Saturday, February 28, 2015

Voluntary Victory

A Toastmaster and a lawyer die and go up to the heavenly gates. Saint Peter tells the Toastmaster to wait and lets the lawyer in first. As the gates close, he sees the lawyer greeted with fanfare, music and cheers. A choir of angels descends from above and sings for the lawyer.

As the last anger floats away, Saint Peter finally grants entrance to the Toastmaster.  There is no music, no choir. Confused, the Toastmaster looks to Saint peter for an explanation. 

"Oh, we get Toastmasters volunteering here all the time. This was our first lawyer"

We all come to Toastmasters for different reasons., but basically, it's about that age-old fear of speaking in public.  Once we have been here for a while and our butterflies are flying in formation, our vision shifts and our perspectives tend to change. Some people are quite clear on it - they have come to Toastmasters to learn a skill.  Once they have earned their CC, they leave - job done.  But for others it becomes a way of life; it is who we are.  And for those of us who class ourselves in this group, it becomes the time to volunteer to give back.

Every year - in fact, twice every year , at Club, Area, division and District levels, Speech Contests are held for the purpose of determining who the best speakers are in the Humorous, Impromptu, Evaluation and International categories.  And every year those officers who are responsible for the running of these contests ask for volunteers to assist with the various roles, be they Contest Chairman, judges, timekeepers or tally counters. The strange  thing is that, although it is often the same people who volunteer, those roles are always filled.

The same thing happens annually when a succession plan has to be put in place for the new executive committee.  People today generally complain of being over-extended, or too busy, but somehow a new executive is always found.  Sometimes it is by coercion, usually by reminding them that when they signed up, their Toastmasters pledge said something about serving when they are called upon, but mostly, after having given it some thought, the incumbents do volunteer.

Speechcraft and Youth Leadership Courses are a way for clubs to raise funds, but they rely on the services of volunteers, not only to run the courses, but also to assist those folk by doing educational speeches or by evaluating the member speeches.  If it were not for this assistance, these courses would not happen.

Thinking about volunteering led me to do some research - remember Google only knows? Well, it seems that there are a number of reasons why people volunteer.  Here are just a few of them:

  • You will be giving something back - I think all of us in Toastmasters know what a valuable 'thing' it is that we have gained, so we can relate to the idea of 'paying it forward'
  • You use your skills to benefit others - These two items seem to tie in together.  I have often heard it said that Toastmasters is the world's best kept secret, but I know that if you have gained something that makes life easier and better for you, you will want others to benefit from it too.
  • You experience personal growth - So often, in passing on a skill or helping others, we find ourselves challenged . The result? Personal growth.  Just last year a group of us ran workshops  and assisted as evaluators at the Collegiate All-Girls' Festival.  I know that we went there as the 'experts', but I am sure I speak for all of us who were involved when I say that we learned as much from those  girls as they did from us.
  • You see that you can make a difference - I don't think anyone volunteers initially with this in mind. However, it is often a happy by-product of what one does.
  • Finally, it's actually good for you! Studies have shown that:
    • It reduces stress - focusing on others rather than on yourself reduces tension-producing patterns
    • It makes you healthier - Positive emotions, like optimism, joy and having a sense of being in control of one's fate, strengthen the immune system
Those of you who run the Youth Leadership and Speechcraft Courses, and those who assist them, know that while there is no financial gain for us personally, we have all seen lives changed - theirs and ours - because we volunteered to help.

I want to tell you about a picture I came across on Facebook. In it was a group of children, laughing and smiling.  I recognised their faces. They were children I had taught - now more than fifteen years ago. I commented on how quickly the years had passed and before long so many of them responded to me - telling me what they were doing now and how much they had appreciated doing the Toastmasters Youth Leadership course - and what a difference it had made in their lives.

One girl in particular had touched my heart even then. L and her three sisters were raised by a single mom who worked as a domestic. There was very little money, but L was a single-minded girl. She was determined not to be a victim of her circumstances. Doing the Toastmasters course was just the start for her.   She had a knack for verbal communication and she knew it. Her matric results were good; she won a bursary to NMMU where she studied law and today she is a legal consultant with one of the top investment companies in the country. Being who she was, she would probably have got there by herself, but when she commented to me and thanked me for my input in her life, I was really touched.  I felt that I have really achieved something - a victory.

So, if your Toastmasters experience is becoming stale; if you are chasing your own speaking or leadership goals, but it doesn't feel as if it is enough, why not raise your hand the next time someone asks for help with a club project, a Speechcraft or Youth Leadership course? It might make all the difference!

Until next time

Ricky Woods

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