In September last year, I entered my first Toastmaster International event. I have since attended and participated in each bi-monthly gathering.

Each meeting is 120 minutes in duration, with prepared speeches, impromptu talks on assigned topics. However, before each meeting I conducted a lot of preparation work, especially on the weeks which I was to present a topic. After the events I conduct evaluations of others speeches which can take some time and listened to other members evaluations.

The purpose of these meetings is to help members develop communication techniques which will aid public speaking, listening and fulfilling leadership roles.  Along with the other members, I eagerly accepted assigned scheduled roles – taking on different challenges pertaining to speaking spontaneously, preparing and delivering speeches, both giving and receiving evaluations, practicing grammar, extending vocabulary, using parliamentary procedure and timekeeping.  The atmosphere is always relaxed and the environment nurturing and positive.

I believe that good communication is of the utmost importance in all relationships, and I was keen to learn how to fine tune how best to relate to people.  I, like most adults, learn best when an environment satisfies my needs and when the information is relevant to me.

Initially I assumed it would only take a couple of evenings to reach ‘competency’ in the area of my desired communication abilities.  However, I was greatly surprised at how each evening brought little improvements, and I was eager to learn more … a little like mastering a musical instrument, a little practice helps a lot.

Toastmasters International has impacted on over 4 million people since it was set up by Ralph Smedley in 1924, having as its aim to help people educate themselves through better communication.   I was pleasantly surprised to find a diverse group of people attending – people of differing backgrounds and occupations (not just business people, as I had expected), but people with different expectations, needs and cultures, all wishing to improve their standard of fluency.  Each brought life experiences that influenced the meetings.  I began to notice that even those whom I perceived would have no common interests with me   taught me how to see things from a different perspective.  I began to notice that even the “dull and boring“ have their story to tell, and that by engaging with others on a social level, my horizons were broadened.

With a membership of 260,000 in 12,500 clubs worldwide there is great enthusiasm, commitment and hard work being carried out. Who would have thought that the lessons of Aristotle two millennia ago would still be practiced today to help us communicate better, and “make this world a better place”?

At the onset , I was feeling tense, quite shy and apprehensive about how  these meetings would help me achieve my goals and improve my performance, but with mentoring and encouragement I began to relax and , as I often heard at the meetings “Achieving starts with believing” I started  to believe.  I valued the opinions and recommendations I received, and welcomed them.

College graduates must possess complex communication competences, not just the ability to write and speak effectively” (Tuleja and Greenhalgh, 2008 cited in Laster and Rus, 2010). I concur with this observation and the reason why communication are an important part of my own personal development, is that I feel they are important to succeed in all areas of life.

Coming from a marketing background, I have had some experience giving presentations. I feel as I seek a career in this area, it is an area which must still be improved upon.

To be perfectly honest, I joined Toastmasters to learn how to speak without getting sweaty palms and to learn to slow the pace of my delivery. Believing that to be a leader in the marketplace would involve making credible and competent presentations. I also believed that Toastmasters would encourage me to hone in on the areas which needed improvement and by paying particular attention to my individual needs, I hoped that my feelings would become more confident and assured.  As a consequence, I hoped that with my personal growth would come poise, professionalism, and ‘panache’ at the podium. I had learnt from past members that T. M. is a great training ground, and that the great camaraderie and team spirit at the meetings would increase my knowledge and jump-start my journey to achieving greatness.  Toastmasters appeared to be a selfless type of people, very quick to extend a helpful hand, not only in their own community, but to offer condolences and financial support following the recent natural disasters that occurred in Australia and Japan in particular.

I am constantly reminded of the power of language. The power of language in my opinion, means more than that guy you see at the bar, with a silver tongue, chatting up the ladies. The power of language has widescale impacts across business and society. As I refer back to my personal development plan and particularly an analysis of my social network, I realise that those whom have excelled, are likely articulate speakers. It is thus my aim to become an articulate speaker.

