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Monday, October 31, 2016

Lessons Learned Through My Journey at Toastmasters

It was a usual evening. I was enjoying my power break at work while sipping coffee and gazing the fresh spring blossoms at the street below. 

The sudden silence got interrupted by two co-workers in a jiffy. I observed them carrying few pamphlets, out of which they pinned two over the notice board in the cafeteria. As they left, I went closer out of the obvious curiosity and what I read brought an empowering change in my life!

Communicate & Relate, its Essential!
It was the first time that I had come across Toastmasters International (TI) in April’2014.

[PS: With its presence across the globe, Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation founded in 1924 for the purpose of promoting efficient communication and leadership skills. It doesn't matter if you are already a scholar of the wonder skills or still pacing up, TI effectively hones your aptitude.]

There was a time in life when my excitement of organising and hosting events (apart from participating) always used to hit cloud nine. It was back then during the years at my high school till the time I gained the Masters degree. 

Apart from other extra-curricular activities, I always used to be driven by the thought of mingling with people. But weirdly, as I stepped into the corporate environment, this enthusiasm grabbed a backseat and the writer within me came out commanding! Still whenever I stood a chance, I saw that as an opportunity to keep the speaker within me alive.

Hence, motivated by the TI advertisement that day, I decided to join my corporate club. A promising journey of empowering self began since then. My participation went beyond my own club and I enjoyed playing voluntary roles at several TI events in and around my city (Delhi, India).

Flow of time flew me down to the beautiful city of Stockholm in 2015 and the keen interest made me continue my association with TI.

I believe what I have learned till date in my short journey with Toastmasters International, is not merely a set of lessons but dearly valuable principles of communication that I look up to everyday in life.

As I share these lessons with my lovely readers, I consider them to be insightful for those:
  • Who wish to join the Toastmasters International community,
  • Who have just begun their edifying journey, or
  • Who just wish to know more on the subject of “communication”

Let’s raise a toast to Toastmasters,
An organisation, where leaders are made...

Welcome to a Place,
where we love to communicate;
where we enjoy being in a mindful state;

Welcome to an Environment,
where our words are truly treasured;
where our public speaking skills are consistently measured;

Welcome to a Group,
where we are always warmly welcomed;
where we are always inspired and never judged;

Welcome to a Community,
where we emote, express and overcome our fears;
where we are constantly encouraged by our peers;

Welcome to a Society,
where we feel enthusiastic and cheerful;
where we perceive “Communication” to be our best tool;

Proud to be a Toastmaster,
where leaders are made...
Feels fulfilling...
to be empowered, to move forward and accelerate...
~Jyotika Rajput Mehra Poetry

[PS: In general, “communication” refers to the act of imparting or exchanging information by speaking, writing, or through any other medium. However, in the information mentioned below, the author has preferred using the term “communication” in place of “verbal communication” (in exception to points #9 and #10), and “Toastmasters” in place of the “Toastmasters International” organisation as a whole, for the sake of simplicity.]

Lesson Learned #1: Words are the Soul of Communication, while Expression is its Body

We might be particular of WHAT we speak, but HOW we speak is the actual game changer! Our language may contain the most suitable adjectives but if we do not organise our words in the framework of appropriate voice and tone; the correct meaning of the message to be conveyed can be easily lost.

At Toastmasters, we track our success story of public speaking by learning the “How” tactics of communication. Thanks to the ever supportive group of people! Just as a desirable packaging adds to the true essence of the product inside; our body language including the eye contact, hand gestures, movement, proximity with the audience, and further so, is important altogether for supporting our communication.

Lesson Learned #2: Speaking is Just the First Half of an Effective Communication; the Other Half is Listening, Understanding and Responding

An effective communication includes a good speaker and a good listener. That’s the way of developing an authentic association between two people. Also, listening should be “good” for the very purpose of gaining perfect understanding of the speaker’s original intent; because it is only then that the listener gains the ability to candidly respond to the speaker.

