About a year ago, during dinner with some good friends, I was introduced to a husband and wife couple that my friends (past weddings clients, actually) brought with them. After our initial exchange of pleasantries, we moved on to topics around work, family, etc. At one point, the woman mentioned that she’d just joined a Toastmasters club at work. This was a brand new club just getting going and she was excited to help get it started.
After a few questions about her Toastmasters group, I enthusiastically asked if I could come to a meeting as her guest. I’d always wanted to try out Toastmasters, but hadn’t yet done so. Almost immediately, I began to recognize the possible benefits for me professionally, as both a business owner and performer. Little did I know then, one of the greatest discoveries would come at my first Toastmasters Conference a whole year later.
(If you’d rather have me read this post to you, click here for a video version)
I would sum up Toastmasters briefly by calling it a bite-sized commitment with potential for huge growth. In my case, the commitment is 60 minutes, every two weeks. Our club meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month from noon – 1:00 PM. Many clubs meet weekly and some meet for 90 minutes. This varies from club to club, depending on the members’ needs and wants.
Before I get to the conference, I will say a few quick things I like about Toastmasters in general.
In addition to the actual people presenting speeches (between 1 and 3 people), there are a variety of leadership roles that need to be fulfilled for each meeting. Those roles, such as timer, grammarian, evaluators, toastmaster, etc. allow individual members to focus on specific leadership and speaking skills. I am continually amazed at how simple, yet how educational, it is to be taking on these roles.
For example, since performing the role of grammarian, I now take more active notice of unusual words I hear in everyday life, often making note of them in order to look up their full meanings later on. This expansion of my use of the English language will help me communicate more effectively whether in a sales consultation, a networking meeting or my actual performance at events. Learning more about your primary language is never a waste of time.
Each Toastmasters member is provided with a Competent Communication manual and a Competent Leadership manual. The Competent Communication manual provides the assigned series of speeches each person is required to complete with instruction on how to prepare and how to present them. Your imagination is given just enough space to flourish within the structure Toastmasters provides to its members. This makes everything about speech preparation much less daunting and in fact, very manageable. I’ve only presented two speeches so far, but have learned A LOT through the process of preparing and presenting each one.
Last month, I attended my very first Toastmasters Conference. It was the fall conference for the district our club is part of, District 64. The conference took place over a Friday evening and all day that Saturday at a local hotel in the area and attracted between 120 – 140 people (I’m guessing).
The theme of this conference was “Face Your Fears” and in fitting perfectly with that theme, it ended on the Saturday night with an exciting performance from world renowned escape artist, Dean Gunnerson. The speech contests that took place showed me just how much work I need to do (even though I earn a good portion of my living from speaking at weddings) and the seminars were a real inspiration to where public speaking can take people.
What I didn’t expect though, was how people were going to react to me and what I do for work. This was, without any doubt in my mind, something I did not anticipate (although, maybe in hindsight, I should have).
Before I go into this, I’ll first state the following: I’ve spent much of the past 6 years working on many facets of how I present myself from what I wear, to my facial expressions, how I listen, my tone of voice, what I say, etc. The efforts I have been putting forth toward all of these skills have brought me great strides ahead from where little Dave Ternier used to be. (I’ll write about that one day, but you probably won’t believe me.) With that being said, here is what surprised me.
The work I do as a DJ/MC, became an unusually popular topic at the tables where I sat. Here I was, in a crowd of people who were learning to become better (public) speakers and many who were already amazing speakers, telling them that I MC for a living (in addition to my role as a DJ of course). That I speak for a living. And I am at a Toastmasters Conference.
For those reading this blog outside of Canada, remember that very few DJs in this country MC weddings, so for most of the Toastmasters Conference attendees I spoke with, the very notion that I might do this full time for a living was mind blowing to them. In fact, one person even told me that they’d thought of trying to work as an MC for part of their living.
So here is my advice (this is specifically pointed towards Canadian DJs, but truly, it is applicable everywhere):
If you are a mobile DJ that also performs the role of MC and you want to meet more people that already respect the art of public speaking, JOIN TOASTMASTERS!
The networking benefit of attending this conference and meeting people who were already sold on one of the major skills I bring to weddings, was such a beautiful surprise. Any of you who are long time readers of my blog already know how much I love networking, but this truly came as an unexpected surprise…that I would be walking into a group of people who already “get” what I do. I am feeling very confident about many of the connections I made at that conference and can’t wait to see what opportunities come of them. (I’ve already met for coffee with two of my new connections from that conference and a third coffee meeting is just a few weeks away.)
So tuck aside your ego, stop thinking you’re a great public speaker just because you (maybe) MC weddings, and join Toastmasters. There will be multiple clubs in your area (there are over 15,900 clubs worldwide in 142 countries) so it’s important that you find one that has a group of people you can mesh with. These people will become your supporters, your motivators, and they will help you discover deficiencies in your presentation skills you are probably blind to. In addition to that, you won’t find a more friendly and safe environment to do this in.
It is important to understand that not all Toastmasters clubs are equal, but as Scott Faver, a staunch advocate of Toastmasters shared with me, “Like any profession or networking group, there are good and then there are great. Take the time to visit and find the group that is right for you.” Even a lesser quality group will provide incredible experience, unless you choose to have a bad experience.
Oh and by the way, the leading sales expert in our industry, Mitch Taylor, has spent seven years with Toastmasters and even served a term as an Area Governor. Leading sales expert… Toastmasters… coincidence? Doubtful. (Mitch and his Creating Connections podcast partner, Vickie Musni, recently hosted an episode titled “More Than You Might Expect” where they discussed Toastmasters.)
Head over to the Toastmasters website, punch in your zip code, postal code or postcode and it’ll tell you which clubs exist in your region and when they meet. Stick with it and you will be amazed at the opportunities that might come your way and the people you’ll meet.
For an incredible peek into what an actual Toastmasters club meeting looks like, check out this video.
So what are you waiting for? You will further hone your MC performance, business networking and DJ sales skills. What could possibly be wrong with that?
And just like my own experience, you may become unexpectedly surprised.
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