In writing the story of my Toastmasters experience over the last year during which I’ve been a member of my local club, I’ve focused on speech-making, especially — naturally — the storied aspects.
Up till January I thought I would proceed blithely along working on the 10 speech projects in the first Toastmasters manual, earning the Competent Communicator designation, and possibly even quitting after that, as a large number of Toastmasters do.
But in January, our club president announced a vacancy for one of our club officer positions — vice president of public relations. I thought to myself, hey, I have some experience in that area, so, uncontested, I threw my hat in the ring. I was elected and then re-elected in May for a full term.
Thus, began my parallel experience with the leadership side of Toastmasters. Interestingly, the Toastmasters organization has just undergone a controversial “branding refresh” in which the leadership track has gained much more prominence, with a new tagline, “Where Leaders Are Made.”
My officer gig is a big job. I edit the monthly newsletter, maintain the public portions of our Web site, work with the media to get publicity for our club, put up posters, run our Facebook group and YouTube channel, create a club presence at local events, and more.
Not long after I started it, I got interested in the official leadership track, the Competent Leader manual of leadership projects analogous to the Competent Communicator track. I realized these leadership projects were pretty easy to do, especially as an officer, since some projects can be outgrowths of what I do in that position. Other leadership projects are a function of the normal roles members take on in meetings, such as Toastmaster and General Evaluator. And at least one project I did — chairing a speech contest — didn’t fall into either of these categories.
I muse about why I’m motivated to pursue these Toastmasters goals. I’m at the point in my career where a leadership designation from Toastmasters probably wouldn’t help me much. Even the communication designation is questionable. I would currently assess myself as a speaker who is good enough to occasionally be engaged to speak at conferences in exchange for travel expenses but not good enough to be hired for money. I have no doubt that Toastmasters could eventually help me be the kind compensated with money. Where I once had the puny goal of Competent Communicator, I now want to reach the pinnacle — Distinguished Toastmaster.
Still, the whole endeavor reminds me a bit of the kind of goal-setting that goes into, say, earning Girl Scout badges.
And I find myself at times rather consumed with meeting these goals while also fulfilling my officer duties. Most of the time, it’s a labor of love, and I do it because it’s a lot of fun, and I absolutely love the people in our club. Occasionally I feel a bit put-upon and as though folks have no idea what goes into, say, a speech contest or a booth at the local fair. Our members want great things for our club, but many have work and family responsibilities that make it hard for them to take charge and make those ambitions happen.
I have a lot of flexibility because I work at home. I have no children at home, and I have no grandchildren.
This week I found myself mentioning to one of our district officers that I, too, might someday like to be an officer at that level. Doing so is one of the requirements for the next leadership designation after Competent Leader — but I’d be interested even if it weren’t, even though it’s almost a two-hour drive for me to the hub of where things happen in our district (I haven’t even told my husband I’m considering it.)
And I really have very little idea why I want to keep reaching for Toastmasters goals. Well, maybe one … I have so rarely in my life felt a sense of belonging that I have deeply cherished the experiences in which I feel that sense of belonging — working at my college newspaper, my PhD program … and now Toastmasters.
Entry by Kathy Hansen. Learn more.