Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Other Forgotten Track in Toastmasters

Many people think (correctly) that Toastmasters is about improving their skills in public speaking but very few realize that it offers a wealth of learning opportunities, beyond mere public speaking. Below, a few members share how they have grown and developed their leadership skills at various levels within Toastmasters, ranging from club, area, division and district levels.
 Calvin is now working towards the Advanced Communicator Gold award. He has held 4 out of the 7 positions in the D'Utama Toastmasters Club Executive Committee, including Vice-President Education and President. He was also the Area B4 governor for the term 2009/2010.

"How do we define the word leadership? There are many ways we could describe the word leadership. According to Wikipedia, leadership has been defined as the "process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task".

I wondered whether I was bold enough to wear the badge of honour as a leader. Wait a minute, was I ever a “good” leader before and will I be in future? Let’s take a look at my past – if I ever have shown my leadership in the Toastmaster Club. 

Seven years ago, I arrived at the doorstep of Toastmaster and was literally welcome with open arms and hugs by the members; but minus the kisses (what a shame). To be more precise, I registered my membership as a D’Utama Toastmasters Club member and then there were distinguished members, speakers or individuals have expounded on his or her public speaking skills flawless, so to speak; or at least the speeches itself were mesmerizing and interesting to listen to.

My body, heart and soul were shrouded in green with envy by such a remarkable examples were displayed by this people. Will I be like them one day? Definitely because the mind is willing, nonetheless, the doing is thus the harder part where as ignorant as I could be, I didn’t expect the unexpected.

For instance, in the beginning when novice member like me, presented my maiden speech before the audience, my presentation was done randomly, haphazardly and unintelligently. Untold the hidden truth that making any speeches required substantiate amount of planning, reading, and preparation or rehearsal diligently and with the dose of patience, encouragement and determination. Hmmm… surprise!

Unperturbed by these sheer disappointment and countless embarrassments on the way my speeches were publicly displayed, I faithful solider on this gritting fight until I managed to understand and master the art of public speaking; little by little and frankly I’m still learning how to “talk” again.

Time and again I have shown my maturity on the choice of words being used to illustrate my stories and also to select the appropriate speech title for every speech. Making speeches from terrible to addictive improvements step by step, I felt that I could face any crowd thrown before my eyes and being able to handle any situations with much ease – and it comes with sufficient experiences too.  

Fast forward to the present time, my desire to prepare my future speech assignment is a definite would-be in my do-list, I realized that along my toastmaster journey, I have shown my leadership to my fellow Toastmasters members and friends that we, as a member, should take the ownership with care, responsibility and most importantly, be truly and deeply sincere and honest with ourselves that we want to learn, unlearn, and relearn of our past mistakes; for the better future. In short, be a faithful mentor to those are in needed of advice and don’t expect favour in return because we care to share willingly and freely and furthermore, we want our friends to grow as well.

With that, as a member, I have exercised my “social Toastmaster obligation” to influence my members and friends that there is more than just making speeches. Therefore, I have lead by examples and hopefully many would follow likewise. Though some many disagreed the way I think and act, it does not matter because like in any speech evaluation, the usual parting words are, “it is my own personal opinion!”            

Johnson Yike has attained the highest award by Toastmasters International which is the Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) award. He was the Area B4 Governor for the term 2008/2009.

 In 2008, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve in the Toastmasters movement and to enhance my leadership skill. I had the pleasure to serve as one of the Toastmasters District 51 Division B Area Governor for Area B4 for the term 2008/09. Today, I wish to share my personal thoughts, opinions, and experience during that part of my journey.

Definition of ‘Leadership’ within Toastmasters
In my opinion, the kind of leadership in Toastmasters is ‘Servant-hood Leadership‘. Toastmasters, being a non-profit & voluntary organization, does not pay the Area Governors, Division Governors, and District Governors. In fact, these leaders not only have to invest their time but their own money as well. In the corporate or working environment, the leader/manager is in a position of authority and if the employers under that chain of command do not toll the line there will be repercussions. However, in Toastmasters these leaders are not granted such power or authority – it is just a title and the opportunity to serve.

This environment is the best learning & testing ground for leaders. The reason is, if the people were to agree and follow your lead, then it is because they WANT TO and not because they HAVE TO. You lead by example and by influence. John Maxwell‘s  second  law in the ‘21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership‘ ; the Law of Influence says it best.  By continuing my advanced speeches also helped me as I recall the objectives of “Speeches by Management” project #3: Manage to Motivate are:

  • Understand the concept and nature of motivational methods in management.
  • Apply a four step motivational method with the objectives to persuade and inspire.
  • Deliver a motivational speech to persuade an audience to agree with your management proposal.
There were other advanced manuals that helped me to relate to the members, such as ‘Speaking to Inform‘ and ‘Special Occasion Speeches‘ - who knew writing and presenting speeches would actually help develop my managerial skill.

