The Habitual Speaker

I’ve been wanting to create some good habits and ditch the bad ones as I looked back on the past year and realized how many of the bad ones I still struggled to detach from for years.

I just finished reading a great book on habits and am now thinking about how to build habits around improving as a speaker and leader. Although the book touches on a variety of examples around athletic training, specially olympians, whose lives are devoted to master very specific skills with the goal of reaching their peak performance. It wasn’t hard to imagine how to apply it on communication and leadership, something that I’ve been pursuing more purposefully for about 2 years now.

The book goes in much more detail about habits that I can ever share here in this tiny post, but the main one that stuck out to me the most is the four laws for building of breaking habits:

If the sound of that interests you, I recommend you check out the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, and dive deeper into it.

When it comes to communication and leadership, specially Toastmasters and the places we might be focusing on implementing it. It can be easy for some people to aim for harder to build habits because they sound really good, though it doesn’t take long to start missing a day or two, as life unfolds and other things get our attention.

If I were to align the laws of good habit creation with Toastmasters, I’d say online meetings are the most obvious way it can get when it comes to honing your public speaking and leadership skills. Attractiveness can be based on the kind of people who are part of the same club that you aspire to be. Where if you join those meetings, you’ll more likely keep learning from those great inspiring and amazing speakers. Then, even if sometimes you don’t have the “perfect” speech prepared, you can still and should make the act of joining just for the sake of speaking on easier situations, even if it’s taking a smaller role that maybe you think it’s not as hard to you anymore, say the Timer or volunteering to answer a quick Table Topics question. As for making it satisfying, try to have as much fun with yourself as you can. There’s no right or wrong, good or bad when you’re in such a supportive and friendly environment as Toastmasters. Maybe you can tell yourself that you’ll go for a nice meal right after the meeting is over, or pull someone to the side and chat more about your goals and their goals, so you can keep learning from each other and building a stronger connection with your buddies and so on 🙂

These are just some quick examples I explored while sitting down to write this post, though I’m sure there are countless ways you can make the habit of joining your next club meeting without dreading it, and yet, even if you do. As the book teaches, we should go for it anyways because when building good habits, it’s important to suck up the “bad” or “boring” days and do it anyways, because the moment you stop doing something, it’s no longer a habit.

A Decade with Toastmasters

That’s it, the last day of the decade is here. Ten years is a lot of time if you put into perspective, if anything can happen in a few seconds what can happen in a decade?

Well, the world keep spinning and no matter where you look, things are changing whether we want it or not. That’s definitely true for Toastmasters with over nine decades of countless speeches and helping people find leadership opportunities to help them develop and grow.

Let me ask you, have you ever been to a Toastmaster meeting only to find out someone sitting next to you is about ten years younger? If you’re a bit like me, you might also wonder – “ah, I wish I got into Toastmasters at his/her/their age. I’d be nailing it by now!”. While that could be true, it doesn’t deny the fact that the next ten years ahead of you can be used for the exact same purpose as if you’ve joined Toastmasters a bit younger.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter that much. What matters most is actually not even what you do in the next decade or the brand new year that’s ahead of us. It’s what you do today; right here, right now. Are you preparing for your next speech? Good. Are you jotting some ideas down for what you want your next message to be? Good. Are you practicing at home in front of the mirror or to your family members? Good.

This should not be a shocker to people, but being part of Toastmasters doesn’t make you any better at communication and leadership. Now, consistently joining meetings and devoting time to yourself, others and the community as a whole is what does. Whether it’s an OK speech, a good speech or an excellent one, or whether you’re the Timer at the meeting or some other role you’re not too excited about, it’s still something and that’s worth nurturing and celebrating. How else do you think Toastmaster became what we know of today? All thanks to people who showed up and supported in any way they could.

As far as the entire Toastmasters ecosystem goes, a lot has been done since Ralph C. Smedley founded this organization we appreciate so much. Below is a sample of what has been accomplished in the soon-to-be-last-decade:

https://www.toastmasters.org/about/history/timeline

Almost 100 years of Toastmasters and it took one man to believe in the power of his community and way after his passing on planet earth, we still benefit from something that started in a small room with a handful of man trying to improve their speaking skills. Let me repeat, it took only one man, one person, to believe and take consistent action. One speech at a time, one meeting at a time, making the best he could on a single day. That by itself is to be admired.

Let’s all make today a day for this community that’s been helping us so much, if we do that a bit each day, I assure you won’t regret when you look back a decade behind.

Thank you members and specially, thank you Smedley.

Meet Our Buddy: Gustavo Matias

Where are you from?

Very proud to say that I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Where do you live?

I now live in Sunny San Diego, CA

What are your top 3 favorite activities?

