*For those who don’t know, Toastmasters is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. I joined the “Schooner Toastmasters” club in Larry Uteck, Nova Scotia in April of 2015. I originally gave this topic as a speech, and was asked to turn it into an article, but I decided to share it on my person blog as well.
Anytime I want to improve a skill, I devour every book possible on the subject. As I completed the 4th or 5th sales book, there was one common piece of advice they all recommended – become a great communicator. And the best possible way of doing that? By joining a local Toastmasters club. So, I joined in 2015. I joined to improve my communication skills, which in turn, would improve my ability to sell. The funny thing is, while I joined for this reason, it wasn’t the reason I kept coming back.
Growing up and through university, I played competitive basketball. I was always on a team. And I liked being part of a team. As I grew older, I began to miss this part of basketball. Sure, shooting hoops was still fun, but a big part was still missing. Soon after university, I started working remotely, and before I knew it, I was spending a lot of time working alone in coffee shops or my apartment. When I joined Toastmasters, I became a part of a team again. The sense of community simply blew me away. Everyone is there for a common goal: to improve their own communication skills and to help others do the same. That common goal is the first reason why I stayed at Toastmasters.
As an added bonus, I was also developing something I underappreciated: everyday communication skills. I was learning about body language, vocal variety, leadership, and more. In comparison, I recently joined a yoga class after spending many years weightlifting. I initially started it to improve my flexibility. After a few weeks, I noticed that my teacher would preach that yoga was a practice for life, not a “quick fix”. This stuck with me. I couldn’t see myself lifting heavy weights when I was 80, but I could see myself practicing yoga. This mindset shift allowed me to focus on the small details of yoga that I may have been impatient with if I was looking for quick results. Toastmasters is like yoga; it’s a practice for life. After all, we communicate with each other every day. Communication IS my life, and Toastmasters gives me the skills I need to communicate clearly and effectively, and the confidence I need to speak my mind. This is the second reason I stayed.
Lastly, Toastmasters was just a good time spent with good people. I use to fear “table topics” (short improv speeches), but now I look forward to them. When I stood up to give my first speech, the sweat was visible on my forehead and my knees were shaking so much, I thought I was going to fall over. But I’m glad I did it. I also love hearing everyone’s stories through their speeches. It’s inspiring to be around other people who are as focused on self-improvement as I am. I know how powerful an influence your environment has on you, and Toastmasters has changed me for the better. This positive environment that I am a part of is the last reason why I kept coming back to Toastmasters.
We never know where the first step takes us. I stayed because I like being part of a team who looks out for each other. I stayed because communication is a lifelong skill, and Toastmasters is the perfect place to practice it. I stayed because Toastmasters is a fun time with a group of people looking to improve themselves in a caring, positive environment. Most things I do are conscious steps I take towards becoming the best entrepreneur I can be. And going back to the reason I joined Toastmasters in the first place, Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, has once said that “founders [entrepreneurs] that are hard to talk to are almost always bad. Communication is a very important skill for founders–in fact, I think this is the most important rarely discussed founder skill.” I have not found a better way to improve my communication skills required to become a great founder. And that’s well worth the small price of admission itself.
So let me ask you again. Is the reason you joined Toastmasters the same reason you stayed?