The leadership challenges I faced during the journey;
(1) When you do not get the expected response - sometimes no matter how enthusiastic you are, or how encouraging you try to be, certain clubs or members just do not respond in kind or at all. All you can do is to try your best and be prepared to accept the actions or reactions of those individuals. Remember in Toastmasters, we are not giving people task or jobs to do, we are actually providing opportunities to learn and develop skills that would benefit themselves. If they do not receive it well, then it is still no lost to you. You need to recognize that you do not have the authority to order people to work for you, thus encourage and influence them to work with you instead.
(2) Learning quickly - unlike in the working environment/job, you have years to work at it, serving in Toastmasters is only for one term. So you either learn from your mistakes quickly or learn from others’ mistakes. This is where observation skills come into play and sharing of ideas. After an event, the team normally does a post mortem and find out how we can do better. In the next event, we would have taking steps to improve our delivery.  
(3) Acknowledge you cannot do it all by yourself – Remember the saying, ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself‘, I used to believe that and if there are some task that I know I’m capable of handling, I would most probably do it myself. Unfortunately, by doing it myself, I’m depriving myself of doing more important task, and also depriving others of learning by doing. I had to learn the art of ‘delegation’ as well as ‘motivation’ to get things done in a team. There acronym that I remember, T.E.A.M. – “Together Everyone Achieves More
Advices to those who wish to take up leadership positions within Toastmasters.
(1) Serve WILLINGLY. In Toastmasters, nobody, and I stress, NOBODY can force you to do anything that you do not wish to do. There is no obligation. HOWEVER, there needs to be a SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY. Nobody can force a role upon you but do bear in mind that if you had volunteered to take up a leadership role, you have deprived another from that opportunity. If you serve well, you will also be remembered well for that. However, if you do not serve well, people will remember you for that as well. 
(2) Have FUN. Sometimes we become too caught up with the work and the results that we forget to enjoy the journey. As I look back to my term and I talk about the ‘good old days’ with my previous Toastmasters colleagues, I can just smile or burst out laughing. Remember those moments, and pass it on to others. Share the fun.
(3) Be KNOWLEDGEABLE. Being a leader does not mean you need know everything but to acknowledge what you do not know and find out. Being an Area Governor is being the bridge between the Clubs and the Division, use the resources there are available and leverage on the experience of senior members and past officers. If all else fails, you can go direct to the source and contact Toastmasters International.

What’s next?
I took a year off from taking up any official position as I wanted to evaluate my feelings and personal commitment towards Toastmasters - I wanted to know that I am serving willingly instead of the sense of obligation. Some Toastmasters have encouraged me to continue my service to higher levels, but before I do that, I need to evaluate myself and my current situation. To be a leader, organization skill is also crucial, and as such I wish to continue to develop and strike a balance between my personal life, career and Toastmasters. A good friend and mentor of mine has told me before, ‘for you to go higher, you need to develop others to take your current place‘.

I will continue to offer myself to be a mentor to members. I was entrusted to mentor some members in the club and I was especially proud when I was there to witness the ‘graduation’ of one of my mentee when she completed her tenth speech to be a Competent Communicator (CC). I had made an impact on that mentee’s life. I will continue to offer my assistance and advice if and when they are sort (as I do now wish to impose). Before I end, I wish to extend my appreciation and thanks to a few groups and individuals (in no particular order) that had made an impression and contributed to my growth in Toastmasters;

  • Division B Council term 2008/09 lead by DTM Zaharah Ibrahim,
  • D’Utama Past Presidents; Sharon Ng DTM, Nancy Liew ACS ALB, Lee Wei Seong ACG CL, and Allen Kam ACS CL,
  • DTM Soh Fong Wai, DTM Francis Ng, DTM Sharmini Helen, and DTM Sue Ding,
  • (honestly, there are so many Toastmasters that touched my life and helped me … thank you all)
My closing statement;
“I continue to help & serve because there were those in the past that helped me. This is the ‘circle of life’ of Toastmasters”
 Note: This article can also be found on Leadership Within Toastmasters by Johnson Yike

Soh Fong Wai is also a Distinguished Toastmaster and served as Division W Governor during the term 2009/2010. 

My term as Division W Governor term was Challenging as I was doing 2 jobs at the same time. The first was my paid job and the other was the “full time” unpaid job as the Division Governor. I had 40 clubs and 8 Areas to oversee during my term. I received lots of invitation from clubs, including clubs outside Division W. I found it challenging to find the time to visit clubs (also something I enjoy because it expanded my horizons), attend clubs and area contests. I had to turn down many invitations.

A senior Toastmaster once told me, “Division Governor is the minimum you should go for if you want to see how powerful the Toastmasters program can be”. Now, I totally agreed with that statement. The tasks of a Division Governor and an Area Governor are very different. The Area Governor focuses on “work”…doing club visits, attending club contests, reminding clubs about dues renewals, etc. 

On the other hand, a Division Governor focuses on planning; how to help weak or non-renewing clubs, organizing quality TLI training for the Executive Committee of clubs, workshops and contests so that members from the Division will benefit, helping Area Governors to do well and help them to achieve personal growth, making sure more members benefitted from Toastmasters program. Serving as Division Governor gave me the opportunity to see thing differently and appreciate how powerful the Toastmasters Program is.

