Doing is Becoming at Toastmasters Leadership Institute
If you ask someone what Toastmasters is about, the first thing you will hear is – “it is a program designed to improve public speaking skills.” Unfortunately, this simple statement does not tell the whole story. Toastmasters offers much, much, more. The combined Toastmaster communication and leadership tracks provide a real life environment to practice and enhance communication and leadership skills.
For anyone who has attended a Toastmasters meeting, the experience of just showing up can be intimidating. Stick around a few months and the realization will come that this program has real magic in it. The shy become bold. The fearful find courage. The creative flourish.
The Toastmasters leadership track takes untrained, inexperienced people and turns them into seasoned, professional leaders. It is the only organization where experience is not required to become a leader. The only requirements are a willingness to: step out of your comfort zone, volunteer, get the provided training, and practice what you have learned while you serve.
As a volunteer club officer your role is to manage the clubs day-to-day affairs. Officer duties and leadership skills are learned as you attend training presented twice a year at the Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI). Here you learn: your role’s basic duties, enhanced communication techniques, conflict resolution, and other high value skills. Your skills are sharpened and confidence increased through practice as a club leader.
Why should you participate in the leadership track? Within Toastmasters, trained leaders gain knowledge and skills that allow clubs and organizations to thrive, grow and provide a better learning experience to their members. Outside of Toastmasters, organizations continuously look for leaders with good communication, organization, time management and people skills.
As the new Toastmasters semi-annual term begins in January, take the opportunity to attend District 57’s Toastmaster Leadership Institute to: beef up your leadership and communication skills, learn about new TI initiatives, get inspired by speakers and get additional club officer role training.
As I was progressing in my career, a few people mentioned an organization called Toastmasters. I did not think much about it or really look into it at that point. Then a co-worker invited me to a Toastmasters meeting. They served pizza at the meeting and I thought, “Hey, this is pretty good!” But they did explain that this was an exception and they do not have pizza at every meeting. I came back the following week and joined. Then came the dreaded Table Topics. I was called on to do a table topic. Petrified, I think I stood up at the lectern for all of 14 seconds without getting any words out but a few um’s. On to my ice-breaker speech – I got through it, but my voice shook so much from nerves and the more I tried to control it, the more it shook and wavered. After my table topic and ice breaker experience, I was ready for the bad news – I would be kicked out of the club because there was no hope for me.
Luckily, a few of the seasoned members told me I was at the right place and that I just needed to keep at it. Things would turn around for my public speaking. It did not happen with the second or third speech, but finally by the fourth speech, my voice did not shake as much. I kept with it and eventually became an officer of the club, and have grown from there.
As with every member who grows with Toastmasters, the experience has improved both my leadership and speaking skills. Many members do not know much about Toastmasters beyond their club. It can be overwhelming for a new member just to understand the Competent Communicator Manual, the Competent Leader Manual and club roles. However, as a member gains experience, they can understand the additional opportunities available within Toastmasters, but outside their safe club environment. Since I have gained so much from Toastmasters, I have given back to Toastmasters in order to help the organization succeed. I have been the Area D26 Governor where I worked and evaluated different clubs. I have been a Co-Chair of a District Conference and a club coach. I continue to serve as an officer, resource, and mentor for my club, Lakeside Speakeasy, and emphasize the Toastmasters protocol so that the club can remain strong as we help new Toastmasters members achieve success.
For the last two years, I have opened a work-related conference with over 700 attendees which I would not have been able to do without practicing, growing and learning through Toastmasters. Toastmasters, the journey to uncover your potential is unlimited.
The Toastmasters Community by Carol Haynes
A community is that place where you feel belonging, support, and influence. A community offers that special place of safety. Your community might be made up of your neighborhood, religious organization, or extended family. You may have more than one community. Little did I know that when I joined Toastmasters almost four years ago, I would find more than a public speaking group; I would find community.
Like many new Toastmasters, my initial Toastmasters experience was writing and rehearsing speeches, checking off goals to attain the Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership awards, and attending a weekly meeting. In other words, it was all about me. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed my club, I loved the members, and I was always willing to go above and beyond to help the club out. But I didn’t know what could be gained by going beyond the “it’s all about me” mentality to the “it’s all about them” mentality.
As I continued checking off boxes and moving up the communication and leadership tracks (and seeing corresponding improvements in my skills), I came to the Advanced Leadership Silver award. To earn the ALS, it could no longer be all about me. One of the requirements is to serve in a district office. I had been in club officer roles from nearly the beginning of my Toastmasters experience, but I thought that the District Officers were the Toastmasters elite. After all, I heard them introduced as dignitaries at Toastmasters events. However, I learned that Area and Division directors are not a “secret society” with barriers to entrance. Like every leadership opportunity in Toastmasters, there are a group of people who have served in the role before who are willing to step aside, step beside, and step behind.
The willingness to step aside allows members with less experience can take on leadership roles in the district; the willingness to step beside provides mentorship to the member filling the role; and finally the willingness to step behind whispering words of encouragement allows new leaders to make their own mistakes while providing a safety net if they falter.
Completing the High Performance Leadership project as an Area Director provided me with unique opportunities. The objective of a High Performance Leadership project is to gain experience in creating a vision, goal-setting, developing plans and strategies, and building a team. My guidance committee was made up of former district leaders who knew the pitfalls and could offer suggestions. My guidance committee illustrated the principles of stepping aside, stepping beside, and stepping behind.
Ending the year as a Select Distinguished Area was a side benefit of using the HPL project to guide my Area Director activities. It was the members in the Area that deserve the credit for that success. I am happy to have played a small part in the success of the clubs and develop new tools in my future leadership endeavors.
Throughout my years in Toastmasters, I have found that the more roles I assume, the larger my circle of community has become. Each role has added another layer of belonging and support. Think about how you might benefit from making Toastmasters your community.