My Turn: Politically Speaking
TI experience boosts run for Congressional seat.
By Richard Baker, DTM
When you join Toastmasters, you are never sure where the enhanced speaking and leadership skills will lead you. In my case, they led to a run for the United States House of Representatives.
Five years ago, shortly after I started working at 3Com Corporation in Marlborough, Massachusetts, I joined the 3Talkers Toastmasters. Having done four years of high school debate, I enjoyed the challenge of facing an audience again, but my public speaking skills were quite rusty, and I nervously stuttered through my Ice Breaker. However, I was hooked.
Meanwhile, a seat opened up on the Pentucket Regional School Committee, which covers several cities north of Boston. At the last minute, I ran a write-in campaign and won the seat. Now I was faced with microphones and television cameras every week as the school committee worked through a number of fiscal and personnel issues with the district. Toastmasters became a great asset for me.
The skills I developed in Table Topics helped as I organized my thoughts during our school-board deliberations. Furthermore, I used my club speeches to address issues that the Pentucket committee was facing, which improved my school-board presentations. The first advanced manual I dove into was on public relations, since dealing with the public and the media became a weekly duty for me. The manual’s advice proved invaluable in my political career.
I was soon elected president of the 3Talkers Toastmasters and led the club to President’s Distinguished. As my two years on the school committee came to an end, I set my sights on a larger office: Congress.
Pushing forward in Toastmasters, I completed manual after manual until I had my Advanced Communicator Gold. I finished the Competent Leadership manual, and then set my sights on a DTM.
Hitting the Campaign Trail
Meanwhile, I took out the Republican nomination papers for Congress, and started attending Town Committee meetings throughout the 6th Congressional District. The Republican nominee for the seat in 2006 decided that he would run again, but I continued forward, challenging him. For several months he and I spoke, one after the other, at various events. It was very scary, and my voice often trembled as I started speaking, knowing that everyone was comparing me to my opponent. It was like competing in a Toastmasters contest every day. But the practice at my club meetings helped me stay calm, and soon I was speaking confidently.
My opponent dropped out before submitting his papers, and I was placed on the ballot as the Republican nominee for the district seat.
My next step in Toastmasters was becoming an area governor, which added to my leadership experience. As we developed a cadre of volunteers and organized the growing Congressional campaign, my Toastmasters leadership skills proved invaluable. A Congressional campaign is a significant undertaking, similar to starting and running a small business in a six-month time frame.
The speaking opportunities ramped up from several a week in the spring to several a day as we approached Election Day. I became adept at walking into a room, heading straight to a microphone, and speaking off the cuff on a regular basis. The political stump speech is an impromptu combination of short speeches and ideas that are combined on the fly to fit the audience. The 3Talkers Toastmasters club was a great resource for trying out new frameworks for speeches and practicing speaking on new subject areas.
Thanks to my Toastmasters experience, we mounted one of the most formidable Congressional challenges in Massachusetts in a dozen years. While I did not defeat the Democratic candidate, I received just under 95,000 votes, the second highest vote count for a Congressional challenger in the state since 1996 – a very successful campaign by Massachusetts standards.
You never know where Toast-masters will lead you. Or where it will lead me next.
Richard Baker, DTM, is a member of the 3Talkers Toastmasters club in Marlborough, Massachusetts. When not dabbling in politics, Richard is the Director of Intellectual Property Licensing for 3Com Corporation. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.