Sometimes is hard to believe I’d ever say this, but I really enjoy taking speaking opportunities and happy whenever I get the chance to talk to people the way I imagined and can connect to people in a deeper level.

On a more physical side, Capoeira has become a passion of mine which I truly enjoy doing twice a week with the group I’m part of. For those having no idea what that means, I recommend Googling it, it’s a fascinating art.

Third but not least, using my brain as much as possible through building software has been a pursue of mine for over decades now, and whether is for the company I work for or a side-project, coding has been a skill I enjoy honing.

What brought you to Toastmasters?

The strong desire to turn my weakness into a strength with communication and leadership at work and relationships with whoever I get to meet.

Why Buddies?

It’s online, so it’s very convenient. It’s also the most diverse and exuberayting community I’ve ever been part of, this is precious and worth nurturing and seeing the seeds we’re planting growing overtime.

I also believe online communication is already mainstream, and Buddies platform is a way to practice for the “real”digital world we interact with on a day-to-day basis be it through a Podcast we get invited to talk, Youtube or Instagram live session we’re part of, a remote interview with our dream company, work meetings and whatnot. Digital is the present and the future, knowing how to navigate and present myself in those situations is becoming even more important to me.

How much have you grown since your first Toastmaster meeting?

I still remember to this day. Toastmaster sounded great in theory as I researched about this non-profit organization, but very awkward and uncomfortable at my first meeting; Imagine I get called to answer a Table Topics, and although I have the courage to do so, it’s one of the most terrifying few seconds. I remember feeling like time is going slower than usual and that words are slowly coming out of my mouth without making any sense at all, until I almost run out of breath, have no more thoughts in my head to share and decide to abort by going back to my seat as quickly as possible while my inner-critic gets louder and louder.

Nowadays, I nearly don’t care as much and am way more comfortable talking to a group of people regardless of the perceived outcome, specially if I know I did my best.

How is Toastmasters helping you in life?

I’m happy to say now I’m able to more comfortably stand for much longer in front of a group of people to talk about various subjects and have done for probably hundreds of times by now, whether it’s at work or any other group I happen to join, I have no plans to stop anytime soon.

Who are your top 3 favorite speakers?

  1. Haroldo Dutra Dias (Brazilian Spiritualist Speaker)
  2. David Goggins (Ultra-endurance Athlete and Speaker)
  3. Trevor Noah (Comedian and TV host)

What’s your top 3 favorite speeches?

  1. Conhece-te a ti mesmo (Know yourself) – Haroldo Dutra Dias
  2. David Goggins Interview at Joe Rogan Experience Podcast (It’s an interview, but there are amazing bits and power on how he speaks to the audience)
  3. Elon Musck’s Interview at Joe Rogan Experience Podcast (Another interview I know, but I loved how he talks in a very intelligent and thoughtful way, I like speeches that feel more like a conversation than a one-way only speech)

What kind of communicator and leader do you want to become?

I’m going to become a leader and communicator who is natural, relaxed, comfortable and confident on my ability to deliver and talk despite the situation or event, able to answer and ask questions to engage people and facilitate conversations in a harmonious and entertaining way.

Where do you think you can go with Toastmasters in 12 months ahead?

In the next year, continuing giving speeches, signing up for roles every meeting taking the most challenging/difficult/uncomfortable roles and expanding the practices in Toastmasters to my work, social situations and family that is going to drastically continue to help me find opportunities to serve more people around me as I’ll be better at expressing myself, communicating and leading as opportunities arise.

Network For Service

If you’ve ever been to a networking event such as a conference or meetup (like Toastmasters), it’s natural to ask – “What’s in it for me? What will I learn from the people at the event? What will the organizers and speakers teach me?”. While this is a totally fair question to ask, sometimes it made me feel deficient of knowledge and experience, that I had to participate and learn to get something out of it.

Not too long ago, as I start thinking about going to my next big tech event. I end up receiving an email from the organizers promoting the conference. I get so excited by the line up of speakers and their talks, the venue and location, which I never been before! I was so exhilarated for my next travel adventure and going to this event that I almost miss the barely readable words at the footer of the email that read “Want to volunteer? Click here!”. This immediately gets me thinking – “Huh, I wonder who are behind the scenes. This is an enormous event and I wonder how much work it’s put before, during and after each of these conferences…”. Without hesitation and a good dosage of curiosity I Immediately start composing a new email inquiring about this volunteering opportunity.

