“Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.” Paul J. Meyer

“Communication is a skill that you learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If your’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” Brian Tracy

A few months ago a friend of mine from one of the many circles I travel asked me about my new-found interest in motivational speaking. We had been discussing another topic when she raised the question. As conveyed to her, I had seriously begun to consider this since much of my time as a therapist and hypnotherapist is actively motivating people to be the best they can be. Over the course of my career, I have presented sporadically in a variety of settings including on two occasions many years ago Physicians’ Grand Rounds. With the exception of one time last year, I have received excellent feedback and been told I am an interesting, passionate and energetic speaker. Regarding the one exception, it seemed some people did not appreciate my animated style. Because I am a work in progress, I took their comments under advisement reminding myself of the importance of constructive criticism and its use for continuous refinement.

After sharing more with my friend about this new pursuit, she told me she was in charge of marketing for her Toastmaster’s Club and asked me if I would ever consider joining.  I was taken aback because the thought never entered my mind. Hence, I hesitated and said maybe. She told me her group is friendly and supportive, and it would benefit me to at least visit. I had heard of Toastmaster’s and my understanding of it was an informal meeting of individuals trying to overcome their phobia of public speaking. That was about it. In fact, I knew very little and had no idea of the composition and mechanics of the organization at large. Looking back, I am not sure why I was so reluctant. I had some image or vision in mind which, for the life of me, I cannot fathom what it was. Consequently, however, I was not overly enthusiastic. After canceling one time because of my hectic schedule, I chided myself and said “Be open Darlene! Everyone is busy these days and practice what you preach.” Dubiously, I visited the Wachusett Club in Lancaster, MA where my friend participated. After one meeting, I was captivated and decided to join this invigorating club. Subsequently, I have become a Toastmaster’s junkie.

As with many people, I believed Toastmaster’s served one purpose only. How mistaken I was…..

Speaking On Many Levels: Yes, there is that faction of overcoming fears of public speaking, but there is so much more. In addition to presenting a speech, one learns to do so in a timely manner and is constructively critiqued in this presentation regarding content, gestures, grammar, using um and ah and application of notes. Along with organized speeches, people are requested to volunteer leading as the Toast Master and offering a theme for the evening. Ideas are also shared by an individual who takes on the role of the Thought Master. Each meeting, someone is asked to be the Word Master, providing a challenging word with the goal of each volunteer utilizing it in their talk. Finally, there is the Topics Master. This person discusses any subject of their choice and then calls up members to speak extemporaneously about it. That member can speak about the subject at hand or go off topic. As you can see, there is a wealth opportunities to augment your speaking skills. 

Listening In A Layered Fashion:  Because I listen for a living, this is slightly less of an issue for me.  With that said, as a therapist, I listen for content, themes, affect and thoughts. I do not pay attention to grammar or flow. In the role of general or speech evaluator, you must be attuned to many layers of the speech in order to critique it more effectively. You are listening as well as observing gestures, eye contact, and use of space. It is truly a multifaceted role and can help someone increase their ability to listen. If you think about it, listening is truly not just an art but a skill which often must be honed. Many are unaware of how little they listen. If one could find a way to practice their listening, it could improve their lives personally and professionally.

There is so much more to describe, but my goal is to provide enough information to pique your curiosity. Hopefully, I have done that. If you would like to become a better communicator, I encourage you to attend a local Toastmaster’s meeting. Most communities offer them as do many corporations. For those who live in Central or North Central MA, visit our club which will hold an open house on Thursday, 12/10 at 7:00 PM. Who knows? You might become a Toastmaster junkie just like me.