Ten things I learnt at Toastmasters


A new year of Toastmasters is beginning here in France, and it seems the moment to look back on my twelve-year journey to this place of gratitude and serenity. What have been the key insights for me? Here are ten takeaways that shine brightly for me.

For those with limited time, here’s the list up front.

  1. An abundance mentality includes diversity
  2. Visualisation leads to realisation
  3. Success is an ally, a friend.
  4. Life wants us to learn and grow
  5. Showing up with passion makes things happen
  6. Everyone and anyone can be a leader, including me
  7. Improvisation is fun and a valuable skill
  8. Communicating with energy, emotions, joy, hope, vision, depth, and soul connects you to your audience
  9. I have friends around the world
  10. I have friends around the world

And yes, I repeated that last one because I also learnt if it is worth saying, it is worth repeating. (10th takeaway 😉) Let’s apply that lesson now and take a further look at each point.

1. An abundance mentality includes diversity

If you don’t have an abundance mentality, I suggest you get one. It is a life-improving asset. Toastmasters gave me a place to develop mine in two simple ways: The more you lead, the more people ask you to lead bigger projects; the more you speak, the more opportunities for speaking you receive. It’s that easy. At Toastmasters there is no scarcity of opportunities. You can have as many as you want. 

However, a “true” abundance mentality includes diversity. If you keep your ears, mind, and heart open, Toastmasters will teach you that too.

The diversity of speakers in our club enabled me to hear about things happening outside my horizons. For example, I first heard how Chinese tech companies were leading a revolution in Fintech when a young Chinese woman shared that information in a speech; A Nigerian spoke of his passion for sketch crawls in a speech, and I joined him in that passion and met a community of people passionate about sketch crawls in Paris; I became aware of the issues surrounding non-binary people when a member of my club did a video interview with her daughter who explained her life choices as a non-binary person to us.

Furthermore, being open to others had great consequences in my own life. A brilliant young man from Delhi joined our club and became such a good friend that he later invited me to his wedding in India. Thanks to him, I fulfilled a dream and visited India. Two dynamic women in my club introduced me to the world of TEDx, first as a coach and then as a speaker. An elderly member outlined why he was on Twitter and LinkedIn, and I signed up for both. I’m glad it did because a few years later a former student contacted me through LinkedIn and changed my life.

Without these people, I would have missed out on the abundance of life, views, experiences, and opportunities that are the true wealth of the world we want to experience.

2. Visualisation leads to realisation

An unusual idea started to form in my mind. I saw myself as President of my club, Busy Professionals. This vision surprised and excited me because I had never been President of anything before. I saw it as a challenge which worth doing in my 50th year so I started to visualize it as a possibility.

However, the outgoing Vice President of Education had done such an outstanding job that he was naturally elected President. Then, a few months into his role, our new president got accepted into a top MBA program and decided to leave the club to concentrate on his studies.

He reached out to me and suggested I replace him in the role. I remembered my vision and jumped at the chance. Incredible as it may sound, I was leading my club as President by the time my 50th birthday rolled around in the month of March. I loved the role so much that I presented myself for election in May that year and carried on for another full term as the “elected President”. This story is just one of many anecdotes that proved to me that “Visualisation does lead to Realization” or “Believe it and you will see it”. Toastmasters gives us a place to experiment with the magic of this life-altering concept.

3. Success is an ally, a friend

Toastmasters offers you training wheels for success. People applaud your ice breaker and your first steps as a speaker. They support and guide you through your first roles as a leader. And they continue to applaud your growing successes. Indeed, that’s plural because as you embrace success and show up for it, success becomes your friend and ally and shows up for you.

I had never won anything until I joined Toastmasters. Ribbons, trophies, and awards started to flow towards me once I understood that success was not something to be jealous of in others or a goal in the distant future. Success was right there with me at every step of my journey as a friend and ally. Each time I prepared and practiced my speeches or my leadership roles, I did it with success already beside me. I studied the success of others to see what worked and I gave myself every reason to succeed. I did the work to show up for success and it showed up for me. This is a valuable concept that you will learn at Toastmasters.

4. Life wants us to grow and learn

Somewhere along my journey, I noticed that most the men who competed in the International Speech contest wore black suits. I had never owned a suit. In fact, I was against them, silly as that sounds. I didn’t even wear one to my wedding. Yet, I realized that to get to the next level I might need to invest in one. I was being asked by life to grow and expand my range of possibilities, to shift old habits and embrace new ideas. I kept this idea in mind and even tried on a few suits in shops. However, they did not feel right. And I wondered if the investment was worth it for a suit I might never wear.

One day while out shopping with my ex-wife, I had the feeling she should go into an expensive designer clothing store. She looked surprised, but followed my suggestion as there was a sale on. Once inside, I found to my surprise a rack of men’s clothes on sale. On the rack was black suit. I tried it on and it fit perfectly and looked sharp. What’s more the price was only 50 euros – far less than what a scarf cost in that shop. I asked if the price was an error and the salesperson said “No, we are closing our line of men’s clothes because nobody knows we have one – so that is the correct price”.

I knew it was time to get that BLACK SUIT because I had a division contest to compete in the following weekend. Wearing the suit gave me the feeling I was going to win the Division conference and qualify to compete at the District Conference in Lyon, France. And that is what happened exactly! There I was a few weeks later, competing with 7 amazing speakers from across Europe, in that black suit.

I didn’t win at District level, but I gained invaluable experience and memories. In the end, it felt so natural wearing that suit on stage that I later wore it at many other Toastmasters events as contestant, speaker and MC. I even wore it at my friend’s wedding in India.