Not too long in just a few days, I receive a reply from one of the organizers; I was in! I’ve volunteered before at few smaller events, but this one wasn’t only going to the my first time, but I’d be also going to volunteer at an event that was expected to receive thousands of people! The venue? A hotel that had hosted six presidents, The Beatles and was were the Oscar statue was first sketched, on a napkin. Though those are not the type of things that fascinate me too much, I thought it was pretty cool 🙂

The event venue

The day is finally here, and I hop on plane and travel all the way over to Los Angeles, CA. Where the conference is happening, and from day one I realize how much work is put into just to prepare things for the volunteers themselves. Most things were already unpacked and ready for us to begin organizing and sorting in preparation for the attendees. From filling up bags with some cool swags, to putting everything in place at the registration desks and making sure things are in order all around the venue, it took us hours, and I was very enthusiastic all the way throughout the first day.

The following day is finally time and I can’t wait to see how it’d all unfold. Thousands of people coming early morning to register and grab the best seats for the conference’s keynote speech and a first opportunity to network with their fellow other attendees. Right up-front, during the registration period signing people in, I get to greet and chat with so many people. For some, a few seconds to check them in, handout their badge, lanyard and wish them a great day ahead. For others, a first quick eye contact that open doors for more connection to happen on the days ahead. It’s fantastic to see people’s excitement in their eyes, it lights me up!

As a volunteer, I got to watch the most fascinating talks, was steps away from some of the brightest people our community has ever seen, met some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met and had close experience on what it takes to run the entire show. Would I have had such a blast hadn’t I decide to be at service to the community? I doubt it.

The most incredible and unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had in my life were rarely the ones I was receiving something, they were the ones where I was giving. Giving my time, my sweat and my heart. It’s never enough. Give to the people around you, your family, friends, your communities, and since we’re here, give to your fellow Toastmasters. 😉

What if you fail on stage?

Today I gave a speech at my physical Toastmasters club.

[about a week ago…]

I go on Toastmasters website, click on Basecamp, pick my “Innovative Planning” Pathways curriculum, select project for level 3 which states the following purpose — “Become aware of his/her thoughts, feelings and responses on the audience as well as a two-week assignment on turning negative thoughts into positive”.

I immediately thought — “hmmm, how? I need to find situations that I tend to think negative about and feel a lot of weird stuff inside… but what?”

If you’re anything like me, these thoughts and feelings may seem familiar:

  • “I can’t do it”
  • “I’m not ready”
  • “I’m feeling anxious”
  • “I’m feeling nervous”

Do you notice a pattern of these in a specific situation in your life? Where does this normally happen?

FREAKING PUBLIC SPEAKING

To me, it’s a love and hate relationship still, but hopefully not for too long. Either way, I think and feel a lot when the opportunity appears and it gets closer to the event.

I then decided to take a step further and make it a bit more intense; — “What if I don’t prepare my speech at all? Completely wing it and see what happens? Will I freak out? What different sorts of thoughts and feelings will arise? Will I fail terribly and pass out on stage?!”

Well, that’s what the assignment is about. So I decided take up the challenge.

Isn’t it funny how much control we want in life? The tendency was to at least mentally think about my opening or closing, or some points I could bring up during my speech. It was hard! Apparently it’s harder not to prepare a speech than it is to prepare, rehearse and do it! There’s this innate need to control the situation whenever possible. Quite modestly, I can give decent speeches once I’m given a topic, enough time to prepare and practice. It became easier and easier as my time in Toastmasters went on and I was completing project after project. The challenge though, is standup on a stage with dozens of people for 5-7 minutes and speak. For some this might be a piece of cake, but for me is almost as bad as my own heart-attack.

As the day of my speech approaches, my mind keeps wanting to think about some ideas for my speech, even though I didn’t jot anything down. The need for control was intense, I wanted more certainty! But I insisted and kept my mind occupied with other subjects and concerns as much as possible.

The date and time finally arrived. I’m not going to lie, nervousness, anxiety, excitement, fear and much more was felt right before it was time, as well as countless well-known negative thoughts of “You’re going to fail”, “Everyone will see that you’re a fake speaker”, “You can only give prepared speeches”, “People will no longer want to connect with you”, “Not today, do another day” and much much more that I could write an entire journal on…

It’s finally time. The Toastmaster of The Day introduces me, I step up on stage and the result? Normal. Yes, just normal. It was surprisingly calming and peaceful up there. A feeling of comfort and surrendering poured over my body, I realized was OK. It’s OK to not know anything I was going to talk about, it’s OK to be nervous or having a lot of thoughts, it’s OK to not be always prepared, it’s OK to experiment and try something new, it’s OK to feel, it’s OK to fail.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it was my best speech with the most amazing subject. Though it was my best internal preparation and performance.

Where else would I be able to have a safe space where I can try these sorts of things out? To me, only at a Toastmasters club.