Tim Brody - Associate Editor
The Sioux Lookout Bulletin - April 8, 2015
A trip to Alaska and a summer at a grandparents’ farm. Two tales that started off simply enough, but soon took some unusual twists.
These were the stories shared at the Sioux-per Speakers Toastmasters March 31, Tall Tales Contest at Queen Elizabeth District High School.
Toastmasters’ guests Dick MacKenzie and Merle Burkholder said weaving and telling their tall tales was a great deal of fun.
“I loved it,” MacKenzie said. “It was wonderful and Toastmasters is always so supportive, it’s a pleasure to speak here.”
“I enjoyed it. It was great,” Burkholder agreed.
MacKenzie enraptured his audience with his tale of travelling to Alaska in his early 20s, visiting the International Hotel (or Big I) and meeting a striking character by the name of Lee Craft, who sported a distinctive handlebar moustache. MacKenzie later shared with his audience how Craft was observed floating up into the air and knocking on the ceiling calling, let me in, let me in.
In the spirit of a true tall tale, MacKenzie said his story started off truly, but then took on a life of its own, “A lot of the story was just totally made up. Nobody floats to the ceiling like a helium balloon but it’s an exercise in imagination.”
Burkholder had his audience spellbound while he wove a tale of himself at age 10, and his brother, visiting their grandparents’ farm.
His grandmother had passed away and he and his brother were tasked with getting rid of her cherry wine supply.
Burkholder told of feeding it to the farm’s chickens who then refused to lay eggs without their morning pick me up.
His story took a twist when he and his brother decided to work for a neighbour who supplied them with wine for the chickens to keep them producing in exchange for shelling corn.
As the summer waned, the boys hit upon the tactic of slowing adding Kool-Aid to the wine until the chickens were drinking nothing but that.
Burkholder said of his tale, “I thought if it’s going to be a tall tale it needs to cross that line into imagination and I just thought, how could that story end?”
Both tale tellers had advice for aspiring storytellers.
“My advice would be to just do it… I just write down some points and mull them over,” MacKenzie said.
“I think storytelling comes with practise and it’s really in the presentation, in the telling, so practise,” Burkholder added.
Burkholder was declared the contest winner, which came as a significant surprise he said, “I really was. I thought Dick’s story was very good.”
Contest chair Stu Cummings explained, “Every year Toastmasters tries to do an open house to bring people in to find out what Toastmasters is all about.
“This year we choose a tall tales contest as a method of doing that. “It’s a sneaky way to recruit people. We get them talking, and enjoying themselves and it’s a good chance for people who have not spoken in public to come out and learn some of the techniques, some of the things we do. We learn a new word every week so you’re increasing your vocabulary. Having fun together, that’s what it’s all about.”
He said of the tall tales format, “First thing is the tall tale must be an original story. It starts out believable and then turns into something that crosses a line somewhere into something that is not believable or least shouldn’t be believable. Your job as the tall teller is to present it as absolute gospel truth and hope people believe it.”
Toastmasters he said, can help people speak clearly, think effectively, lead enthusiastically and be more comfortable speaking in front of others.
“We invite people come in and just sit and listen,” he said. “We don’t want to have someone think as soon as they walk in the door they’re going to be ganged up on to do something they’re not comfortable doing. First thing is getting people comfortable being there.”
If people aren’t sure if Toastmasters is for them, Cummings posed the following, “Have you ever had to go to a job interview? Answer questions you weren’t ready for? Have you ever had your boss say, would you come and make a presentation on this in front of the group? You’ve just been to a seminar and the boss asks you to tell everyone what you learned. All these skills you learn at Toastmasters will prepare you to do that.”
The club meets at QEDHS Tuesday’s at 7 p.m.
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