Toastmasters: Shaping Ourselves...Shaping Our World

Newly elected International President Chris Ford comes to Toastmasters with much leadership experience – in Toastmasters and in a life-long military career. A retired Canadian Forces Brigadier General, he currently works for the Canadian Department of National Defence as Director General, Alternative Dispute Resolution. He lives in Casselman, Ontario, Canada, with his partner, Carole Campeau. Between them they have six adult children.

When and why did you join Toastmasters?
I have to admit I was a non-traditional joiner. I was stationed at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton in 1978, and one night after a regimental mess dinner, some of “the boys” got into a poker game. It was “nickel-dime” poker, and I set myself a limit of $20. I lost that twenty bucks and was about to leave the table when my buddy Russ said, “Look, I’ll spot you a twenty – if you win, you can pay me back tonight, if you lose, you can pay me back tomorrow night.”

I lost again, so he said to come to his club meeting the next night with $20 and we’d be square. I did, anticipating it would be a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous or maybe poker school, but was the Settlement on Sturgeon Toastmasters Club! Russ said, “Now that you’re here, you may as well stay for the meeting.” Which I did...and the rest, as they say, is history! Moral of the story? No matter how you discover Toastmasters, joining is always a safe bet!

Tell us about your hobbies and interests outside of Toastmasters.
It’s important to me to stay in shape, so running, skiing and skating are three sports I pursue with a passion. I ran my first marathon a few years ago, for Team Diabetes Canada. That required considerable personal shaping, but I committed to doing it because it was an opportunity to raise funds for diabetes research, and that meant in some small way I could shape one of the worlds my daughter Kate lives in – the world of diabetes. I continue to support the Canadian Diabetes Association in a variety of ways: as advocate, conference emcee, founder of their Speakers Bureau, and as fund-raiser.

Downhill skiing is a favorite winter activity for Carole and me. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of life on the edge, literally, of your skis as you throw caution to the wind and just go for it! In a way, it’s not unlike taking the plunge into Toastmasters – it can be both nerve-wracking and thrilling at the same time, but as Susan Jeffers explains in the title of her recent book, you’ve got to Feel the Fear - And Do It Anyway!

What’s a little-known fact about you?
I’m a Manxman. “A what?” you ask? A Manxman is someone born on the Isle of Man, a tiny island in the middle of the Irish Sea. It’s a principality with its own government and banking system, but is essentially part of the United Kingdom for matters such as defense and foreign affairs. It’s a beautiful little island, lacking only one thing – a Toastmasters club! District 71, you now have a challenge!

Explain why you chose your theme, “Toastmasters: Shaping Ourselves...Shaping Our World.”
It was an easy choice. As I said earlier, getting in shape and staying in shape is important to me, and I think to most people. And if you’re not in good shape yourself, how can you encourage others to get into shape, or in fact help in shaping the lives of others? This reasoning applies not only to our physical shape, but also to the shape we’re in as communicators and leaders. People come to our clubs because they recognize they’re out of shape, and they want to get into better shape. Maybe they don’t express it that way, but what they seek is a shaping experience that will allow them to develop skills in communication and leadership, concurrently becoming more self-confident and realizing their full potential.

                    “We use the skills we develop in Toastmasters
                    to shape the world we live in.”

But it doesn’t end there. I don’t know of anyone who has come to our clubs just to become a better speaker within the club or the district. There is a higher purpose for doing what we do. It is to make a difference in the worlds we live in: the world of community, the world of work, the world of family, the world of church. In short, we use the skills we develop in Toastmasters to shape the world we live in. It’s one way we can pay the rent we owe for occupying space on this earth. So my theme, “Shaping Ourselves, Shaping our World” is an expression of what we do, and why we do it.

You are a retired Brigadier General with the Canadian Forces. Tell us about your current profession.
After a 35-year career in the Canadian Forces, specifically in the Canadian Military Engineers, I decided to make a deliberate career change to the field of conflict resolution. At the tender age of 52, I went back to university to earn a Graduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution.

This led to several opportunities as a consultant, and then in early 2006 I returned to the Canadian Department of National Defence as Director General, Alternative Dispute Resolution. Our work is centered on building individual and organizational capacity for effective conflict management. Fundamental to this work is – guess what? – effective communication! It’s very rewarding work, because basically no one likes to be in conflict, so if we can help people and the organization manage conflict more effectively, that’s a good thing!

How has your Toastmasters training benefited your career?
I find there is a synergy between what I do professionally and what I do in Toastmasters. To be successful as an officer in a military force, one must be a good leader and a good communicator. In Toastmasters, we develop good communicators and leaders. I’ve been very fortunate to get leverage between the two principal worlds I operate in.

Sometimes I think there is a stereotypical perception of the army officer that says leadership is all about giving orders. When I look back on my career in uniform, I’d say the order-giving part of it was way less than one percent. Military leadership is all about getting to know your people, building effective teams, developing relationships with men and women under your command, so that when orders have to be given, the team will follow willingly.

