Creative commentary plus crafty composition

To Speak or Not to Speak

This week I heard a radio commentator refer to the time-honoured, greatest dread of people (supposedly): the fear of public speaking.  The host noted how importantly the skill of being able to deliver presentations could impact one’s professional opportunities.

He then alluded to a just released story of a teenager who has confronted his own trepidation, by sending out an entreaty to educational authorities that he be spared from having to make presentations to other students in class.  There has been reaction to this quickly in social media.  No doubt, ‘experts’ on both sides of such a debate are aplenty.

I’m a long-time Toastmaster, who five years ago departed a career in financial services, and thus frequently has had to make versions of presentations, to various sized groups of people, over many years.  Naturally, on some of these occasions I was more in ‘the zone’ than others, but always managed to get through.

So, I have a couple of concerns about these perspectives.

I used the word supposedly with respect to the perception of public speaking being greater for many people than, for example, fear of death or other tragedy.  In our club over the years, I’ve seen many join because of their stated fear of talking in front of a group.  Yet, when the opportunity is presented to them to speak in front of the supportive group of club members, they are often loathe to follow through on the main reason they joined, wind up making few speeches, and in many cases drift away without making a serious effort to address this supposedly important goal.  If this has been such a concern, which caused them to seek out an organization like Toastmasters to begin with, what happens to their motivation, and commitment, to personal growth and career advancement?

Concerning the student’s effort to eliminate classroom presentations if disliked, clearly more education of the implications is required.  The education system should both develop the mind and prepare the individual to find their place in society.  Effective communication is pivotal, and can’t be found exclusively in mobile devices.  With all the tools for self-improvement readily available these days, it’s too bad some still have to learn the hard way.

So, what are some practical ways to confront the fear of speaking in public…

  • Practice doing ‘soapbox’ speeches: their tiny size should remove any feelings of intimidation
  • Have a two drink minimum for your audience, so that whatever makes up your talk later comes across as impressive
  • Hire a special effects artist to provide production values backing up your presentation
  • Tape clues to prizes under the seats to bring a distracted audience back to alertness
  • Deliver the talk in different voices so as to maximize appealing to a diverse audience
  • Purposefully fumble with your performance early on, to make it easier to rise to audience expectations
  • Bring back the laugh track
  • Plant a couple of supporters in the audience, ready to demonstrate for you on cue
  • Imagine the audience not only in their underwear, but also trying to maintain yoga positions
  • Have a comfort pet visible with you, to elicit the benefit of the doubt from animal lovers

See, there are many ways to improve one’s chances with an audience.

In part one I noted that the temporary lifestyle of a cruise on the high seas (such as the Mediterranean) provides a wave (pun intended) of experiences, which in turn mean opportunities for reflection.  Whether partaking in activities on board, or on shore excursions, hopefully high points resonate stronger than miscues and challenges.

When it comes to what to do while on board, cruise lines are prepared with plenty of options, scheduled or otherwise.

Mind you, the breadth of what’s available will be affected by what class of customer one is.  Paying for a more exclusive class of cabin comes with perks, including exclusive access to certain restaurants and other facilities.  Perhaps it helps reduce the frequent entreaties from staff, or implied in the daily newsletter, to upgrade – which, therefore, all passengers would seem to be exposed to in time.

Also, floating photographers move and lurk around the ship, their snap shots available for purchase in the ship’s photo gallery, so again all are welcome to grin on cue.

It’s interesting to consider the variety of on-board activities.  Using our recent cruise as anecdotal evidence, first of all, the approach is multimedia: the ship has promotion on its own TV channels, with programming rotated and updated throughout the day; there are live performances, featuring as few as one or two artists up to the theatrical show groups for large evening audiences; there are fitness classes early in the morning, and health facilities ongoing; naturally, there’s a range of pools and hot tubs, outdoor and covered; there are sporting and trivia challenges held; there are shops, not inexpensive; and of course there are restaurants, and plenty of bar lounges.  Finally, there is a time-honoured tradition of the cruise: taking time for simply reading in deck chairs or staring out to sea.  This unstructured option continues to be the most peaceful.

Some of the cruise directed activities included: ‘brain waker’ trivia in the morning, general knowledge trivia in the afternoon, adult comedy game about weddings in the evening; spa health and acupuncture presentations, yoga; sales of designer leather, leather handbags, pearls, watches, and art; casino tournaments such as blackjack; and fee chargeable liquor tastings.

