Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Owe it All to Toastmasters

I owe it all to Toastmasters.

The first time I heard the word 'Toastmasters' was in debate class in the 10th grade.

The second time was 10 years later, from a woman I met at a church singles event - she invited me to her club (Titan Toastmasters, in Littleton, Colorado), which she was not only the President of, but the reigning Toastmaster of the Year. I joined - for three whole months. I gave a couple speeches, teamed her in a club debate (which we won), and then, life got in the way.

I didn't go back for 3 1/2 years - in another state, at a time when I was starting life over after a divorce (yes, from the woman who invited me to TM - at least I have one good result from that relationship), was 'on a break' from the woman I was dating, who I've now been married to for nearly 15 years, and I was looking for something to do. I didn't dance, didn't drink, and didn't play bingo. I had wanted to return to Toastmasters ever since I left it, and it seemed like a good place to go, both for adult interaction, and to get chances to express myself in a positive environment.

I didn't join TM to overcome my fear of public speaking. Or to become a leader - but they didn't really care about that in 1995, or 1999. I joined (Metro TM, Salt Lake City) to make friends, to improve my skills (I was in advertising sales at the time), and basically to feed my ego. I won the best speaker ribbon 9 out of my first 10 speeches on the way to becoming a Competent Toastmaster (CTM) - not that I was counting :)

It wasn't until I was a couple years into my career that I started to go beyond giving speeches, and go beyond myself. I was giving a speech out of the Humorous Manual, and afterward, my mentor, Past District 15 Governor Billie Jones, came up to me with words that would shape my future.

"Rich - you're a great speaker. I could see you on the World Championship Stage. If only you would learn to SAY SOMETHING."

Ouch, as that years World Champion would say (not that I had a clue who HE was at that time!). I did know what the WCPS was - if just on the surface. We had had a guest speaker come to our meeting to practice his Region Speech. To be honest, in the round robin I kind of let him have it - and the next year, when his coach became my coach, I found out said coach agreed with me wholeheartedly. Turns out, the guy went on to speak on the World Stage in 2001 - so he either Won Anyway, or he changed his speech a bit! (He didn't place in the Finals - but Top Ten in the world is still pretty good).

Billie had seen right through me. That I'd been writing speeches (or rather, outlining speeches) at the last minute, even out in my car right before the meeting. I was getting by on natural 'charm and humor', but doling out cotton candy to my audiences that dissolved as quickly as the words left my mouth and reached their ears.

I resolved to never again give a speech that didn't offer intended value - be it inspiration, educational, or even humorous (giving people laughter on purpose has value). I got involved in contests - my first District trophy coming in Fall of 2001 when I won the Evaluation contest.

That, too, would foreshadow my future. My first coaching job came directly from my club, in the Spring of 2004 - when a visitor came in asking for help with a toast for his daughter's wedding - which was just a month away. The folks he talked to walked him over to me, apparently because they figured I was the best evaluator in the club, or maybe they just thought I needed the money! I charged him $100 bucks to help him write and deliver his speech.

I spent countless hours with him, getting to know his story with his daughter, learning to write in his voice, coaching him on delivery (he was amazingly nervous at the start) - basically, my first client taught me how to become a coach. By month's end, he'd handed me 3 bonus checks, and I ended up making $1000 - and he ended up giving what he said was a laugh and tear-inducing toast which impressed the entire wedding party, and, most importantly, his daughter. Oh, and the wedding? Apparently it was being held on top of a castle in Vienna - which at least partially explains his generosity!

From that point on, I declared myself a 'Presentation Coach' - I just said that's what I did, and it was so. It was four years later that I quit my day job to do this full time - at the worst possible time, as those who've seen me in the movie SPEAK can attest to.

I continued in Toastmasters, building my speaking and coaching skills, eventually reaching the World Championship Stage as Billie envisioned (if only she'd envisioned me WINNING), finishing 3rd in 2006, and also appearing in 2008.

I've traveled to far off places like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Toronto, Canada; and Pierre, South Dakota here in the U.S. to speak for Toastmasters, both as a contestant and a District Conference Keynoter.

I've coached clients on 4 continents, both in person and via SKYPE, on everything from contest speeches (Tall Tales, Humorous, and Int'l), business presentations, and full-blown keynote speeches.

And still, I continued in Toastmasters, in Utah, Washington, and now in Colorado - serving as an officer, an Area Governor, a club sponsor, a club coach, a Conference activities organizer, a TLI speaker - and finally earned my DTM this year. I even learned some leadership skills along the way, despite myself.

15 years is just 1/6 of the organization's existence, but it's 1/3 of mine. Toastmasters provided me with a vision of who I could be, and helped give me an avenue to become that vision. I've made friends and met clients from all around the world. I've written two books, helped my wife write a book (and deliver a keynote of her own) an ebook, and this blog has now hit the five year mark.

It's been an up and down ride, but I love what I do - both as a speaker, and as a coach.

And I owe it all to Toastmasters.

I have a lot more I could say. Luckily I have future blog posts to say it, future speeches to share it, future books to fill. For now, let me wish Toastmasters International a very happy 90th birthday - as long as you're there, and I'm above ground, I'll be a member. Here's to another 90, as you help the world do what I've come to call Speak...and Deliver!

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