Every Toastmaster is seeking something. No, I haven’t had the chance to speak to each one, but every Toastmaster I have met has told me what he or she wants to gain from the organization. And for everyone, it is about change.
To overcome shyness or fear of speaking, to hone oral presentation tools, to develop leadership skills, to improve English language skills, to become a professional speaker, to win the World Championship of Public Speaking or even to find a spouse—requires that you change. If you are not changing, you are not growing.
As you and I grow, the organization we belong to must also grow. Toastmasters International’s proliferation into 143 countries necessitates a change in the programs offered. To provide more opportunities for the personal and professional growth of members from diverse cultures with varied needs, we now have the Pathways learning experience.
Change that is drastic and/or sudden often evokes a negative reaction—a reaction based on fear of the unknown. Notwithstanding its scope and speed, change always carries with it the opportunity for the best that life has to offer. Your capacity to maximize benefits from change can be measured by your attitude, desire, vision, in-nergy, control and excellence.
If you are resisting change, see what these gauges mean to you:
Attitude. Whether or not you can benefit from change depends on your attitude, which is the perspective from which you approach an endeavor. For example, what is your perspective on Toastmasters’ move to digital formats like Pathways?
Catalyst. You initiate change to promote your growth and development.
Capitalizer. You may not initiate change, but you fully embrace the change to find your opportunities for growth and development.
Consenter. You acquiesce to change, though you cannot see how you benefit.
Complier. You adapt to change, though you believe there is no benefit in it for you.
Clinger. You resist change by holding on to the past.
Contester. You fight change to restore the past.
The common attitude toward change is that of the clinger. This is especially true when change is sudden and/or drastic. We tend to hold on to static goals, to memories, to security, to habits and to personal preferences.
Primatologists sometimes attract monkeys by placing a banana in a stationary box that has a hole just big enough for the monkey’s paw. When the monkey reaches in and grabs the banana, it cannot pull the filled paw out. It is trapped because it won’t let go. You cannot grow today if you cling to yesterday.
You cannot grab the opportunities of tomorrow’s programs in Toastmasters if your hands are filled with yesterday’s dreams and goals. If you cannot welcome change with open arms, start with one finger. Let go of the past you are clinging to one finger at a time. It will take only 10 steps to be released from yesterday and be ready for your future growth.
“If you are not changing, you are not growing.”
Desire. To know how to catch opportunity when it rides on a wave of change, you have to know what you want now. Yesterday’s opportunities were wrapped in yesterday’s circumstances. Static goals cannot move you forward tomorrow. To gain the benefit that dynamic change can offer, you must reset your goals. Should I say “yes” to the opportunity? Should I invest now? Should I relocate? Is it a radical revision to what I currently do? You may have asked and answered these questions before, but when the circumstances change, you must ask and answer them again. You cannot correctly answer these kinds of questions if you are holding on to the information of the past.
When I joined Toastmasters in 1988, I had only one goal—to improve my ability to put humor in my speeches. After a few evaluations, I had to add another—improve my use of gestures. After witnessing my district’s international speech contest nine months into my membership, I established another goal—to participate in the World Championship. And the goals kept changing as I gained experience in the organization.
Take a moment to consider what you want now—not what you wanted when you joined Toastmasters. Use your current experience and the new knowledge that you have gained to formulate a different set of goals. Let go of those static goals you have been clinging on to and you will have a free hand to reach into the future of Toastmasters’ opportunities to achieve the desires of your heart.
Vision. It is possible that changed circumstances cloud or completely block your view of where you were headed. That doesn’t mean that your destination cannot be reached. It just means that you have to, in the vernacular of your GPS, “recalculate.” To develop an alternate route, you need to have a vision of where you want to be and the best ways to get there. Benefiting from change sometimes requires you to refer to the big picture. Change may dictate that you redraw the map you had plotted out in order to find another route to your goal. Don’t be afraid to review the big picture from time to time to see how change might enhance your focus. Then use your new knowledge to rethink your plans.
Law was not my original plan of study. When I was in high school, I planned a future in math. I was specific and quite ambitious. I wanted to get a bachelor’s degree from Yale, a master’s from Harvard and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I followed this course through my senior year at Yale. Then I was unable to see what I could do with a math degree. Many of my classmates were going to either law school or medical school, so I changed course. I went to law school and eventually worked as a judge. I am no longer working in law because my Toastmasters experience helped me develop a vision for motivational speaking.
