Thank you Toastmasters

‘And delivering the Random slides challenge, please welcome, Dinesh Kaulgud.’

I stood up from my seat. My heart was thumping; blood rushing to my head and my hands felt a bit clammy.

I went to the podium, adjusted the mike and looked at the audience. If I was scared before, I was petrified now. The audience was quiet and waiting expectantly.

I looked at the organiser and nodded my head – I was ready.

The organiser started the slide show. The first slide had a ballot box. I began to speak about elections. Somehow I managed to link it to India and elections in India. I was lucky as the next random slide was a group of monkeys. My story began to come together. The audience was laughing at my humour (Even though I felt my humour was lame.)

By the end of the 10 slides, I was in my element and enjoying myself. The random slide challenge was a success.

Thank  you Toastmasters.

I had volunteered to take part in Xmas Bettakultcha random slide challenge at Leeds. This consisted of 10 slides – selected at random by Richard Michie – each slide coming on at an interval of 15 seconds. The volunteer speaker does not have prior knowledge of the slides and has to construct a speech about the random slides. It is fun – for the audience – but terrifying for the speaker.

I credit the success of the random slides challenge to my Toastmasters experience.

This was just one of the many areas in my life, in which I was successful, because of Toastmasters.

There are other areas too.

I play five a side football during the weekends. I’m not great at football but I do enjoy having a run around. The games usually are fun because we have a mixed bag of players. Some who are very skilled and some like me who can barely manage to kick the ball (only when it is stationary). However what everyone brings to the weekend game in abundance is shouting out areas of improvement for others.

‘Laxa, pass the ball first time.’

‘Santy, why did you not pass and cut into the box?’

Initially I too was guilty of doing this. I recall coming home after a match completely knackered but also emotionally down. As I changed into clean clothes and sat down with a cup of tea, I reflected on the game. I thought about why I enjoy going to a Toastmasters meeting and came back recharged and revitalised as compared to football game where I came back feeling a bit low. Trust me, I enjoy playing football, even though I am not good at it.

As I sipped my tea, I had the sudden realization.

Of course! It was because in Toastmasters meeting we have positive evaluations as compared to the football game in which everyone was just providing areas of improvement.

Let me explain. In a Toastmasters meeting, members deliver a speech, which is then evaluated by another member of the club. The evaluator of the speech aims to deliver a sandwich evaluation. The evaluator first starts with the things which the speaker had done well, then moving on to area(s) that the speaker could have done better before closing and reinforcing the good parts of the speech. It is a sandwich of ‘commend,’ ‘recommend’ and ‘commend.’

I resolved to apply this to my football game. Starting with reinforcing the good things that my team mates do on the football pitch. I eschewed shouting out areas of improvement for others. From the time, I began to apply this philosophy, my experience at the game changed. Soon we were enjoying our play and appreciating each other’s moves on the football pitch. I noticed that other members were catching on and praising each other.

Pretty soon, I had the same buzz after a football game as I had after a Toastmasters meeting!

Toastmasters has been instrumental in improving my communication skills.

I began my improvement phase with simple things like ‘ahs, ums’ and other crutch words which littered my conversation. I began to reduce them in my speeches and was amazed as they began to disappear from my normal conversation too. I began to notice an improvement in my writing as I looked carefully at my beginning, middle and end of stories. I noticed that I was leaving voice mail messages with more clarity.

I still have a long way to go. I still have areas, that I need to work on and improve, but with the help of my Toastmaster colleagues, I shall make the changes necessary to improve even further.

Like many other Toastmasters, my journey into Toastmasters could be a speech in its own right. This was during early 2000 when I was working in Malaysia. I was implementing an ERP system at a Synthetic factory. One day after a meeting, my customer said, ‘Dinesh, I would be leaving at 5pm tomorrow as I shall be delivering speech no 6 at Toastmasters tomorrow.’

I asked him, ‘What is Toastmasters? Is it something where you to go learn how to Toast and drink wine?’

He laughed and explained about Toastmasters. That it was an organisation devoted to helping its members improve their communication and leadership skills. This was nothing to do with Toasting or drinking wine.

His explanation struck a chord. I have always been interested in self development and the concept sounded very interesting. However it took me almost 6 years before I generated enough interest to find a club and go to my first meeting. It was to Leeds City Toastmasters that I went for the first meeting sometime in June 2006. I enjoyed the meeting. I was welcomed and I liked the diverse group of people in Leeds City Toastmasters. I then realised that Toastmasters is a voluntary non profit organisation. I also realised that improvement at Toastmasters happens through taking on roles and delivering speeches. I watched and was impressed with how members help each other grow and develop. It was a positive and supportive atmosphere. Some members had joined to overcome their stammer; some had joined to deliver a wedding speech and some to communicate better at their workplace. I watched as experienced members delivered impromptu 5 minute speech on a random topic, while first timers delivered their ice breaker speech. There was no one upmanship; no showing off. There was only a genuine desire to grow and help each other. I made up my mind and joined Leeds City Toastmasters in my second meeting.

I have made a lot of progress since joining and even gathered the courage to deliver a speech in front of an audience of 100 people at the Bettakultcha event in Leeds. All of this is thanks to Toastmasters. My progress is thanks to each and every member of Leeds City Toastmasters and the wider Toastmasters organisation.

Thank you Toastmasters.

I still occasionally kick myself for not having joined Toastmasters sooner.

I also have incessant thoughts that I could have done something better (Even this article for example)

However as an experienced Toastmaster evaluating this article would say ‘Well done Dinesh, You have gathered the courage to share your thoughts. If I were you, I would work on shorter sentences and better structure i.e clear beginning, middle and end. I like the way you brought in anecdotes – it generates reader’s interest and makes it fun. I look forward to your next speech/article.’

Written by Dinesh Kaulgud

Past president – Leeds City Toastmasters