At Toastmasters, filling the comments section of the feedback form, conforms to the second half of the communication process and lets the speaker know about the listener’s opinion of their speech. Also, the person in evaluator’s role provides a detailed feedback to the speaker. Now isn’t that a great way of practising effective communication instantly!

Lesson Learned #3: Multi-Cultured Environment Make Us Gain the Power of Resilience

Being in a multi-cultured environment can be encouraging as well as accommodating. As we tend to see a broader horizon displaying the beauty of assorted beliefs and opinions, our knowledge-base is widened by the facts about new places and people. The bigger picture allows us to be open-minded and expand our comprehending abilities of people’s experiences.

The indispensable factor counts one major thing and it is to know “what forms the basis of a person’s mind-set”. But since this reality cannot be revealed to all, it is absolutely necessary to commend people for their credibility.

At Toastmasters, we learn the power of being resilient. As a consequence of listening to all sorts of speakers from diverse cultures and backgrounds, we gain the most wonderful interpersonal skill of learning new perspectives of knowing life.

Lesson Learned #4: Step-Up that Confidence

It takes confidence to initiate communication. It takes courage to speak in front of an audience. Not all are experts at it! And even if that gush of confidence is already flowing in our veins; it’s always good to keep up that momentum. It’s always good to consume that positive pill of confidence to illuminate our personalities.

At Toastmasters, as we begin our journey, in the natural course of time, there’s a magic element that tracks our brain cell reservoirs being always filled with the power dose known as “confidence”.

Lesson Learned #5: There’s Nothing Known as “Negative”, It’s All About the Perspective

We may like or dislike people for their opinions and the way they communicate. But in no regard do we hold any right to remark their orientation as “negative” unless and until it gets filthy and personal! We can always let them know about our disagreement but that doesn’t make us own all the “positivity”. Each one has their own identity of relating and representing things; and as humans, we must respect that fact.

At Toastmasters, the role of "evaluators" is essentially great. They analyse the speakers against different performance criteria. They intend to provide a genuinely unbiased response while recommending the alternatives for the part of speech that could have been better. They strictly ignore using negative remarks and focus on truly motivating the speakers. Their gesture of evaluation in all its regard refers to the various aspects of the speech and not to the speaker in person.

Lesson Learned #6: Real World Communication is Almost Similar to Storytelling

Storytelling is an art! So is public speaking as well! Presentation is the key factor in both the cases. A story may be fictitious but a lot can be mapped to the real world communication. Just as a story has a plot – a beginning, body line and an end; in the similar way, an effective communication demands to follow an identical structure of organisation.

 “Toastmasters” is a brilliant platform to nurture our storytelling skills by learning the art of public speaking in real time. The set of exceptionally designed manuals offer a step-by-step comprehensive approach to prepare and excel our speech delivery process. Each speech is actually referred to as a project adhering to certain objectives. Completing a project may seem like overcoming a challenge but it’s all so interesting at the same time!

Lesson Learned #7: Updating Our Vocabulary is Truly Essential

Communication begins with language; and language is made up of grammar, i.e. the basic rules including words, phrases, idioms, metaphors and many others expressions. Ever noticed how wonderful it feels to learn a new word or a medium of expression and implement the same while communicating! The beauty of any language is observed only when we keep updating ourselves with new vocabulary.

At Toastmasters, we emphasize on polishing our English speaking skills. Each time when a meeting begins, we get an opportunity to immerse into the world of words and expressions. With the “word of the day” concept, each one gets to run their mind for using the given word in some or the other way. And the fun part is that all becomes effortless in an environment of wise and cheerful beings!

Lesson Learned #8: Time is Important

Let me repeat that cliché – “Time is important”; but at times we slip off it! An effective communication does involve time management! Speaking isn’t the same as gossiping! It’s far more a serious act, rather a wise act! Said that, it doesn’t rule out the pleasure we experience by chit-chatting with our loved ones in leisure. But the only distinguishing thing between the former and latter is time!

