If You Want to Practice Your Presentation Skills, Toastmasters Could Be the Answer

For anyone interested in having the opportunity to speak every week in some capacity, the answer might be Toastmasters, an international club dedicated to the practice and enhancement of one’s public speaking techniques. While most clubs gather weekly, a few are scheduled for twice a month. Located throughout the world, the clubs offer various hours and days: some meet early in the morning, some over lunch breaks, and many others in the evening hours.

The value of Toastmasters is undeniable. Supportive of all, their members seek to improve their presentation skills and become proficient in the informative, persuasive, and impromptu speech as well as becoming more accurate in the timing of their delivery.

There is much comradery throughout the various clubs as well as competitions scheduled from the local level all the way up to the world championship.

You can find clubs in your area simply by checking on the internet; and, more good news is that the fee to belong is minimal. You are likely to find good contacts as part of your membership which could move you towards a career in public speaking if that is your goal.

While you may feel that you are too nervous to be required to speak every week, this is exactly why joining a group like Toastmasters could be to your benefit. One of the primary motivators for belonging to this type of organization is to learn how to control your nervousness. Every member you will meet has been in the same situation as you and they will be most supportive in working with you. Their constructive criticism is fair and not meant to disparage but instead to help you hone your skills.

While informative and persuasive speeches are the common order of business, Toastmasters also offers the ability to practice the impromptu. Speaking extemporaneously on a topic you have not previously prepared is an excellent means of learning how to think on the spot. As frightening as it may sound, the impromptu is not as difficult as you may believe. And, from my experience with my clients and students, I have found that they not only learned a lot from the opportunity of speaking without prior preparation but that they enjoyed it as well.

Whatever your level of ability in public speaking, you might consider joining a local Toastmasters. The experience could be invaluable to you

Basic Bank Accounts Failing the Basic Needs of Consumers

The lists of bank and savings accounts that are available to most people are bewildering. A quick look at a comparison site like Moneynet or Moneyfacts will reveal thousands of different products. Unfortunately many of these accounts are not accessible for anyone with either a poor or even no credit history.

Research carried out for the National Consumer Council (NCC) reveals “that the poor pay more, or get less, for essential goods and services… having a bank account can be a gateway to other products and services, such as affordable credit and insurance”. To help counteract this problem of financial exclusion, the government has tried to initiate the introduction of basic bank accounts for the least well off. The NCC has however warned that, “the current model of basic bank accounts, introduced by government in 2000 in an attempt to enable all low-income consumers to access banking services, is not delivering.”

The new basic bank accounts were introduced as part of a wider push towards ‘universal banking’ and corresponded with the introduction of direct payment of social security benefits to bank accounts as well as the Post Office Card Account (POCA). The plan was that these accounts would also help their users by letting them set up direct debits to pay their utility bills, and so keep better track of their finances from week to week.

The accounts were originally designed to let people save and withdraw money, but in an effort to prevent extending any existing debts and stopping the accounts from becoming overdrawn, they don’t offer cheque books, overdrafts or other credit facilities. The accounts were intended for those with no credit history who might not meet the banks’ criteria for opening a standard current account. The accounts features typically include the ability for payments, for example pensions and benefits, to be credited direct to the account, withdrawals by plastic card through cash machines and the facility to pay bills by direct debit.

The problems experienced seem to be partly because the accounts do not always help those with a small weekly income to deal with the unpredictable gaps which can occur in wages, benefits or spending. Automated monthly direct debit payments for goods and services can prove of little use to many on low weekly based incomes. Those paid on a week by week basis, expressed a preference for weekly cash based, rather than monthly direct debit, budgeting options and felt that bank accounts with direct debit facilities would not provide them any advantages. By using cash instead of a bank account, they found they could juggle payments easier, and avoid punitive additional bank charges if they did not have the funds to hand, to cover an outgoing debit payment.

Another problem experienced was that the holders of these basic accounts are also liable to be those on low incomes, with low (if any) savings and are more likely to be in arrears paying their household bills than those without them. This vulnerable group are less likely than most to be able to deal with unexpected additional expenditure, such as an unforeseen bill for home repairs, but without recourse to any credit facilities, they may be forced into resorting to high interest loans to cover temporary setbacks.

