Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Toastmasters Success Stories

For more than a month now, we've been trying to get our company's Toastmasters club re-established. We had a demo meeting last month which was attended by around 21 people, not counting the guests from other Toastmasters clubs. In that meeting we formed a steering committee that would work towards getting the club on its feet. After that meeting, the club has yet to take off.

I've been a Toastmaster for nine years. I've seen people improve their communication and leadership skills, taking them to heights that would otherwise have been unreachable or difficult to achieve. What would it take for people to put a priority on their self-development?

In my company's previous club, we had a member who had a terrible tendency to say the words, "whatcha call this." In his first speech, he uttered these words in almost every sentence.

It's something we call a "filler" in Toastmasters. When a speaker doesn't know, is unsure, or forgets what the next word is, he inserts a filler. The most common is "ah" though other people use other fillers.

I tend to refer to fillers as "crutches." Just as a real crutch helps lame people walk, a Toastmasters crutch helps the member get by with his speech delivery. Unfortunately, like a real crutch, the person still hobbles around, not improving. The sad thing about this is that they are usually unaware that they're using a crutch. They had gotten so used to it that it becomes a part of how they talk. They need someone to point it out to them.

That someone was our "Ah Counter." He's the person assigned to watch out for people who use fillers or crutches. This can be  ah's, uhm's, repeated words, anything that a speaker uses to prevent him from stopping and making an embarrassing pause in his delivery. Near the end of a Toastmasters meeting, the Ah Counter stands in front and tells people what fillers people used when they spoke and how many times they did it.

Of course, having someone point out your fillers can be embarrassing but if the Ah Counter is careful about how he or she says it and if the recipient is willing to accept it, it can work wonders. In our member's case, he took it to heart. In his next speech, there was not even one "whatcha call this." In fact, he didn't have any fillers at all. The applause at the end of his speech was enthusiastic.

He eventually finished his ten speeches and achieved his Competent Communicator norm. He retired from the company soon after that. About two years ago, I met him at a mall and he said that he had been getting invites to be a keynote speaker, to conduct seminars, and inspirational talks. He's been overseas several times, all expenses paid. He credits his Toastmasters training for it all. Yup, he did more than just eliminate his fillers but that was where he started. Then again, after seeing how he overcame his crutches, I never doubted it.

The next story is about a lady, a member of another club. When I first met her, she was soft-spoken and seemed unsure of herself. We met at a speech contest and she was a contestant, another member who was determined to improve herself.

After some time, she was asked by her club to be the club president. She tried to get out of it saying she wasn't prepared or she didn't know if she could do it. They persuaded her, assuring her that they would support her. At the end of her term, her club received the highest award a club could get. After that, they persuaded her to be the area governor. Again, she pleaded against it but again, accepted. At the end of her term, she was recognized as one of the best area governors of the district. She also became division governor but, this time, she didn't hesitate about accepting. That's leadership training at work.

If you've got reservations about joining Toastmasters, you're not alone.  Lots of Toastmasters went through the same thing. It's the determination to learn and improve that pulled them through.