None other than 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking Lance Miller, one of the champions I've probably spent the least time with, and seen the least of, over the years.
Not that he doesn't get around - I'm just never there when he does. I did get a chance to hear him speak at the Champs Edge Summit in 2011, and he came to the contestants dinner you may have seen in SPEAK the movie, but never at length, or in a formal 'speaking' scenario.
TLI was different. First, he was on a whirlwind tour - doing two hours of talking Friday Night in Ft. Collins, 2 hours with us in Denver the next morning, then heading to Colorado Springs, and, I believe, Grand Junction and Southern CO were also on this docket.
My understanding was that Lance prefers TLIs (though I'm sure he'll speak at District Conferences without complaint!) - and he confirmed that in his comments. Which brings us to...
What I Learned from Lance Miller
1. You Can Disagree With Toastmasters While Still Passionately Promoting It. A lesson I need to hear often, I think. I've always been a fan of authenticity, and Lance made it very clear to start that he wasn't going to pull any punches, that he wasn't a fan of the DCP (Distinguished Club Plan), and that Toastmasters doesn't do everything right. He backed that up by saying he'd told Toastmasters International's top man, Dan Rex, these things straight up - and when he comes to a District TLI, they know what they're getting. Lance loves Toastmasters, and makes that clear. He does, however, have some unorthodox views - views which I agreed with, as did many I could see in our audience of 300+ officers in training.
2. We Set Our Sights Too Low. He basically said that if our club didn't hit President's Distinguished, hitting all 10 of the set goals in the DCP - we simply weren't trying hard enough, and that a healthy club should hit those goals easily. The knee-jerk reaction to that is often "easy for you to say, you aren't dealing with my club". He understands this though, and basically dismisses it out of hand. The feeling I left with was 'you can keep doing what you're doing and own the results, you can do something different and get better results, or you can go find a club that's healthier instead of continuing to work within a club that doesn't want to improve'. Tough talk, but true talk.
3. Be Clear About Your Club Goals. His message was centered around being a healthy club per TM standards, and exceeding those standards. Decide to be great - as his club did back in the 90's, and continues to be today.
I also took it as indicated above - 'keep doing what you're doing and own the results'. That is, if your club is happy being what it is, if you're meeting members goals, keep doing what you're doing. However, I believe that if your club is veering too far off from TM's goals as an organization, it's time to give up your charter and start your own organization. If your club has been reduced to 5 people getting together socially, who also happen to pay their dues, it's not really a Toastmasters club, is it?
At the same time, you might be an Advanced Club, with very specific goals - you're working on humor, or keynotes, or evaluations - and hitting your DCP goals isn't a priority. As long as you're aware of who you are, and honor the spirit of TM, you're on the right track. Of course, even then, keeping 20 members, getting Officer Training, Paying Dues, Submitting Officers Reports, and 2 extra manual completions puts you in Distinguished status, which honors not only TM, but your Area, Division, and District Governors. So why not at least aim for that level of distinction.
4. We're an Education Program! It's not like I didn't know that before, but he put it out so simply, that it has helped me change my perspective somewhat. I've been spoiled over the years to be a member in clubs that have a lot of core members, and when I see so many come in for awhile and then leave, it bothers me a bit. It can almost be a personal affront that someone will come in, get their CC and move on. Don't they understand? I've been in for 14 years and I'm still getting tremendous value - do they think there's nothing more for them?
It's a fact of life that TM has a 33% turnover rate, and that the average member never makes it past their sixth speech. It's not personal, it's just life. Some don't get what they need out of TM. Some aren't willing to work hard enough to get what they need. Some get exactly what they need, and don't want more, or simply want to take what they've learned and go a different direction. That's OK - in fact, that's a success for them and for us in Toastmasters.
5A. We Shouldn't Recruit New Members, We Should Recruit New Visitors. No one wants to come with the pressure of commitment. Just get them to try it, like free samples at Costco (or Sam's, or Trader Joe's, your choice). If TM tastes good to them, they'll come back, and get what they want.
5B. Don't Have Meetings, Have Events. Nobody likes going to meetings, really. Make each gathering an event - use themes, tie in to holidays and local happenings. Have extra events - just because your club meets on Thursday nights doesn't mean you can't have a Saturday party, or speech-a-thon, or even a contest day. Every time you get together, be organized, enthusiastic, encouraging. When visitors (and members) feel the energy, they'll return. Count on it.
Lance's training presentation was the best I've seen in Toastmasters, and frankly, the best I've seen in my years in the marketing and advertising industry. I've been trained a lot over the years, but trainers of every type. But Lance's unrivaled passion for and knowledge of the organization, his authentic and transparent speaking style, and his willingness to call both his organization and his audience onto the carpet resulted in a combination of paradigm shifts and re-anchoring of best practices in my own Toastmasters experience. I can only hope it did the same, and more, for those around me.
Bonus Lesson: Claim Your Corner - Lance explained that while many champs focus on speaking about speaking, he has expertise many champs do not - building not just a championship speech, but a championship CLUB, back in California. A club rated 4th in the world at one time - back when they actually kept track. So while he'll speak about speaking, and has a speaking product or two, he focuses on Club building - from officer roles to recruiting membership to dealing with tough situations, and tough personalities, along the way. He knows where he can stand out to Speak & Deliver - do you?