Be it formal or informal, when we have important information to be shared, we have to organise our thoughts, words and emotions in a synchronised manner, for the simple reason of respecting the schedule of others as well.

At Toastmasters, the meetings are so impressively schemed that we learn to adapt to an extremely structured system. The person in time-keeper’s role is in charge of constantly signalling every other role player of their scheduled time slot.

Each and every role of the TI meeting is time bound including the break. Therefore, from start to end, effective communication is facilitated through a pre-determined agenda and well-monitored time.

Lesson Learned #9: Delight of Double Dose of Communication - Verbal and Written

Communication is probably the best trait gifted to humans. We are the only living species that is blessed with the power to speak as well as write. Communication makes it possible for us to share our knowledge that is resting in our senses.

Some choose the verbal way while some enter the world of writing. But fortunately, here at Toastmasters, we tend to gain both the opportunities – we jot down our emotions, prepare an organised written speech, rehearse it, and then speak out the same, live in front of our audience. Isn’t it a matter of delight to unleash our emotions several times!

Lesson Learned #10: Unity Makes Us the Best Communicators

 “COMMUNITY”... Did you observe anything?

Communication has a lot to do with unity. When we are united, we interact better. When we are united, we communicate better. And a constant practice of doing so makes us simply the best communicators!

“I am a good speaker, because you are a good listener! Your honest response and feedback instils a sense of courage and capability in me; and I am further encouraged to pose my authenticity in front of you.”

Do you also feel the same vibes of coherence?

No matter where we are, I truly believe it is the unity among individuals which brings out the best in each one of us. Beyond the barriers of age, gender and culture; it is the unity that propels the feeling of belonging which further unites people in the relation of togetherness. And it is this power that enables each one of us showcase our words and communicate to the world.

At Toastmasters, we are one beautiful community of like-minded people who come together for the purpose of supporting each other in becoming the best speakers. The several strategically designed roles make us nourish our speaking instinct. Even if we flaw, we are not judged but encouraged to improve and move forward.

With my last point, I refer this all to be a part of a non-exhaustive journal of learning through the massively empowering community of Toastmasters International. There seem to be many more countless benefits of being a part of this wonderful public speaking organisation.

The best part about the Toastmasters meetings is that you can attend one at your near-by club as a guest, all free of cost! You do not necessarily become a member for enjoying the pleasure of being a good listener. Also, as a guest, you can even have your share of 2-minute fame by showcasing your speaking skills during the Table-Topics session.

At last, I would like to burst the myth of people who believe that joining “Toastmasters International” is a desultory affair of idle folks or those who possess ample of time!

So please hear me out loud – “There’s nobody known as “idle” in today’s busy world! No matter if someone is a working professional or a homely person; joining TI undoubtedly contributes in expanding one’s perspective towards life.

Toastmasters makes one embark on an ever-lasting journey of effective communication, where they constantly progress, not only by accomplishing their own goals but also by supporting and caring for the fellow members.



Does my journey relate to you as well? 
What is your definition of a good communicator? 
I would love to know about your experience and perception. 
Please share your comments below. :)

Disclaimer: 

* Author of this post reserves rights for the content source being an original concept. Be mindful to give credit if you refer this blog post or picture or quote anywhere. Please do not copy without permission. ©Jyotika Rajput Mehra

* This post is purely based on the author’s personal experience, knowledge and perception. The purpose of this article is to inspire the readers to improve their communication skills. This is a sincere effort by the author to present the valuable attributes gained in the learning process at Toastmasters. It does not claim to instruct on behalf of the organisation of Toastmasters International, or alter readers’ set of beliefs.

* The author holds the ownership of the displayed piece of art. Please do not:
   * reproduce the image;
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   * distribute copies of the image to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending; without explicit consent of the author.