My Toastmasters journey

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

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Malcolm Gladwell and ‘The Tipping Point’

In his 2002 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell tells us that “[t]he tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” I’ve been studying the notion of influence and persuasion recently, and read The Tipping Point as a means of enhancing my understanding.

The Tipping Point 3(The big idea of The Tipping Point)

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell concisely shares the message for how ideas catch on and become adopted. The notion is positively reinforced through examples of ideas like shoes that were adopted by an early set of adopters in Manhattan (the first example) followed a few examples later by skater shoes adopted out of a skater community in southern California. The examination in this book gets into how this happens along with the types of people who make this happen.

The Tipping Point 2 - Malcolm Gladwell(Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point)

Three points that Gladwell indicates as highly important include the notion, first, for the nature of the message. The message must be sticky. The message needs to be delivered in a common sense context. The message needs to be delivered to somebody who will act.

The Tipping Point 4(Delivering a message that tips)

The correctness of any given message does not guarantee the tipping, or large scale adoption, of a message. The audience for that message needs to trust the person or people delivering the message, along with the integrity of those delivering the message. The three groups that deliver messages are connectors, mavens, and salesmen.

The Tipping Point 5(The right people need to deliver the message)

Mavens are the most important in that chain as they have earned trust through being experts in a subject with an interest to help. Paul Revere with his midnight ride during the US Revolutionary War was a maven. Connectors are those loose connections of acquaintances that are less than friends that have knowledge of the critical help for a situation. Think of a connector not as the good friend who knows you are looking for a job; Think of the connector as the person in your friend’s network who knows about the job that fits your skill set. A salesmen (or salesperson) is the person in a specific context trying to help you decide to make a purchase.

Overall, the message here was a helpful one. In fact, I used this technique just recently in a Toastmasters speech where I was trying to sell my club on some public relations changes. The approach used was comfortable and readily applied. For that, I grant The Tipping Point 4.0-stars out of 5.

Matt – Saturday, November 10, 2018

Book Review: Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go

As some of you that read this blog know, I joined a communication, confidence, and leadership growth group in January of 2016 called Toastmasters International. A gentleman there took a risk by affording me the opportunity to practice my leadership skills.  He offered the challenge to be uncomfortable for awhile in supporting not only myself and my club. He allowed me to serve the people of five clubs in an area of my city that I hadn’t really explored much during the first roughly 40-years of my life.

I was first introduced to the gentleman, Mr. Tay, in April 2017. This friend reads two to four books on leadership each year to keep current with new ideas that can help him in his career. Mindful and continuous improvement are cornerstones of the advice that I have received from Mr. Tay. This approach brought me to the book Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.

Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni co-wrote Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, a book that gets into a concept that Goodreads calls “surprisingly simple.” The notion underpinning the book is that “frequent short conversations with employees about their career goals and options integrated seamlessly into the normal course of business” will help keep employees growing, engaged, and happily productive within your organization.

Grow or Go 2(Beverly Kay)

The framework that Kaye and Winkle Giulioni voice clearly in Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go includes talks about understanding your own hindsight, combining it with foresight into department, company, and industry trends, and then joining the two with context to gain insight.

Much of the book indicates what it will tell you and then did. Chapters three and four get into the notion of hindsight to determine who you are, where you’ve been, what you love, and where you excel. Foresight in chapter five looks to have managers help employees look forward, outward, and toward trends, changes, and the big picture. Chapters six through eight focus on leveraging insight from the convergence of hindsight and foresight.

Grow or Go 3(Julie Winkle Giulioni)

Career-oriented books about leadership and development are definitely not the material for everyone. Conversations about a Toastmasters career further are not the types of information that will excite folks. Taking concrete action to lead and grow through direct action within clubs, and then more passive reflection and thought to shape further action, is further not the thing folks want.

In combining the two and reviewing a book well at 4.0-starts out of 5.0 stars, know that I received insight that I wanted while getting to practice the techniques within. Thanks, Mr. Tay, for sharing the opportunity to read this and apply it in the real world.

