My Turn: Let's Talk About Woodstock

When Good Morning America called, this Toastmaster was ready for her close-up.

By Colleen Plimpton, CC

My cell phone rang one day last August as I was feeding brook trout in upstate New York. The reception was spotty, but I clearly heard the following:

“This is Good Morning America. We saw your interview on PBS last night and would like you to appear on our Woodstock show this Saturday morning. Are you interested?”

Was I interested?! I almost dropped the phone in the water in my haste to say yes.

But seconds later, I thought: There are only 30 hours to prepare to be on national TV. What will I say? How will I do? Will I make a fool of myself?

Enter Toastmasters. I’d been a member for the previous year and a half. Thanks to my many experiences with Table Topics, I was well versed in thinking on my feet. Also, having done numerous evaluations, I was skilled at determining what was important and what was extraneous in a speech.

Heck, I was ready for Good Morning America

Taking the Road to Fame and Fun
It had already been an exciting year. My essay on attending the original 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair had been accepted in the anthology, Woodstock Revisited (Adams Media). I delivered a Toastmasters speech about my Woodstock experience and having my essay published. (I got into the spirit by dressing in costume, complete with headband, bell bottom jeans and colorful, long shawl.)

Amid the approach of Woodstock’s 40th anniversary, opportunities arose to publicize the book. Because of my Toastmasters experience, I felt little trepidation and did a number of book signings, presentations and panel discussions. When I appeared on the PBS documentary, Woodstock Remembered, I thought the interview went well.
It went so well, in fact, that Good Morning America wanted me. 

Returning to Woodstock
The night before the show, we met with staff who informed us what questions Bill Weir, Good Morning America’s weekend co-host, would ask. I’d have only a minute or two to respond, so I needed to know exactly what I wanted to express.

Once I decided what salient points to make, I reviewed what I’d learned from Toastmasters. If I wanted TV viewers to get to know me in a brief time, I’d need to reveal myself, Ice Breaker-style, in a few evocative words. My time on camera would have to be organized, so I needed smooth transitions. Vocal variety would be important; viewers didn’t want to be bored. I’d also need to get to the point quickly. Colorful words, correct grammar, good posture and gestures were essential.

Does all this sound familiar? It should. These lessons all come from the first 10 projects of the Competent Communication manual, which I’d just finished. Each of the principles from the prepared speeches I’d given over the previous 16 months proved invaluable.

The next day we gathered at the original site of Woodstock, where the famed Yasgur’s farm once stood. The music stage was long gone, but all else looked familiar. A host of memories rushed back but were soon overpowered by the realities of the moment: The hubbub of Good Morning America could not be avoided. The staff pinned us with microphones, gave us tie- dyed blankets to sit on and instructed us not to speak unless spoken to. We suddenly found ourselves on the air. 

Prepared for the Pressure
To my surprise, Bill Weir asked something totally different from what I’d been coached on. Prepared by Toastmasters, though, I didn’t buckle under the pressure; rather, I swiftly answered the question and elaborated on the theme. Then came another take and multiple trudges across the damp field with an increasingly wet blanket as the sunlight shifted. In the middle of the three-hour event, we were all treated to a special surprise: a concert! We became an attentive audience to Richie Havens, who’d won fame as the first performer at Woodstock.

When the adventure was over, all I could feel was relief. My time on the national stage was brief, but according to many who saw the show and told me about it, I’d comported myself well. I’d used my speaking skills and succeeded in offering America a taste of my Woodstock experience.

Thanks to Toastmasters, I’m ready for my next close-up. 

Colleen Plimpton, CC, is a member of the Barnum Square club in Bethel, Connecticut and an author whose recent book is Mentors in the Garden of Life. Reach her at