My Toastmasters ‘Icebreaker’

Earlier this year, I joined the local chapter of Toastmasters International. According to the organization’s website, “Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that builds confidence and teaches public speaking skills through a worldwide network of clubs that meet online and in person. In a supportive community or corporate environment, members prepare and deliver speeches, respond to impromptu questions, and give and receive constructive feedback.” I presented my first prepared speech last week. Because it’s so closely related to what I do here at Musoscribe, I’m presenting the text of that speech (the actual words I spoke differed somewhat). — bk

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” We’re not sure who coined that clever aphorism, but they had a point: using one art for as a tool to describe another is something of a fool’s errand.

Nevertheless, I was one of those kids who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. I wanted to be a music journalist. At five years of age, I was paying close attention to the disc jockeys on WSBR-AM in Boca Raton, Florida; when they announced the name of a song and the artist who recorded it, I paid attention. I wanted to know more about the music and the people who made it; I wanted to go deeper.

I did take a bit of a detour. I grew up, went to college, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing. After graduation, I went on to work as the head of marketing for a string of high tech and industrial companies. I got married and raised two wonderful kids.

But the flickering flame – my dream of being a music journalist – never extinguished. By the early 2000s I was a freelance marketing consultant and web developer. On the side, I wrote a couple of pieces for the online version of Trouser Press, an esteemed music criticism publication that I had been reading for many years.

Not long thereafter, I learned that a music magazine in Boston was looking for writers. I reached out to them, sharing some writing samples. A year and a half later I was Editor in Chief of the magazine. I managed a staff of 50-plus writers, making all the assignments and handling copy-editing for every word that went onto the pages of the glossy magazine.

This being the 21st century, you can probably guess what happened: the print magazine didn’t last. But by the time it went belly-up, I had developed extensive contacts in the music business: artists, management, promoters, publicists. I started a blog of my own, and it continues to this day. For more than 14 years now, has featured new content – usually 500 words or more – every business day. For the last five years, I’ve posted new content seven days a week. Reviews, essays, features and interviews: at last count I have conducted nearly 1200 interviews.

One thing that I didn’t do was speak in public. But in 2012 there was an event called Ignite Asheville. Ten speakers would take their turn on stage and give a talk lasting exactly five minutes, accompanied by a slideshow with exactly 20 slides, each of which displayed for exactly 15 seconds. I pitched a presentation called “Rock Songwriters on the Creative Process.” I made the cut.

A few days before the event, I wrote about it on my blog. Enthusing about some of the impressive speakers scheduled to appear, I ended with this line: “Let’s just say that I’m glad Ignite Asheville is not a competition event.”

Upon arrival at the Grey Eagle, no one was more surprised than me to discover that it was in fact a competition! The full-house audience would vote. On I went, and if I do say so myself, I did a good job.

The audience thought otherwise. I came in dead last. And as other speaking opportunities didn’t readily present themselves, that was it for public speaking for me for quite a few years.

It was six years later – 2018 – when my first book was published. I scheduled a number of interviews and public appearances to promote it. My first was at a salon, in front of a group of friends and family. I took my place in front of the room, and began to read my prepared remarks. A friend shouted out, interrupting me. “Stop!” he cried. “Put down your notes and just talk to us.” After I regained my composure, I did just that, and it went very well.

All of the subsequent events went very well, too; more than 75 people attended an event at Malaprop’s Bookstore here in Asheville. And I found that I really enjoyed engaging with an audience.

When my second book came out, I even embarked upon a modest book tour; I organized a panel discussion featuring several of the artists profiled in the book. That event at the San Francisco Public Library was a major success. And I had a lot of fun doing it; I was feeling very comfortable in the front of the room.

Back here in Asheville, I began doing public lectures on a wider variety of music topics. After holding several successful and well-attended events at Citizen Vinyl downtown, I launched the “Music to Your Ears” discussion series at Asheville Guitar Bar. For over a year now I’ve held that monthly event, bringing in a special guest to discuss significant music and trends. It’s not a lecture; it’s a discussion. And people like it.

Last winter I started another series, Music Movie Mondays. Once a month at the Grail Moviehouse in the River Arts District, I host a screening of a music-related film; afterwards, we discuss it. Many screenings have sold out, and they’re a lot of fun.

I believe that these events are popular because – in this post-Covid era – there’s a pent-up demand for events that allow people to get together in the same physical space, interacting about topics of shared interest. Going forward, public events look to be a major component of what I do. I hope that by this time next year I’ll be booked for gigs well beyond Western North Carolina.

At age five I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. And I’m doing it. I didn’t expect that speaking would be part of the mix, but it is. I have a lot to learn, and I welcome the challenge. I’m looking forward to this new and exciting chapter.