The NCC found that “people on low incomes who use accounts to manage their money are more likely to be in arrears with household bills. They are also more likely to have outstanding credit commitments, partly because they have wider access to credit”, than those without accounts.

The government has set a target of halving the number of households which do not have access to a bank account by 2006. The banks state that they currently face a lack of demand, however more than two million applications, in excess of the government’s expected take-up, for the POCAs have been made. The banks are claiming that reaching the targets will be difficult, as they are being impeded by various barriers to opening basic bank accounts, such as the identification requirements in money laundering rules. Some of those on low incomes may not possess either a full driving license or full passport, and so find difficulties setting up new financial accounts. The banking industry has also been widely criticised for failing to actively promote basic bank accounts and, sometimes, for actually discouraging people from opening them.

The NCC proposed that basic bank accounts need to be more flexible. Suggestions to make the bank accounts meet the needs of consumers included offering weekly, rather than monthly, direct debit facilities where payments are only triggered if the money is available in the account, occasional payment holidays, and small free ‘buffer zone’ overdrafts.

Whether the lack of interest is due to the banks, the government, or the product itself, something needs to be done if there is to be an increase in the take-up rates. Half of those surveyed by the NCC felt they do not really need an account. An even more damning indictment of the current basic bank accounts was that a similar proportion of account holders preferred to withdraw all their income, rather than leave it in the account, and then manage it as cash. An inclusion policy may be a laudable idea, but it is no use if people do not want to be included, and it should not disadvantage those it is meant to help.

Christmas Presents for Dogs: Santa Paws Is Coming to Town!

Are you buying your partner a Christmas present?

Of course you are! Then what about the dog in your life? After all your four-legger is part of the fur-family and if you don’t want those sad puppy-dog eyes sending you on a guilt trip, it’s time to get shopping.

When you buy your partner’s present, you spend time thinking about what they’d like or appreciate. Do the same with your dog, but don’t just stick to balls or a Frisbee (or if you do, get an indestructible one) – think outside the box with these gifts you might otherwise overlook.

#1: Safety First

You wouldn’t let your child travel unrestrained in the car, so why let your fur-baby? This Christmas give a gift that could save your dog’s life: a car safety harness. These should be comfortable yet strong, and secure onto the vehicle’s existing safety belt system. Look for models that are crash-test certified; to be sure they’ll do the job in the unfortunate event of a collision.

And if you have a large dog that travels in the trunk, consider investing in a crashed-test safety cage. These are sturdy enough not to crumple in a rear-end accident, and keep your dog safely confined so they don’t run off across a busy carriageway.

#2: Memory Foam Dog-Bed

Anyone with a bad back will appreciate the bliss of a memory foam mattress for a good night’s sleep. If you have an older dog, with sore arthritic elbows and hips, then imagine the comfort a memory foam bed could offer. Its supportive properties mean that the dog’s weight is spread evenly and heat retained around those stiff joints. So if you have an old-timer who deserves a little indulgence, this could a special gift that makes a real difference to him.

#3: Kong

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with toys, but give one that counts. A Kong is a wonderful way to keep your dog occupied for as long as it takes to lick out the tasty treat inside. They’re inexpensive, last forever, and are great for distracting dogs that are unhappy at being left behind when you go out.

#4: Dog Backpack

Here’s a present you can both enjoy: a doggy backpack. Think of this as a down payment on weekend walks in the country, where your canine companion carries his own supplies. He’s going to adore spending time in your company; it’s a great way for you both to get fit. So where a regular dog toy is forgotten in minutes, a backpack gives countless hours of fun.

#5: A Clicker

Last, but certainly not least, you’re barking up the right tree with a clicker. If you have yet to discover the positive power of clicker training, read up on the magic of how you can change your dogs behaviour.. This could be the start of a better-behaved dog that looks forward to his training sessions – Now if that isn’t a paw-some gift from Santa Paws; it’s hard to know what is!