Thursday, September 12, 2013

Left is Right - Toastmasters Humorous Competition 2013

This is a speech that I gave in the Toastmasters Humorous Speech competition. I did it twice on 8/20/2013 and 9/9/2013 and placed second on both occasions. The video below is from the second competition at Showtime Toastmasters.

Bang [shout and clap hands together], the 747 touched down at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport 2nd October 2005. My wife and I had arrived as immigrants in the United States of America.

Madam contest chair, fellow toastmaster and guests.

In Britain and other commonwealth countries we drive on the left and the steering wheel is on the right. A lot of people think that the first challenge we face as immigrants is learning to drive on the right. It’s not. It’s finding the steering wheel. Getting out of the habit of going around the right of the car is a tough one to break and after you open the door and notice that there’s no steering wheel you shut it, walk around to the driver’s side and get in. On a bad day would climb into the passenger seat and shut the door before I noticed that the steering wheel was missing. Depending on how athletic I felt I would either climb over the console or get out and walk around.

On one occasion I looked up from this misstep and noticed a couple of police officers watching me. Is it illegal to climb over the console? I had no idea. I opened the glove box and rummaged through the papers in there. Grabbing a handful of papers I got out and smiled at the officers “found them,” and walked around to the drivers side.

They followed me for about a mile before the lights came on. Those lights are as bright as the sun. How someone could ever use the excuse that they didn’t notice the lights is beyond me.
“Sir, I need to see your Driver’s License and Registration.”
This guy had a gun and handcuffs on his belt and his partner was standing next to him with his thumbs hooked into his belt like John Wayne; about to draw a six-shooter and riddle the car with bullets.
“Sir you’re going to have to get an Arizona drivers license within the next 7 days.”
In Britain the police don’t have guns. I was terrified and would have done anything he told me to do. Later that day I had my Arizona drivers license.

The biggest driving challenge when switching from the left to the right is the left turn. Your instinct is to immediately turn onto the left of the road. Most of the time I did this at traffic lights where the oncoming traffic was stationary.

Seeing all the cars facing me brought me to a screeching halt and a western style standoff. The other drivers would be staring at me waiting to see what my next move was. How can I possibly recover gracefully from this.

I remember a passenger in one of the cars pointing at me [mouth some words turning head from left to center] ...damn Brits.

We spent most of our first few weeks in Phoenix getting lost. In many respects that was fun and we got to see parts of Phoenix we may never have seen. At one point we came across a giant building with a big sign outside it that read The Candy Store.
“Do you see the size of that candy store? Only in America would a candy store be that big,” my wife said.
“We have to take a look at that, though strange that they have a silhouette of a woman above the front door and no windows. This country still doesn’t make sense to me,” was my reply.
“We have to pay to go into a candy store? These must be very special candies in this store. Perhaps part of it is a museum and and there’s candy that’s only on display that you can’t touch.”
Oh my Gosh, the sales assistants are topless.
“Darling, I think we’re in a strip club,” my wife said.
“Act cool, pretend we knew that,” was my reply
A lady walked up to us, “Would you like anything to drink?”
Me: “blabbering for a few seconds.” We had to get out of there. I turned straight into the oncoming traffic. Luckily the local drivers expect that type of driving from people leaving that [air quotes] store.

Since our arrival in America my wife and I have produced two new American citizens; I have a daughter and a son. A couple of weeks ago we were driving past the Candy Store and my daughter pipes up from the back. “Daddy, I like candy. I’m going to work at that shop one day.”

The shock of that statement made me swerve into the oncoming traffic. I've done that so often that it was an easy recovery.

America and Americans, I’d like to thank you for tolerating my mistakes, my misunderstandings, and my misdirections. I leave you with the following thought. If you see someone driving on the left side of the road remember that it might be right for them; or they've just come out of The Candy Store.

Madam Contest Chair.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Happiness - Toastmaster Speech #9

Happiness and productivity. How can we achieve both every day?

