There seems to be a common theme that I have noticed throughout my Toastmasters journey that I wanted to reflect on, really for myself but for others to learn from.
I’ve been a Toastmaster now for more than 10 years, having devoted the better part of my spare time to improving my public speaking and leadership skills. I’ve also achieved the highest designation for Toastmasters — DTM which stands for Distinguished Toastmasters (although in the community, people say that it stands for ‘don’t time me’).
My first ever speech in Toastmasters was a failure
I first joined Toastmasters, after hearing about it for a few years from my Dad. When I was younger and in the middle of playing video games, he would come up to me and say “you need to join Toastmasters”. It was a weird way of letting someone know that they needed to work on their public speaking and communication skills but it was an ear worm that got caught in my brain and did not let go. While working co-op, one of the lunch time activities was a Toastmaster group and while I saw it and wanted to attend, I just didn’t have the motivation or push to go. I was lucky then that there was an enthusiastic Toastmaster who came around the office just before the meeting to encourage people to attend as a guest. I was hooked and after joining and attending a few sessions, I was slated to deliver my first ever speech: the so called icebreaker.
I remember introducing myself, breaking up my speech into the three jobs that I have had in my life and overall, the speech was quite good but the biggest thing I remember was me holding and clicking a pen constantly throughout the speech. I had learned through another one of my jobs, that holding a pen was an easy way of using effective hand gestures but what I had not realized was that my nerves would make me constantly click the pen, to the annoyance of the audience and my evaluator.
Despite my awful first speech full of pen clicks, I continued to grow and flourish in Toastmasters. I know it’s an oft-used analogy but I was a big sponge, trying to absorb as much as I could from others. I would listen intently to all feedback (to the point where I would listen even more closely to speaker evaluations than the speakers themselves) and incorporate the learnings and lessons into my own speeches as much as I could. I’d try out different things without worrying about failure (and I definitely failed a lot with a few of the things I tried).
My evolving role
As I learned more and more about Toastmasters, I was, strangely enough to me, being seen as an expert. Maybe it was just the fact that there was high turnover in the club (many senior members were leaving, leaving me as the most senior member) or that there were a number of new members joining, putting me as one of the ‘older’ Toastmasters in the club but I was slowly being consulted for more and more issues and decisions at the club. I think I had also noticed around that same time that much of my learning and growth had slowed down slightly. I was still learning but not as much as when I had first started. I was quite cognizant of this fact and probably should have looked at joining or learning from more senior Toastmasters if I was still interested in growing but as I hinted at, I also believed that my role had been changing.
Where I am today as a mentor
I listened to an interview with Ray Dalio — founder of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund firm in the world. He’s a billionaire multiple times over and by all accounts, has been extremely successful. He outlined that his life also had three phases, which I’m paraphrasing here: a growth period, a success period, and now he has entered a period where he is helping others be successful. That’s what I believe I am lucky enough to experience now with Toastmasters. As people see me as an expert in Toastmasters, they have taken the same path that I have, learning from those that are more experienced than they are and experiencing tremendous growth. There’s something interesting — even though I have arguably not grown as much as I have when I first joined Toastmasters, I have grown in a different area: mentoring and teaching others how to achieve success in Toastmasters.
Many Toastmasters often ask me, a senior member of Toastmasters, why I still continue to come to Toastmasters, even after learning (potentially) everything that there is to learn in Toastmasters? Or what the benefit is to me to attend a Toastmasters meeting that you have witnessed countless times in the past? Or how to achieve the same rate of growth as when I first joined? I think my answer is that my role has changed and evolved over time and you too, may have to understand that too as you grow in your careers and experiences.