The Many Facets of Toastmasters: Listening

Listening is not an immediately obvious benefit of Toastmasters, but it’s easy to realize when you think about it. After all, someone has to listen to other members speak. However, our listening practice does not stop at merely listening to speeches.

There are several roles in every Toastmasters meeting which are entirely dedicated to listening. The Ah-Counter and grammarian must listen to every word spoken throughout the meeting and pick out every filler word and violation of grammar as well as the extraordinary uses of words and phrases. The evaluator must listen to their assigned speech closely enough to be able to pick out what made the speech understandable and clear as well as parts that may need work. The General Evaluator must also listen to the entire meeting to pick out what made that day’s meeting effective and what could make the meeting and club better in the future. Although, you could argue the Timer’s job is not entirely about listening, there is a definite listening aspect to it. If the Timer falls asleep at the switch the club will end up with an inaccurate record of the speech and Table Topic times.

There is a very strong emphasis on listening in Toastmasters because Toastmasters International realizes that listening is a major skill, perhaps the major skill, needed for leadership. Many of the greatest leaders in the world were known for their listening skills. There is a story about George Washington and how he used to sit and listen to his officers argue over possible courses of action to be taken during the Revolutionary War. After everything was said, Washington would take everything he listened to both sides say and then make his decision.

In our daily lives, listening is no less important. According to an article written by Dawn Rosenberg McKay, a career planning coach, in 1991 the US Department of Labor identified listening as one of the three foundational skills essential for those entering the work force. In her December 26, 2015 article on About.com, “Listening Skills: Why You Need to be an Active Listener,” she also pointed out that your listening skills don’t necessarily depend on your ability to hear, because each are separate abilities. “It is possible to have one but not the other. Someone who is hearing impaired can be a great listener if he or she pays attention to the information someone conveys to them regardless of how it is being communicated.”

In Toastmasters we can learn how to become great listeners ourselves. We have every opportunity to do so. With our new skills, we can become better leaders and better followers and we can improve all of the relationships we have, both personal and professional.

The Many Facets of Toastmasters: Networking

Over the past couple of weeks, for two weeks today in fact, I have been becoming reacquainted with one of the greatest reasons to become a Toastmaster; Networking. Two Tuesday’s ago I was called into the board room with several other people and told that business was just too slow to keep us on, for now.

I had no real reason to be worried because I have one of the greatest networking groups in the world behind me. Toastmasters International provides us with the opportunity to meet with members from literally all over the world. Every once in a while we see an article in Toastmaster about members traveling the world and looking up the local Toastmasters group in the city the wind blew them to. They always find a friendly face and help with anything they need.

The wind blew me into the dark city of Unemployment and maybe it’s providence, but we are also in the middle of a contest season. This is a great opportunity to attend Area Contests and soon Division Contests. I have an opportunity to share my story, but more importantly, I also have an opportunity to help the speakers with my own experience in competitive speaking.

Why is it more important that I help others? As the Online Coach and Mentor Aylen De Aranza reminded us in her Huffington Post, February 12, 2016 article, “Five Ways to Network Like a Rock Star,” “One of the most powerful and genuine ways that you can network is by being a connector; focus on how you can add value to others.” In other words, networking is not about you; it’s about how many people you can help. People recognize when you genuinely want to help. They also recognize, very quickly in fact, when you’re in it for yourself and they will treat you accordingly. So far I have made two important connections just by going to the contests and preparing for my own contest. One asked for two, count them two, copies of my resume and the other has offered her huge LinkedIn network for my use. I also have a lead with an engineer who recently recovered from the same fall I just experienced. As a result of the networking I did using the skills I learned and practiced in Toastmasters, I have gained three job interviews.

In Aylen’s article she points out five steps to become a great networker. Here in Toastmasters we have the opportunity to practice all five with no real significant effects if we do them wrong. If we mess up or wimp out at one event, it’s okay. Since Toastmasters is a laboratory, we can get back on the saddle and try again next time.

The Many Facets of Toastmasters: Self-Confidence

The single greatest transformation I had ever seen in anyone in my time as a Toastmaster was a woman who joined our club a few years back. She was the single shyest adult I had ever met. She stood with her arms crossed tightly over her body. Her eyes were constantly down casted and you could feel her pain as she forced herself to speak to anyone, whether to the group or just one person. About two years later, she left our club … to join an acting troop.

This woman’s transformation made me think deeply about one of the greatest secret gems of Toastmasters: the opportunity for anyone to develop self-confidence. I saw it in my own life. As a recovering shy person, I can easily see the difference in my life before I joined Toastmasters and now. At work, I never spoke up. I didn’t think I had the authority. This is what my inner dialog sounded like.

