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Toastmasters: Have it your way

September 14, 2010

We are in good company. Actually, we’re in GREAT company, but you probably already knew that. Besides being in Talk for Change Toastmasters with some incredible people, we’re part of Toastmasters International, and the club has some pretty interesting alumni. Did you know Tim Allen from Home Improvement was a Toastmaster? Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell may have learned to speak under pressure when he was a member of Toastmasters. And Spock, also known as Leonard Nimoy, has most likely done table topics, because he was more than just half human and half Vulcan – he was a Toastmaster.

People interested in making positive change, like Nancy Brinker, were Toastmasters. If you haven’t heard her name, you probably know the organization she founded, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Famous athletes, politicians and writers have come through Toastmasters. People from all walks of life, famous or not, have become better communicators and honed their leadership skills in rooms like this one around the world for the last 86 years.

And why not? They know the same thing you do: you can make Toastmasters work for you by understanding all the opportunities available through the Education Program. First, there are two tracks, Communications (CC) and Leadership (CL). These are the first two books you receive in Toastmasters. You can use them both at once, and for the Leadership track you can even work ahead on the next level of leadership before you finish your Competent Leadership (CL). From CL, you can go on to Advanced Leadership Bronze, and from there you can move to Advanced Leadership Silver. On the Communication track, you can move from Competent Communicator (CC) to Advanced Communicator Bronze, then Silver and then Gold.

But if Toastmasters is about personal goals, why do we care about all these books? Levels? Awards? You may care. It might be a nice touch on a resume, or something to work for. But the truth is, completing the books, moving to the next level, it’s really all about achieving your personal communication and leadership goals. Toastmasters helps you do this through (1) evaluation, (2) choice and (3) a chance to help others as you learn.

I’ll start with Evaluation. When you bring your books, you will get not only an oral evaluation, but also a written one. Your speeches and your CL projects are flexible, they don’t have to go in order. Your speeches don’t even have to be here with us. As long as a fellow Toastmaster is with you doing a written evaluation while you speak in front of an audience, you can complete a speech–or CC project. The Competent Leadership book is a way for you to be evaluated in the other roles, and to push you beyond your comfort level to try new things.

But what happens after the CC and the CL manuals are completed? Well, you get even more choice. When you finish the CC manual and I complete your form online, you should receive two new manuals, the Advanced Communicator manuals. You get to choose these two manuals out of 15 available topics. Fifteen different topics! For instance, one of the books you could choose is “The Entertaining Speaker,” a track that helps you focus on making all your presentations more entertaining. There are tracks for persuasive, PR, technical and public relations speaking. “Communicating on Television,” teaches Toastmasters how to present an editorial, appear as a guest on TV or use video presentations as a training tool. So you can see, once you complete the CC book, you have some interesting choices ahead.

Each of the Advanced Communicator manuals has 5 speeches. When you complete two of the manuals – so 10 speeches – you’ve completed the Advanced Communicator Bronze. By this point, you’ve undergone 20 oral and written speech evaluations. Think how much you will have researched, practiced and learned by then. You will have had to choose 20 different topics to present, and you will have customized the program and your speeches to help you reach your own goals. That will make you even better at the third part of the Education Program: helping others achieve their goals.

The Advanced Leader Bronze is something you can start before you even finish your CL. It requires that you are an officer for at least 6 months, and a few things that go along with that naturally, like training and creating a Club Success Plan (a kind of road map). It also requires that you present two programs from one of the educational series Toastmasters International provides. Toastmasters has 3 main series of module presentations. Each module is focused on a specific education goal. The first two series are The Successful Club Series and the Leadership Excellence Series. These each include 10 or more modules that last anywhere from 10 min to an hour. The subjects include “Evaluate to Motivate,” “Impromptu speaking,” “Know Your Audience,” and others. There is a PPT and a script in the packet, but these just provide the structure for you to use and customize based on your own experience and stories.

Each role and speech in Toastmasters offers you an opportunity for choice and evaluation. Serving in advanced leadership roles and presenting higher level educational topics is a way to use what you’ve gained in Toastmasters and give back to those who can learn from your experience. The Toastmasters education experience is for you, and for you to help support those around you. In fact, that’s actually the mission of Toastmasters: “…to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment…” and to boldly go where many have gone before.

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