Toastmasters International District 95 Conference in Brno had just ended. I was returning from 3 days of spectacular Inspirational Speeches and workshops with two of my Toastmasters friends. And as I was driving back home…the most unexpected sentence came out bursting out of my mouth “I wish I could make it to an International Speech Contest at the District level. It must be an unbelievable experience”. Silence fell in the car –my friends exchanged glances and I started preparing for impact –inevitable laughter for sure, perhaps a half-funny, half-snarky remark….But no, not when you share your wishes with Toastmasters! Instead of the laughter I felt a warm smile of encouragement, followed by “You need to try! Let’s make it a project!” And that’s the moment, on the highway from Brno, the Czech Republic to Lodz, Poland when my journey…to Athens, Greece began.
I will tell you upfront…I did make it to the District level. I got through the Club, then Area, then Division level. And then finally to the District Semi –Finals. And it was truly a dream come true.
The first lesson I learnt from my journey was that I would’ve never gotten there on my own. If there’s anything I took out of the entire experience, it was how much support I received from my fellow Toastmasters. And by support – I mean…feedback. Now, the Toastmasters reading this probably just broke into an inner smile. But what I learnt was truly, what I believe to be at the core of the learning experience with Toastmasters. Feedback-based-learning can have the strongest impact on one’s personal development. Throughout the entire contest cycle, I kept on receiving information on the speech, on my stage presence, on my poise. I was challenged and often pushed to experiment with a new way speaking and even…thinking. I was always asked if I want to hear what somebody wanted to share, and I would say “yes” knowing that I am about to receive somebody’s honest opinion in the air of genuine support. And after this experience, I feel stronger than ever that if feedback is given in the true spirit of wanting the other person to develop and make a next step on their journey –and if that feedback is received with an open heart and deep conviction it is coming from a good place, then that that feedback can only bring growth and self-reflection.
The other lesson I learnt…Is not going to be really original. But still –you need to live it, to feel it. And it was –don’t make it about the destination, it should always be about the journey. To be honest, I never really thought I would get so far…I just wanted to be able to say I did all I could to get there. My friends’ support made me believe I could go further than I originally envisioned. So I was sincerely happy to participate in the Semi-Finals and I applauded the Finalists and all the participants who were absolutely amazing. I feel for the judges who needed to make a decision that day!
And now after Athens, after all that work…what’s next? I am often asked –“it’s really great that you have a passion like Toastmasters, but do you really use it in your professional life?” Well -will I use the speech at work? Considering I’m a Project Manager and a big part of the speech was me recreating a scene where my hamster was chewing through ropes to make a run for it from an operating table….probably not! Will I use the learnings from the entire experience in my professional life and in general, in life going forward? Absolutely, YES! If you want to gain the ability to communicate your vision –where else will you have an audience that will listen carefully to prepare you for the best performance you could ever give?
If you’re a Toastmaster thinking whether to join the next Conference or participate in a Speech Contest –just go for it! You’re surrounded by people who are most probably struggling with the same fears you are and nobody will admire you more for trying than them. And if you’re just about to join your first Toastmasters meeting –I envy you to be at the very beginning of your very own, new and unpredictable…feedback-based-journey!
Author: Marta Maruszewska, VPPR of Speakers of Łódź Toastmasters Club