Adventures in Toastmasters: Exploring
In The Beginning
I could not have predicted that the life I am moving towards requires a great deal of public speaking. Silly me, I thought I could avoid public speaking and just go about things another way, such as through writing or maybe miming (just kidding).
However, it turns out I really enjoy people, and I particularly like to speak with them in person. Telephones are generally unappealing to me and email is pretty difficult to guess tone of voice and non-verbal cues.
I read so much from people’s non-verbal cues that I have a strong preference for being with them in-person whenever possible. Plus, I feel more connected with someone when there is no technology between us.
It also turns out that I want to help large numbers of people, all at once. One-on-one coaching is great, and I will probably always do some form of one-on-one coaching. Yet, sometimes the most amazing “aha” moments occur when groups of people that have different perspectives bring their puzzle pieces together. And I want to help those moments happen.
In order to get better at standing in front of people, speaking, and coming up with responses on the fly, I joined Toastmasters. I had been considering it for over a year, but apparently the stars did not align for me and Toastmasters until October 2014.
For whatever reason, 10 weeks worth of hurdles popped up right after I joined. That is, I had a client group in Seattle that could only meet at a particular time on Tuesdays, which also happened to be the time my Toastmasters club meets. This meant I had to put Toastmasters on hold again, right after joining.
Unfortunately, that 10 weeks threw off my mojo and I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things. I went to Toastmasters meetings, but did not feel nearly as motivated and excited as I had initially. This was no fault of the group (my club is awesome). It is just the somewhat inevitable experience I have after an overly long delay of gratification. I lose interest, and then I have to work hard to regain it.
Fortunately, after I sat down and plotted out my path towards the Competent Communicator Certificate and the Competent Leadership Certificate, I regained my mojo. It’s strange how creating a plan can help so much with motivation. I know I will have to deviate from the plan at times, but the mere existence of a plan that I fully comprehend is enough for me.
The Good, The Bad, and The Quirky
My Ice Breaker was titled, “Once a Big Sister, Always a Big Sister.” I have learned over the years that I will always be a big sister, and sometimes I will be a big sister to people who are older than me. As long as I remain aware of what I am doing and do not overstep my bounds it’s okay to be a big sister all the time.
The most positive feedback I received was that my speech was well-organized. I often take it for granted that I am usually very good at organizing, and I forget that it does not come naturally to everyone.
My second speech was three weeks later. I was practicing for the Webinar I presented to the world on December 2nd. The great thing about Toastmasters is that they are super supportive and have been very helpful and willing to modify some things to help me reach my goals. Thus, I presented a shortened version of my webinar to them in a psuedo-webinar format (we were all in the same room, so it was not even remotely close to what it is like to present a webinar).
It did not go well. However, it was very helpful to do a practice run with an audience so that I knew what needed to be adjusted for the actual Webinar. Several members had great suggestions and had more experience with Webinars than I have.
My most recent speech was the end of January. It was the best yet. It was titled, “Suckered Into Love,” which I knew would be interpreted differently than I meant it (I wanted the element of surprise). In this speech I told them about my love of octopuses.
Their initial reactions were surprise, perhaps a little disgust (apparently octopuses did not conjure up warm, squishy, love feelings for them), and curiosity. As soon as I was past my introduction, the disgust disappeared and the curiosity grew. In fact, after my speech was over they kept asking me questions about octopuses, so we had an informal Q&A about octopuses for several minutes.
I followed up the Q&A with an email containing links to amazing octopus videos and an article about the plural (octopuses vs. octopi vs. octopodes). It was fun to share one of my quirky interests with them and to help them develop a curiosity about something they initially found unappealing.
I think I am going to like this Toastmasters thing. It is a very specific way of presenting, and I may not use it all that often, but it is good practice with a great group of people. I find the simple, clear, linear, project-based trajectory to be a nice reprieve from all the complex, messy, non-linear, and seemingly random aspects of my life and work.
I think it is similar to getting grounded by getting your hands dirty in that it seems so much more tangible and straightforward. The path is very clearly marked. It not only seems possible but also simple (not easy, it’s going to take work, but simple). What a nice break from the craziness of complexity.
Don’t get me wrong, I am loving complexity too. I have recently embraced Liberating Structures as a great tool for complexity situations. I just know I need balance and some simplicity in my life too. Strangely, I also recently took up crocheting again, which I have not done for 20 years. My subconscious must be trying very hard to balance out all the unpredictable emergence and stimulation that comes with complexity.
Expect updates, on occasion, about my Adventures in Toastmasters. Who knows, I might actually do something with this stuff besides getting a couple of certificates.
For more information about Toastmasters, check out their website. And if you want to ask me about it, feel free to contact me with whatever questions you may have. I can also put you in touch with people who have been involved much longer and can tell you all about it.