Archives for Susan Rayner

Going beyond the club

Six years ago, I attended my first ever Toastmasters event outside the club level. This visit to the Division B Table Topics and Humorous Speech contests changed the course of my Toastmasters journey. I was in queue during the break and marvelled at the art deco splendour of Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden. I struck a conversation with the lady next to me, she wore a fancy name tag and seemed important. I don’t remember the exact details of what we discussed. However, I do remember her parting words “You’re quite enthusiastic, you should get more involved!”. That day, my mind opened up to the leadership possibilities that Toastmasters could offer me and the rest is history.

As Division Contest season is on us, please make the journey to your Division contest. You don’t know who you might meet there. You may very well learn some new knowledge and see things differently during a workshop. You may even be inspired by one of the speaker’s stories.

Going beyond your club can also involve visiting other clubs. This is especially useful if you’re looking to stretch yourself by speaking in front of a different audience. What’s more, you can earn points and prizes by taking part in our Club Ambassador Programme.

Encouraging our members to reap the opportunities available in Toastmasters beyond the club level, also helps with membership retention. As a District, we have a vision of retaining 70% of our members every year. Doing this requires looking after their needs and creating new opportunities for everybody. If you’re looking for your next challenge, ask your club President to organise a special event with a different format. Get involved in organising a joint meeting with another club. Go and deliver your next speech at another club! Your possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

Support your winners

Fellow Toastmasters

Last week end was our first Division contest of the season, held in Bracknell. All Area winners get to compete and you can be assured of a quality event as winners get to win a place in our District final to be held In London on 1-3 May 2020. It is also an opportunity to listen so a number of educational sessions and connect with members from far and wide. Visit our District calendar to find the details of the next Division event. I look forward to seeing you there.

Our Club Ambassador programme is a friendly way to visit Clubs whilst earning point for your and your Club and get a chance to become our District Club Ambassador of the year. Why not schedule a visit when you are next in a different part of the country whether on business or simply a holiday!

Our annual District conference, London 2020,  is approaching (1-3 May 2020)! Would you like to be part of history? If you want to know more and get involved, drop me a line. There are a number of roles available whether it be Finance, Marketing, Education, Sponsorship, Logistics or Registrations. Our conference Director Barry O’Connell will be sharing more information as we get closer to the event, for now save the date!

Opening Doors

With great power comes great responsibility.  If you’ve ever experienced an over-zealous new team leader or manager, you might have this phrase ringing in your ears.  It’s common practise for companies to promote members of staff into leadership roles and then develop them once there, instead of giving them the tools to do the job and them promoting them into the role once equipped.

The thing about a Toastmasters International public speaking club is that it provides an excellent opportunity for anyone seeking this toolset and mindset to try it out in a safe place, supported and encouraged instead of looking over their shoulder in fear of making a “career limiting” mistake or worse ruining someone else’s career through poor line management.  It’s not just about making toasts or speeches, it’s so much more.

I’m going to share my story with you as I hope to inspire you to consider that there is another way….

Having worked in the corporate world for over 20 years I have experienced and witnessed many shocking and unprofessional incidents borne out of a lack of experience and understanding.  The crucial factor to becoming a new leader of any kind is self-awareness; to understand your impact on others and to learn to listen first. Most people are never taught how to be a follower never mind a leader!  At school we were told to sit down, shut up and do as we were told!  It just felt like all the doors were firmly shut.

My own capability before I discovered Toastmasters was limited – I see that now – but I was unconsciously incompetent then.  I would copy other team leaders hoping they were good role models to emulate but that only served to perpetuate bad practise, inconsistency and stressful conversations with disgruntled staff.  Nothing seemed to change for the better, and there seemed to be limited formal training, you were supposed to just figure it out.  The coping mechanisms and expected behaviours were never explained and I was struggling to be effective and influential.

After joining Toastmasters I was given the opportunity to start learning the skills of leadership by undertaking the role of Mentor.  It’s such a simple role, between two people meeting up monthly and one helping the other to achieve specific goals using the benefit of their knowledge and experience.  But it taught me how to be a good listener.  It taught me to remove myself from the equation – it’s not about me – it’s all about them.  It also honed my problem solving skills as I helped them navigate the challenges they faced.

Soon after that I wanted more. I became a deputy for one of the Club Committee roles so I could learn the ropes before taking on the role officially.  A few months later I was invited to apply for the full role and was voted in.  I was now accountable for 23 people’s happiness! Then I was hooked; receiving excellent and useable feedback and evaluation with examples of what worked well, and what could be improved upon; so I could assess how I was getting on in the role.  This meant I could make small adjustments to become the best I could be.  I thrived and the club thrived.

When was the last time you gave or received great usable feedback with specific examples?

