Friday, June 3, 2016

                                                TRIBUTE TO TOASTMASTERS

      Last night, I delivered my final speech to my Toastmasters group. It was bittersweet. I didn’t have to give this speech. I could have stayed home and continued packing boxes, making lists and wringing my hands over how I will ever survive our upcoming move without my wonderful friends. I chose, however, to put myself out there one more time and tell the audience what Toastmasters has meant to me over the past several years.

     In a world where verbal communication suffers at every turn, this organization strives to improve rhetoric. It is an organization which offers ordinary people an opportunity to learn skills in order to deliver extraordinary messages. It is a place where people can improve their speaking and social skills at every level without fear of criticism or judgment.

     I have been a Toastmaster off and on for over 30 years. I told my audience (ages 28-70) that what Toastmasters has given me is not just a safe place to be vulnerable and grow but a place where I can improve my own skills, mentor others to improve theirs and at the same time make lifelong friendships. 

     In a society where we communicate by thumbs and political insults with 3rd grade vocabulary and judgment, we need a place where people can use their intelligence, creativity and decorum to better express ourselves on a daily basis.

     As I looked out at my audience, I saw every face engaged with me. I saw a few heads nod in agreement, and I felt connected. Why? Because I spoke from my heart, and I meant every word.
     Every speaker at our meetings is assigned an evaluator. The role of this person is to praise the positive and offer suggestions for improvement. My evaluator told me I took a wrong turn three years ago, and I should have continued straight to the Thalian Hall audition. He meant that as a compliment, and I accepted it as such. What he told me, though, was that I had progressed to the “next level,” and that I needed to connect more and reflect my “inner Sandy.” What he meant was that when we speak from the heart, sincerely and honestly, we gain the attention and respect of our listeners. 

     As a speaker, we are taught to be organized, to use good vocabulary, proper grammar and make sure our message is clear and succinct. We are taught to use vocal variety, appropriate gestures and facial expression and to use the elements of surprise and humor to drive home our message. All of our members carry these tenets to the podium. We don’t scream, we don’t demean, we don’t avoid the facts, we respect the role of speaker and we deliver a message that will, hopefully, inspire the audience to reflect and/or take action. Maybe our politicians need to come to a meeting and take a lesson.