Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Early Birds Toastmasters Three Years Later

Almost three years ago to the day, I gave my CC9 speech at my then home club Nairobi Toastmasters on the need to set up a new toastmasters club. It's been my great privilege since then to see dozens of enthusiastic men and women come together and form what is without a doubt the best club in Kenya - Early Birds Toastmasters. Recently one of our members at Early Birds who flew back to San Francisco where he's domiciled told me that Early Birds also beats hands down the three clubs he visited in San Francisco. I am excited at how far we've come and I look forward to another three years of being part of the born ready leaders at Early Birds Toastmasters.

Enjoy the speech below

Early Birds

How many can tell me what the first toastmasters promise is?

Fellow toastmasters and guests, today I’d like to present you with an opportunity. An opportunity that helps you achieve that first promise, but can also result in so much more. My friends - both old and new - today I want to ask for your support in the creation of a new toastmasters club, The Nairobi Early Birds Toastmasters Club, that will meet once a month at 6:45 in the morning. You can support the new club by attending its meetings, becoming a sponsor, a member, inviting guests or participating in the soon to be held demonstration meeting.

I want to take the next few minutes telling you why we need this club, how it will benefit us individually, and what we need to do to make it a reality.

We currently have four chartered clubs in Nairobi and at least four more in the foundational stages, so the question is why do we need another one? The Early Birds Club is needed because unlike all these other clubs, which meet at lunchtime, in the afternoon, or in the evening this one will meet in the morning. 

One of the major challenges facing toastmaster clubs is the members’ sheer inability to make it for meetings on time. This could be because of demanding schedules, heavy traffic, or evening classes. Equally needing redress is the problem that when all we do in toastmasters is give speeches or take roles, we risk relegating Toastmasters to just another item on our daily to-do list instead of the life changing experience it can be.

Your support today can help overcome these challenges, by creating a club that meets early in the morning.

When I look at some of your faces, I can almost read your minds thinking: “but 6:45 AM is too early?”

Is there really any benefit to holding a club meeting starting so early in the morning and is there anything for you to be gained by supporting such an early morning club? I don’t want to brush off this concern simply by talking about worms. Instead I want you to recall throughout your lives and career what you have done when you wanted to achieve success?

When in school, did you get up before the rooster crowed to prepare for your lessons ultimately resulting in you performing well in your exams? At work, did you get to the office earlier than everyone, being more productive and catching the eye of your boss when it came to promotions? In your business, did you make use of the quite of the morning to strategize, helping you deliver greater revenues and reduced costs?

So when it comes to transformative change through the benefits of toastmasters, is 6:45 once a month really too early?

But the benefits of morning meeting are overrated, no one will come they retort.

On the contrary: your supply of willpower is greatest in the morning, when you are fresh from sleep and harbor no negative experiences or thoughts. As James Karundu can attest this time has been found by clubs such as Business Network International to be the most opportune for achieving the greatest productivity. One productive hour in the morning can transform your entire day. 

Another benefit is the relatively lighter traffic and calendar at this time of the day makes it easy to get to the meeting and enjoy it without disruption – ensuring crisper and more fruitful sessions.
What other reason does one have to come? CEOs and senior managers will be naturally attracted to meetings held during the least busy part of their day and this is a plus if you’ve been trying to get their attention. The friendly social atmosphere that is prevalent in toastmasters gives you a great chance to meet with them and build strong rapport.

“But I’m just too busy, I can’t spare the time” is something else you expect to hear.

Well according to research by the Times magazine, 1 in 4 of us spends 30 hours in a year just glancing at our phone to see if there’s anything new. All Early Birds asks for is 12 hours in a year.

Whether or not you can attend the morning meetings and whether or not you can become a member, your support for the creation of this club will change someone’s life for the better, and that will be a legacy you can forever be proud of as a toastmaster.

If you do not support the formation and development of the Early Birds Club, we risk losing an opportunity to make a real difference through toastmasters; but if you do you shall be a pioneer of a club that epitomizes success comprising the go-getters of society and business. A club that radiates energy and optimism and imbues in them a positive buzz that lasts the whole day and contributes to their achievements.

Are you still trying to figure out what is first toastmasters promise? Let me conclude with my personal story and why I believe the Early Birds Club can help you, me and future toastmasters keep the promise: the promise to attend meetings regularly.