If you focus on the successes of the past, you will miss the vision of what lies ahead in the coming changes. Preserve the memories of what was by writing in your private journal, by giving a speech in your club or at a district conference, or even by submitting an article to firstname.lastname@example.org for the Toastmaster magazine. Preserve the memories, but don’t cling to them. There are new memories to be experienced and cherished.
“In-nergy.” I coined this term because it is perfect for the point that your capacity to benefit from change is a power from within. The force of external change that might push you in a direction not of your choosing can be harnessed by the force of will that is in the essence of your being. You have the power to make things work in your best interest.
Often, I am asked, “What keeps you upbeat?” or “How do you stay so motivated?” I don’t have a standard answer, but the answer is always about a drive from within. I am stubborn and won’t let something that is outside of me stop me. I love to prove wrong those people who note my blindness and say, “He can’t.” I know who I am. I love myself.
Giving your Ice Breaker speech required in-nergy. In-nergy is manifested in will, resolve, determination and persistence. If you are clinging to the past as security in the face of the changes in Toastmasters, think of those changes as additional opportunities to break the ice. Release the same in-nergy you used before.
“You cannot grow today if you cling to yesterday.
Control. Attitude, desire, vision and in-nergy will not matter if you are clinging to habits. When you act out of habit, you allow circumstances to control your behavior. If you allow past circumstances to control your destiny, you’ll be pushed in the direction of dial-up internet, manual typewriters and mule-driven ploughs. Change is inevitable, and if you are in control of yourself, instead of permitting your habits to control you, you can take advantage of changes and mold them to shape your future.
I was not born blind as were most of the 18 blind students with whom I went to high school. I was reluctant to accept the fact that I couldn’t see. I initially rejected the offer of optional cane travel lessons because I did not want to carry the cane, a symbol of blindness. I walked my neighborhood on my own without the cane. As a result, I could only walk the paths with which I was familiar. In other words, I walked by habit. I could not explore new territories on my own until I stopped resisting blindness and learned to use the cane for travel.
It is easy for you to develop habits in Toastmasters. Attending weekly or biweekly meetings, following the standard agenda, and reading from the provided scripts can put you in a groove that you come to believe is the only way to do it. Then comes rebranding and revitalization to challenge that one-way notion you have. The choice is up to you and me. We can choose to stay in the groove that we’ve already driven ourselves into, or we can follow change to create a new path. If you cling to your habits and resist change, the groove will control where you go from here; it will take you to the places you’ve already been.
Excellence. To excel, you have to do better today than you did yesterday regardless of the change in circumstances. A commitment to excellence is an agreement between you and those with whom you interact that in all your actions and dealings, you will give your best performance. Your best performance will gauge your capacity to benefit from change. Try to improve what you do in whatever circumstance you find yourself. What you are doing may be great today, but don’t be content with today’s greatness when tomorrow arrives. Greatness is also subject to change.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak at a Toastmasters district conference. I received second billing. A more current World Champion had top billing. On a tight program schedule with no time to spare, the first speaker spoke 35 minutes beyond his scheduled time. To help get the program back on schedule, I offered to cut my time by 15 minutes. I cut my speech almost in half. Despite the change, I maintained my commitment to excellence. It was imperative that I do so because my presentation was about excellence. My commitment is not only to what I get but what I give to others.
“I could not explore new territories on my own until I stopped resisting blindness and learned to use the cane for travel.”
“Giving to” is equally as important as “getting from” your Toastmasters experience. When you resist change by clinging to your personal preferences, you ignore your responsibility to contribute to fellow members and the organization and the goals they have set to excel. The commitment to excellence governs more than what you get from Toastmasters; it applies to what you give to Toastmasters. When you have committed yourself to excellence, you are not only committed to maximizing the benefit you get from change, but you are compelled to be a supportive force to maximize the benefits that others receive. This requires that your attitude, desire, vision, in-nergy, control and excellence are fully engaged in forward motion. When you resist change by clinging on to the past, you slow down or completely thwart forward motion, and thus the progress of everyone.
No matter who you were when you joined Toastmasters, today you are a different person. Your circumstances changed. The membership of your club changed. The international organization changed. Ours is an organization about change. The reason you put your membership fee down and pay your semi-annual dues is that you are expecting change. Fortunately, we have elected international leadership that has accepted the challenge of being catalysts for change. Don’t resist or run away from it. You can maximize for yourself the benefit of the changes that will take place by taking the A-D-V-I-C-E that I offer here, and you can still get what you are seeking.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2016 Toastmaster magazine.
Dana LaMon, DTM, AS is the 1992 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking. He is a member of three clubs in Lancaster, California, and an Accredited Speaker. Reach him at email@example.com.