At Toastmasters, we encourage each other to visit different clubs to not only develop camaraderie, but, to learn from each other’s shared experiences.
With about 13,000 clubs and close to 300,000 members worldwide, Toastmasters creates a huge opportunity for us to learn from each other. To those who are not familiar with Toastmasters, it is an organization dedicated to foster leadership through public-speaking. Where leaders are made, is the slogan at Toastmasters. This is an international, voluntary organization, run by dedicated set of people, who can think and imagine beyond their everyday chores.
Each week, they challenge themselves in practicing the art of public-speaking, taking on roles, providing evaluations and mentoring new members and chartering new clubs. It is a hierarchical organization — everything starts from a local club and clubs are organized under Areas, Areas under Divisions, Divisions under Districts, so on and so forth. For example, I belong to Area F63, under Division F of District 44, which is in Georgia, USA, while Coimbatore Toastmasters Club (CTC) belongs to District 82, which includes the state of Tamil Nadu (India) and the entire country of Sri Lanka.
While many understand the public speaking aspect of Toastmasters, the value in honing the skills of listening is something that is not well-understood. In a nutshell, Toastmasters is a leadership playground of sorts because it creates a perfect field, where its members feel reassured to fail safely. What is leadership, other than that, which creates those safe fields for those who strive harder to transcend above their own failures? Right? Welcome to Toastmasters!
Only within the past year or so of my three-year stint at Toastmasters, I had this deep urge to visit Toastmasters clubs in other countries. As a President of Wildwood Toastmasters, I have visited other clubs within my Division, but not in other foreign countries. It finally happened this time, when I visited my hometown of Coimbatore, India.
It is a sort of homecoming to me as I did not realize that the City of Coimbatore in the southernmost state of Tamil Nadu in India has only one Toastmasters club — Coimbatore Toastmasters Club (CTC) — which meets at the PSG Institute of Management (PSG is my alma mater, as I did my Engineering at PSG College of Technology). In fact, I was able to even take a picture in the very same classroom, where I began my Engineering school.
Right at the outset, when I reached out to the officers of Coimbatore Toastmasters Club, they were very enthusiastic and responsive. They were welcoming and made me very comfortable. Although, the President of the Club had gone to Goa for the Spring Conference, CTC’s Sergeant-at-Arms Mr. Narendran was regularly in touch with me.
I visited CTC twice, during my vacation. On Thursday, May 22, 2014, I went in as a visitor — to observe, how CTC’s meetings are conducted. I was asked, if I could do two roles — Speech Evaluator and General Evaluator — to which I gladly consented. CTC’s officers had also requested if I can do an educational session on cross-cultural perspectives of public-speaking, which we agreed to have it for my next visit on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Both the meetings were themed meetings. May 22nd’s theme was Vegetables and May 24th’s theme was Friendship.
On May 22nd, there were 3 speakers at various levels of their communication roadmap. One was an Icebreaker Speaker, giving her speech for the first time. Second was an Advanced Speaker, who was giving his speech from the humorous speech manual. Third was an Advanced Speaker too, who was giving his speech from the Communicating on Video manual, wherein his objective was to provide a Press Conference. I had to evaluate the third speaker, who happened to be a professional speaker and career-coach as well. Thus I was witnessing the energy, vigor, and professionalism of a small subset of 50+ members of CTC. Their meetings were somewhat less formal than what I have had experienced, but, not informal by any means. Many of them were young college students and working professionals. Their intellectual curiosity was infectious, I should say. Even after the meeting was over, they swarmed, greeted, and were eager to know, what they could have done different — in their speeches, evaluations, roles and just about the meeting itself in general!
As the Speech Evaluator and General Evaluator, I used the opportunity to motivate the members, by interspersing generic and specific comments for improvement, which was widely appreciated by the CTC members. During the Tabletopics Speech portion — where members are given a topic to speak off the cuff — I was called to speak on a topic titled, “If you were to give an Oscar Award to a vegetable, what would it be and why?” Without any hesitation I started, saying “drumstick“. I wove the impromptu speech with humor that tapped into the host’s cultural and humorous setting. In the mid 1980s, one of the blockbuster Tamil movies made in this part of the world, wove a humorous meme around this vegetable drumstick, which has prevailed in the peoples’ memories ever since. CTC members voted for the best speaker, tabletopic speaker, and evaluator.
While Icebreaker Speaker Ms. Priya was adjudged the best speaker, the other two awards went to me. I felt humbled and elated. What is interesting is that CTC’s convention is to restrict best speaker award to only those, who speak from the Competent Communicator manual.
Two takeaways I had from this meeting are:
- Members show a thumbs-up, whenever a speaker uses the Word of the Day in their speech.
- Members give a standing ovation to the Icebreaker Speaker, at the time awards are announced.
I personally think, both of them are great ideas, which I hope to table it before my Executive Committee for possible adoption.
On Saturday, May 24, 2014, there were two prepared speakers for this meeting.
I had to do a Speech Evaluation for the first speaker, who spoke from the Competent Communicator manual. Although, a young student, he spoke on Parenting. In brief, his theme can be summed-up in two sentences: If you intend to become a parent, parent yourself. It is better to think about Parenting, before you become a parent, instead of thinking after! This is precisely the kind of talent, I witnessed at CTC.
The second speaker was CTC’s Vice President (Education) Ms. Nivetha. She was giving a speech from the Storytelling manual, by weaving a story that was in part inspired by the Bard’s classic Merchant of Venice. Then came my educational session on Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Public-Speaking.
In my educational speech, I touched on some of the favorite themes of having to speak slowly, maintaining eye-contact, using the space appropriately, paying attention to pronunciation, etc. It was widely appreciated. I felt contented. In fact, the Grammarian of the Day walked up to me, after the meeting was over and told me that he found some of the tips I gave during the previous meeting were so helpful that he had incorporated those in this very meeting. True! He provided an excellent overview of positive aspects of English grammar and vocabulary as part of his Grammarian report.
In this meeting too, the only speaker from the CC manual, walked away with the best speaker award, while I was again adjudged as the best evaluator.
I profusely thanked the CTC officers and members for graciously hosting me in their midst. I extended my cordial invitation to CTC members to visit my Wildwood Toastmasters Club or just about any other Club within District 44 Georgia, whenever they happen to visit Georgia.
I would encourage any Toastmaster to visit other clubs, as we can learn so much from each other. The experience is very rewarding. Each club has its own culture — besides, the cross-cultural differences that can be fascinating for us to imbibe from each other.
This is a vibrant club that teems with energies and zest. While another Toastmaster from Atlanta is planning to visit CTC in June, I am determined to do just the same in future as well.
We all need those infectious energies. Don’t we?
Check them out here: Coimbatore Toastmasters Club.