Matt – Thursday, March 22, 2018

Book Review: Simon Sinek starts with why over how or what

Simon Sinek introduced the highly influential concept of The Golden Circle in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. This book appeared in my sphere when a retired business owner in one of my Toastmasters International public communication clubs brought up the notion of marketing the club based on why we do things rather than what we do or how we do them.

Start With Why 2(The Golden Circle)

The book gets into the notions of moving from why to how to what, which is the system that Sinek called The Golden Circle (18-minute video here)Simon Sinek makes the case that his system of communicating on why and through beliefs mirrors biology.

Biology underpins The Golden Circle, per Sinek, because it follows the notion of biology by clarifying similarities to the way our brains function. The newest and outermost section of the brain (the neocortex) processes sensory information, higher level reasoning, and communicating through language. This part of the brain also corresponds to the question of what.

Start With Why 4(The biology of the theory)

The middle two sections deal in the limbic system, which gets into our feelings, memories, moods, and behavior. The limbic system addresses the questions of how and why humans behave the way we do. In other words. our feelings, memories, moods, and behavior controls a larger portion of our means for making decisions than does the neocortex.

Start With Why 3(The Celery Test)

A simple test (or framework) for effective use of is the notion of The Golden Circle is The Celery Test. This four-minute Celery Test video moves from a results-based why into a purposeful, belief-based means for action. The Celery Test gets to the notion of acting consistently with your belief system in living your beliefs.

Start With Why 5(Simon Sinek)

There is much philosophical satisfaction that I take from Start With Why, and for that my inclination is to rate the book as 4.5-stars out of 5.0. The notion that the book could have been a more concise pamphlet or video is not lost on me, though the larger benefit of The Celery Test and the comparison to biology in the book were satisfying parts of the reading journey for me. I recommend this book to those wanting a self-help book for your own edification.

Matt – Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Offering a Song of Love

Three times before today, we at Matt Lynn Digital have offered a firsthand experience with the speaking and leadership organization called Toastmasters International. This organization has helped me grow personally in confidence, vision creation, voice, and many areas professionally and personally.

There was the time where in this blog where I compared my early experience in confidence finding to peeling back the layers of an onion. There was another time where I was excited to hear the current president of the Toastmasters organization speak to members of my district. There was the time where I mentioned cultivating the relationships formed in Toastmasters to help me land a new career opportunity following a layoff with my employer of more than 16-years.

As you might tell from the opening two paragraphs, my heart wishes to offer a feeling of gratitude for the growth and bridge of friendship that I found during my time there. One of the ways I have given back to Toastmasters is in service to the district where I experience the organization. Stated another way, I aim to give back by sharing my talents and willingness to support others taking or supporting similar journeys themselves.

Finally, I bring myself to the example that brings me to my bigger point. I was giving a speech to my home club on a night when Lynn, the better half of this blog team, visited the club after a rough day at home. Sensing an opportunity to entertain my Toastmaster colleagues and wife at the same time, I chose to sing in public for one of two times I had in my entire public speaking career.

Modifying the lyrics to Bette Midler‘s song The Rose, I sang the song of love to our then 11-year-old dog to my wife. The dynamic of the singing as well as the dynamic of an interplay through unaccustomed presentation style was less than award-winning music while being full blown emotionally dynamic and groundbreaking for a group that had previously seen me take a less pronounced public speaking style.

The Toastmaster Rose 2(Bette Midler)

The speech itself professed my love for Kayley, included visual images of Kayley for the audience to share, and included some precious moments of love and cuteness. The subject matter even included the speech title, which included the simulated barking of the letter R five-times in rhythmic succession.

The entertainment value and coherence of the speech brought itself together in the end by tying the “puppy love” of my affection for our dog into a telling of how it was that my first introduction to our four-legged friend that began to build the affection my wife and I would build from infatuation, to something mature, to the very real decisions to act together as one in marriage. In five-to-seven minutes, I had taken my club and my wife on a journey of puppy love, song, and vision to the mature dynamic of a love story that was unwrapped for everyone to see.