The year I joined toastmasters, 2008 was one of the worst years of my life. A combination of factors had led to my business nearly collapsing; the post-election violence had personally affected me, and my life held little meaning beyond eating, working, and sleeping.

In late 2008 when I attended my first toastmasters meetings, it was the catalyst that began my transformation. At every meeting my self-confidence got a boost, I met a new friend, and my life became more meaningful. Regrettably because of problems stated before, I was not able to attend meetings regularly, and I felt an almost physical loss each time, being away from what had become a second home.

Toastmasters is much more than a place to improve your communication skills. Toastmasters can be the place you meet your future spouse, interview for your perfect job, or achieve your life’s mission. By giving everyone a chance to attend productive meetings, despite their time challenges we can put meaning in others’ lives.

Today, I am making this speech, not simply to meet the objectives of this project, but I want you to give you the chance to make a difference. To do this you can commit your support to Early Birds Club through your signature on this document. I am pleased to say that my organization has committed to giving meeting space for the first 6 months, so the ball is already rolling. Sign up to support Early Birds Nairobi Toastmasters Club, fulfill your toastmaster promise, and change lives starting today.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Sine qua non

Reader’s discretion: Strong Language and Violence

Paxa  Rainne slams her open palm on the car horn frustrated.

Another matatu has overlapped and cut her off just as she was to join the highway. Driving into town from Ngara is still a nightmare, despite a spanking new superhighway. Rainne wonders if her naivety in being polite to other road users is a magnet for this menace.

Rainne has been in traffic now for over an hour and has hardly moved ten metres, giving way to dozens of other vehicles but not getting any reciprocation. She wriggles her bare toes, driving shoeless in these conditions is more comfortable.  She takes comfort in that small luxury. The lotion she applied on her feet earlier is keeping them nice and cool.

The conductor of the matatu swings wildly from the door as it narrowly misses Rainne’s front bumper.

“Siste, huku ni Nairobi, jikakamue”!

She glares at him and he returns a lewd look, seemingly excited at the fact that he’s unnerved her.

She’s tired of this. No more Ms. Nice Girl, she also needs to get moving.

The car blocking her entry moves a few feet a head and she sees her chance, she guns the engine and her car spurts forward.

It happens so fast.

Rainne’s vision had been blocked by a hawker selling dusters. The minibus had also seen its chance and had come hurtling forward. Its driver saw Rainne at the last minute and veered sharply to the right to avoid hitting her. A Nissan matatu behind the minibus is not as lucky, he was trying to whizz past too.

There is a sickening crash, as metal, glass, flesh and bone collide crumpling the front end of the Nissan against the minibus.

It’s happening barely two metres from Rainne’s car. A blood curdling cry comes from the front of the Nissan. A passenger is trapped, his legs shattered at impact.
More passengers pour out of the Nissan. Bloodied, their clothes shredded, their expressions of shock, but alive.

Rainne is wrenched out of her shock, by another piercing cry.

She grabs her first aid box and jumps out to help. Good Samaritans are trying to assist. They yank and claw at the crumpled metal with their bare hands.
Rainne is fumbling through the kit for her epinephrine pen – a life saver in such situations.

It’s in her hand as she yanks open the driver’s door who tumbles out onto her crashing her to the ground. He’s taking off, running from the scene, using his slight build and long legs to maximum effect. As Rainne struggles to get up when she realizes the driver’s jacket snagged her epinephrine pen. The pen is stuck on his jacket as he runs toward the flyover hoping to make a quick getaway.

Hell No. Rainne is not going to let him get away with the injured passenger’s only hope of not bleeding to death.

She sprints after him, yelling “Shika huyo”

It works and other road users from the opposite side start chasing him.
The driver runs to the edge of the flyover and looks down. It’s about twenty feet, he is desperate, it’s better than being lynched.

He is climbing over the guard rail when Rainne tackles him sending both of them over the rail. At the last second she grabs the pen with one hand and the rail with the other. The driver grabs the only thing he can, Rainne’s bare foot.

Rainne feels like every muscle in her arm is tearing. Her weight and that of the driver are too much. Her hands start slipping, she considers dropping the pen and using both hands to hold up.

Below, oblivious, cars speed past. If she falls it’s over, but her arm is on fire.
She’s just about to let go when two pairs of hand grab each of hers. As she’s hoisted up the driver holding her from below can no longer keep his grip. His hands slide down Rainne’s lotioned feet and he lets out a scream as he falls backwards towards the road.

