report at the summing up of the General Evaluator immediately prior to the final adjournment. Watching time at any Toastmasters’ meeting requires two hours of constant attention and precision and is vital to the running of a smooth and successful gathering. Tim performed his duties that evening to the highest professional standards set in our club over the years. At the bottom right corner of our picture can be seen the top of the speakers’ lectern, the universal symbol of eloquence and freedom of speech.

     Our President Kevin O’Neill addressed the ever difficult issue of road safety which he presented in a clear, direct and lucid approach, effectively using the flip chart to illustrate the changing pattern of accidents on our roads over the years. The most striking statistic was that in 1972, over 600 people died on the roads although there were far fewer cars back then, as compared to just under 160 in 2017. No doubt changed attitudes to drink driving go a long way to explaining the improvement, but the casualty figures remain far too high and represent such a huge volume of preventable human misery and suffering.  Kevin laid bare the causes: alcohol, fatigue, defective vehicles, recklessness and distraction from mobile phones.  He offered very sensible and good advice: don’t speed if you’re late, better to arrive late than not arriving at all. Remove distractions and put phones aside. Drive safely and save a life – it could be your own.  Later evaluator Johanna Hegarty thanked Kevin for having shared with us a speech so full of wisdom, care and common sense.

      Finally we were received a very interesting illustrated lecture from Tom O’Keeffe of Limerick Toastmasters on the new developments in the educational programme of Toastmasters International known as Pathways and which will affect all members throughout the world after it becomes fully operative from 2020 onwards. There is much that is new and exciting about it, offering challenges to be sure but great opportunities as well.  But not entirely without a certain feeling of unease for so much of it is based on use of the Internet, smart phones and futuristic technology. We need to find out so much more. Every organisation must grow and adapt but at the core of what we do in Fermoy Toastmasters as in every club is the joy and pleasure and fulfilment of interpersonal interaction and the regular coming together in friendship and mutual goodwill with humour and fun that makes our meetings so memorably pleasant and entertaining. Long may that so continue: a sentiment so well expressed by our General Evaluator David Walsh.

     And so we come to the final meeting of the current season, our AGM that will be held on Tuesday evening next, May 8th at 8.15 pm in the Fermoy Youth Centre when we celebrate the accountability and democratic nature of our great organisation. We look forward to seeing you there. For further information, please contact Mary Whelan at 087 7971006 or Kevin Walsh at 058 60100 or log on to our mobile-friendly website or find us on Twitter @ FermoyT.