In the Toastmasters training programme I noticed there were many opportunities there for me to lead on projects outside our club meetings.  At the time I was planning on applying for the position of Project Manager at work (a promotion) so it seemed ideal.  I was excited to get stuck in and thought that doing something that gave back to my Community would be the most rewarding non-work related project. 

I started my first Youth Leadership Program with a set of 15 students in an Academy near where I lived. I led a small team of Toastmasters to deliver the material and that meant delegating whole sections to them and watching without correcting them or interfering!  Over ten weeks we guided the students towards the delivery of a showcase event where they all delivered speeches of more than four minutes each on a variety of subjects chosen by the students themselves.  It was very well received by their parents and the school principal and I was asked back to duplicate our results with a new cohort.  5 years later I am delivering my eighth program.

Whilst all this was going on I was also delivering full training days using the Better Speaker Series and Leadership Excellence Series manuals to members and non-members alike, and I used my High Performance Leadership Project to help me build and coordinate the team I used to deliver the training days. It walked me through from Vision, Mission etc right through to lessons learned after delivery, using delegation so that I didn’t do all the work myself.

Simultaneously I did get the promotion at work and I found the skills I picked up in Toastmasters were essential to my new role of communicating clearly at all levels with many different teams, colleagues, suppliers, stakeholders and customers. It taught me how to give effective feedback and how to delegate.  I learned how to listen and lead. 

Do you know any leaders who are good at listening?

The next opportunities gave me the remaining tools I needed to enable and empower.

I had really thrown myself into this personal development side of life and was enjoying it immensely.  It was not long before I was asked to apply for the role of Area Director which gave me oversight of 5 clubs (and approximately 120 members).  This brought in the new dynamic of trusting people I barely knew to undertake tasks towards a joint goal. Whilst this was tricky at first I soon found my stride and saw the similarities between this and working with remote teams in my job. I found I was able to help new people grow into leadership roles by using those mentoring skills I had learned all those years ago.  I didn’t have to tell them how to do something I could just tell them the outcome I desired. My job was to guide them, check in with them and ensure they felt supported and encouraged.  I made myself available and approachable – some needed more help than others but I soon learned to tap into their working styles quickly.

I also learned the power of persuasion.  It’s amazing how influential you can become when you say quietly to someone “I can see you doing X.  I think you’d be really great at that, why don’t you give it a try?”

The pinnacle of my leadership training to date with Toastmasters was being asked to serve on the District Leadership Team as Administration Manager.  Our small team of seven people led the 5000+ members in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and England (North of London) through their own leadership and public speaking training journeys to help more and more people walk through open doors. The role came with travel, networking, operating at a senior level and ensuing all milestones were reached on time and within budget. 

Hmmm doesn’t that sound familiar – that was what I was doing as a Project Manager!

The skills I learned have also enabled me to spread my wings further.  I have started my own business as a communications specialist helping Autistic adults at work/ in to work and I deliver keynotes on the Transition from Follower to Leader and also on Autism in the workplace.

I put on the very first TEDxTelford in 2018 with 15 live speakers and 100 people in the audience and am organising a second one.  I was able to lead the organising team, coach the speakers, MC the event and get everything done in good time and inside budget and we sold out a week prior to the event. The second TEDxTelford took place in Sept 2019.

In January 2018 I achieved the highest award for all my work in Toastmasters International and can now call myself a Distinguished Toastmaster. Without doubt Toastmasters has been instrumental in my personal development and has opened many doors for me in terms of work and relationships.  I believe that in becoming self-aware I have become a nicer person to be around and I have a very full and happy life. 

Oh and did I forget to mention – I am Autistic…. J

A Gap in the Map

During my tenure in the role of Area Director for Area 42, I became more aware of the distribution of clubs in the South West of England, and noticed the gap of many miles between the clubs in Bristol and their Western neighbours, Exeter.

As I am always keen to have a project on the table, I started to think about this situation and did a little research into towns that fell between the two clubs. By a process of elimination, it became clear that the ideal location for a new club would be Taunton. The advantages of this location where numerous. It had one of the highest concentrations of population, it was on the M5 corridor, and had another large town, Bridgewater, only a few miles away.

I spoke to the trio, Andy Hammond, Florian Bay and Arnaud Satre, outlining my idea, and asking for advice. Florian sent me a very helpful workbook that he had developed called ‘Launching Successful Clubs’ and I started to gather my team together.

I initially invited two members from Casterbridge Speakers (Dorchester), who were travelling some distance from the North of Somerset to attend the Casterbridge meetings, and with their encouragement and support, and in early Spring 2019 I put together a timeline for all the steps I would need to take to achieve the goal of launching a new club.