Rainne is carefully set down and catches her breath. The pen is still tightly gripped in her left hand. She can’t wait, she breaks into a small jog towards the Nissan. An innocent passenger life is at stake.


Later that evening Rainne is visiting her new friend, Njogu at his bedside. The nurses told Rainne that her epinephrine pen saved Njogu’s life. They also said that quick action saved his legs. It will take weeks but he will walk again. Njogu’s wife who had been called from work after the accident tells Rainne that amazingly the errant driver fell into a garbage truck below, and the rotten squishy garbage broke his fall. He will be arraigned in court tomorrow for reckless driving. The police have promised not to let him shower until then. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kill the Virus - Tips to Become a Competent Communicator

The following is a tip session delivered by John Kageche, ACB, CL and current President of Nairobi Toastmasters Club. It focuses on the need to properly prepare and present the 2nd, 3rd and 4th projects in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual towards building strong speech delivery.

2, 3 and 4. That’s where magic lives.
Mr Toastmaster, fellow members, guests in ccs 2, 3 and 4 that’s where speech magic lives

Unfortunately, numbers 2,3 and 4 are numerically lower than 7,8 and 9
And because they are lower many a speaker in this room and beyond tend to gloss over them
And yet if 2,3 and 4 were a virus many a speaker sadly failed to protect themselves from it
And because they failed to protect themselves they missed the magic and got infected
And because they were infected then, these speakers have carried over the infection to 5,6,7 and beyond

For instance,
If your cc 2 did not have a singular organized message in it, you got infected
If your cc 3 did not have a singular organized message in it and specific sentence your infection grew
If your cc 4 did not have a singular message in it, a specific sentence and a stylistic device your infection became fully blown
And sadly many a speaker here and beyond continue to successfully carry this virus with them

This manual is rich in tips
Sadly, like with a TV, phone and car manual many a toastmaster may read but will not internalize it
He or she looks at the title say, 4 how to say it and assumes hmmm, this is easy I know how to say it
And proceeds to say it wrongly

CC2 is entitled organize your speech.
The overall tip is to have a compelling opening, organized body and memorable conclusion
In addition to this a sample structure is given-notice it has a singular message: the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. Critique your speeches. Do they have a singular message?

CC3 is entitled get to the point
In my opinion this is where we totally expose ourselves to the infection
We get focused, yes, but we do not stay focused
We have a general purpose but lack a specific purpose
We have a general purpose but lack a specific sentence
And what is a specific sentence? It is ONE sentence that captures your total speech
The specific sentence in my speech is ccs 2, 3 and 4 is where speech magic lives
If your speech does not have a specific sentence, your viral infection is complete
Critique your speeches. Do they have a specific sentence?

Cc4 is how to say it
Here we have been given plenty stylistic devices which most read and then throw out the window
Triads, repetition, stories, jokes, anecdotes, metaphors, alliteration, similes: this is where the real abracadabra lives
Critique your speeches.
Which stylistic devices have you used?

Cc’s 2, 3 and 4 are where speech magic lives
Yet cc’s 2, 3 and 4 are the most lightly taken projects
And because of this the magic fades as we move up the ladder and is totally lost by the 7th rung
And because the speaker is infected, he infects others he is evaluating and mentoring
And the infection snowballs and becomes pandemic

Cc’s 2, 3 and 4 are where speech magic lives
If you are enjoying this speech maybe it’s because I have so far used eleven tips from cc’s 2-4
Do yourself and those you mentor and evaluate a favour-kill the virus, share the magic

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Planning and It's Cousin Failing (CL Series)

In 1785, Robert Burns penned that famous Scots poem with the penultimate stanza which read:
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane                   / But mouse you are not alone
In proving foresight may be vain:                  /  Planning for future can be in vain
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men   / The best laid plans of mice and men
Gang aft agley,                                         /  Often go awry
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,           / And leave us with nothing grief and pain
For promis'd joy!                                       / For promised joy
Putting down a plan on paper is great. It helps crystallize your goals and gives you a defined target to aspire to. It's just as true though that no project plan can expected to be perfectly executed and "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry"

In every project expect challenges. The most common are the notorious three: scope creep, time constraints, and resource constraints. To ground myself in reality, I will outline all the pitfalls I expect in this journey so that I may also adequately prepare for them.

