Get the most out of your Toastmasters experience

I’m just an eight-month-old Toastmaster who is climbing onto Level 3 of her chosen Path in the new educational program.  The memory is still fresh of my first Table Topic, which I mumbled through for less than one minute at my computer desk eight months ago, of the moment I said yes to the nomination of a club officer role two months after I joined Buddies, or of my first Tall Tale Contest, where I felt how my legs shook, teeth clattered, and breaths shallowed here in my study, facing my computer screen and camera. But considering that I used to be the kind of person who finds it impossible to utter simple greetings to a neighbor, I’ve come a long way in eight months.

Dear new member, I’m not trying to inspire you. Nor am I going to be the first or last one to write under this or a similar title.  I only hope that by voicing my own observations, I will inform new members who might find it easy to join a Toastmasters club yet difficult to make a presence after a couple of meetings — and let them decide for themselves. Real, long-standing motivation, after all, comes from within, not without.

Presently in Buddies, I’ve noticed something quite interesting: Names on the meeting agendas never seem to change, despite the fact that new blood keeps flowing in.  A few members have gone past the Ice Breaker stage and have hence stopped. Sometimes they would come and support the meeting by filling up roles that require the minimum amount of speaking (and thinking). But months have passed and I never heard one more prepared speech from them, while the old familiar voices are racing through the speech manual like a Chinese high-speed train in motion.

Born with an inquisitive nature, I couldn’t help but wonder. In the end, I categorized my musings into one set of questions everyone should ask themselves after hurrying to pay club dues.

What, How, and Why

These three questions can be elusive because sometimes we don’t know exactly what, how, or why we are doing the things we think we ought to do. How many of us can tear up our New Year’s resolution list at the end of the year, puff up the chest and say: I’ve done it all!  Upon a major failure to meet our long-abandoned goals, we might just shrug and say. “Well, life happens.”

In the Toastmasters context, where self-initiation is needed for every step of the way, we need to come up with something more.

The weather is too bad, I’ll go to my club next week.

Oh no! My brain stopped working. I’ll go next time.

I’ve got nothing interesting to talk about!

I’m tired. I need a break.

I look too awful to speak.

I can’t find enough time to do all the reading and research. 

My surroundings aren’t appropriate for me to make a presence (for online clubs only).

A simple way to test if these are facts or fallacies is by asking What, How, and Why.

What can I do not to skip a club meeting?

How is it possible for me to learn and engage with my club?

Why does it matter?

My answers are as follows.

What can I do not to skip a club meeting?

Prioritize your tasks according to their impact and urgency. Set up a calendar that works for you. Use alarms to remind you of the meeting you plan to attend. Get prepared earlier.

Because I regard confidence as well as skill in speaking as very impactful to the next five to ten years of my life, I give Toastmasters four-star priority, right next to my work as a freelance translator. I use Crazy Promodora to plan my day and alert me to important tasks. I would always have an umbrella in my bad if I ever joined a brick-and-mortar club.  

How is it possible for me to learn and engage with my club?

Get familiar with Toastmasters educational programs and specific meeting roles by reading the instructions on either your club’s website or Toastmasters.org. Grab a speaking slot whenever you see one. Plan ahead. Break down your plan into individual steps you can take in five, ten, or thirty minutes at a time. AND stick to it.  Find the time to talk to the Vice President of Education if you don’t know what to do despite the efforts. He or she would be more than happy to help you.

On a personal note, I usually plan on a speech project two or three weeks ahead. I’m more of a one-thing-at-a-time type, so the first thing that I do is taking ten minutes to read the instructions on Base Camp, Next, I recall my life experience that is related to the assigned topic if there is one. Because this is all mental work, I can do it while taking a walk. Then I spend thirty minutes doing research (references, studies, quotes, etc.) and another thirty minutes developing an outline. The most time-consuming part is practice. In rehearsals I like to add words, sentences, and passages to the outline which I think will contribute to my original ideas. English is the second language I began to learn in my late teens. Coupled with the fact that I am an inherently a slow thinker, at first I’d write the whole script and memorize it word for word. This is not the best way to deliver a speech, but I found it very helpful to soothe my nerves and stay in the flow.

Why does it matter to me?

Find out the reason why you decided to join Toastmasters.  Not just “I want to overcome my shyness”, “I want to improve my communication skills”, or “I want to become a better leader.”  These are not strong enough to be what you need to keep motivated. Run a thorough search in yourself like the one you would probably do when you lost the car keys. Figure out what it is in you that you truly think you need Toastmasters. Identify one or two aspects of the educational program that you feel most passionate about. Envision the best outcome you can have when you follow it through. Create little scenarios in your mind that provide psychological cues by which you act against the lazy bug.

I heard about Toastmasters from a friend nearly ten years ago. I knew my friend was right, that I was too shy and needed to improve my speaking skills despite my physical constraints. I had a reason, but it was not strong enough, not until I had my first national TV exposure a year ago. It was painful for me to watch myself squirming and squirting on the stage, gasping for breath, words squeezed out like the last bits of toothpaste.  As much as I wanted to improve, I had always believed that my problems with speaking were unsolvable, very much likened to the situation where one who lost the voice wishes to talk. Then, watching my struggle on TV, I had an epiphany: A true overcomer is never the one who accomplished greatness with things they have, but one who accomplished greatness despite the things they have not.  It is with this new-found belief that I joined Toatmasters online. Buddies is an online club I found most enchanting with its youthfulness, open-mindedness, and dedication, values I can easily identify with.

Dear new member, I believe that soon you will find your own answers to these three questions.  More broadly, over time you may also discover their pertinence to other pursuits you have in your life, not merely to Toastmasters.

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Nelson Mandela

Never, ever wait for it to happen. Make it happen. This is what I am trying to do with Buddies. How about you?

These two posts are also worth your time to thumb through:
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/make-most-out-your-toastmasters-experience-overcome-takahashi/

http://blog.jvf.com/wp-content/tmtips.pdf

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