Impromptus to toast the moment

Text by Don Messerschmidt / Photo:

What’s in your wallet or purse? Describe it. Open your backpack and tell us about the contents. What do they mean to you? And all those things on your key ring - what secrets do they unlock? And, in this modern era of high tech communications, what apps do you have on your smart phone? What for, and why?
In five minutes. Impromptu. Go!

Years ago I belonged to a Toastmasters International youth club. Toastmasters is an organization that helps people improve their public speaking, communications, and leadership skills. Among the group’s speaking exercises at each meeting someone would be asked at random a question like those above (all except the one about apps on smartphones, which hadn’t been invented yet). That person then had to stand and begin talking immediately, extemporaneously,

impromptu, on the ‘spur of the moment’ without pre-planning. Then, he or she would suffer through a critique of the result by other members in the group. As an exercise it helped us overcome fear of public speaking and gave us self-confidence, an important attribute to good speaking and writing.

I quickly learned to be at least a little better prepared each time I was chosen for the Impromptu Challenge by scribbling down interesting and potentially useful quotations from whatever I was reading or had heard somewhere. At first, I kept them on scraps of paper in my wallet. When asked, I could expound a bit on each. Nowadays I jot them down in my writer’s journal and later type them into a special file on my computer. Occasionally I scroll through them, amazed, delighted and refreshed by what I find. I have used more than a few of them in my essays, articles and books. And they come in handy when I am challenged to do some unexpected speaking or writing unprepared, “off the cuff.”

Here are some of my favorites

  • On photography and immortality: “Photography brings immortality... The photographer provides the immortal moment, which he, himself, is not.” Chris Szwedo, 2013, in ‘Eye on the 60s...’ in a sensitive video memoir about a noted photographer (
  • On reading: “I merely say that all reading is escape, whether it be Greek, mathematics, astronomy, Benedetto Croce, or The Diary of the Forgotten Man. To say otherwise is to be an intellectual snob, and a juvenile at the art of living.” Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder: An Essay, 1934
  • On South Asian mystery and intrigue: “…anything - absolutely anything - can happen in India.” Paul Man, in Season of the Monsoon, 1992. Followed by this sage advice: “…there is an early grave for those who try to change the East.” Rudyard Kipling
  • On the value of one’s own reference library: “It is always gratifying to find what one is looking for within one’s own library. Chosen well, a few volumes organized according to one’s chief preoccupations yields wonders.” Holmes to Watson in Between the Thames and Tiber: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in Britain and the Italian Peninsula, by Ted Riccardi, 2011.
  • Plain spoken advice: “The truth is, you see, that most people... are far too trusting for this wicked world. They believe what is told them. I never do. I’m afraid I always like to prove a thing for myself.” Miss Marple, in Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library.
  • On dying and lying and close to home: “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army.
  • And, on a philosophical note: “The great mystery is not that we should have been thrown here at random between the profusion of matter and that of the stars; it is that from our very prison we should draw, from our own selves, images powerful enough to deny our nothingness.” André Malraux, 1933, Paris.
  • What more can one say? - In five minutes. Impromptu. Go!

    There are three chapters of Toastmasters International in Kathmandu:
    KATHMANDU TOASTMASTERS meet at the Industrial Enterprise Development Institute (next to the Veterinary Hospital), Tripureshwor, 5:30pm Tuesdays - contact
    HIMALAYA TOASTMASTERS meet at Chhahari Productions Conference Hall in Gairidhara, 6pm Thursdays - contact
    EVEREST TOASTMASTERS meet at Yala Maya Kendra, Patan Dhokha, 6pm Sundays - contact See also

    The writer can be contacted at