“I have an opinion.”

“This isn’t your place to speak. Just keep it to yourself.”

“OK.”

After being a member of Toastmasters my inner dialog changed. It began to sound something like this.

“I have an opinion.”

“This isn’t your place to speak. Just keep it to yourself.”

“I don’t care if it’s my place or not, I’m giving my opinion.”

“You never listen to me anymore.”

“Are you still talking?”

I really did begin to give my opinion at work whether I had the authority or not. I noticed that the rest of the people in the meetings didn’t always agree with me, but they did always appreciate my thoughts. I would never have found out that my opinions actually mattered if I didn’t have the confidence to speak up and I have Toastmaster to thank for it.

How does Toastmasters build confidence? As an active member, you have a lot of opportunities to test and push the limits of your speaking and leadership abilities. As you do, you also test and push the limits of your comfort zone. The bigger your comfort zone gets the more confidence you have that you can be successful and authoritative in life.

Steve Errey, a confidence coach wrote a post for LifeHack.org called 63 Ways to Build Self Confidence. After going through all 63 recommendations Steve makes, I realized that 42 of them are things we have the opportunity to work on in Toastmasters. Numbers 1, 18, 35, 38, 41 and 57 especially caught my eye. These, in particular, are things we work on just by showing up at Toastmasters meetings.

Steve wrote in the beginning of his post, “Confidence is a tool you can use in your everyday life to do all kinds of cool stuff, not least to stop second-guessing yourself, manage your fears and become able to do more of the things that really matter to you.” Besides being a place to learn public speaking and leadership, Toastmasters really is a self-improvement organization which helps us to clarify our hopes and dreams and most importantly helps us to realize that we can achieve them.

The Many Facets of Toastmasters: Writing

When I first joined Toastmasters, I wanted to increase my confidence when presenting land development plans at municipal meetings. I no longer have a job requiring me to speak in front of people, but I remain a member of Toastmasters. Over the next few posts I’d like to describe the many facets of Toastmasters which I have found.

To those who have never heard of Toastmasters, it’s best known as a drinking club. To those who have heard of Toastmasters, but who’s familiarity ends there, it’s known as the club where people learn how to give a speech. Although the latter is true and sometimes the former is also true, there is a lot that goes on within the club meetings where we learn far more than speaking in front of people.

When I first joined Toastmasters I wanted to have more confidence in front of people. I certainly gained that within the first year, but I noticed something else as well. My writing skills had gotten a lot better. I’m dyslexic and, as a result, my writing, spelling and punctuation are generally horrible. Because of the time that I took to write out my speeches, I was able to literally teach myself how to write. I learned how to punctuate, I learned how to use paragraphs, and I learned good sentence construction. My spelling has improved marginally, but my use of the spell check and the thesaurus are expert.

I used to write because I had to. Now I write because I want to. In writing, I found an outlet for my creativity which I absolutely love. In case you haven’t already guessed, I write a blog now. Something that you would not know is I have written a manuscript for a historical supernatural thriller, which I am currently shopping around for representation.

If someone told you Toastmasters can help you with your writing, would you believe them? When I first started, writing was not even on my radar screen, so that would have gone over my head. Now, after writing out close to a hundred speeches, many blog posts and I don’t know how many emails, all because of my responsibilities as a Toastmaster, plus using writing as a creative outlet to the tune of a full 85,000 word manuscript and many unpublished essays and short stories, I can write much clearer than I ever have or ever thought I could. Most of my teachers throughout school would be shocked at where I ended up. I think of where I came from and I can’t help but be shocked either.

The Division E Humorous speech Contest

The Division E Humorous Speech contest I mentioned in an earlier post was held on Wednesday, October 21st. Unfortunately for me, I did not win that contest.  I came in second to a very good speaker that just happens to be a fellow member of the Susquehanna Advanced Toastmasters club I attend. I don’t feel bad about the loss at all.  Susan apparently worked very hard on her speech and she executed it very well. I’m also happy with my own performance. All of the practice, came shining through, if I do say so myself. The reasons I didn’t win could very well come down to the luck of the draw, since Susan and I had to admit to each other that we didn’t know who won until the announcement was made.

One thing I may have been able to do better is stage presence.  I did use much more of the stage than I have in the past, but I may have been able to be more aggressive in how far I traveled from center stage. In general the more three dimensional your movements are on stage the better. You not only want to move from side to side on the stage in order to engage the entire audience, but you want to move back and forth as well. You move back during less important parts of the speech, so that during the more important parts of the speech you can move toward the audience. This will help to put emphasis on your point.

