Back when I was a bright and bushytailed young buck, one of my Forestry School professors dragged me out to experience a meeting of a club he belonged to. It was a pivotal point in my life. It was a Toastmaster club where members met regularly to upgrade their communication skills and leadership skills, which I believe are the top two things that need improvement to be a better person.
Those that see me present or facilitate, often ask me, “Why I’m still in Toastmasters?” I think they ask this because they recognize that I am not new to this. However, the perception that Toastmasters is remedial is dead wrong. It is better described as enrichment. Because, while the organization is a great avenue to begin learning communication and leadership, it is an even better place to maintain skills already obtained, or to grow advanced skills that not everyone manages to add to their quiver.
My sharing my story, I hope to give you a glimpse of how this outfit has helped me. If it seems like a pitch, if you are grimacing at this moment, then I invite you to hold your reservations for a few moments and power through because many never give themselves that chance and they do themselves a disservice.
The best decision I ever made in life, other than choosing my beautiful wife Terri, came in a moment of jealousy. Terri came home from work one evening, over a decade a go, and told me she joined a Toastmaster club. I felt spite because this was something I was struggling to find time to do for the 5 years since I was first exposed. The very next week, that dissent melted my excuses away and I was at her club meeting when she walked in the door, and the next week I joined my very own club.
Since then, I’ve worked though all 15 agenda positions, given countless presentations, and earned several designations that act as milestones along my learning journey. I’ve also self-frazzled my nerves by joining contests and stepped up to assume club officer roles that sometimes can be compared to hearing cats. Most of all I find it an enjoyable and fun way to learn. Most people will tell you they feel energized at the end of a meeting, as much as an oxymoron as that sounds.
Two things keep me coming back. The first is that I recognize that whenever I go too long between meetings, I notice my skills slide. It’s likely only noticeable to me but it maters nevertheless. The “practice for real life” atmosphere of a Toastmaster meeting keeps my skills sharp and my confidence high and provides me with the ability to pounce communication and leadership opportunities that stumble my way. Many of my meatiest accomplishments and my hairiest goals I can attribute to this path.
The second reason that I maintain my membership is that reap dividend by giving back to others. Not only does it feel good to make a positive difference in helping others develop but I also benefit because sharing what I know has always been one best ways that I have found to reinforce and advance my own learning.
I get that Toastmasters is not for everyone, some need a classroom or a computer or a book to learn. Learning in a social environment is off-putting for some, especially with the amount of fun we have (if you’ve ever heard a frivolous motion at a Toastmaster business meeting mentioning spandex club apparel, you know what I
mean). And, in the moment feedback, the core of the Toastmaster experience is one of the trickiest things for a person to give or receive. That said, the tried and true principles and structure that have powered the organization have few rivals in terms of efficacy. Moreover, the cost effectiveness of Toastmasters is mind blowing, which is paramount to a 3rd generation, frugality inclined, Canadian-Ukrainian like myself.
Some tell you me they don’t have a use for something like this because they get what they need from real life. However, I remember many an instructor in my youth that never seemed to communicate better no matter how many lectures they delivered.
Learning on the job is powerful and necessary, but it can bring collateral damage. I’ve used Toastmasters to get my kinks out so they that don’t negatively affect others along the way.
The other reservation that people raise with me is that they have no inclination to be a leader. However, if you are a parent, an uncle, a coach, or a friend, you likely have become a leader whether you like it or not. And, if you think of a leader as someone that just gathers the gumption to help nudge the status quo, then you might see that leadership skills are something that we all have a need to acquire and improve – if not a responsibility.
If you have read this far, I hope I’ve given you an insight into a world where few dare to enter but many would do well to enter. If you have questions, or comments about this topic – comment below, tweet me @gsjonuk, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear your thoughts and perspective. And, if you call Prince George home, I’d be delighted to invite you to a meeting of my own club and let you in on one of the best-kept secrets that I know of, for being a better person.
P.S. After my wife read this post she told me I was being enigmatic about what Toastmasters is. I think that was unconsciously intentional because after watching the awesome Simon Sinek TED talk, the what and the how seems not as important as the why. I will tell you that it’s a nonprofit, world wide, educational organization geared to boost the communication and leadership skills of its members. Visiting www.toastmasters.org or the Toastmasters wikipedia article or, better yet, visiting a meeting as a guest, will do a much better job of describing the what and how than I could have here.