Thursday, 28 March 2013

Rally Driving Experience with Langley Park Rally School

Hello all, I expect you all know what rallying is so I won't bore you with a background to the activity but what you might not be aware of is that there are firms in the UK that will take anyone with a UK driving license, put them behind the wheel and give them a taste of what rallying is all about for a small amount of money, (£40).

Langley Park Rally School Overview

Langley Park Rally School, based in Essex, is such a firm who cater to beginners and intermediate rally drivers by offering a range of events to suit each and I attended one of their half day, taster experiences on 9th February this year - and here is a video of my afternoon.

 Video Produced by Langley Park Rally School for Customers

The Rally Experience

The session was arranged into three parts:

1. Three laps in a rear wheel drive car.
2. Three laps in a front wheel drive car.
3. One 'white knuckle' passenger lap with a professional rally instructor.

While waiting for your next activity you can watch proceedings from outside or from the comfort of their lounge or cafe which reside in pre-fabricated, Portacabin type buildings beside the course.

By way of souvenirs and embellishments they give you a video, a certificate and a score card marked by the instructor on your rally driving ability. My scores were just above average: apparently I did slightly better in the front wheel drive which surprised me as I felt I was going a lot faster and had more fun in the rear wheel drive, (though perhaps that's because I've recently taken up drifting which is always done in RWDs).

Itinerary from Langley Park Rally School

From the Langley Park Rally School website, I quote:

"Enjoy approximately 2 1/2 hours at our venue and experience an introduction to the thrills of rallying where you will have the opportunity to drive at high speed on a loose surface in two of our fully prepared rally cars; one front wheel drive and one rear wheel drive. You will share your rally experience with other drivers on the day.

The instructor will introduce you to the key features and controls of the car and will talk you through what skills you will be taught out on the track. The bulk of the tuition is carried out in the car so you can get the most amount of time in the car. An intercom system is built in to the car to enable you to talk to the instructor as you drive.

Then, the moment you've been waiting for, driving the car on the track. The first lap will be used for you to familiarise yourself with the track. You will then have another 2 laps in this car of the 1 1/2 mile stage negotiating your way through cones and tyres at high speed. You will experience power slides and handbrake turns. After you have finished, the instructor will fill out a score sheet, rating your performance in the rally car. You will then have a break before your session of 3 laps in the second car.

Once all the driving sessions are complete, you will be strapped in to the passenger seat while the instructor gets their own back! You will experience a white knuckle ride on a "hot lap" with the instructor driving."

My Verdict

The weather was pretty awful, (as it has been all winter) and perhaps that forced them to cut down on some of the manoeuvres I was hoping to do. But this was a shame because while I had fun, I think it could have been a bit more exciting had the odd handbrake turn or power slide been thrown in, (they weren't). As it stands, it was a pleasant afternoon, sliding around in muddy conditions and I did learn a little bit more about controlling a car in snow or on very slippery roads.

As a production though, I think the hosts went above and beyond the call of duty to make the day a memorable one for their customers and with regards to the overall 'experience', amenities and souvenirs it was a top notch event. The video above was one such souvenir which was available for a nominal sum, (I think it was an extra £20). It was produced entirely by Langley Park Rally School and I think they've really nailed how to produce a high quality rendition of the day that customers will want to keep and share as I'm doing now, (which is great publicity for them too). They've obviously hired someone competent on the production and editing which makes all the difference.

My overall impression was positive: Langley Park Rally School have the whole customer experience down to a tee, they provide great value, good amenities, have friendly staff - and obviously they score top marks for souvenirs. It might be worth going back in a few months when the weather is better.

Friday, 1 March 2013

My Toastmasters Table-Topics Journey Begins

I've written elsewhere on this blog how Table Topics for me are the hardest part of the Toastmasters curriculum.

What are Table Topics?