The existence of a language can help define a country.  However, even within societies, it can provide a cultural identity, the way that it does when someone says “stall it to the gaff”, “let’s go chill at my crib” or “come join me in my house”. I remember watching P Diddy (African American Rapper) interview Barack Obama. I noted a slight distinction in the way Obama spoke. He took off his suit jacket in a symbolic move and conversed in a more relaxed and fluid way, he was tailoring his communication towards that specific audience.
Throughout this year, I have also noticed where language can often become one of the most important weapons in the constant jockeying-for-alpha-male status. I have found in group dynamics were certain individuals have shown an excellent command of technical terminology which has made them appear highly intelligent, whereas a florid talent for literary flourish might signal a more artistic speaker. Even a simple step to use pauses or to slow down speech can have drastic effects.

In the Global sense, I now acknowledge the crucial importance of language, communication and leadership. This is evident in almost every scenario; however, I have chosen one of my favourite speakers, Barack Obama, as a case study. As such I have looked to the examples of the current United States President and his predecessor for a study in the power of language.
George Bush had a tendency toward hard, solid, “tough guy” talk that his supporters attributed to a reputation for being strong and decisive. However when his speech was mixed with a wealth of speaking errors, it gave his detractors plenty of reason to believe he was unintelligent.
Obama is in many respects, the exact opposite, with his incredibly polished manner of speaking that gave his supporters all the evidence they needed that he was a very thoughtful, intelligent, reasonable man. However, this combined with a long-winded thoroughness that gives his detractors plenty of reason to see him as elitist and not genuine, and possibly even indecisive.

After concluding watching Obama’s recent speech (proclaiming the killing of Osama Bin Laden) I felt as though I were a proud American, and that it were, in fact, a proud day to be American. I am however, not American. After taking some time to distil the information and reflecting back, with my new perspectives gained on communication, I feel Obama is a master communicator.

I am a humanitarian. I love my fellow man. I enjoy the ideas of freedom and liberty, with which the United States supposedly live by. I thus feel that the murdering of Bin Laden is a contradiction, as is the operation that is Guantanamo Bay. In fact there are multiple abuses of liberty, another case in point being the phone tapping scandals which George bush orchestrated. The first amendment of the United States Constitution is supposed to “protect the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference.” The carefully crafted US government rebuttable came as a carefully crafted PR slogan, the war on terror.

Similarly instances like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face and which do not fit with the professed aims of the particular political parties. Thus what ensues is political language which consists largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification, or even, a war on terror. Untried “war criminals” are imprisoned for years without trial: this is called (in the case of Guantanamo), intelligence building to protect liberty and freedom. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. (This may also be seen where Fianna Fail refer to the recession as the Global Banking Crises. Here the Irish Government are stating that this was a global issue and thus playing down the Irish vulnerabilities. It also singles out only one Indusry when in fact the recession spreads across many Industries. Finally it attributes blame to the Bank officials and shifts focus away from an maybe even squishes the undesirable phrase; leadership crisis.

A recent article (StriketheRoot) which discusses the power of language gave the following example.

It asked the reader to consider a comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. It read “He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.’ Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.”

This again brought me back to Obama’s speech, where he effectively mystified the murdering of a human being. So, on the one hand, Obama’s ideology is aiming to render this violence as invisible, in order to disguise the affront to equality and hypocrisy of a “non extremist state”  it represents. Yet on the other hand, the superpower status of the US depends on people and nations being all too aware of the force which backs it up. So in this case Obama and the US seek to remain as a plausible democratic country, the land of the free. The US Government then have succeeded in transubstantiating such violence into a more peaceful and even joyous incantation, justifying it as a war on terror.

Barack Obama, is such a good communicator, that despite the above violence’s occurring during his tenor, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Another way of approaching communication is to view it as a people process rather than a language process. As such, if I am to continue making improvements in not only becoming an articulate speaker but also in general communication, I must make changes in interpersonal relationships. When I eventually reach that higher level of competency, I will be better able to capture the intensity of my feeling, whilst not using them as weapons.