The biggest challenge I faced was “Time Management”. I needed to find time to communicate with my Team and Area Governors. I needed to find time to reply to emails, I remember once I had gone overseas and had no access to the Internet. Upon my return, I had hundreds of Toastmasters’ e-mails waiting for my response.

I kept in touch with Area Governors by calling them while on my way to visit clubs or attending Toastmasters activities. My journey from home to work took 45 minutes to an hour so I used this time to communicate with my team. Sometimes I bought back home my office work and did my work after Toastmasters meetings. Most of the time I needed to work during “Public Holidays”…and of course I missed my hobbies such as Scuba Diving and photography. Sometime I find it challenging even to find time to go to gym!

The fulfillment came from serving the members. I enjoyed seeing members benefiting from Toastmasters Program. As Division Governor, I knew I have 365 days to do the job, I could create opportunities to help members see the benefits of this program and achieve personal growth. I was lucky to have a team of dedicated council members and Area Governors who shared in the mission to run quality workshops which were conducted to full house! I saw many leaders achieving personal growth by organizing such events, I saw a lot of teamwork and interaction within Division W Council to make the events successful. We also tried to give the learning opportunity to Assistant Area Governors (AAG). There was a great sense of fulfillment when the audience gave positive feedback after attending Division W Term 2009/10 activities.

If I had more time, I like to create even more opportunities for members to grow. This includes promote club level activities, joint club meetings and joint club events, create more awareness of how members can benefits from actively participate in the Toastmasters Program and activities. There is unfortunately a limit as to how much one can do in 365 days.

Now is time to have some time for myself and take a break. To me, the Toastmasters leadership track is a form of training which needs a lot of effort and time. After 4 yrs of “intensive” leadership, I plan to focus on my other hobby and of course, I will continue to contribute to Toastmasters in some way.

Siva is a very keen and committed Toastmaster who has been actively involved in Toastmasters for nearly 10 years.  Siva, a Distinguished Toastmaster, has served in various leadership capacities among them; District 51 Secretary, which was initially comprised of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei and Hong Kong; Asst. Division Governor Marketing for Division C; Past President for D’Utama Toastmasters Club. 

Like all Toastmasters, I joined the movement to become a better public speaker-more confident and more impressive as a speaker.  I certainly did improve by leaps and bounds as a speaker, but along the way I also got drawn in by the opportunity to serve the movement and play a leadership role, and the highlight was being the District Secretary.

It all started simply enough, when I was asked to serve as the Club Bulletin Editor, by a very committed Past President, who then supported and guided me as I learnt my way through the job of Bulletin Editor.  It was challenging but fun, although there were parts which were tedious, such as posting the Bulletin to members who did not come for the meetings(this was before e-newsletters came on the scene), which involved folding the bulletin, popping it into envelopes, stamping them and then posting them.  This started me on the leadership track of the Club, which took me through the Bulletin Editor, Secretary, Vice President for Education and President.  After being President, I planned on resting for a while, but as luck would have it, the newly elected Division C Governor (there was no Division B, C, P, W or G at the time-only C for Central Division) asked me to be the Assistant Division Governor Marketing, and I agreed, as I had a lot of respect for her abilities. 

I must say that being on the Division Council widened my horizons immensely, as I was having a bird’s eye view, as it were, of how the actions and activities of individual members and clubs impacted the Division and Toastmasters, and conversely, how leadership at a higher level had an effect on individuals in Toastmasters.  Even though it could be tough at times, I loved the feeling that I was contributing and serving, and making a difference, small though it might have been.    This time also sharpened my organizational skills as there were opportunities to organize all sorts of Division events.  My emceeing skills also got a boost as I served different events as the Organizing Chair or Contest Chair and so on.  It wasn’t as if there weren’t opportunities at D’Utama’s level, but they were on a smaller scale, and there were not so many of them.  At the Division there were ample opportunities, just for the asking, and I really grew at this time.  This whetted my appetite, and when I got the chance, I asked the incoming District Governor if I could her District Secretary, and she was happy to agree.

I think being the District Secretary was the most challenging of all my Toastmasters post, as at the time we were part of District 51, which comprised 7 countries.  The major responsibility was coming up with the District Directory for the 7 countries, which listed out the details, and contact details of the Exco for each Club in the District.  That experience really stretched me, and I learned the critical importance of planning and getting help from other people.  The other parts of being the District Secretary, such as taking the minutes of the Council meetings during the annual Conventions and so for the were not that difficult in comparison. 

Looking back, I think that I gained more from the leadership roles, including being Secretary, rather than the speaking assignments.  To be clear, I improved tremendously in my public speaking skills, to the extent that I have a career as corporate trainer, which obviously requires good presentation skills.  And yet, the entire process of being involved in leadership roles, and the total experience, helped me to grow even more than the public speaking portion.  To a large extent, I think it was because I was able to learn from all the mistakes I made, without being penalized and being hung out to dry, as would have happened if the same mistakes had been made in a corporate working environment.  That’s why after a long break, I have taken up a leadership role again in the Division B Council as the Assistant Division Governor Education and Training.