Life had asked me to grow. All it required was a new level of belief in myself and, at the right moment, Life put that black suit in front of me to buy. I might have gone through life without a suit, if I had not joined Toastmasters. How dumb is that!

5. Showing up with passion makes things happen

The world is a very different place from when I showed up for my first Toastmasters meeting in October 2009. The passion of the members in the Busy Professionals club that night ignited my passion for Toastmasters and public speaking. It gave me passion to show up again and again, and I didn’t miss a single meeting for five years. I showed up with passion for meetings, conferences, contests, and officer training and when I did other passionate people showed up at our club. They enriched the club and our meetings with their passion and ideas.

And outside our little club, public speaking got trendy around the world. Since 2009 Toastmasters International has added over 120,000 new members, and thousands of new clubs have sprung up around the world. The views of TED talks have exploded. World Speech Day started in 2016, and I attended the first offical WSD event in France organized by a member of Busy Professionals.

What’s more, the French government has added an oral exam in English to the master’s level accounting program which I have been teaching on for over 20 years. Today public speaking is trendy in French education. That is a paradigm shift nobody saw coming in 2009!

Certainly, I didn’t create all those changes, yet I see that showing up with passion creates life changing moments, not only for us, but also for the society we are constantly building. It makes things happen. Just go ask Greta Thunberg.

6. Everyone can be a leader, including me

I did a terrific job leading my club … once I understood that the role of President did not make me all powerful and I had to take account of differing opinions. I put a lot of passion and energy into the role of driving the club towards the honor of President’s Distinguished Club for the first time in years. An outstanding Vice President of Education and Excomm (leadership committee) assisted me, and I knew I could count on them as they knew they could count on me.

I held the role of club President for 1.5 years. Then the VPED took on the role and did an outstanding job too. The following year, I actively recruited our first female President and she excelled in the role too. In fact, year after year new and talented members have stepped up to lead the club as President, each with their own strengths and style.

The collective intelligence of the club has functioned to elect those members who are ready and willing to try their hand at the role. And the club has never stumbled. This is a great lesson in power and humility. We can take power, and we can also let others assume it, knowing that the Toastmasters slogan of “Where leaders are made” is more than justified.

7. Improvisation is fun and a valuable skill

One of my superpowers is improvisation and I discovered this at Toastmasters thanks to Table Topics, the impromptu speaking part of the program. My career as a teacher has prepared me for thinking and reacting verbally on my feet to questions and difficulties of students. To do this, I quickly find responses to help them understand things in a new original way.

I had no idea this was a skill that others struggled with. What others found challenging, I found crazy fun. I let myself go and embraced the exercise of Table Topics with joy. And this usually ended in joy for my audience too. I won ribbons and trophies, and people suggested I do standup comedy.

I launched into the world of standup comedy bars and nights, explored clown and improv workshops with world renowned coaches and spoke at the Applied Improvisation Network’s international conference in Paris in 2019. It was there that I met a community of playful practitioners and coaches of this valuable skill.

These fun people held bi-weekly Open Space meetings online during the COVID crisis and playing with them uplifted me in isolation. With them I saw how improvisation allows us to say “YES AND” to the constraints of the COVID crisis. My improv friends were willing to play with the situation being offered and adapt to it as best they could.

Being able to improvise in our ever-changing world is today’s superpower and I thank Toastmaster for revealing this superpower to me.

8. Communication with energy, emotions, joy, hope, vision, depth and soul connects you with your audience

I made my first speeches at Toastmasters for myself on subjects I wanted to speak about. My speeches filled my needs for a verbal and physical outlet. As a result, they were met with mixed reactions by my audience. Sometimes I jumped about wildly making people cringe at my overly theatrical manner. Other times I made my speeches too serious or pedantic. The balance was always off. Until I discovered how to Speak the Rainbow.

To improve my connection with my audience, I created a concept called Speak the Rainbow. Using my years of experience speaking, competing, evaluating and watching others competing, I identified seven elements as the keys of all successful communication: energy, emotions, joy, hope, vision, depth, and soul. I gave each of these keys a color of the rainbow to make it more visual and memorable. I consciously tried to have a “balance’” of these colors in my communication and it worked.

This rainbow concept improves my speeches, and I have used it to coach others inside Toastmasters, at TEDx conferences and professionally. The rainbow is one of the great gifts that I found along my Toastmasters journey. If you are interested in how to Speak the Rainbow, reach out to me. I will send you my “Seven Keys to Colorful Communication” ebook. 

9.  I have friends around the world

10. I have friends around the world

And yes I do, thanks to Toastmasters. That’s no small thing. And it is worth repeating because the media wants us to believe in borders, in fear, in passports for the “haves” and exclusion for the “have nots”. It wants us to live in a scary and divided world when we need to live in one of openness, kindness, and hope.

When I joined Toastmasters in 2009, the world was in recession and I felt fear. Today we are in another crisis, and I feel love. Partly because I have expanded my network through Toastmasters. People have applauded me, and I have applauded them for their efforts and what they offer the world. And we have recognized something we have in common – a desire to be positive, to connect and communicate positive messages.

Thanks to Toastmasters, I have embraced connections with people both inside and outside Toastmasters, locally and internationally. My superpowers of public speaking, improvisation, and my rainbow concept help me connect with people globally. I can leave the Toastmasters organization behind me now, and embrace a new pathway, knowing I have learnt ten things which will sustain me well. I am grateful as I step into tomorrow to share all the colors of my rainbow.    

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