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From Silenced to Storyteller

How I rediscovered my voice through Toastmasters.

By Jaleh Siyan, DTM


“Woman

Growing up in Iran in the 1970s meant there were no opportunities for children and teenagers to speak publicly. However, as a child, I was privileged to find that opportunity in the Baha’i faith, where I developed my confidence as a speaker. As I reached the age where I should have been preparing to begin my university studies, I was faced with the realization that people of my faith were prevented from pursuing higher education. We were not considered a religion, but a subversive political sect. My choice was to leave my homeland.

I was 22 when my sister and I left our home country. We moved to Brazil because there was a large, dynamic Baha’i community there. The Baha’i community of Brazil offers some strong programs involving social economic activities and capacity building, and I had wanted to be engaged in these activities since my teenage years.

Moving to Brazil meant learning a new language—Portuguese. It was quite challenging. I grew up speaking Persian and because the two languages are so different, I had to learn to speak all over again. Once again, my voice felt silenced, although I learned enough of the language to be able to graduate from university, travel, and begin building a career.

I moved to the United States in 2004 after acquiring some English-speaking skills through university and at my job. I could communicate as a software developer working in information technology, but I knew my grammar wasn’t as good as it could be. In 2012, as I was leaving work one evening, I saw a flyer promoting a Toastmasters meeting. Without hesitation I attended and knew I had found a platform to help me get back to my old practice of public speaking! The grammarian’s feedback was especially helpful for me to improve my English-speaking skills. By participating fully in all that Toastmasters offers, I have also developed leadership and networking skills.

While my job does not provide many opportunities for using my Toastmasters skills, I do get to use them where my passion and heart lie: my volunteer work in the community. Toastmasters has taught me communication and leadership skills I can implement in many different areas, such as junior youth and teen programs, holy day celebrations, women’s programs, and other community outreach programs. For six years, until COVID hit, I organized monthly meetings and the annual celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8) at the Baha’i Center in Clearwater, Florida.

As I gave more speeches, I discovered my love of storytelling. I began working on my vocal variety skills, which added to the effectiveness of my stories and helped me to focus my passion. I hope to soon begin working with teenagers to help them create their own stories. I’ve learned that nothing helps develop confidence and self-esteem like telling your own story.

Toastmasters has taught me communication and leadership skills I can implement in my community.

Thanks to the confidence I have gained through speaking at my club and the valuable feedback from my evaluations, I have even begun performing monologues and dialogues from different plays in my community. I have then incorporated some of those techniques into my storytelling. And recently I performed in a one-woman play!

When I began Toastmasters, I was working in the traditional program, and I am now pursuing Pathways. I am continually finding opportunities to develop workshops and learn new practices. Through the years, I have served as Area Director, Club President, Vice President Membership, and Secretary, and in 2020, I received my DTM. I believe that if I can successfully perform these roles within Toastmasters, there is no reason I cannot run my own business of bringing my dreams to reality.


“Speech

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