BEHIND THE MIKE
By: Michael Aun
I was first exposed to Toastmasters in 1974 when a friend and client Pat Callahan invited me to attend the 7:00 AM Toastmasters Club in Cayce, SC. Pat had just purchased a large insurance policy from me, which obligated me to come up with a legitimate excuse for not going.
When Pat subtly mentioned that he “Could shop his insurance around” my response was “When do we meet?” I will be eternally grateful to Pat for that meeting literally changed my entire professional life.
I recall that first gathering like it was yesterday. Pat was doing his very first Toastmasters Manual Speech known as “The Icebreaker,” which helps the club get to know him better.
I knew nothing about the process. Pat stood and made his presentation which ran for about 30 minutes. I had no idea that it was only supposed to go 4-6 minutes.
Most clubs have three scheduled speakers, each of whom has an Evaluator who follows a matrix in the Toastmasters International manual. When Pat’s Evaluator stood to give him “feedback,” he tore Pat a new one for going almost 25 minutes too long.
Not knowing the rules, yours truly (like an idiot) stood up to challenge the Evaluator’s opinion. When I later learned about the process, I almost did not return the next week out of pure embarrassment.
It was more important for me to defend my friend. An Evaluator’s job is to give the speaker positive and negative feedback. The quality of Pat’s speech was not in question. The fact that he went so far overtime needed to be addressed.
That inauspicious start for me has developed into over four decades of membership in Toastmasters, first in South Carolina and later when I moved to Florida in 1989.
I am often asked “Why do you still attend every week?” When I’m in my office in Kissimmee, Florida I make it a point to show up at the Osceola Toastmasters Club 1841.
There are a variety of reasons why people join Toastmasters. Some just want to hone their speaking skills for a particular presentation. Others face job promotions that require them to speak publically. Some join for the political side of the organization. Some want to earn some of the many designations from a variety of alphabet soup categories.
Me? I joined for entirely different reasons. I wasn’t interested in becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) though I have fulfilled all the requirements, some of which include serving as an officer, recruiting new members, forming new clubs and climbing the political ladder inside the organization.
I never cared about completing all the manuals for the designations. I wanted to fulfill them for what completion of those challenges made of me. In fact, I don’t ever recall completing any manual. I simply wanted to be a better speaker.
When I say “Toastmasters changed my life” I offer the proof in this three part series. In 1977, I was told that each member of the club had to participate in the club’s speech contest. Not knowing any better, I did as I was told.
When I won the club competition, the powers that be said I had to go to the next level. No problem, contrarian as I am, I did what I was told and proceeded to win the Area Contest.
Again, the folks in charge said I had to now represent the Area at the District Competition. I asked “When does all this stop?” I’ll never forget the Chief Judge’s response… “Don’t worry… this is probably the last rung of the ladder you’ll climb.”
As fate would have it, I did win the District Competition, which was the equivalent of the state championship. Then the guys running the show told me I had to show up in Jekyll Island, Georgia to compete in the Southeastern Regional Competition and I would need a whole new speech.
I won that competition and advanced to the International Speech Contest in Toronto, Ontario, Canada where I competed against eight other representatives from the Toastmasters International speaking world.
In next week’s column, I’ll share with you how I was disqualified from that competition and learned the greatest lesson of all.