When we last left off, I was sharing my Toastmasters experience with all of you.
I had decided to join to learn how to be a better public speaker, in preparation for my speeches at the undisclosed Passover hotel. Toastmasters is a lovely and warm environment. Everyone cheers everyone on and encourages them to do their very best. All critiques have positive spins to them, and no one ever leaves a meeting feeling dejected or embarrassed. There is lots of laughter and camaraderie.
It is also like the Statue of Liberty, or more specifically, Ellis Island, as the majority of its members are not United States-born. In fact, my name, Banji — a name that is so unusual that few can spell or pronounce it correctly upon first try or glance — is akin to the name Bob or Sue or Tom. Everyone else’s name in my group is more “unique” than my own. I feel very at home. It is not a common occurrence to have my name the easiest to figure out. Though someone was surprised when I stood up to give the “joke of the day” — and I was a female. He looked at me and said, “You’re Banji? Aren’t you a man?” Nope, but I do act like one when I clean out the sewer trap… (For another time.)
For almost every week that I have attended Toastmasters, I have been the winner of the Table Topics speeches. Don’t be impressed. I have won this, I believe, because I am one of the few who can claim English as a first and only language. While I joined Toastmasters to learn how to give a speech without sweating profusely or passing out, others join to learn how to speak English properly.
This only becomes a problem for me because the man who gives the speeches about how to give speeches has such a thick accent that I can only understand every fourth or fifth word that he says. The other problem is that I had joined the group in order to practice my speeches before I gave them at the hotel, and I discovered that because it only meets twice a month, there wasn’t going to be enough time for me to deliver these literary beauties to my new friends.
What to do, what to do?
Well, I continued to go to the meetings and I stood up in front of my fellow group members and tried my best. And then it was Passover and I had to give my speeches. I had two topics. The first was, “How to Write the Perfect Simcha Speech.” I was delivering this one on the Sunday before the second days of Yom Tov. My name was listed on the schedule, my boys were very proud of me, and I was just trying to figure out when I could start drinking. (Just kidding — no tequila on Passover, unfortunately.) I got to the room assigned to me and there was no turning back. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day outside, and there were few attendees at my TED talk. Son #2 recorded it (just in case any of you are interested, she said laughingly). Aside from the four people related to me, there were about 15 people in the room. I got through it. How was it? I have no idea. How could I not know how it went? Well, that is a good question. Only one person walked out, one person fell asleep, and no one was texting. I guess that is OK.
The next time I spoke was on Yom Tov. The topic? “Finding Humor in a Humorless World.” This was code for, “Stories about my life that I hope people will find interesting, but I cannot imagine that they actually will.” As it was Yom Tov, folks didn’t really have much else to do, so we had about 40 to 50 people in attendance.
How was it? Again, I have no idea. All I do know is that I was having trouble swallowing and I was so happy that I swiped a bottle of Diet Coke from the dining room because I was drinking that stuff like I had been in a desert. Why does this happen?
Man, I hope they will teach me about that in Toastmasters, and if they do teach it, I hope I will understand that person who is presenting the topic.
So I will continue to go to Toastmasters, because who doesn’t like being clapped for? Will I speak publicly again? Only time will tell — but as for right now, I am basking in the glow of the review one hotel guest gave me, “You weren’t any better or worse than any of the other speakers.” And that is just fine by me!
Banji Ganchrow still remembers singing the Hebrew alphabet at her siddur play. She wore a red dress with red ribbons in her hair. She was so scarred by the ribbons, she has never worn anything in her hair since she became an adult. When that will or will not change is still questionable.