Good evening Madam Toastmaster, Mr President, and fellow Toastmasters.
Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, this evening I take my first step with you on the Toastmasters Pathway.
This was the first line of my first speech in Toastmasters, it seems only fitting that I use it for the last step of this Path. Lao Tzu was right, and it feels like I have travelled a thousand miles since that first speech. Not just because of what I have learnt going through the Pathways programme, but, also because, we have now been in a Pandemic for nearly a year and a half. I have attended more Zoom Toastmaster meetings, than I have face to face meetings.
This is the final speech I need to make to complete the Dynamic Leadership Path, during which I need to reflect on my growth during the completion of the path. Its meant to be between 10 – 12 minutes long! Don’t worry, I’ll keep it as close to 10 as possible! I am also meant to think about how far I have come, as well as summarising the skills I have learned and developed.
Joining Toastmasters was something that I had meant to do for the longest time, I had first heard about the organisation in school and at that stage, for some unknown reason I had it stuck in head that wine was involved as well as speech making.
As one of my promises to myself was to stop putting stuff off that I wanted to do, and to start doing them, because now was as good a time as any to try them, I walked into Meeting room 10, in the Clayton Hotel at 19:15 one cold, wet Tuesday evening in March 2019.
I had always enjoyed being in the debating society in school, so I thought Toastmasters would be something I would enjoy.
Walking into the huga room that evening, the only thing I knew about Toastmasters was that it was a public speaking organisation. I have no idea why, but, there was still a slight echo in my head from my school days idea that Toastmasters was filled with men enjoying tankards of beer (the drink had changed over time).
In reality, Toastmasters is not about beer or wine, it is all about encouragement, ribbons and biscuits. The biscuit element may have been lost in the era of Zoom, but, when we get back to the hotel, you will see the importance of biscuits to a successfully run Toastmasters meeting.
At that point of the evening (I was 45 minutes early), the room was pretty empty, apart from Shane who was the Sergeant at Arms at the time, who was busy getting the room ready by placing the feedback slips and agendas on the chairs, putting the banner up and preparing the head table. The hotel had already laid out the chairs, but, they needed to be moved.
At first, I thought I was in the wrong place, but, between Shane, Grainne, Karen, Colm and the others that arrived shortly after that, I realised that not only was I in the right place, but, that it was a friendly and welcoming place.
I sat in what would become my usual spot, aisle seat, front row, right hand side of the room and tried to take it all in. It took a while for me to figure out what all the information on the Agenda referred to, what does all the writing under the speakers name and speech title mean? It all became clear with time.
It was spellbinding watching the speakers as they confidently not only made their speeches, but, performed their speeches with gestures, and tone control, change in pitch, whiles moving around the front of the room, mostly without notes.
Listening to the feedback that the speakers were getting was incredibly informative. I took as much of this feedback as I could into preparing for my first speech. It seemed nearly impossible that I would ever be able to do what they could do, they all knew what they were doing, and they did it exceptionally well.
It was then time for Table topics, the question ‘Where else would you like to live and why?’ came up and before I knew where I was my hand was up, my name had been called and I was walking up to the front of the room, which due to me sitting on the front row, was a very short walk, being generous, it was maybe three steps. It was however long enough for me to question myself as to what the hell I was doing. I got to the front of the room, and looked at the audience of friendly, kind faces in front of me, paused, and went for it. I said that I would like to live in an international airport hub, due to the prospect of different daily adventures you could have, travelling to the various countries that, that airport served. I got a generous warm round of applause and sat down again. Later that evening, I was awarded the ribbon for the Best Table Topics Speech, which was exceptionally kind, supportive and encouraging of the Table topics Master. I couldn’t stop looking at that ribbon for the rest of the evening. It was such a wonderful surprise which I was ridiculously pleased to receive, and made me hungry for more Toastmasters. I noted at the time that I felt that Toastmasters had valuable lessons for me to learn, and I was not wrong.
As time passed, it occurred to me that in my attempt to constantly learn and improve myself, and because the offices I had worked in previously were always small and offered no training, that this could be my way of getting some training that many of my friends were taking part in at work.