The Toastmasters website describes Table Topics as fairly benign things - and I quote: "Table Topics are the portion of a club meeting devoted to exercises in impromptu speaking presided over by the Table Topics Master, who calls on each Table Topics Speaker to give a short, impromptu speech. Table Topics provides you with an opportunity to practice careful listening, quickly preparing a relevant response, and expressing fluent, clear, and organised thoughts in a limited time."

How I feel about them!

That's all well and good, however I've found it's one thing to prepare a speech in advance with the opportunity to think about it at length, write and rewrite it, rehearse it any number of times - and quite another to be thrown in at the deep end and be asked to speak extemporaneously, (speaking without preparation) on a subject just given to you just a second ago for 1-2 minutes.

I don't think it would be exaggerating to say that I've always been nervous around this part of the meeting in case I was picked, (you're given no notice) and I know I'm not alone!

Documenting my Table Topics Journey

But I've decided to break the back of these things and I thought one way to do it would be to commit myself publicly to recording each one that I do and its evaluation so that I'm not tempted to shirk away from them in future. So in that spirit of sharing I thought it would be nice to document my Table Topics journey with anyone who's interested and this is the first video in the series which I posted on YouTube today.

 My first Toastmaster Table Topic Speech given on 28th February 2013

The idea hopefully is that I'll improve over time and I hope other people will chime in with ideas and suggestions in the comments below or on the video itself. I'm going to share them all, good bad and indifferent and I hope that they'll at least be entertaining. :-)

As for this one, it's not too difficult to see where I could have made some improvements - my evaluator very generously didn't point them out but I'm sure you will :-) Not to head you off but I do know that I did a lot of 'umming' and some of my thoughts were not expressed as completely as I'd have liked.

Background to Toastmasters and Table Topics Sessions

For those of you familiar with Toastmasters meetings please skip to the evaluation video further down the page. For those not familiar with Toastmasters meetings I should point out a few details that you might be wondering about while you watched the video.

a) At every meeting we have a 'word of the day' and the idea is for speakers to include it logically and coherently into their speeches, prepared or otherwise. Our word for this meeting (which is attached to the lecturn just out of shot) was 'Lamprophony', which means loudness and clarity of voice. I did manage to squeeze it in as you saw :-)

b) There is a Table Topics Master who is in the video with me at the beginning and it is his/her job to choose the Table Topics for the evening and then give them to the members or guests to do at the appropriate part of the meeting.

c) Each Table Topic should last 1-2 minutes, no more, no less. Timing is a big deal in Toastmasters meetings and each meeting has a Time Keeper who can and will disqualify your speech from the best speeches of the evening competition if you go under or over time, (which is a bit inflexible in my opinion but them's the rules)!

d) Table Topics speeches do not have a title but for the sake of casual viewers it made more sense to include one so I added my own in order that people will have an idea of what I'm supposed to be talking about in advance. The title I chose for the one you've just watched is 'Crazy Gun Laws'.

Evaluation of my Table Topic Speech

There is a Table Topics Evaluator who critiques each Table Topic speech - at this meeting it was Angela Lansbury and here is a video of her evaluation of my speech.

Angela Lansbury evaluates my Table Topics Speech

Angela didn't offer any criticism or suggestions, but do you have any?

So that is the end of my first post of the series - I hope you enjoyed it and please feel free to share it. If you are not already a member of Toastmasters but are interested in joining, you should know that most groups welcome guests who can attend free of charge with or without a host for as many times as they like. And guests can participate in the Table Topics part of meetings if they wish to. My club is HOD Speakers in the Harrow/Stanmore area of Greater London in the UK where we hold meetings once a fortnight and you can click the link for more information. Our next meeting is on 14th March.
Venue Address: Manor House Banqueting Hall, Old Church Lane, Stanmore, HA7 2QX
Meeting Start: 7:45pm
Meeting Finish: 10:30pm

What is Toastmasters?

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organisation that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills.  If you'd like to join a Toastmasters group or are thinking of doing so feel free to write to me at any of my personal links to the right, alternatively you can contact Toastmasters directly and I've also provided their link in this paragraph.