Not everyone is a natural storyteller, interpersonal communicator, listener, speaker in public, or speaker through technology. Similarly, leadership that uses communication, the ability to set visions or make decisions, the ability to delegate or execute professional, productive meetings comes naturally to everyone. Taking specific steps to develop skills such as these, among others, led me to join an international organization called Toastmasters in 2016.
Many join Toastmasters seeking personal growth somewhere on that spectrum. Some stay beyond that to help others grow in these points. Still others join for the friendship and social rewards of gathering with or mentoring like minded people on the road to betterment. While all of these are reasons for me to participate with Toastmasters, my journey has been one of taking confidence from the application of speaking and leadership exercise while offering similar feedback to friends and colleagues across the clubs, district, and region I frequent.
My initial decision to explore Toastmasters came as I approached the winter holiday season in 2015. I hadn’t been making the professional impact in my career or workplace that I wanted. It felt like I was getting a bit isolated among my peers at work. The common sense yet hard realization I had come to was that the requirement to change the fundamental narrative of the situation rested with me. I needed to change the perceptions that existed about my ability to grow, influence, and accomplish with limited intervention from others. The skills that Toastmasters offered were natural things to investigate.
I visited a club near my home, finding the people there welcoming and competent. The club was of a smaller size, which meant that my inclination towards shyness or lack of assertiveness would need to be things I could confront early on without feeling overly embarrassed by lacking the things that the people of Toastmasters could help me address. We had a fit after visiting in December. I joined at the first meeting in January of 2016.
Two weeks later, I gave my Icebreaker speech. I was stiff, glued to the lectern, and largely reading from the script that I had written. The club offered expressions of excitement right from the beginning. Members offered me a sense that my first step was exciting for them too. I felt the truth and encouraging words of members that wanted to see me succeed, and more to the point get started with the journey.
Within a year, I had given 10 speeches and earned an educational award. I provided feedback to other speakers and led parts of the meeting. In time for the start of the 2016/2017 Toastmasters year in July, I was elected president of the club.
The club had limited success my first year, yet I learned much about things to do and try. The importance of setting a vision, calling the occasional club executive meeting, and making progress towards a collective goal through my own initiative became clear. The club showed me with firm yet tough feedback that others would not suggest the steps you needed to take. Those folks would offer specific recommendations when asked for specific help. The lessons of these points were taken into the 2017-2018 year when I served as an Area Director within my district.
This role meant that I would help five clubs with the things I had confronted the year before within my club. I started a newsletter for my clubs that highlighted successes as well as things coming up in the next 6-8 weeks. I gave folks clear ways to get in touch with me for questions, advice, or help. I visited clubs multiple times through the year, helping with Open Houses, marketing material, training, feedback, contests, and even press releases. All the things that I didn’t know to do in my year as club president came out as area director. I earned three more educational awards. My home club earned the second highest honor possible within Toastmasters. The District Director awarded me with Area Director of the Year honors. The lessons of my first year of learning to lead bore fruit with my second year of leadership.
I am currently serving as an elected official in my district, namely as Central Division Director. I am supporting five area directors in their journeys of discovery and growth. I am feeling much more confident speaking, leading, and setting vision after listening to the people that I serve. I am learning more about budgeting for an organization as well as the chances to address conflict, change, and growth. Either this Toastmaster year or next, I expect to earn the level of Distinguished Toastmaster. Maybe I will pursue a position on the Trio for me district, though there is time to determine that. For those that are curious, this journey can be one that we share.
Matt – Wednesday, December 5, 2018