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.