Thanks to Toastmasters

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Last Wednesday, I attended the Turnover and Installation of New Officers of Toastmasters (Division K). It was my opportunity to be finally discharged of my responsibility as the Immediate Past Area Governor for Area 76 (covering two clubs in Makati and one in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig) and to express gratitude to all the officers and members who have achieved much for themselves and for the Area bringing it to Distinguished Status for the year 2014-2015, now with a stronger stance to achieve greater recognition this coming year!

I still feel sleepy as I write this. Due to the long distance travel from cold Baguio City to hot Metro Manila and to Laguna, I had to trade a huge chunk of my bedtime. I am not complaining, I am rather composed and filled with gratitude to this awesome organization who have helped me grow in my leadership and communication skills.

In the recent past, I was not comfortable telling people that I am a Toastmaster. I didn’t want them to know. Why? Because I feared that I may dent the prestigious image of Toastmasters International. I was afraid that when I start saying I am a member of this leading authority in public speaking and leadership, I would pin myself into a dartboard of mockery and pity. I was terrified I would be toasted by criticism and roasted by biased judgment.

I thought that people would say something like this: “What?! That guy claims to be a Toastmaster? He does not even know how to say a toast or introduce himself properly. Perhaps, what he mastered is to put a piece of bread in an oven toaster!”

What? I am not good in toasting bread either! That’s for an obvious reason. Toastmasters is not about toasting bread. Believe me – some people have those misconceptions the first time they hear about Toastmasters. I know because I was one of them.

There is another misconception I had. I thought that Toastmasters is only for the elite public speaking. I thought that only eloquent speakers are qualified to be members.

But thanks to this thing called “courage and adventurous spirit,” I visited a Toastmasters Club in Makati. I was alone when I visited IAME & Associates Toastmasters Club that Saturday evening in 2010.

I was shocked because the moment I stepped into the room, I saw weirdness. There were two or three people who stood up and with their full smiles, they met me and extended their hand. That was weird. I told myself, “I am not a guest speaker, am I? Why are they treating me like one?” But believe me, their weirdness was infectious. I smiled back and extended my hand to them in a good handshake.

Here’s one more weird thing – they were like high on drugs! Why were they so happy and enthusiastic? Believe me. They applauded loudly when the president tapped the table with the gavel. I didn’t know why that was worth applauding. But I couldn’t help it; their weirdness was infectious. I clapped at the gavel too – I mean to the fact the meeting started. But after a couple of hours, I was shocked when the president was called and banged again the gavel on the table. Everyone applauded once again!

That was weird. I told myself, “If they clapped a while back because the meeting started, why are they clapping now when it ended. Isn’t that odd? Or are they just happy because the gavel was banged on the table?”

I didn’t know then what I know now. I am sorry for the spoilers but you’ll get to know more about the weirdness of Toastmasters when you join a club meeting. If you are not a Toastmaster yet, I urge you to visit a club today.

I told you earlier I was not comfortable telling to people that I am a Toastmaster but why am I talking about it now? What had changed? Was it because I got infected with their weirdness?

Maybe yes. And, why would I not tell the world how this weird community has helped me build my communication and leadership skills?

Today, I am not afraid of being judged by my skill level. I am a work-in-progress and I declare that Toastmasters has contributed a lot in my growth and development as a communicator and leader. I am not yet at the highest peak, but I am happy because every single moment I spend with Toastmasters especially, when I prepare my speech projects, I give myself a favor. I am making progress.

Toastmasters has helped me a lot. Let me share with you two essentials I gained from Toastmasters:

First, energy in interactions.

My default setting is being silent, and I believe that silence is very good. But there are also times that I have to speak up and interact with people enthusiastically and confidently.

As an employee (previously) in a multi-national company with numerous interactions with people of various nationalities, the training I have with Toastmasters comes in handy. Challenges still linger in every conversation, meeting presentation, or agenda deliberation but the confidence I gained in a community of weird people boosts me to handle the turbulence of the moment.

In my years of Toastmasters experience, every speaking opportunity in and outside the club is a gift. Every evaluation given is constructive wherein the evaluator congratulates you for a job well done and also challenges you to push further and step higher.

Second, emancipation from internal prisons.

When I was starting as a Toastmaster, there was one time I responded to a Table Topic (impromptu speaking) not because I volunteered but because I was volunteered by someone else.

Hesitantly, I stood up. My hands started shaking. I was trembling. With all the nerves in my brain, I seemed to have forgotten the topic that was just read. I had to ask the Topic Master to read it again.

After three seconds, I started mumbling words. I didn’t even know if the audience understood any word. When the red light was on, I said my closing sentence and then sat down.

When I returned to my seat, I didn’t have any idea if I made sense to them but one thing was for sure – my hands stopped shaking.

Then during the evaluation portion, I was surprised when I was told I was able to answer the question and got my point across. And the evaluator wasn’t sugar-coating. She specified the good skills I was able to exemplify and she also gave me specific suggestions for improvement.

All the while, I thought I was a wreck in that impromptu speech. But then, I realized I actually conveyed a good message.

There was also another time when my Toastmaster mentor, Dr. Volts, told me to join a contest. I was hesitant because I was good at telling myself, “No, not yet. I’m not yet ready. I’m not yet good. Maybe, I’ll join in the future, but not now.” However, thanks to infectious weirdness, I mustered my courage and joined the contest. At the area level, I was the champion. Don’t be too impressed, we were two in the contest. At the division level, I landed second runner up. Guess what – we were three in the contest.

So, I wasn’t able to get to the national or district level. But that’s not the point. The point is that these experiences liberated me from my own fear. It also helped me gauge the progress I have made as a communicator and leader.

Those are the kinds of experiences that I call emancipating experiences. Often times, we have these internal chains that pull us back to just stay down. Thankfully, there are these tools available to us to break this bondage and finally free us – emancipate us.

These two essentials, energy in interactions and emancipation from internal prisons, are just two of the things that I gained from Toastmasters. There are a lot more. And I leave the others for you to discover. But I also have to warn you. Expect to be infected with weirdness.

Having this as a good example, I say that Toastmasters is a gift to the world and I am blessed to have an access to it. It has transformed me for the better in the field of communication and leadership.

There are other tools that transform. I just used Toastmasters as an example and you may or may not have it as your tool.

There are tools that help transform us for the better. They surround us.

Take a look at them. And make use of them.

(Ninety percent of this article was lifted from Chris’ book ‘The Gift of the Ordinary’ – available at Mt. Cloud Bookshop, Casa Vallejo, Upper Session Road, Baguio City.| While missing my home club in Makati, I attend Pines City Toastmasters Club, meeting every 1st, 3rd and 5th Friday of the month at McDonald’s Insular, 6:30PM. Join us one time and see it for yourself! | Email me at chrisdaoanis@ymail.com.) 

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