1. Scope Creep
I am very attune to certain personality flaw of myself: what I call "the Idea Junkie Syndrrome" which I compare the Plant in Belbin's Team Role Theory. Belbin says of the Plant “This is that person who will come up with new solutions midway into implementing an agreed on plan which results in disrupting the implementation process of the plan.”  Scope creep meanwhile means casually adding tasks and roles to an existing plan. While these are being added, they seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things but in reality they end up consuming vast yet scarce resources to complete.

With my Idea Junkie Syndrome, I find myself continuously excited by new, ever more ambitious, ever more elaborate ideas despite the first idea I started out with being quite adequate. For example, I will decide to undertake the CL in 10 months; then I will realize that I can do the same with my ACB, shortly thereafter I will read about banner raids and determine it’s a great way to encourage commitment and attendance; then I will think we have two few meetings and propose weekly meetings, then I will notice that we need to improve on our evaluations so I will start conducting Successful Club Series sessions every week, then I will…

Idea Junkie Syndrome is real, and while each idea on its own might deserve merit – continuously adding them to your plan results in targets not being met, burnout and frustration. Cognizant of this flaw, I committed to involving my mentor in my toastmasters’ decisions. This meant that I needed to justify every step and I had wise counsel to temper my over-exuberance. This would help me focus on my CL goals which remained my central and most important objective as per my plan.

2. Time Constraints

To complete both the CL and the ACB I had to complete 29 roles: 21 for the CL and 8 speeches for the ACB. This translated to preparing for and attending at least 29 meetings with the majority being regular toastmaster meetings. The first challenge was how much time each role required to prepare. If I was to do it properly, I would need 147 hours as calculated below, which translated to about 15 hours a month. Assuming I had a maximum of 2 hours a day to allocate to Toastmasters, this meant a whole week of preparation for my roles. In addition, I had the ACB speeches which would need an extra 5 hours each per month for preparation.

CL Roles
Preparatory Hours
Speech Evaluator


Critical Thinking
Speech Evaluator

General Evaluator
Giving Feedback
Speech Evaluator


General Evaluator
Time Management

Planning and Implementation

General Evaluator

Organization & Delegation
Help Organize a Club Speech Contest

Befriend a guest

General Evaluator

Chair of Membership Contest
Guidance Committee of High Performance Leadership
Team Building
Chair a Club Special Event

The second challenge was getting the opportunity to undertake 29 roles or 25 if you count only the meeting roles. We remain with a maximum 21 meetings until the close of the Toastmasters year, and it would be hardly sufficient or fair to expect to perform these roles at those meetings.

The solution would therefore need to be two fold. Allocate predicable and sufficient time towards Toastmasters preparations in my calendar and utilize the opportunity to take up roles in the other clubs in Kenya as well as doing speeches outside the club setting.

I resolved to prepare for both my speech and my roles at least three weeks in advance where possible and book for slots in other clubs with similar notice period. To book for meeting roles in other clubs I would ask my Vice President of Education (VPE) for assistance. I would carefully read and re-read the objectives of every role in my Competent Leadership manual and reflect on it with regard to my own work environment that it may make more meaning to me. This would also help me apply the lessons I would learn more immediately for practical benefit. Such preparation in advance would avoid a last minute rush which would inevitably be inefficient use of my time.

3. Resource Constraints
Sure Toastmasters doesn’t cost much but one still needs to be ready to invest to reap the rewards. My first challenge was that I didn’t have a CL manual. I had made the order from World Headquarters but the manuals were yet to arrive. So far I had made do with borrowing someone’s manuals to read the objectives and prepare but this wouldn’t work for long. With my first role confirmed for 19th of August, I  would need to get my manual so that I could carry it and have it evaluated.

Attending a minimum of four meetings a month would also be a requirement if I had to achieve the goals I had set out for myself.

"An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!" 

Planning is great, but too much planning to accomplish one's goals might have the opposite effect and leave us burnt out and frustrated. Consider then how we should emulate the "living for the moment" mouse which is the inspiration of the poem in Burns' final stanza

"Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!  / Still you (mouse) are blessed compared to me
The present only toucheth thee           / Only the present affects you
But och! I backward cast my e'e       / But alas, I cast my eye in the past
On prospects drear                          / On drear prospects
An' forward, tho' I canna see           / And to the future though I cannot see
I guess an' fear."                              / I foretell bad things and fear it.

As much as I need to plan for days ahead and keep in mind what has brought me to this stage so far, I must enjoy the present. Have fun in the present and be unburdened by worry that my plans might not come to fruition.