Creative commentary plus crafty composition

Toast Time

A mini presentation that the vast majority of us likely have to make at one time or another is the Toast.

Whether it’s at a family gathering, or at a send-off for a friend or co-worker, this mini-speech is one where we want to make the best impression possible: on the person or group being saluted with the Toast, and on attendees who depend on us to elevate the occasion with our words and gusto.

Circumstances where a Toast is desirable are innumerable.

Weddings and are held throughout the year, typically with multiple Toasts during receptions.  Similar chances arise at retirement parties and graduations.  December may well be the apex for opportunities, given for many there are seasonal get-togethers before the holidays, plus others large and small during the holidays leading up to New Year’s Eve.

Even if alone one may want to light up the scene with a Toast – or perhaps practice for an occasion coming up.

Thus, while light shines on the person making the Toast only briefly, the ‘pressure’ is on to make this time in the limelight well spent.  In that sense, many who fear public speaking in general, as a corollary also fear this smaller version.

In Toastmasters, one of the first roles in many meetings is giving a Toast.

Often, it’s made a little more challenging by being expected to tie into a weekly theme.  If there’s no theme, or one of general nature, ex. ‘A Salute to Spring’, the scope is wide enough for easing into one’s subjective interpretation.  However, in our club we’ve had meeting themes such as ‘Talk Like a Parrot’ or ‘Gingerbread Houses’ – these can be serious comfort zone, not to mention creative, challenges.

According to an article in the current month edition of Toastmaster magazine, there is a lot of background to the act of giving Toasts.

The common link is the history of raising one’s glass at assemblies.

As far back as ancient Rome, “the Senate passed a decree requiring all citizens to toast the health of Emperor Augustus at every meal”.   Using the term “toast” apparently dates back to the 16th century, when a real slice of toast was placed in wine before being consumed; it helped make the taste experience, given the undependable quality of wines, easier to swallow.  The role of a “toastmaster”, or toast steward, dates to the early 1700s.

Like with other speaking roles, there are a number of tips to help make the Toast experience less likely to catch in one’s throat:

  • Take advantage of timing, especially when there is a lot of energy in the room, while sensitive to the leadership of the host/hostess; of course, the Toast may be directed to him or her
  • Focus on and develop one theme
  • Tap into common interests
  • Keep in mind it’s more effective to speak from the heart than from a script
  • Keep it relatively short
  • Consider having a Toast formula (material) with you at all times, i.e. be prepared; this is especially valuable if one is exposed to a wide variety of social events
  • Consider whether the situation is a formal vs. an informal one; if the former, some preparation is advisable
  • If in an international environment, know how to say “Cheers!” in local language

Here’s to some memorable Toast-ing all year long!

Let’s put out to pasture the term ‘political correctness’!

Not only has this expression increasingly fallen out of favour based on its accumulated baggage, built on decades of use, but the word political doesn’t stand up anymore as encompassing enough to cover the inexorable intrusion of social media and expression.

Therefore, let’s henceforth categorize any relevant references under the theoretically broader, more modern term of ‘social correctness’.

That said, ‘social correctness’ to some extent itself is an oxymoron.  To be truly social implies a certain amount of undefined freedom; but then, correctness implies some adherence to rules or conventions.  Therefore, while s.c. is equipped to be more current than p.c., the correctness badge is sometimes ambiguous.

Now that we are into December, celebration of the Christmas season and the New Year is gearing up in both symbol and psyche.

Yet, controversy continues to hold its own.  This week in parts of North America, the 1940s song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, a popular, albeit borderline, seasonal standard mainly for the older crowd, has been banned from airplay due to some of its suggestive lyrics.  Those who feel the issue is covered in social correctness are applauding, others with a more historical perspective are shaking their heads.  After all, we have urban tangents of music with lyrics which are, at best, provocative, but which seem acceptable to some to be played anytime of the year.

This, of course, does not even delve into the wider debate of using the word and image of ‘Christmas’ itself.  While a wide swath of the population continues to see no basis for concern, except for its historical legitimacy being threatened, segments of the s.c. crowd continue to tread otherwise.

So, where do we stand, now and looking forward?  Perhaps it’s wise to have some adaptive expressions at the ready – for instance…

  • ‘Tis the season to be prepared to laugh at any tastefully designed, non-discriminatory anecdotes
  • Peace on earth, to the extent it is permissible under the applicable, jurisdictional regime in power
  • Warmest wishes for the holidays, although with the impact of global warming, aka climate change, this should be increasingly unavoidable
  • Sleigh bells ring, so it’s safe to assume holiday season no-gooders won’t be depending on them
  • Wishing you a warm and cozy Christmas, as long as you restrict your burning of fossil or flora fuels
  • Let music fill the air, to the extent the lyrics and melody are distinguishable, or at least don’t drown out our senses
  • From our home to yours, since we borrowed all that stuff from you, which we hadn’t returned yet
  • Greetings of the season, allowing that this overwhelming era of communications and marketing have blurred the lines inexorably
  • Let us celebrate with ‘wonder’ and ‘joy’, in the knowledge that their meaning may be under siege somewhere by children growing up with these names
  • Wishing you the best for the New Year to make up for the roller-coaster twists and turns of this one

Of course, the list is as ever-expanding as our collective categorizing will take us.

Reaction Times

Anyone able to reflect on this, based on years of personal experience or through research, knows that one of the biggest evolutions since the latter half of the twentieth century has been the speed of communications. Technology has become an indelible, intrusive catalyst of delivery; combined with more recent omnipresence of the internet and social media, has meant being part of a revolution in daily life around the world.

A corollary not often discussed in depth is the impact on the one receiving the quicker input.  Our need to react faster is now also a norm.

Consider the implications.

For one, having less time to cogitate the information input means that there is more pressure on the receiver trying to collate the important points.  These points come in various shades of fact and opinion.  Meanwhile, one’s focus, judgement, and stamina are put to the test continuously.

Plus, there is the corollary aspect: the receiver is often expected to respond in kind, which could include needing to be quick about it.  On this basis alone, the challenge to be beneficially accurate in responding directs correlates with the amount and clarity of input one faces.

Since virtually no one can absorb all inputs, there is going to be bias in the results of one’s considerations.  Moreover, ‘tuning out’ of what is deemed excessive is good for mental health, but contributes to bias, inevitably and understandably.

For those who prefer a more pastoral lifestyle, opportunities are inevitably slipping.

Geography is not what it used to be, neither completely a barrier nor a gateway.  For example, nowadays in Canada, citizens in all parts of the country, including the far north, expect to have internet access, and at reasonable server speeds.  It is easier to find people who periodically ‘go off the grid’ on purpose than to find those who by choice or happenstance don’t have it.  Perhaps in this regard, citizens in many non-western countries retain an advantage; they face fewer inputs, distributed less quickly, and so probably less abrupt and imposing.

In short, both time and distance have shrunk under the imposing metrics of the western lifestyle.  That said, reaction times need to be culturally adaptive.

Prioritizing response needs to be juggled with one’s own priorities of the time.  In this sense, the same inputs to the same individual or group, received at different times, will produce different responses.  In the modern world, nothing is static.

Consider the range of reaction times deemed acceptable in such everyday situations as:

  • Answering a phone call versus a text versus an email
  • Answering snail mail, especially if it’s a bill or other request for money
  • Following up necessary repairs or maintenance in the home or car
  • Following up treatment for diagnosis of health issues of self or family
  • Responding to problems of our extended family and friends
  • Juggling professional and personal interests

These are a few examples of what we find on the rungs of priority, knowing that they sit on a very long ladder.



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