The First ImpressionMost people never hear about Toastmasters. That's despite our best efforts, I know. What were the unique set of circumstances that came together which had you come to know about Toastmasters?
I was lucky enough to hear about it from a good friend while I was a teenager. This was before the Internet popularized, so I just went to the first Toastmasters club that was close to where I lived. And you know what? I didn't like it. It was an older crowd, and I felt totally left out. Nobody had a “conversation” with me about membership, so I didn't become a member.
Nudges from the UniverseBecause I was involved in youth parliaments and the high-school debating society, I continued to hear about Toastmasters, over and over again from teachers and educators. It took five years, but I finally got the message.
Taking advantage of search tools, I attended dozens of Toastmaster Clubs around my city. I discovered each one was very different, with its own personality, atmosphere, group dynamics, and energy! Wow. I got to choose - What kind of conversations did I want to have?
Finding a HomeThere it was... a Toastmasters Club that was perfect for me! It had the right demographics, vibrancy, and goals that I was looking for. I became a member, and went to meetings consistently. My everyday conversations with everyone transformed.
Milking It for All its Worth“Go big or go home” was my attitude. I was striving to be a professional motivational speaker, so I jumped on every opportunity to speak, taking on meeting roles, running for leadership positions, attending regional events, competing in contests, and I even presented a workshop at the Toastmasters International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.
A Magic MeetingIf it wasn't for my Toastmaster's Club, I would never have met this man named Paul. He was over at my house one evening, when we started having a “conversation” about our ambitions. Paul happened to be dating the daughter of Raymond Aaron, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul. Naturally, Paul invited me to an upcoming event with Raymond.
Raymond became my mentor, wrote a testimonial for my book, “A Dictionary of Distinctions” which, through his mentorship became a best-seller. He also wrote the forward to my sequel, and was instrumental in the launch of my speaking career. Which people would you have never met if it wasn't for your mutual—however thin—connection to Toastmasters?
Leaving HomeI got what I needed. My speaking abilities were significantly sharpened, and my internal conversations began to revolve around business, producing events, and taking my leadership to new platforms. Within a few short years, I attributed Toastmasters to providing the competencies and experiences I needed for my speaking career, and helping me get speaking gigs.
Realizing CommunityThings don't always go as we plan. While I had an amazing journey, I didn't become the household name I aspired to become. What was missing? I forgot what had me become successful in the first place. Yes, learning the structure and mechanics of speaking is important, as well as developing the art of effective communication and leadership. But it is the ongoing personal support, encouragement, and mentorship by people who care, that is the secret to a successful Toastmaster's Club. I joined Toastmasters once again, and am committed to having it be part of my lifestyle.
At our last pub night, our Toastmaster members were socializing, and most people were talking in pairs. It was getting late, and since I wasn't in a conversation, I chose to get up and leave. That would have been the end of it in most other social circles. Not here. Every single person at the entire table stopped their conversation, and took the time to say good-bye to me. I almost started to cry as I left the pub that night.
The Biggest LessonI've discovered that the real juice of life lives in relationships. How are your relationships with other Toastmasters? The juice of relationships is in great conversations. Being engaging, funny, inspiring, or persuasive are all valuable skills we strengthen through active participation in Toastmaster meetings. Authenticity, vulnerability, and compassion are traits we best nourish through our relationships with fellow Toastmasters.
Let's love the world together...
[)anish /|hmed, blind visionary
Danish Ahmed, CTM, CL, ATM-B, is an entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and has written hundreds of articles on personal and professional development.