One trivia type in which we participated involved a ‘name the landmarks’ contest between senior crew members and groups of the audience.  We connected with a small group from England, and our combined efforts permitted us to just miss out on having the best score in the room.  It can be fun to get involved cooperatively with other passengers in such games.

With all that, there are some categories of uncommon fun I believe could be explored:

  • Create lifeboat rescues of passengers, named at random, with wind machines to churn up waves
  • Hold a ‘Captain for an hour’ daily auction
  • Put different colour dyes into the pools to change their ambience
  • Have a treasure hunt with no place on board off limits
  • Early each afternoon hold a ‘find two empty lounge chairs together’ contest
  • Hold ‘disaster movie’ marathons at the outdoor theatre
  • Have a ‘person on your left chooses your meal’ night at each restaurant
  • Gather a large group of shore excursioners to wait until the last minute to re-board prior to ship departure
  • Hold contests for creatively built statues of discarded beverage cans and bottles
  • Post giant, multilingual, crossword puzzles on several decks, and track who fills in the most correct words

Who knows, a consulting fee for developing innovative cruise activities could be in the offing.

I imagine anyone who has experienced for the first time the temporary lifestyle of a cruise on the high seas (actually in this case, the Mediterranean), has numerous reflections.  Like with almost any vacation, ideally, the high points resonate stronger than the inevitable issues one encounters.

One clear advantage going on a trip involving a cruise is that one has in place a pretty good plan of action, at least insofar as destinations and time available to be spent at each.  After all, some people make these arrangements up to a year, or longer, in advance.  So, one can take time to prioritize what to see and do; one takes on faith that those service groups upon whom planning depends hold up their end.  The latter includes such aspects as organized shore excursions, and local transportation such as the popular ‘hop-on/hop-off’ buses.

On our recent journey, here are a couple of examples of passengers having to adapt on the fly, so to speak, to evolving circumstances.

From its distant nearest port, we traveled to Rome via a pre-booked extension of a hop-on/hop-off bus pass, which included pick-up from and to the port’s transit oval.  After emerging from the ships’ shuttle bus, we were given a map by a representative of the bus company providing the pass, showing its two routes with drop off points in the city, with one route recommended.  When we arrived in Rome, and ventured to the nearest pass stop, we found out that the suggested route had been replaced a week earlier by a newly coded route; plus, we discovered we would be better off to follow the alternative route anyway.  To top it off, Rome has a plethora of ‘hop-on, hop-off’ bus companies, which feature confusingly similar signs for their stops at concurrent locations.

Our day in Montenegro featured a cruise sponsored shore excursion.  Due to the prevalence of narrow, two-lane roads, travel was painfully slow to the inland initial destination, with an excessive amount of time spent there (notwithstanding some impressive scenery), leaving limited time to see the main port town of Kotor before returning to the ship.  Unbeknownst, it seemed, to virtually all passengers aboard, there was an interim stop on the way back, where we were intended to have a nearly hour long diversion, featuring a trade-off between receiving refreshments and listening to a sales pitch mainly about Croatian leather products.  In an attempt to curry favour with our disgruntled bunch, the trip co-ordinator arranged for a more colourful (read: through the mountains) way back, at one point giving us a spectacular view coming down towards the harbour.

In short, whatever kind of fork in the road is followed on shore excursions, there’s good opportunity for surprises which add to memories of a given experience, if not necessarily enjoyment.

It’s an interesting side-bar to this kind of trip, to consider the trade-offs involving time allotted versus cost versus destination appeal, vis-à-vis the different versions of shore excursions to a particular port of call.

Based on my experience, here are some cruise excursion options and comments, with varying degrees of applicability:

  • Excursion operators providing earphones to passengers, for ongoing commentaries, should check these function properly
  • Exercise due preparedness when visiting locations which only accept their own currency
  • When providing buses from ports to distant towns, excursion companies should look for alternative routes to time-consuming, traffic-clogged, two-lane roads to and from destinations
  • Having hand wipes or cleaners is the best way to cope with varying standards of cleanliness in destination washrooms, notwithstanding paying to use them
  • In high temperature ports of call water is perhaps the single most important and cost-effective item one can carry
  • Greater focus on clarity can be exercised by travel providers with respect to helping passengers identify buses on which to embark
  • Souvenir price competition increases as one gets further from the most popular tourist spots in a destination city
  • Those planning itineraries for shore excursions should arrange to maximize time available by minimizing side trips featuring upsells and promotions
  • Given their own years of experience, cruise lines could provide more information and details about ports of call beyond their own costly shore excursions
  • Taking a break in many tourist hot spots means having to cope with mobile locals coaxing you to buy something
  • As the day wears on, prices in many gift shops become increasingly malleable
  • Be aware that some ports of call have more flexibility in returning to the ship on time than others

Part 2 – options on board ship

It’s early August, well into the ‘dog days of summer’, a period considered to start early in July and run through the first third of this month.

