Category Archives: Toastmasters

TechMasters After Dark Oh My!

Last year around October I decided to finally attend my first TechMasters meeting. It had been something I had thought about for a few years but I just never pulled the trigger. But one Tuesday morning last October I got myself up a bit earlier and headed out to the Benchmark Learning Building where we host our weekly meetings. Knowing absolutely nothing about Toastmasters and even less about TechMasters I had no idea what to expect. But what I did know is that I had several things I wanted to improve upon personally. As a software developer for 10+ years I had become fairly comfortable with my technical skills. My communication skills however, like many of us technical types had a lot of room for improvement.

At my first meeting I was given a warm greeting from the regular members, so much so that I came back the next week and signed up. After just 6 months of attending regular meetings I can honestly say that my presentation skills have very much improved. I have spoken at my first user group, and am hoping to be speaking at the upcoming Microsoft Developer Conference. While these skills are always a work in progress and I am a long way from where I hope to be in the future, I feel like I now at least have tools at my disposal to help me communicate more effectively than before I started. These tools do not just apply to presentations, but also when communicating with people one on one or in small groups. TechMasters gives you weekly practice at impromptu speaking, listening, public speaking, and even delivering jokes to a group in a fun and friendly environment. And these skill are useful in every aspect of your life.

So why the blog post? Well it’s simple, I think its a great thing and would like to see more of the local technical folks show up. I know mornings are hard, but guess what? Now you have a chance to check it out after work. This month on April 24th we are launching the TechMasters After Dark Series. A free event where you can see some of our speakers in action. This month one of our most veteran members Paul Scivetti will be delivering a presentation on how to give presentations! Paul is a very dynamic speaker who regularly speaks at the local user groups and the like. Not only is Paul a great speaker, I was lucky enough to have him as my mentor when I joined (we have a mentoring program). And as such I can tell you from personal experience he has a lot of great information to share on the topic of presenting.

So if you are like I was, and have always been curious but just never made it to a morning meeting here is your chance!

Hope to see you there!


Don’t Play With the Monkeys (Ice-Breaker)

The year was 2010 and the location was Botswana Africa inside a wild game reserve just south of the Zimbabwe border. I was walking back to our camp site from the showers wearing only the towel around my waist when I inadvertently crossed paths with a monkey that was tending to her young. Unhappy with my presence she lunged at me chasing me back into the shower area. As I stared at the hissing monkey now blocking my exit I began frantically calculating my options.

  1. Run into the shower stall, but that would offer little protection
  2. Try and run past the monkey, but wearing only a towel and flip flops this was great option
  3. I could wait, risking a confrontation with the monkey.

It was at this point I asked myself how on earth did I get end up here?

To answer that question I have to go back to 8th grade when my parents reluctantly purchased me my first guitar. I say reluctantly because my general pattern was to lose interest in everything I started very quickly. This was not the case with guitar however. I became obsessed with it; at school I joined the Jazz band, outside of school I played in rock bands, I started taking lessons two times a week, and even started to learn how to build them.

It was my obsession with guitar that led me to college. Mostly interested in Classical guitar by this time, I enrolled at the University of River Falls, while a school mostly known for agriculture they also have one of the best classical guitar instructors in the Midwest. Music became my life, six hour days in the practice rooms, music theory parties, composition contests it was a great time in my life.

About two years into my study, my guitar teacher expressed interest in developing a web site for his group the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet. Knowing absolutely nothing about computing at that time and even less about web development I volunteered to do it. Using my roommate’s computer and a HTML book from the computer science department’s library I built my first website. It was at this point that I found yet another obsession. Programming! Shortly after that I added an additional major in computer science. This was the happiest day of dad’s life, since he had hopes that I could actually get a job after college.

Fast forward 4 years, with my music degree and computer science degree in hand, I found myself in Winona, MN working as a web developer for a company called Fastenal. It was here where I met a woman from India name Pragya who after several months of begging finally agreed to go out on a date with me. While it’s true I begged for the first date, I want to make sure to state that it was her who asked me to marry her! In 2005 Pragya and I were married in New Delhi India, in a traditional Hindu wedding.

By now you must be thinking, what does this all have to do with the Monkey? I promise I am getting there!

When my wife came to Iowa for college her parents left India to start a manufacturing company in Africa. With half of her family in India and her parents in Africa we travel to both places quite a bit. In 2010 we went to Africa, and traveled to the Chobe game reserve for a safari, and this is where I found myself face to face with the angry monkey.

So how did I get here? My parents got me a guitar, guitar led me to college, college let me to computing, computing led me to Pragya, and Pragya let me to Africa and Africa to this very angry monkey.

So what happened? Well just as the monkey was about to lunge at me, out of nowhere a man with a big broom smacked the monkey out of the door way. The man started at me and said, “Don’t play with the monkeys”