Can We Talk? Small Steps, Great Changes
How Romania’s first club makes the most of new freedoms.
By Maria Tomescu
On June 9, 2010, Victor Tomescu gave his 10th speech from the Competent Communication manual, speaking about how Toastmasters in Romania had reached success by following their dreams. His speech title was “Trebuie doar sa vreau” (“I Only Have to Want It”), and his examples were so vivid that he inspired fellow club members to try to accomplish great things of their own.
Such a speech could never have been made in our country only a few years ago. Romanians lived under Communist rule and were not encouraged to think and dream about personal development outside the public education system. But today, we can dream, dare and share our stories. Best of all, we can join Toastmasters! So this is the story of Timişoara Toastmasters.
Romanian Society Had to Change First
Starting in 1990, democracy freed the Romanian spirit, but emboldening that spirit and accomplishing true change was not easy. The early years of democracy were characterized by political and economic uncertainty, which led to mass emigration to Western Europe, America and Australia. Unfortunately, those years also unveiled scars of the Communist mentality.
Real, substantial change began after the year 2000 and can be credited to several multinational companies that opened offices in Romania. They not only brought new workplaces, they also brought new ways of thinking and opportunities for our people to travel. Romanians traveled abroad, visiting other countries and cultures with a hunger for knowledge and innovation that is still growing. They became increasingly interested in personal and professional development, with new ideas and challenges being the words of the day. One such idea was a Toastmasters club in Timişoara, one of the largest cities in Romania and located in the western part of the country.
The Arrival of Toastmasters
Timişoara is the first Toastmasters club in Romania. This is an important fact by itself. A group of highly motivated people had the courage to face a daunting challenge and implement a new idea. The journey began in November 2008, when the Timişoara club officially made its debut. A crowd of curious people wanted to see the “new thing.” Eventually, a solid team developed – a team kept together by one common goal: to grow personally and professionally.
“Communication skills are probably one of the most important assets a person can have,” says Silviu Trebuian, immediate past president and one of the club’s founders. “They are invaluable as a means of conveying ideas and fostering collaboration. When it comes to communication, Toastmasters clubs have proven their utility, and I felt that the startup of a club would be a real gain for Timisoara and a great personal accomplishment.
“I’m proud of the quality and dedication [of our members].”
Vlad Valea, another founder and charter member, recalls what was most important in the beginning. “The decisive ingredient for the success of Timişoara Toastmasters and the soul that led to its development in its first year was a core of extraordinary people,” he says. “Based on the involvement and the courage of these people – our colleagues – to embark upon an unknown road, we built this club.”
The first open event was our one-year anniversary celebration in November 2009. The meeting turned out to be a success, but the most important part was that we learned a lot from organizing it: We had found a great location, done the marketing, created an agenda and offered well-prepared speeches. For most of us, it was the first time being involved in something that large. Just remembering those happy moments makes me smile.
In only two years, we have accomplished so much! So far, our club has three Competent Communicators, one Competent Leader and our own monthly newsletter (Revista Timişoara Toastmasters). For the first time, we participated as visitors in an international event – a speech contest in Vienna, Austria. In addition, our mentorship program is functional and we have already started a training program for our active members, beginning with Toastmasters’ Better Speaker Series.
Club president Calin Iepure joined Timisoara Toastmasters because he considered it an opportunity for self-development. After his term as president, he immediately took over as vice president public relations – only because he didn’t have any public relations experience and wanted to learn. For him, the trip to Vienna was a great experience because he says it put Timisoara on the Toastmasters International map. “The most important thing is the fact that I made connections,” he says. “I met fellow Toastmasters with whom I can share experiences and best practices.”
Continuing Challenges and Achievements
The times in Romania are rough even now, because the economic and political systems still do not function entirely properly. However, this does not mean we have to accept the situation. We now know it is in our power to create change, and that is what club member Paul Negruţiu encouraged us to do in his speech entitled “Ruşine!” (“Shame!”).He talked about actions and change needed in Romanian society and citizen mentality.
True change is based on small steps. Our club now mentors a Toastmasters club in Cluj-Napoca, and we hope they will taste the same success that we do. Bucharest also has a Toastmasters club, and interested people from other cities in Romania have contacted us asking about founding new clubs. The Toastmasters spirit is spreading in our country, and general improvements will not be far behind.
Timişoara Toastmasters made us all look further than our daily jobs or activities. Given that we all come from different professions, we found in each other new points of view and opportunities for personal improvement that bind us and make us enjoy each other’s company beyond the weekly meetings.
Flori Zilahi, a member of the club since February 2010, is a psychologist. In her job, communication is very important and she wanted to boost her self-confidence. She never misses our club meetings, enjoying the way she can experiment in a friendly environment.
We have embraced the Toastmasters lifestyle and we understand that it is easy to make a difference as long as we want to. And now I can proudly state: This is who we are. This is our story.
Maria Tomescu is Vice President Education of Timişoara Toastmasters. She can be reached at email@example.com.