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The Best-Kept Networking Secrets

Find Opportunities for Networking and Fun

By Heather O’Neill

In August 2010, people from 106 countries will gather at the Toastmasters International Convention in Palm Desert, California. Join them, and you’ll be able to attend education sessions, hear great speakers and develop your skills in communication and leadership. And while that, alone, would make the event worthwhile for you and the other attendees, you’ll also enjoy one additional, really important benefit: Networking. Those who attend the Convention will seize the opportunity to meet others, exchange contact information, form business relationships and find mutual ways to help each other thrive in tough economic times. Heather O’Neill discovered this at last year’s Convention and is sharing the secret here:

Shhh. Come closer. Don’t tell, but I’m about to expose the biggest secret in Toastmasters. For many Toastmasters, membership is about getting over the fear of public speaking. For some, it’s about reducing ahs and ums. For others, it’s about improving their ability to manage a team or lead a meeting. While it’s important to learn all of those things, opportunities for networking are also important. The relationships Toastmasters build with mentors, contest-opponents-turned-friends and new people they meet at conferences and the International Convention are indispensable reasons Toastmasters remain successful and fulfilled members for years.

I attended the 2009 Toastmasters International Convention in Mashantucket, Connecticut, and made contacts with interesting, accomplished speakers from around the world. Opportunities abound when you open your eyes to them. You can create a strategic alliance, make a new friend or find a new job.

Give of Yourself and it Comes back Tenfold
Writer Anais Nin said, “Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” Remember each smile, extended hand or words of wisdom from a mentor. And remember that life is cyclical. Sometimes you receive the words of encouragement and sometimes you give them. Many Toastmasters will tell you that they found the biggest gift when giving back to a person, their club or the organization as a whole. Networking is mentoring, giving back, learning, growing and building relationships in all capacities. Here are some easy steps you can take to improve your networking skills:

Some Fine Tips
I learned a great deal from Debra Fine, professional speaker and bestselling author of The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Rapport and Leave a Positive Impression. Fine offers many helpful tips, but one jewel that stood out for me was, “Assume the burden of other people’s comfort.”

It can be uncomfortable to start a conversation or join a group of people. As I looked around at my fellow attendees during the last International Convention, many were talking on cell phones or reading the Convention program. I realized many of those people were probably just trying to look busy so they could avoid the discomfort of speaking to someone new. So I decided to “assume the burden of other people’s comfort.” I began a conversation with a very nice but somewhat nervous woman in line. She seemed startled at first but then opened up.

Think Globally
I learned about an international networking experience involving Toastmasters in a talk given by Dr. Ward Thrasher, assistant dean and MBA director for the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA. Dr. Thrasher mentioned a strategic relationship that led to a new Toastmasters club in China. While teaching as an adjunct professor in China, he was approached for advice on a new program aimed at improving the doctors’ English communication at a local hospital. Of course, Dr. Thrasher included Toastmasters in his recommendations, and the hospital has now submitted an application to charter a new club.

“Networking is not an event-driven process,” says Dr. Thrasher. “Anyone you interact with is an opportunity. You don’t know what bridge is going to lead to what destination.” So take those business cards with you everywhere. You might run into someone at the grocery store who would benefit from Toastmasters. Or you might end up affecting someone’s life halfway around the world.

Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “I am a part of all that I have met.” Every person you meet leaves a piece of himself with you … and you with him. Now that you know the secret gem of Toastmasters – be open to networking within your club, at contests, conferences and the International Convention. Step outside your comfort zone and take on an officer position – or simply start a conversation.

Don’t let your networking end when you leave your meeting or a conference. Connect with a Toastmasters group on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

When you join Toastmasters, you’ll meet the most amazing group of people ever!

Now you Know!
The secret is out. Networking at Toastmasters International Convention helps attendees build global relationships that will last a lifetime. This year’s Convention in Palm Desert promises to be the best, yet, with more attendees than ever before. If you’ve ever wanted to chat with a business owner from Australia or break bread with a new friend from Dubai, here’s your opportunity. You have the key to success now. It’s time to open the door to your future with it.

Heather O’Neill is a writer, speaker and Toastmaster in Bethel, Connecticut. She has grown her small business primarily through the power of networking. Reach her at

Condensed from “The Best-Kept Networking Secrets” in the Toastmaster magazine (May, 2010).