I am glad to see toastmastsers mentioned here. I have been thinking of
joining and wanted to discuss the benefits that others have found with the
organization. My hope was to several things out of toastmasters. First, I
understand that it is directed at improving one's speaking abilities. But
what exactly does that mean? I would like to learn how to better organized
my talks, how to present them in a more dynamic manner, how to relax and not
be so nervous. Are these the things that one gets from joining?
I have been a Toastmaster for almost nine years now, and during that time I have attained the highest designation in the Toastmasters program--Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).
Back in 1993, I was very much a wall flower. I remember going my first Toastmasters meeting. I arrived at the meeting place a little late, and was too nervous to go in. I went home, and tried again the next week.
That was the beginning of an oddessy that has shaped my life in ways I couldn't have forseen.
A few weeks after joining, I delivered my first speech, my Icebreaker. Back then, the 4-6 minute time limit seemed like an eternity.
It was six months before I did my second speech. Yes, the Toastmasters program is designed so you can progress at your own pace (though you will find a bit of pressure to speak more often if you join a smaller Toastmasters club).
It would take me just over three years to complete complete the ten projects in the "Communication and Leadership" manual and earn my Competent Toastmaster. Sure, I served a couple of terms in junior roles on the club executive during that time, but that was it.
Now, one of the beautiful things about Toastmasters is the people you meet. Immediate Past International President Joanna McWilliams picked, as the theme for her term in office, "Friends helping friends succeed". The year I earned my CTM, one of my Toastmasters friends was about to open a door for me that would change my Toastmasters world forever.
One morning, before our meeting started (I should mention I belonged to a morning club at the time), a member of the club and newly elected Division Governor, Franco Panizzon, asked if I was interested in serving as one of his Area Governors.
I told him I'd think about it, and spent the rest of the meeting thinking about it. After the meeting, I went up to Franco and said I'd be glad to.
Thus began one of the most enjoyable and rewarding years I have ever spent in Toastmasters.
In the past, I'd been happy to sit back and let the leaders in my own club make decisions affecting my club. Now, I would be a resource for the leaders of the four clubs in my Area--helping them lead their clubs to success. In turn, they would help me achieve success too as we earned my Area recognition as a Select Distinguished Area. (I won't go into the mechanics of the Toastmasters Distinguished Area program here.)
Midway through the second half of my term as Area Governor, I made an important decision. I would follow in Franco's footsteps and let my name stand for election to Division Governor. I was successful in my bid for office, and in the year that followed, I would lead my team of five Area Governors and their 27 clubs. (By the way, at 27 clubs, my Division was bigger than some Districts--the next highest unit in the Toastmasters organization.)
And that brought new changes to my Toastmasters experience.
Just a few years before, I was a club officer attending club officer training. Now I was organizing and conducting club officer training--finding and selecting the people to lead the training sessions, and even conducting a couple on my own.
And during my term as Division Governor, I set a new benchmark for myself for number of speeches projects completed in one year. And that would pale in comparison to the year that followed.
The two years spent in leadership roles outside the club were bringing people into my life who would ignite and fuel my ambition.
And as I helped some of them succeed, they helped me succeed.
February 1997 saw a small group of people assemble in the boardroom or our chamber of commerce with the idea of chartering a new Toastmasters club. One of the future club's sponsors, Wayne Taylor, came from my own club, and I made a point of helping out. Wayne had helped me; I was returning the favour.
And in making that decision, I put myself on a path that would take me over the great divide that I believe truly separates the DTMs from other Toastmasters.
There are three roles a Toastmaster can fill that are linked to the birth and life of a club: Sponsor, Mentor, and Specialist. The sponsor helps a new club form--bringing it from idea to birth. The mentor helps the newborn club through its first critical months of life--through its first steps until it is old enough to stand on its own. The specialist brings a dying club back to life. Any one of the three roles is required for a DTM.
As we brought the fledgling Chamber Toastmasters club closer to charter, I approached Wayne and the other sponsor, Larry Carr, about mentoring the new club. Larry looked at me and said, "You've earned it."
Chamber Toastmasters, a club to which I now belong, had a rocky first year, and a couple of times we nearly lost it. But it survived. And with it, DTM went from being a possibility to being a certainty.
Since then, I've explored other aspects of the Toastmasters world.
Along the way I've become a better speaker, a better leader, and a better communicator. And I've learned to reach out and help others as others have reached out to help me.
And if there is one life lesson Toastmasters has taught me--an odd lesson for an organization best known for public speaking--it is to be open to opportunity and to take it when it arrives.
I hope, David, that you take the opportunity to explore the world of Toastmasters, and to discover what it can do for you.
John Fleming, DTM
Attitude Boosters Toastmasters - Member
Chamber Toastmasters - Member
If Love is Deep, Much Can Be Accomplished
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