One problem I have encountered throughout the year (teamwork) is where I showcase an abrasive tone. I can often appear flippant, which had led to appearance of individuals’ feelings being discounted. In actual fact, I am a highly emphatic person, and I would thus like to represent this by achieving better communication skills.

One type of alteration I have highlighted within me is in the reduction of defensiveness. I find this trait holds me back, particularly in group work in college life. Where I perceive or anticipate a threat in the group, I often become rather defensive. Even though I can still give a level of attention to the project task, I am also devoting a large portion of energy to defending myself. Besides talking about the topic, I often wonder how I appear to the other group members. What I have found is that my inner feelings and indeed outward acts sometimes create defensive postures in the other group members. Not only is this a potential barrier to optimal communication, and can even become destructive. As this stems from esteem issues, I am actively trying to address this by improving my self esteem through Toastmasters. I have also sought to eliminate negative postural, facial and verbal cues, in a bid to facilitate more open communication, within the group dynamic. Teamwork as such, is another key component of my personal development plan.

Earlier this year, I attended a seminar given by Mr. Niall Kiely of Carr Communications. It was a talk based on Communication/Presentation skills. This topic, as it turned out, would feature again in my college course. I found Mr. Niall Kiely to be an inspirational speaker. It was he whom managed to convince me to assess my own skills and consider simple improvement measures. Primarily, from a marketing background, I have given many presentations and admittedly, I had fostered a false confidence in the area. Upon reflection, I found many areas upon which I was actually weak in, and subsequently, have made suitable adjustments.

I can also link back to the immersion course of my masters, specifically to a talk re: management consultancy, an area I thought would be of great interest to me. These reflections are meant to be honest, so I will be honest. I am confident that lecturer was and is held in great esteem and he is deserving of my respect, however, I found the lecture extremely tedious and in no way engaging. In fact, I spent this time contemplating what the previous speaker had said about presentation skills: engage the audience, ask questions, change voice levels for effect etc. He had also said that a good communicator will convey his/her passion and you will remember his/her name. I don’t remember much about that consultancy talk but after consulting my notes I can say the talk was from Mr. Ken Germaine of IMCA Consulting.

I am someone with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and can find it incredible difficult to sit for long periods of time, where I am not engaged. On this occasion I not spent that session feeling detracted from the subject them (daydreaming) but, having learned about the importance of audience engagement, I grew incredibly frustrated. I have given many presentations, the intention almost always being to convey subject knowledge to an audience. I began to ponder whether I was doing enough to engage with my audiences. This too was an antecedent to starting training with Toastmasters.

Before participating in Toastmaster meetings I had read considerably about the necessary requisites for presenting a ‘smooth delivery’. The Toastmasters Programme consists of manuals containing 10 projects per manual, each with different challenges and objectives, and on completion the member is awarded certification for his/her achievement.  Many use these awards for career advancement.  Perhaps that will assist me in the future, but presently, I am concentrating on critical thinking, giving feedback, time management, planning and implementation, and organisation and delegating.  The structured programme has had a very positive effect on me by allowing me try out different methods, until I become more knowledgeable and self assured.

I can link my experience in Toastmasters to my gradual improvements in my in-class presentations. Many of my fellow class mates have noted the improvements which has been rather encouraging.

Although, an initially unexpressed aim, the experience has also allowed me to develop another area of my personal development plan. The opportunity from networking is almost unavoidable in Toastmasters. Although, I am part of the tightly knit club in Malahide, there is a wider Toastmasters “family” upon which we welcome to our club on a regular basis. As mentioned, this allows me to network with individuals from all backgrounds and across various Industry sectors.

It is also linked to the presentation workshop which I attended, as part competency building, in semester one. Taking that workshop, I picked up various actionable tips which I was able to perfect in Toastmasters e.g; analyze the audience, identify your intent, make the most of the message, structure the content, design the principles and refine your nonverbal delivery. Taking then, that particular workshop as a case study, I can express some key learnings. I can draw from that experience that often slight nerves can prompt inspiration and bring about a certain magic to my performance. However, having studied my performance on tape, I felt my evidently nervous demeanour diminishes my ability to communicate with the class room.