Here’s an example of how Toastmasters was helpful in my professional life: In the ’90s, I was stationed in former Yugoslavia as the Chief of Operations for the European Community Monitor Mission. Part of my job was to give the daily operations briefing to around 150 people from 17 different nations. My Toastmasters experience had given me the tools and the confidence to make the briefings lively and interesting, occasionally somewhat humorous, even though we were discussing extremely serious operational issues in a combat zone.

Flip the coin over...I think my military experience in planning, decision-making, organization, team building and determination to succeed have been assets in my Toastmasters life. That said, I want to reassure our members that I’m not about to transform Toastmasters International into a fighting force, although it would be really cool if we could conquer the world!

Do you often give speeches outside of Toastmasters?
I believe we have to give speeches outside of Toastmasters if we are to put our skills to work in shaping this world, so yes, I do this very often. I look upon every outside speaking engagement as an opportunity to add value to the group that extended the invitation. Whether you are speaking about Toastmasters, or communication and leadership in general, or your particular professional and personal interest, let the audience know you are a Toastmaster.

I have spoken to very diverse audiences. Every occasion is unique, every audience is unique, and if you’re communicating effectively, every message is unique – crafted for that particular audience at that particular time. And Toastmasters provides the tools and techniques to get this right, every time!

What aspect of Toastmasters do you like best?
Not surprisingly, it’s seeing the growth and development in our members. Our clubs provide every member “the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and growth.” Watching a new member shaping up as a speaker, observing a more seasoned member taking shape as a leader at the club or district level – these are the rewarding aspects of Toastmasters.

I’ve seen so many new Toastmasters embark on a journey with us, getting into shape through our communication and leadership programs, and truly starting to discover who they are and what they can achieve. When a new member like Clare, from my home club in Manotick, Ontario, can go from being nervous and awkward at the lectern to being a confident presenter at business conferences and meetings, it tells me we’re doing something right.

Tell us about your worst speaking experience.
As Woody Allen once said, 90 percent of success is just showing up. My worst speaking experience was just that: not showing up! In 1981, I was the Canadian “exchange student” at the Defense Services Staff College in India. The local parish priest invited me to come to the children’s school one day to talk to the students about life in Canada.

                    “The opposite of success in my view is not failure, but if you fail
                    to give it your very best effort, you have failed only yourself."

I made a mental note of the speaking engagement, and well, you know what can happen to mental notes. They’re not worth the paper they’re not written on! Now that was embarrassing, and I felt particularly badly that I had let the kids down. Note to self: No more mental notes!

Tell us about a leader you admire, and why.
One that jumps to mind right now is General Rick Hillier, the current Chief of Defence Staff in Canada. This guy is a “soldier’s soldier.” Despite the fact that he holds the highest rank in the Canadian Forces, he is there for the private and sailor and airperson. He is a genuine and sincere communicator, is straight to the point, packs a passionate message with wonderful “Newfie humor,” and is equally at home with heads of state and politicians as he is with the a team of soldiers on patrol.

Rick Hillier leads by example. His concept of leadership is very much akin to ours in Toastmasters: For him, it’s all about the soldier, just as for us it’s all about the member. I’d say General Hillier is probably one of the most popular and effective Chiefs we’ve had in decades.

In Toastmasters we are focusing more and more on leadership. Tell us why leadership and communication go hand in hand.
When did you last observe a leader who could not communicate effectively? Look at the top leaders in your country, or your business world, or your profession. Are they not also great communicators? Consider great communicators you have known. Are they not also great leaders in their own right? Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Pierre Trudeau, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter are names that spring to mind – all exemplary communicators and leaders. It stands to reason that the two go hand-in-hand: Great leaders inspire others through words and actions; great communicators lead others to act through the power of the spoken word.

How do you define success?
To me, success is deciding on the outcome I want to achieve, and then making the commitment to ensure the outcome is achieved. The decision may be mine alone, or perhaps it’s a team decision. The actions required to achieve the outcome might be an individual or a team effort.

Either way, if you give each task your very best shot, even if you fall short of the mark, you cannot fail. And here is something to reflect on: The opposite of success in my view is not failure, but if you fail to give it your very best effort, you have failed only yourself.

What’s your dream for your term in office?
My dream is that we, as a growing international organization, will courageously address the challenges of worldwide expansion, while at the same time preserving our roots and our heritage. Men and women change over time – reshaping themselves to be relevant and responsive to a changing environment. We must also reshape ourselves organizationally, to be relevant and responsive to a changing world. Are we up for the challenge? There’s no doubt in my mind!

If you had a message for every Toastmaster, what would that be?
I invite our members and leaders around the world to develop a deep sense of personal commitment to Toastmasters. It doesn’t have to be for 25 years or 10 years, or even two. But for the time you are a member, commit to getting the most you possibly can from our programs, and commit to giving back what you can to your club or your district. Then take what you have learned from Toastmasters and apply it in the real world. By doing so, you’ll be Shaping Yourself and Shaping Your World!