I began in February with looking at the surrounding clubs, and finding their meeting schedules, in order to select a night when there were no other meetings nearby, so that we could ensure some support during the early weeks.

I then drew together a formal committee, which a member from South West Speakers, Grace Jones, now Area Director for Area 62, joined, so with a group of four, we began to plan. We set up a series of online meetings, with formal agenda’s and minutes, in order to keep track of our progress.

By the beginning of March we were looking for a suitable and affordable venue. All our research was online and by phone, until we found a venue that looked promising, and then two of us went to see if it lived up to expectations. It was reasonably priced at £15 per hour, had a bar and pub food available, was large and had ample parking. This fitted our criteria, so it was booked until December. We felt this was wise, in case a better option was found at a later date, but this was ideal to get us off the ground.

We then had work to do, deciding the name of the club, the club mission and vision (which we largely cribbed from other clubs), and one of our team started work on the club website. We applied for help with registering on Easyspeak, and allocated officer roles for the three potential members. We appreciated a great deal of help and coaching from Casterbridge for the VPE and Treasurer roles and progressed through our journey, opening a bank account, which I did quite simply and quickly online with Lloyds Bank.

I informed Arnaud that we were in process of planning our launch on 10th September, and he sent me a box of goodies for the club. I then registered the club with Toastmaster International, we offered the role of Club Sponsor to two of the founding members. As we had to pay a little over £100 to headquarters to register, we asked for sponsorship from Casterbridge. They agreed to loan the club £50.00 of the needed funds. We then received another box of materials from headquarters. Purchase of the basic club needs became an item for the budget. We had some lights and other materials donated from another club, but had to purchase a lectern (Amazon) but still needed to work on our budget and member fees. We received help from experienced treasurers with this key part of the planning, as setting the financial basis for the survival of the club was of utmost importance.

We organised invitation cards and labels from a local print shop, and two of us toured Taunton and the surrounding area, leaving information at reception desks, canteens and business premises, including conference centres. Our launch was also put onto Eventbrite, and we were sponsored by the Bristol Clubs to be published on Meetup. As we were fortunate to have one member who was in the publicity business, we put press releases into the local papers, and had two six minutes exposure on the local Radio station.

The date arrived. We were to serve a simple finger buffet, and we had a launch cake, with the Toastmaster logo boldly displayed as part of the cake topping.

The response from Eventbrite was encouraging nine guests arrived and were greeted with warmth and enthusiasm, supported by members from Casterbridge and South West Speakers.

We had decided to follow the usual format for the agenda, but only have 2 speeches. As we wanted to introduce guests to the journey they could follow, we selected two fairly new members, one from each supporting club, and delivered one Icebreaker and one speech from Pathways Level 1. We felt this would make potential members feel reassured that it was possible for them as well. We had a lively and enjoyable meeting, with four of the guests committing to join, and others willing to think about it and spread the word. We also had some additional cards printed with the regular club schedule on them, for all to take away. All the guests participated in Table Topics, and the atmosphere was relaxed and supportive.

Our district Director, Florian was there to support us and took the General Evaluator role, and we also had support from Mike Burrows, District A Director, who has been a source of knowledge and help throughout the process.

We now have to carry this momentum forward into the coming months. The leadership knowledge we have gained has been invaluable, and with the support we have had, we are confident that Taunton Speakers is here to stay.

Step forward and try something new

As we head into the autumn, it’s Toastmasters contest season! For all members this an opportunity to step forward and try something new; this may be as a competitor, chairing the contest or being a judge. This is the perfect chance for experienced members to mentor and share their knowledge with those taking some of these roles for the first time. An important consideration now that renewals have taken place, is checking that members are in good standing, i.e. have renewed their membership.

Thanks to all the hard-working club Treasurers, Vice Presidents Membership and Presidents that have been focussed on their club’s finances over the last month. Membership renewals have been processed thick and fast.  The 20:80 challenge has proved a good one for many clubs across our District. What is it about pizza that our members love? A full list of those clubs that have achieved the reward of £50 for their pizza party will be published after the end of the renewal period.

The new club demonstration box production line has been in full swing, with the first box dispatched to Burnham Speakers (located in Buckinghamshire) ahead of their demonstration meeting on 16 October. Closely followed by Swansea Speakers demonstration meeting on 17 October.  Support for demonstration meetings is welcomed, contact me if you want to get involved.

When members step forward to set up a new club, they do not do so alone. There is plenty of support available from the Club Extension Committee and experienced members.  Recently, Club Extension Chair, Bob Bowes, delivered the first of the new club sponsor and mentor workshops. Thanks to all that attended. More of these events will follow.

Remember that information is being posted on the Toastmasters International UK & Ireland Facebook page, keep an eye on details of up and coming events.