In Toastmaster Magazine (Jan 2010) writer Karen L. Twichell recommends several tips to alleviate stage fright. Furthermore, writer Jana Barnhill discusses (in the November edition) practical ways of blocking out self damaging behaviours when presenting. Had I have read these particular articles prior to that presentation, I would have made simple, practical adjustment which could have impacted my emotional state and contributed to a superior presentation. For example: I would have avoided caffeine on the day and used throat lozenges. Deep breathing is also advised; this would have reduced my body tension and slowed my heart rate.

The judging panel (Teaching Assistants), on that day (presentation workshop), offered back a series of evaluation points, upon which I have developed upon further through Toastmasters. The evaluation points where as follows,  note I have expressed my own evaluations also.

Teaching Assistant’s Assessment – I received a review sheet, which highlighted specific key strengths and weaknesses. Also, upon collecting this sheet a TA developed upon some of these areas. 

Personal Evaluation – I formed my opinion based not only on the TA’s assessment but also utilised additional resources. I have recently joined a Toastmasters group which is an excellent opportunity to critically evaluate presentations. I have also called upon previous experiences: previous presentations given and previous workshops attended. Finally I have read up on presentation best practises.

Volume is this a separate reflection to toast masters?

TA Assessment

I was “comfortably audible,” which for an informative presentation is said to be “about right.”

Personal Evaluation

Upon studying the footage, I agree. However although I feel my voice is active (i.e. not passive) and that I speak with authority, I do feel I could have injected more passion. One way I could project passion (in order to engage with the audience) would be to vary the pitch/tone of my voice.

Speed

TA Assessment

My speed was “brisk.” Although the review says this was “about right” I feel there is room for improvement.

Personal Evaluation

A key aspect of preparing for and delivering effective presentations is knowing your audience. There were several international students present; a slightly slower delivery with better enunciation would facilitate better communication. Also, should I use occasional pausing, it may help me to relax whilst also adding emphasis or facilitation smoother transitions of content. This tactic may also help me in reducing my tendency to use gap fillers such as “you know,” and “em.” In this particular presentation I did not use gap fillers but they are something I have used in other presentations.

Colour

TA Assessment

This aspect was deemed as “pleasantly varied.” It was believed there is an opportunity for me to become more expressive.

Personal Evaluation

I mentioned earlier, the lack of passion in my voice, this should be addressed also. Although the content was the ingredients of an informative presentation, I also used narration – telling a story about the formation of the company (a teenager sells his bike to buy a sowing machine.) The particular brand discussed is particularly vibrant and thus, my tone should reflect this.

Mannerisms (Assessment and Evaluation)

This is the area in which poses me highest opportunity for personal development.

I recently read a book called Body Language, 7 easy lessons to master the silent language, by James Borg.  Although not specifically relating to presentation skills, the underlining theme is that of communication. The old cliché says actions speak louder then words and you know what, its true. The book states that people generally remember 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see or 50% of what they hear and see. The author discusses “congruency of message” – i.e. do my mannerisms fit with spoken content. I would consider myself a relatively charismatic person. Yet often my mannerisms don’t reflect this. For example: I made no attempt to smile. This poses the question, if I’m not excited about being there, how do I expect the audience to engage? I feel my posture portrayed confidence yet the TAs correctly asserted that I make “too little” eye contact. (Instead I looked to the slides or the ground.)

Although not noted in the assessment, I feel I should introduce some carefully selected gestures where they can help in communicating my message.  In terms of using my hands, I feel I am quite good in this area, moving them to emphasis key points. In terms of movement, one of my class mates commended me for standing to the side of the podium. Where as many mannerisms or behaviours can create metaphorical barriers between speaker and audience (e.g. crossing arms, nervous movement) the podium represents a physical barrier.

Engagement

TA Assessment

The TAs noted that my presentation was too short to adequately engage with the audience or build report. 

