In the recent past, I was not comfortable telling people that I am a Toastmaster. I didn’t want them to know. Why? Because I feared that I may dent the prestigious image of Toastmasters International. I was afraid that when I start saying that I am a member of this leading authority in public speaking, I would pin myself into a dartboard of mockery and pity. I was terrified that I would be toasted with critics and judgments.
I thought that people will say something like this: “What?! That guy claims to be a Toastmaster? He does not even know how to say a toast or introduce himself properly. Perhaps, what he mastered is to put a piece of bread in an oven toaster!”
Let me confess – I am not good in toasting bread either. That’s for an obvious reason. Toastmasters is not about toasting bread. Believe me – some people have those misconceptions the first time they heard Toastmasters. I know because I was one of them.
There is another misconception that I had. I thought that Toastmasters is only for the elite public speaking. I thought that only the eloquent speakers are qualified.
But thanks to this thing called “courage and adventurous spirit” – I visited a Toastmasters Club in Makati. I was alone when I visited IAME & Associates Toastmasters Club that Saturday evening in 2010. I was shocked because the moment I stepped into the room, I saw weirdness. There were two or three people who stood up and with their full smiles, they meet me and extended their hand. That was weird. I told myself, “I am not a guest speaker, am I? Why are they treating me like one?” But believe me, their weirdness was infectious. I smiled back at them and extended my hand, too.
There’s one more weird thing – they were like high in drugs. Why are they happy and enthusiastic? Believe me – they applauded loudly when the president tapped that table with the gavel. I didn’t know that was worth applauding. But I can’t help it, their weirdness was infectious. I clapped at the gavel too – I mean to the fact the meeting started. But after a couple of hours, I was shocked when the president was called and tapped again the table with the gavel and everyone again applauded. That was weird. I told myself, “If they clapped a while back because the meeting started, why are they clapping now when it ended. Isn’t that odd? Or are they just happy because the table was tapped with a gavel?”
I don’t know. I am sorry for the spoilers but you’ll get to know more about the weirdness of Toastmasters when you visit a club meeting. If you are not a Toastmaster, I urge you to visit one.
I told you that I was not comfortable telling to people that I am a Toastmaster but why am I talking about it now? What had changed? Is it because I was infected with their weirdness?
Maybe yes. And why would I not tell to the world how this weird community have helped me transform my communication and leadership skills? Today, I don’t fear to be judged at the level of my skill. I am exposing myself as a work-in-progress and I declare that Toastmasters have contributed a lot in my growth and development as a communicator and leader. I am not yet at the highest peak but I am happy because every single moment that I spend with Toastmasters and the times when I prepare my speech projects for Toastmasters, I am making myself a favour. I am making progress.
Toastmasters have helped me a lot. Let me share to you two essentials that I gained from Toastmasters:
First, energy in interactions.
My default setting is being silent, and I believe that silence is very good. But there are also times that I have to speak up and interact with people enthusiastically and confidently.
As an employee in a multi-national company with numerous interactions with people of various nationalities, the training I have with Toastmasters come in handy. Challenges still linger in every conversation, meeting presentation, or agenda deliberation but the confidence I gained in a community of weird people boost me up to handle the turbulence of the moment.
In my more than two years of Toastmasters experience, every speaking opportunity in and outside the club is a gift. And every evaluation given is constructive wherein the evaluator congratulates you for a job well done and also challenges you to push further and step higher.
Second, emancipation from internal prisons.
When I was starting as a Toastmaster, there was one time when I responded to a Table Topic (impromptu speaking) not because I volunteered but because I was volunteered by someone else.
Hesitantly, I stood up. My hands started shaking. I was trembling. With all the nerves in my brain, I seem to have forgotten the topic that was just read. I had to ask the Topic Master to read it again.
After 3 seconds, I started mumbling words. I didn’t even know if the audience understood any word.
When the red light was on, I said my closing sentence and then sat down.
When I returned to my seat, I didn’t have any idea if I made sense to them but one thing is for sure – my hands stopped shaking.
Then during the evaluation portion, I was surprised when I was told that I was able to answer the question and got my point across. And she wasn’t sugar-coating. The evaluator specified the good skills that I was able to exemplify and she also gave me specific suggestions for improvement.
All the while, I thought I was a wreck in that impromptu speech. But then I realized that I actually conveyed a good message.
There was also one time when my Toastmaster mentor told me to join the contest. I was hesitant because I was good at telling myself, “No, not yet. I’m not yet ready. I’m not yet good. Maybe, I’ll join in the future but not now.” But thanks to infectious weirdness, I boldly joined the contest. In the area level, I was the champion. Don’t be too impressed, we were two in the contest. In the division level, I landed 2nd runner up. Guess what – we were three in the contest. That means I came last. So I wasn’t able to get to the national or district level. But that’s not the point. That experience liberated me from my own fear. It also helped me gauge the development of my skill.
Those are the kinds of experiences that I call emancipating experiences. Often times we have these internal chains that pull us back to just stay down but thankfully, there are these tools available to us to break this bondage and finally free you – emancipate you.
These two: energy in interactions and emancipation from internal prisons are just two of the things that I gained in Toastmasters. There are a lot more. And I leave the others for you to discover when you join us. But I also have to warn you – expect that you will be infected with weirdness.
So whether you are starting as a speaker or already an advanced speaker, come to Toastmasters. Whether you are professional, amateur, or pre-beginner, come to Toastmasters. Whether you are seeking for friendship or looking for a girlfriend or boyfriend, yes – come to Toastmasters. Whether you are normal or weird, you can come to Toastmasters.
Toastmasters is a gift to the world and I am blessed to have an access to it. I hope that you too will make the move to gain access.
Live your life, young mind!
PS: To know more about Toastmasters, visit our club website at www.iametoastmasters.weebly.com.