I don’t think the back and forth was a real problem for me, since there was not a lot of room for that, and what little room I had I believe I used well. My problem could have been the horizontal movements. Generally, unless the speech calls for it, you don’t want to go out to the edges of the stage, but you do want to move out close enough where you can directly engage the audience members on the periphery of the room.  I believe this is where I may have failed.  I did not engage the audience members on the very edges of the room as well as I could have and that may have cost me, since I think Susan did that.

There are a few other things I need to keep in mind as well; however I will not cover them in this post. I will be pondering all of the many lessons I learned during this competition season and do my best to work them into the international season coming up.

Advanced Communicator Series – The Professional Speaker – Part 2

I finally gave my presentation from the advanced manual, the Professional Speaker, although a week later than I thought I would. I was under the mistaken impression that the meeting would be moved to the 17th, but I was wrong.

The speech went pretty well, however my little experiment didn’t go as I hoped. If you remember back to part 1 of this two part series, I created a post on this site so the group could follow along, but no one was interested in going to the site on their I-phone as I hoped. I believe they felt it would be a distraction. It would be interesting to see if anyone has a different experience with this kind of set up. Give it a try and let me know.

Other areas I should look at is story telling. In retrospect, I should have made story telling my priority in this presentation. I feel I would have been able to convey my passion on this subject much better with a personal story and maybe a few stories of others who succeeded with dyslexia. In the future, I think I’d like to devote a post, or perhaps a series of posts to storytelling.

This is why I’m a Toastmaster. I can make mistakes and there are no real consequences outside of some friendly advice on how to make it better next time. I don’t remember who said it, but I remember a recommendation that was made to a group of the Toastmasters International leadership that our new slogan should be, “Toastmasters, A Great Place to screw up.” This is a sentiment that seems to be shared by many people. Many times over, I’ve heard the stories of how members practiced important speeches and presentations in front of their local Toastmasters clubs then where able to seriously impress their bosses or fellow volunteers. The reason is the Toastmasters members were able to tell the speaker what worked and what didn’t. With that information, the speakers were able to make informed changes using real information from a real audience. I have heard some professional speakers say they became members of Toastmasters, so they can test out new materials on a live audience, because they know they can make informed decisions from the feedback received. Others have said they turn chapters of a book they were working on into speeches to see how the information would resonate.

Whatever way Toastmasters is used, it can be a very powerful tool. I used it on Saturday to experiment with an idea that I had. If I used a real keynote address to conduct my experiment, the results could have been catastrophic, but because it was Toastmaster, I know not to do it elsewhere … Unless you can figure out a better way to do it.

Decoding Dyslexia: There Is Hope

The following are notes for the Toastmasters Presentation, “Decoding Dyslexia: There is Hope.  The Presentation is for the Professional Speaker advanced manual, Project 1: The Keynote Address.

House Resolution 456 introduced to the House of Representatives in Washington DC by, now, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. The resolution call, “On schools, States and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.”  This bill has 119 sponsors and at this moment is still sitting in the House Committee on Education and Workforce

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The following are some organizations which research dyslexia or lend support to dyslexics.

National Center for Learning Disabilities

The Mayo Clinic

Georgetown University

Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity

Adult Dyslexia Organization

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Despite the wide variety of organizations and specialists, there are many who wish to convince us that there is no such thing as dyslexia.

Dyslexia May Not Exist, Warn Academics: article in the February 26, 2014 addition of the Telegraph.

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There is definite movement, although very slow, in the right direction to help students and adults with dyslexia. IDEA was passed in 2004 and has given parents some tools to help their children.

IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

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The vast majority of the advances in dyslexia support and acceptance has happened outside our education and government systems. Because of the lack of knowledge of dyslexia and other learning disabilities by our schools and educators, they are reluctant to accept these advances.

Neuro-diversity

Write’s Law

Dyslexic Advantage

Dyslexia Quest

Those outside of the dyslexia and learning disability circle have a profound misunderstanding of what it means to be dyslexic.  Some associate dyslexia with being mentally challenged. There is a long list of accomplished people who have Dyslexia. You may be surprised by some of the names on this list.

-Business leaders:

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab

Richard Branson

Richard Branson

Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger

-Scientists:

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday

Pierre Curie

Pierre Curie

-Artists:

Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

-Politicians:

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

-Writers:

John Steinbech

John Steinbeck

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

John Grisham

John Grisham

Actors:

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruse

Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopie Goldberg

Athletes:

Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow

Rex Ryan

Rex Ryan

Mohammad Ali

Mohammad Ali

Toastmasters:

Ed Tate

Ed Tait

Darren Lacroix

Daron LaCroix

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Me