Personal Evaluation

Although informative presentations are least inclined to appeal to emotions, I feel, in this case it was a missed opportunity. Brands are all about the sum of emotional attachments between consumer and company. Therefore emotional engagement is important in discussing this topic. It was for this reason that I included a YouTube clip of an advertisement. Crucially, this video had no text and was not actively trying to sell. Instead it showed cool pictures with funky music in a bid to engage particular segments with the brand.

Also, in one class, I noticed some students walking around the stage. I felt this was an excellent means of addressing each section of the audience. Another idea I could have used was to pose a question, e.g. “How many of you have heard of this brand, a show of hands please?” to entice engagement.

PowerPoint

TA Assessment

The first point made was re: introduction. Although I had a slide with our names and Title of presentation, I only quickly mentioned this. A practical solution was offered; add a picture of each of the team and properly introduce each member, and perhaps what they will be discussing.

Personal Evaluation

Another suggesting was in relation to my Youtube clip. I should have used a full screen. Another point which was made in a recent communications workshop was; it is a good idea to embed the Youtube clip within the slides.

In the past I judged myself to be an enthusiastic, passionate speaker who found it easy to rally support, and encourage people to accomplish the task in hand to the best of their ability.  I equally knew that I had many challenges and barriers to overcome, one of which was my sensitivity to perceived criticism.  By receiving evaluations in a positive, non critical way I am able to re-assess my performances and be less re-active and become more pro-active in making small behavioural changes – which reap rich rewards.

I now channel my enthusiasm and passion into creative ways to make my message memorable in fewer, more visually expressive words.  I believe that you get out of any experience what you put into it, and have noted that by being open to suggestions, and trying out different roles, I have been able to notice my improvement and keep careful track of my progress.

I feel I have greatly improved upon many key competencies since participating in Toastmasters. “A competency is effective performance of a task or activity in a job setting, due to the underlying characteristics of the individual: motives, traits, skills, self-image, social role, or knowledge and experience” – Boyatzis, R., The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance, New York: Wiley, 1982.

In semester one of my masters course, I devised a competency framework. Here, I discussed key competencies under the headings of; Personal Competencies, Social Competencies and Cognitive skills.

The competencies, which I improved most, include personal competencies; leadership, communication and self management, but also social competencies, especially that of relationship building.

Personal Competencies Developed

Personal Competencies represent a set of attitudes, skills and values that are possessed by a person. This set of skills impact on an individual ability to work effectively and contribute positively to their companies, clients and profession. These competencies incorporate a wide range of abilities, including being strong written and verbal communicator, to demonstrating the value-add of their contributions, to being able to think creatively and innovatively in an always changing working environment. Four of the main personal competencies are leadership, communication, self management, and analysis.

Leadership: Leadership includes an individual’s level of self confidence and self belief.  A person with strong leadership competency remains flexible and positive in a time of continuing change. They celebrate and encourage self achievement and the achievement of others. They build an environment of mutual respect and trust, respects and values diversity

Communication: Communication skills are key personal competencies. Good communication competency incorporates presentation skills. Communication includes verbal and non verbal communication. A good communicator is able to communicate plans and ideas effectively. They also have high interpersonal listening skills.

Self Management: Self management includes the ability to recognise the value of personal career planning. Good self management allows an individual to self motivate in order to successfully complete a task. They also have the ability to understand one’s own moods and emotion. They can self regulate and control their moods and emotions. Self management gives an individual the ability to balance work, family and community obligations. Self management also includes being able to manage your own self development.  This results in an individual having the ability to understand their skill set and focus on areas for development.

Analysis: Being able to use analysis in a range of situations is a key personal competency. Being able to see the larger picture and tackle a task from multiple angles is an example of good analysis ability. An individual with analysis skills is able to recognize the balance of collaborating, leading and following they are able to take calculated risks and they plan, prioritise and focus on what is critical.

Social Competencies Developed

According to an article by Eric Trogdon in the Nations Cities Weekly he agrees that the social competency improves effectiveness amongst leaders. One such competency is that of relationships.