Karen was VPE at the time, and she had this great idea that you would sign up for a speech as soon as possible, to get you going. Mine was a couple of weeks after my membership came through, so I was nervous but delighted to get started.
One of the points I made in my first speech was that “I really hate talking about myself, I find it to be one of the most awkward and unnatural things to do, and I am far more comfortable chatting about literally anything else.” This has not changed one little bit, and all I can hear when I read the last few speeches is me, me, me and it displeases me.
Toastmasters have carefully thought how the Pathways are laid out, they make sure that as you progress through levels 1 and 2, that you learn how to stand up and make a speech, learn how to evaluate a speech and you learn how to make a well organised speech, then they let you have more of a free rein as to how you tackle things from Level 3 on.
My Mentor was Declan Ganley and he was incredible kind and a lovely Mentor to have. Thanks Declan.
All the Paths in Pathways are flexible and you can mould them to your needs. I have chosen to write speeches on the electives that I thought might be a good base for the rest of the speeches, these include using descriptive language and connect with your audience from level 3, I choose building a social media presence from level 4, as I am the VPPR, in Level 5, I choose to complete the HPL as it is useful if you want to try and become a Distinguished Toastmaster.
I have learnt a lot from reading the project information on Pathways, it is useful and educational information that can help you not only with the speech for that stage, but, it the information is also transferable to your life outside of Toastmasters.
Some of the joys of Toastmasters is not only the lovely people you get to meet, but also the vast array of topics that you get to learn about. In my time, I have listened to speeches that have covered incredibly difficult personal circumstances, different types of ways of cleaning shipping fuel, stocks and shares, cryptocurrency, childhood memories, work stories, recycling, dog poop, and PR, all of which were fascinating and enriched my knowledge of the world and gave me an invaluable glimpse into how other peoples lives work.
My time in Toastmasters would not have been as useful as it has been if it were not for Karen, Colm and Grainne, thank you all for all your guidance, advice and help. It has been a pleasure to learn from and to get to know you.
As Einstein said “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The Important thing is to not stop questioning.”
One of the things I have enjoyed about being a Toastmaster is taking part in the competitions during the year, these include evaluation, Table Topics, and International Speech competitions. These have been fun and gave me an opportunity to see other people from other clubs and areas speaking. I have also spoken in a number of different Clubs around Ireland as well as one in London.
Kasia very kindly let me help her set up her corporate club Fil-On-Toast, which has been a complete honour and a joy. Thank you Kasia.
I have become a mentor myself, which is another great opportunity to learn and improve your skills. Joining the Committee also gave me the chance to help run the Club and learn from other members as well as improving on my skills.
Toastmasters has shown me that I have leadership skills, which I would vehemently denied before I joined the organisation. It has improved my confidence and changed my views on myself and how I think in many ways.
If I were to give a new Toastmaster some advice, I would suggest that they just get stuck in and get started. Make speeches, enter competitions, visit other clubs, everyone wants you to do well, they will support you and they will not make fun of you. Everything is a learning opportunity. I would tell them that the Icebreaker can be about absolutely anything, you could speak about a hobby, a holiday or anything else. One of the best ways to overcome or avoid obstacles in Toastmasters is to talk to the members of your Club and they will help you do your best. I would tell them that they can do it and they will be brilliant.
In time, when they have a few speeches under their belt, I might remind them of Ruth Sherman’s words “everyone gets stage fright. Embrace it and make it work for you or it will work against you.”
In short, as a quote on the internet said, “I may not be there yet, but, I’m closer than I was yesterday.”
In conclusion, I have had a wonderful and positive time in Toastmasters, learning everything I can from it and taking any opportunity it offers me. Joining Toastmasters was without doubt a good idea and one that I have learnt a lot from. The feedback has been exceptionally useful and has highlighted some things I didn’t know about myself and reinforced some that I did. I look forward to completing my next path ‘Engaging Humour’, which I fully intend to complete in a quicker time than this path took me.
Involving yourself in competitions, mentoring and the committee is a great way to improve your skills and get more out of Toastmasters, I would highly recommend it.
Thank you Madam Toastmaster, Mr President and fellow Toastmasters and in particular Karen, Colm and Grainne. Thank you for all you do for the club.