Why I love Toastmasters

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The best part of organizing speech contests…is not being a contestant 😝 Photo: Zarah Francheska Sy

“It’s an elitist boys’ club that just tries to improve themselves.”

This was how one of the professors I looked up to described Toastmasters — and I thought she was among the intelligent ones who’d do their research first before voicing out conclusions. (She has since descended to a much lower level in my opinion.)

Truth is, Toastmasters is far from being elitist — though certainly there’s a club named Elite and, considering world population, the organization could indeed be deemed elite. Nor is it just for boys: it’s actually for everyone 18 years old and above. I noted a profound prejudice in that professor’s remark. Not worth my time arguing with.

My team once conducted a training on delivering humorous speeches and evaluation speeches. See that range of people who want to become better professionals! Photo: Bruno Tangangco

One thing the professor got right, though, is the fact that well meaning individuals do try to improve themselves at Toastmasters — a motive no less noble than loving someone.

I know, right, I’m triggered! Because, really, Toastmasters — despite all its imperfections (reality check: nothing’s perfect) — is something lovable. Let me tell you a love story:

I first heard about Toastmasters back when I was in Opus Dei (another organization that same professor is so biased against lol — she hates everyone). Someone was teaching us public speaking and he was noted to be a Toastmaster. Like, people hire him to give toasts at VIP banquets?? I remember myself thinking.

Fast forward four years, 2014, and I was attending my first Toastmasters meeting, at Maharlika Toastmasters Club in Ermita, Manila. A kind old lady heartily welcomed me into the club.

I learned Toastmasters International is a global organization with thousands of clubs composed of people who want to become better communicators and leaders. I learned that various prominent people — from politicians to socialites to beauty queens and actors — are members of Toastmasters. But it was knowing Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson) is a Toastmaster that sealed the deal. Lolllll.

A typical meeting at Maharlika Toastmasters Club. Photo: Maharlika Toastmasters Club

At first, I had some difficulty delivering my speeches because of my tight schedule (I still worked in Makati then). But when I began teaching at UP Manila (which was near the club), I began to amble through my Toastmasters journey at a steady pace. What did I begin to love?

  • Veteran members are always helpful, and the mentoring culture can be quite strong. There are members who, without being asked or without anything to receive in return, gently provide you with tips and advice — how to organize your speech more coherently, how to avoid using too many gestures, how to evaluate a speech constructively. And these same people humbly receive feedback, too, during the meeting.
  • Leadership opportunities abound. If you have never led a group of people from various professions and temperaments, Toastmasters is the place for you to learn leadership — particularly leading a volunteer organization. For me, the most challenging aspect of leading at Toastmasters is motivating a team of volunteers (no one gets paid, and sometimes work extends to becoming like a full-time job). The question always was: “How do you motivate this person to work efficiently out of good will?” I figured it takes more finesse to motivate someone without the threat of getting axed or any financial reward.
  • The circle of friends I gained is priceless. Before I joined Toastmasters, I was just slightly friendly — the type who’d wait to be introduced, and not introduce himself (because that might intrude into other people’s bubbles of Daryl-less bliss). But probably because of the introductions I necessarily had to do to guests during club meetings, I ended up opening up more and even joining my clubmates to drinks and other socials. I suppose Toastmasters made me so much friendlier than I ever was. (I still need my me-time, though!)
  • The network of members is expansive. This opened up for me various opportunities professional and personal. And I think it’s simply because of the sheer diversity and number of people you’ll eventually meet in the organization.
We conduct yearly conventions where we select the Philippine representative to the World Championship of Public Speaking. This one was in Davao City last April. Photo: Division L Toastmasters

I will not spend more of your time with the other reasons. But those above are, essentially, what keep me going to Toastmasters meetings…and more.

I’ve just ended my stint as a division director at Toastmasters. That service came as a way of giving back to the organization and of challenging myself and improving my leadership skills. I had to advise 19 clubs and a few prospective clubs. In the end, I saw the imperfections of Toastmasters. But that didn’t lessen my regard for the organization. People are imperfect, and so am I. My challenge now is encouraging ways to overcome the organization’s weaknesses and enhance its strengths. And I guess that’s what it will have to be when it comes to loving an organization: you discover what’s lovable, then embrace it; find its dirt and holes, then try to improve it; and if there’s resistance, love it all the same.

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