Relationships: this which incorporates collaboration and cooperation. Leaders who encompass this competency encourage relationship bonding allowing the free sharing of ideas. By creating a cooperative friendly workplace leaders can nurture internal and external opportunities and allows for everyone to be evolved creating a sense of self satisfaction.

Personal competencies are essential for developing and becoming leaders of tomorrow. Leadership and communication are essential components of the personal competencies which are evident in the article by Eric Trogdon (2009) which states “Our professional culture is in a generational change that will depend on leadership and communication to maintain the past lessons learned while merging new and innovative ideas”.

Aparna Nacherla (2010) conducted a study on a number of high executives which were asked to select six competencies that best characterised the most successful leaders in their organisations. According to the study 42.2% of all executives say good communication skills are necessary in becoming effective leaders. Fowlie and Wood (2009) suggest that bad leadership equates to a lack of self management and relationship management competencies. As a result of being poor at these key competencies an individual is unable to manage or lead successfully. According to Fowlie and Wood (2009) leaders should focus on developing self management and relationship management competencies.

In my earlier speeches I spoke too briskly, ‘garbling’ my words in a rush of enthusiasm, and was often over-animated, in an attempt to stamp my message home.  I am now endeavouring to speak slower and with greater vocal variety.  I will concentrate on choosing my words more carefully, and because I will speak slower I hope to have better enunciation. I have learned that it takes an objective ear to truly point out the difference between how I really sound rather than how I think I sound. Each time I am asked to give my report on the role I have performed that evening I will gain valuable experience in this regard.

I now limit the facts and break the material into logical, sequential segments.  I pause both before and immediately after relevant points for emphasis.  I am learning how best to introduce anticipation, to heighten the tension, and build to an exciting end to my speeches so that the message will be clear and forceful and the audience will leave for home with a clear, concise message in their heads ……it is a work in progress !

Instead of flailing my arms dramatically as in the past, I now introduce startling facts/humour for better rapport with the audience in place of the over-animation of my past efforts.

In terms of my own personal strengths and weaknesses, I often call upon the words of Peter Jones, of Dragon’s Den. He stated that “an inner self belief is like a cornerstone under the tallest building”. I believe that many of my perceived weaknesses where in fact esteem issues. However, Toastmasters also offered a wealth of discussed actionable steps towards becoming an excellent communicator. For example, many of the body language mannerisms highlighted to me where unconscious. Eye contact, posture and hand movements etc. provide volumes of personal information about people and therefore are inherently important in communication/presentation skills.

My experience successfully identified a number of strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps more beneficial is the emergent trend. Having completed a thorough examination of Presentation strengths and weaknesses, I have found the area which requires most attention are not areas which require simple tweaking. It suggests the areas requiring most attention are psychological issues. One article in a Toastmaster magazine discusses “self sabotage.” This is an area of study I had been unaware of but which left an indelible mark upon me. It struck a chord, as it effectively drew a picture of my relationship with presentations. The author Judi M. Bailey defines self sabotage as consciously or unconsciously blocking oneself from succeeding or accomplishing some task or project. The article highlights research conducted by the psychologist, Kevin Hogan. Hogan says that children who have been driven too hard to excel are particularly vulnerable to undermining themselves as adults. The implication is that children who had demands of being perfect develop a perfectionist mindset where they never do anything in life, because either can’t be perfect at its accomplishment. The relevancy here is that, there is no such thing as a perfect presentation and therefore I often feel defeated before stepping up to the podium. I have noticed that I procrastinate around presentation times, this is evidence of unconscious self sabotage. My main weaknesses are centred around self confidence issues. The club, with its warm environment, is designed for those who want to improve their self confidence whilst also improving communication skills. I believe this will thus continually to improve, incrementally, as I continue participating in Toastmasters.

The method I used to re-enforce my learning was to remind myself that I was and still am receiving valuable advice and I try to be open enough to follow it, knowing that it is helpful recommendations – not criticism.  By envisaging my goal, and questioning how best to achieve it, I am helped to focus.  It fascinates me why some people are involved in the organisation, people have such different goals and ambitions, but each person appears to be benefiting and feel affirmed by their participation.

