Tonight, I wanna write about something that changed my life, nearly 30 years ago. No. Not Patricia. That will be for another night. This evening I want to mention my many years in Toastmasters.
For those who don't know, or care, Toastmasters is not-for-profit organization designed to help people speak better in public. This is accomplished through a program devised by Toastmasters International in Mission Viejo, California. A man named Ralph Smedley founded TM in 1924 in California, at a single club. All these years later, there are thousands of clubs world wide. Probably a good 15 clubs in Nova Scotia. Like many other organizations, if you don't know anything about them, or pay attention to their advertising, you wouldn't know they existed or where the clubs even met.
I joined in 1991 when a woman at my company sent out an email telling us about her own club, which met at Maritime Centre in downtown Halifax. I decided to go on a lark, and was impressed enough that I joined after my second meeting.
I went to that first meeting for two reasons. One was an innate curiosity. The other was that I was sick and tired of people underestimating me because I had a hard time getting words out and the comments on my yearly work evaluations that I was not confident in my approach to aspects of my job. Those comments hurt, and I knew I had to do something to overcome that impression. As a manager told me more than once, pityingly, "Perception is reality". Hello, Jane.
Over the many ensuing years, I went from being a person scared to death about speaking in public to someone who at least could grasp the concept of speaking in public, and that doing so was something that person could learn. That it was a craft, a skill, that a person could develop over time if he wanted to and put the time in. I put the time in. There were times when I hated my day job so I put my energies in to things outside of work like Toastmasters. Much more fulfilling.
I have long since lost count of the number of people I met through Toastmasters. These were politicians such as our previous premier, Stephen McNeil, to people who wanted to move on up in the world in a way that could only be done if they could just communicate a bit more effectively and persuasively.
There are many ways to get a person to improve. The most nerve wracking by far is Table Topics. It is when you are presented with an idea or a topic and must improvise a 2 minute speech about the topic. I did hundreds of table topics over the years; it became my fave part of the meeting.
Another part of the meetings was when we did business meetings, because we had to practice parliamentary procedure using Robert's Rules of Order. It is a way to make business meetings run effectively and efficiently. Only one person speaks at a time. Questions are funnelled through the chair of the meeting to another person. You don't speak to John directly. You say something like, "Through the chair to Toastmaster John," and then you ask the question. John, in turn, speaks through the chair to you. It is all about making sure one person speaks at a time with little or no cross talk.
The rubber always hit the road with the prepared speeches. When you join, you get a manual spelling out the first ten speeches to earn your first designation. The speeches each focus on different aspects of public speaking. You are evaluated a peer in the club, with gentle offers for areas for improvement. It is all about not being mean, but collegial and respectful.
I was in TM from November of 1991 until December of 2017, when our club finally folded. The club folded for various reasons, most of which would bore you, but some others have to do with politics within the club and with several members. We did not change with the times as much as we should have. People would come to a few meetings and join for a short period of time and then leave. The constant churn in the membership did not serve any of us veterans well. We were burned out and exhausted and frankly did not care as much as we should have. So, the club ended, months before it would have turned 50. Sad.
I treasure most of my time in Toastmasters. I met people I will never forget, and I hope they never forget me. I still get that itch to do a table topic or two, or twenty two, and I may yet darken the door of a Toastmasters club in the future.
It is in my blood. I miss it.
See you tomorrow.