Public SpeakingIn the first part of this series, I covered a little bit about my own experiences as a club officer and some of the positive things that one can do to improve the overall health of a club. In this part, some of the tips will focus on the challenges that club leaders face.

As much as we do our best to make the club environment a positive, professional and supportive one, challenges do occur. I’ve seen evaluators rip apart speakers because they disagreed with their points on more than one occasion (and I’ve had it happen to me). I have also seen people start up conversations, both with the person next to them and via their cell phone, while someone else was giving a speech. I’ve also known of situations where conflicts have caused people to quit a club.

But on the bright side, conflict management is an important skill to succeed in the workplace (whether you work for yourself or someone else) and Toastmasters is a great place to get this type of experience. Although it’s great to have everything go smoothly during your term as a club officer, you’ll come out a stronger and more experienced leader if you face some challenges along the way. And the bigger the challenges, the stronger a leader you become.

So let’s finish up the top ten tips with the final five:

6: Deal with conflicts right away.

Again, conflicts happen and like everything else we like to procrastinate away, the longer it sits unattended the more it festers. If one person mistreats another, it’s the responsibility of the club leaders to deal with it. Talk to both parties – separately, if needed – and get to the bottom of things. Many times, the cause is a small misunderstanding that can be set straight when dealt with right away. Other times, it can be more serious and in extreme cases, a member may need to be asked to leave. In any case, you need to deal with it before it has an adverse effect on the club.

7: Make tough decisions when you have to.

When I was Club President, a number of members suggested that we join our local Chamber of Commerce. The club officers unanimously agreed that it would benefit the club so we brought it to a vote during a meeting. The club voted 11-7 in favor of joining the chamber, but the vote was challenged because we didn’t have two thirds of the members present(we were one shy). I was looked to for a final ruling (like the tie-breaking judge during a speech contest) so I decided that we join.

We could have done another vote at a future meeting but there was no guarantee we’d get two thirds of our ever growing club at any meeting. I wanted to move beyond the issue – since people on both sides were passionate about it, letting it linger on would have done more harm than good. Yes, we lost a couple members due to the decision, but we would have lost a lot more if we spent each meeting debating the issue. One of the downsides of being a leader is that not everyone will like all the decisions you make, but as long as you make decisions that you believe is in the best interest of the club, you’ll grow from these tough choices.

8: Challenge the status quo.

Our theme for the year was “Moving beyond your comfort zone” so as officers we challenged ourselves, but we also challenged our members to try new things. Again, we were met with some resistance such as “we tried that before and it didn’t work” or “that doesn’t work in Toastmasters.” But that didn’t stop us. I was always encouraging people to push the envelope and try new things.

My favorite example was that we had a woman who was a great speaker give a speech on a hot button issue. She was a lawyer and she gave a legal analysis of the issue without taking sides. This was the first time I had actually seen her act nervous during a speech. Afterwards, I spoke to her and asked her how she felt about the speech. She said it was the most nervous she had ever felt while giving a speech – even outside of Toastmasters. I told her I was glad she did it because she grew as a speaker that night.

A mistake that many Toastmasters make is that they get so set in their ways that they don’t want to do anything different. In all my public speaking classes, I discuss how public speaking is like bodybuilding. You have to change things up if you want to grow. To people who only speak in front of Toastmasters audiences, status quo is fine. But for those of us who speak (and desire to speak) beyond the club, it’s absolutely necessary to put yourself in new and challenging speaking situations.

9: Hold people accountable.

I was Vice President of Education the year before I became Club President and one of my biggest frustrations was people signing up for roles and either not showing up or backing out at the last minute. This carried on into the following year, especially with speeches, as we started out with a small active membership base.

There were a number of things we did to remedy this. First, we led by example and showed our commitment to the club. When we sent out the e-board meeting notes, it was clear that each of the officers were putting in a substantial effort to grow the club. Our commitment began to rub off on our members to the point where people would call ahead to let us know if there was a last minute emergency preventing them from attending a meeting.

The other big thing was that at each meeting we collected signups for roles for the next two meetings. As our club grew, roles started filling up so when someone had a speaking role, they were more likely to prepare for it knowing that it could be another two or three meetings before they’d have another chance.

10: Give credit where credit is due.

Running a Toastmasters club is a team effort. So it’s important to recognize the people that make things happen. When I say that the group of people I worked with was fantastic, I’m not just saying it to be nice. These folks were truly dedicated to making the club the best it could be and each of them truly added some value to our e-board. We’d all recognize each other for our efforts and when someone in the club (members or officers) did something great, it was recognized.

Again, not in a patronizing way but in a sincere and appreciating way – people want to know that their efforts are appreciated. Sure, you don’t want to overdo it and spend ten minutes praising someone for coming up with a creative theme for table topics. But taking the time to tell someone in sincere way that you learned something useful from their speech or that they did a great job planning your guest night is a sure way to make a club’s morale healthier.

So with that being said, I want to once again thank Christina (V.P. Education), Heather (V.P. Membership), Sushmita (V.P. PR), Mark (Secretary), Kazia (Treasurer) and Bob (Sergeant at Arms) for your efforts four years ago. We’ve all grown so much because of your efforts and everyone who was a part of the club during that time benefited from your dedication.

To everyone else, here’s a bonus tip: have fun. Enjoy your Toastmasters experience and get to know your fellow members. Develop friendships and learn from each other. Give your best effort and make the most out of every speaking opportunity you can get.

If you have some tips or thoughts, I’d love to hear from you. Share your knowledge and experiences by leaving a comment.

Toastmasters Success: Ten Tips to Become Presidential Distinguished – Part 2

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