During the short time I have been attending I have noted how the programme of self development has enriched our society. Some of my fellow members report that they enjoy arranging tall tales competitions and workshops for some elderly and infirm people in the locality.  The greater intimacy and expressive way of life, brought about by improved listening awareness has, I have been told, enriched the family lives of those involved in our group.  Doctors say it helps them deal with the whole person, instead of just body parts, technology and chemistry.  Educators report being more comfortable with the wide array of cultural differences they meet in the classroom daily.  Because Toastmasters makes us sensitive and show respect and reverence to diversity, the world appears to be a smaller place with all reaching out to one another.  At all our meetings we extend a cead mile failte to people who have come to live in our locality.  The multilingual members bring a richness   educationally, and socially.  The variety of dialects and colloquialisms can be challenging yet fun .

Business people have shared that due to fulfilling roles pertaining to team building e.g.  public relations, contest chair, newsletter editor ,webmaster  or General Evaluator, they have been required to practice building better teams and have gained valuable experience in conflict management.  Marketing personnel report that due to weekly practice they feel that they speak with more integrity when merchandising and advertising.   They are just a few of the people who have been. touched by the power of incorporating self belief into their daily lives.

I was able to put my learning into practical use recently.  Acting as an Assistant Football Coach, to a very opinionated group of 16 year old young men.  I became aware of a tense situation developing between the Manager and one of the team.  Their body language left all present in no doubt that it was a highly charged emotive encounter.  There was evidence of name calling, accusations, bringing up past injustices, and yelling.  Being aware that behind strong emotions sometimes lurk unexpressed thoughts/feelings, I asked both the Manager and the young man to step away from the group of onlookers and tell what had occurred.   Apparently, the young man when asked to change playing positions had judged that the manager was ‘having a go’ at him, and that the Manager had spoken with a very harsh authoritative tone. The young man felt disrespected and annoyed at not being afforded an opportunity to verbalise his feelings.  His feelings grew deeper as the Manager appeared to ignore him.  I asked a few questions for clarification, and then encouraged both to share their thoughts to me in a less confrontational manner.

The value of this exercise was that they, for the first time, could actually realise how the other was feeling, and because I gave feedback, the situation was quickly clarified and amended.  Each realised that he must be responsible for his own actions, and apologised.  I wouldn’t normally intervene, but because  I, as part of my Toastmasters training, am learning to listen , not accuse, take responsibility for my actions and when appropriate apologise, I could very easily relate to both men and the difficulty facing them. The incident made me aware of my interest in young people, how they often feel talked at, but seldom listened to – I walked in their shoes once. Later, when I have gained more experience, and improved my inter-personal skills, I hope to become involved in the Toastmasters Youth Leadership Programme, which involves visiting schools and following a set programme to help students with their presentation skills – an opportunity for them to feel listened to and develop their own strengths, as I have been helped to do at my club meetings.   By so doing, I hope to pass the torch of leadership on to others.

To paraphrase the Poet Goethe’s profound words, I hope to ‘communicate to others their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.’

Having already discussed the importance of effective communication and presentation skills, I have noted it plays an integral role in my personal development plan (PDP.) Therefore I relished the opportunity to showcase my existing skills in a recent presentation in the module “Risk in e-Commerce.” I sought out and embraced the audience’s feedback. Key improvement suggestions where offered by Liam Fitzpatrick, fellow student, particularly re: volume, tone, speed, audience engagement and mannerisms. Liam, whom was also in my undergraduate course has witnessed many of my presentations. I was delighted to hear he had noted an extensive improvement.

Furthermore, I have subscribed to the Toastmaster Magazine, of which are full of insightful articles. I have found these also, to be an excellent source of personal development.

Toastmasters International has been a catalyst for change in my life, and I thank all the members sincerely, and as I realise that the road to success is always under construction, I shall be at my next meeting in the Grand Hotel next week.

Come join the fun!

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