Madam Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests. The answer is simple. Daily Exercise.

When you exercise, a protein called BDNF, Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor, is release to protect yourself and your brain from stress. This acts like a reset switch on the memory neurons. At the same time, another chemical, also to fight stress, called endorphin is released to the brain. These endorphins minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and give you a feeling of euphoria. These two chemicals have the same addictive behavior as morphine, heroine and nicotine except that they're good for you. They lead to a sense of calm which makes you happy and productive.

When I think of exercise I think of serious exercise. I think of keeping my heart rate over 120 beats per minute for one to two hours. And I think that I need to do this around three times a week. This is very wrong. The mental benefits of exercise are:

1. Gained in the first 20 minutes of exercise and,
2. It needs to be done daily.

A study at Penn State University found that to be more productive and happier you must have worked out on that particular day. If you work out regularly you will be more productive and happier than someone who is sedentary but not as happy and productive as someone who has worked out on that day.

Convincing you that exercise if good for you both physically and mentally is an easy sell. What's not so easy is convincing you to go out and do it. If the first thing that you do when you wake up is to exercise for around 20 minutes and you do this every day then you can stop listening. I have nothing more but admiration for you.

To get us to exercise first thing in the morning we need three things:

1. Motivation
2. Ability
3. Trigger

There's an inverse relationship between motivation and ability. If motivation is high then your ability to do something can be low and you'll still achieve it. Conversely, if motivation is low then it has to be super easy to do something in order to achieve it. It's important to note that even if motivation is high that motivation may not always be there which means that it's important that you make doing exercise as easy as possible. Motivation may disappear once you've achieved your goal.

You also have to have a trigger in place that will change your behavior. I read about someone who puts their workout clothes on top of their alarm clock so they have to pick up those clothes before switching off the alarm. This is their trigger to do exercise.

For me my trigger is also my alarm clock and my exercise is to swim. I set my alarm clock an hour earlier at 6am and as soon as it goes off I pick up my swimming goggles and swim-watch, switch off the house alarm and get into the pool and start swimming.

If you take up my challenge to exercise first thing in the morning every day then I suggest that you think about starting small and then start even smaller. The most important thing you can do right now is not just the exercise but the formation of a life long habit. When I decided to swim in the morning I was thinking of doing half an hour each morning and after discovering this advice I cut it right back to 5 minutes. After a couple of days of that I started to ignore my countdown timer when it beeped at me to stop and kept on going because I knew I didn't have to. Since then I've been increasing it and I'm now swimming around half a mile in about twenty minutes each morning.

We all have challenges when it comes to executing. One of my challenges is that I sometimes have my kids rattling the pool gate asking to be let in while I'm swimming. They heard the door open and now know what I do in the mornings. When this happens it becomes a game and they take turns at hanging on my shoulders as I continue to swim and we all have fun.

I leave you with a challenge to do a tiny bit of exercise each morning. Start off small. One star jump or one push-up.

Finally, you need to reward yourself after each workout. By reward, I don't mean a doughnut. Walk up to the mirror and lift your fists up and tell yourself how awesome you are.

Remember that modifying your behavior to make this a lifelong habit is the most important goal. Feel free to email me if you need inspiration or if you want to brainstorm some ideas. Good luck!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Anna Fender Calling

Got this voice mail transcription in my inbox today:

"Anna Fender at a correctional facility attempted to make a collect call to this number. But the call could not be completed due to billing restrictions. If you wish to receive these calls. You must contact our automated system for credit card deposits to a pre-paid account. Our other deposit instructions at 18004838314 or go to and set up an account. If you have already done so please disregard this message. Hear these instructions again press one. To go through our automated credit card payment system press two. To end this call please hang up now."

This was somewhat surprising because I don't know anybody in a correctional institution and have never met or heard of Anna Fender.

Listening to the recording reveals that "Anna Fender" is actually "an offender." How such a simple transcription error can cause wifely suspicion in a paradise.