At least, that concept of unwrapping is how I tell myself in my head the speech went. The striving for something that compelling was there. I had given this speech to the members of my club at a winter meeting in December 2016. The time to share it here, with you, was today. Happy new year.

Matt – Saturday, January 6, 2018

Hearing the President Elect of Toastmasters speak…in person

Does seeing the President Elect of Toastmasters International speak sound interesting to you? What if I said that the leader of an organization of more than 345,000 people in 142 countries was coming to speak? Might you listen to that?

Would you want to see this gentleman speaker from the island country of Sri Lanka? What if I mentioned that this man would speak about how his country gained independence from Great Britain after World War II? Perhaps he will talk about how Sri Lanka recently freed itself of the ugliness of a 30-year Civil War in less than ten years ago. Would hearing about his experiences surviving the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquake of 2012 interest you?

President Elect of TM 3

Today, I get to hear Balraj Arunasalam, Distinguished Toastmaster and president of an organization serving almost 350,000 others and me speak in my community about leadership, communication, service, and possibly some of the life experiences that formed his passion for all three of those interests.

President Elect of TM 2

Today’s events bring Mr. Arunaslam from Sri Lanka to my midwestern US community. For a volunteer organization in 142 countries, you can imagine that visiting us is a significant event. In addition to a keynote speech of more than an hour, Mr. Arunasalam will perform another hour of education for our club. Other educational events will be included in the day. A minting of Distinguished Toastmasters occurs today, as does a pair of contests for an area serving more than 100 of the over 15,000 clubs in the larger Toastmasters organization.

As a person that has spoken about Toastmasters International before, today is an exciting day.

Matt – Saturday, April 29, 2017

5,863-days to a new career

Today’s post has it’s beginning in early December last year when we had the Kleenex tissue meeting at my workplace. My colleagues and I were told over the course of the morning how my business unit had been sold in a fashion where the jobs would disappear in waves over the coming 18-months.

A small number of us with specific jobs other than my own would be given the opportunity to transfer over. Others would be asked to stay through the 18-months. Most of us would be provided with a 60-day notice and a severance package.

Unlike some of my colleagues, Lynn and I chose to keep this news pretty close to the vest. That is, I waited to see Lynn in person before sharing the news with her or the in-laws. Sharing Facebook friends with other less reticent people, Lynn captured knowledge of the news before my chance to look her in the eye and address concerns that you’d expect to appear in this case. Overall, Lynn understood my rationale and accepted the news pretty well. To this day, the means of sharing the news coupled with sharing my plans for working the problem pragmatically worked. Focusing on accepting the fact of the setback while acknowledging that it hurt seemed to have offered a sense of normalcy and optimism.

Through the time since, Lynn and I have updated our LinkedIn profile, become acquainted with Glass Door, Zip Recruiter, and Indeed as services. We worked with the displacement services to finesse a more professionally written resume; much has changed in the approach to resumes in the 16-years since landing the job I was losing. I reached out to people across my current industry, from school, in Toastmasters. The idea was to network with resilience and a positive demeanor with those in a position to help.

The decisive turn in finding our next opportunity came about three weeks ago when a former boss responded with his willingness to help. In less than a week, I had interviewed with five different people while passing a skills assessment with this company. Over the weekend that then appeared, the group that wanted to hire me extended an offer. Yesterday, news came back that my background check went well. My new role will start in 10-calendar days.

Today was the end of my 60-day notice period. The job I learned would disappear in December ended today, after 16-years and roughly 2.5-weeks. Next week, I get a “spring break” of sorts as I get to enjoy some relaxation before starting in full force in my new adventure. Today, as I joined many of my colleagues in saying goodbye on our respective last day, is emotionally sad, bittersweet, and a chance for saying farewell after 5,863 days.

Life happens. You feel sad, deal with the feelings, and then use the hurt to focus on moving forward. Lynn and I are happy that things are working out for us. Things are working better for us than for others; I am extending help and empathy where I can. Offer thanks for good fortune and support where possible; do the same with a helping hand where practical.

Matt – Friday, March 31, 2017