The expression comes from long roots in history, attributed to the ancient Romans.  They associated the hottest, most humid days of summer with Sirius, the ‘dog star’, leading to the adage of ‘dog days’.

As many world citizens can attest, we are collectively enduring records’ challenging levels of dog days reality this year.

Yours truly, in eastern Canada, cannot recall as oppressive a month of July as we have just concluded.  Of course, there are those on the public airwaves – often spouting comfortably in air-conditioned surroundings – who tut, tut any suggestion of complaining about the intense heat, as though it would be ingratitude for the temperature swing from the depths of winter.  However, even they, if pressed, will concede the extent of this weather extreme is more debilitating in the dog day weeks.

Which gives one pause to reflect on the legitimacy of continuing to put the weight of the seasonal weather on the backs of dogs.

Many are the reasons why, and circumstances where, the expression ‘dog is man’s best friend’ (of course, man equating to people) applies.  So, if that’s the case, perhaps it’s time to modernize the Romans’ context.  Considering how popular is fantasy-based entertainment, and its surrounding culture, with the rise in weather severity perhaps we could recognize ‘Jurassic days’ or ‘Medieval Knightly days’ of summer.  To someone unaware of the original catch-phrase, it might be easier to connect the sentiment.  Meanwhile, we could just leave ‘dog days’ to represent kindler, gentler times, such as longer, more leisurely evening walks with the family wet-nosed companion.

There don’t seem to be expressions coverings parts of other seasons which are as ingrained as summer’s ‘dog days’.  What could qualify as comparable descriptions applying to slices of spring, autumn, or winter?

If we keep to the theme of fauna, ‘bear days’ could apply to any of them: coming out of hibernation in the spring, going back to hibernation in the fall, and the ‘bear’ of cold, mid-winter weather.  Of course, only one season should adopt and bear this moniker.

Other candidates could include:

  • ‘bird’s nest days of spring’
  • ‘pigeon dropping days of spring’
  • ‘wild turkey times of fall’
  • ‘frog croaking days of autumn’
  • ‘white hare raising days of winter’
  • ‘wolf call nights of winter’

So, then, where does the crusading trail of ‘dog days’ take us?

Should we follow wherever the days go with a sense of destination, as in the times of pioneers?

Or, should we remove the leashes and collars, and look for new ways to express calendar milestones related to Mother Nature, replete with her increasingly dramatic, atmospheric powers?

If we have time to ponder optional expressions, we should look for other ways to engage our time.  Even if creativity wilts under the heat of the dog days of summer.

A la prochaine fois…


If the average person was asked what trace mineral in the body…

  • Is found in muscles, eyes, the brain, and other major parts of the body
  • Plus, helps regulate our body’s immune response, and is essential to brain development
  • Plus, helps promote sleep
  • And, is the second most common trace element in the human body

…probably not many would confidently answer, zinc. Read the rest of this entry »

A brief article in the August issue of Psychology Today looks at the current state of affairs of personality tests.

The inconsistency of some of their standards has given rise to doubting the value of results.  Indeed, popular ‘Temperament Sorter’ and ‘Type Indicator’ programs include undesirable features such as “ambiguous language and false dichotomies”. Read the rest of this entry »

In September 2015 a comedy-drama film called “The Intern” was released in theatres.  Starring Robert de Niro and Anne Hathaway, it told the story of a retired, 70 year-old widower (de Niro) who returns to the work-force as part of a new senior intern program launched by a highly successful, internet clothing company, run since its start in her kitchen 18 months earlier, by its hyper-active founder (Hathaway).

The film’s overall box-office gross overall was close to $200 million (budget approx. $35 million).  It was a financial success, but tended to be overlooked by many in the industry because of its being tagged as something of a ‘chick flick’, and which didn’t feature IMAX worthy special effects. Read the rest of this entry »