John Richards was honoured to introduce Ben Anderson. John's only frustration is that he would have enjoyed having breakfast with Ben to learn more about him. From the Internet, he learned that Ben was nominated and received the Toastmaster of the Year Award from his club. June 25th was to have been a roasting, but was a toasting of Ben.
Ben Anderson—What We’re All About
Ben thanked John and was glad to hear there were good things about him on the Internet! He offered to talk about Toastmasters, his club, and how we, as a Rotary club, could benefit through collaboration.
The world needs more leaders. Leadership is a big focus in Toastmaster and Rotary. He loves the Rotary mission statement, “Service Above Self,” which suggests leadership qualities such as service, integrity, and community. Toastmasters also has a leadership focus, but on public speaking and communication. Their Club Mission is: “We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.” That makes it clear what they’re about. They care greatly about the supportive and positive aspect of public speaking and leadership. Public speaking is usually done in a very high-stakes environment—giving a report to your boss, hosting a big social event, preparing for a job interview. These are nerve-wracking. Most people go their whole lives with out much practice, so Toastmasters gives a low-pressure and encouraging environment to practice these skills.
His club meets one hour per week, every Thursday morning. They have about 20-30 members. He first wondered how, with just one hour a week, a club could train all its members in public speaking. The amazing part of the way they work is that in every meeting there are at least 10 to 15 different speaking roles including toastmaster, timer, grammarian, impromptu speaking using table topics, and giving prepared speeches. He practiced this speech at his club last week. At the end, some members evaluate the speeches. Evaluation is one of his favourite parts of the meeting. They even have someone evaluate the speech evaluators! They’re learning both to speak and to be critical of others in a way that is encouraging and motivating. The only time commitment is one hour a week, but you can get a lot out of it. Some who are especially keen have other opportunities. He was on the executive team as club president. Other roles are treasurer, secretary, membership coordinator, and agenda coordinator.
Ben felt many of us looked like professionals at speaking. Practice makes perfect. He invited us to consider how much people who don’t have the same opportunity, such as Pathways students, could benefit from this one-hour commitment.
Ben then turned our meeting into an example of part of a Toastmasters meeting. He had given John Farrow a list of 300 topics. John picked, “When you are eighty years old, what will matter to you the most?” Ben then gave a time-limited speech. Here’s an edited version.
When I’m eighty years old . . . a really good question. As a thirty-year-old guy, I want to believe that the things that matter to me now will still matter to me five years from now, ten years from now, fifty years from now. What’s happening to me in my life right now is really important. It feels like the be-all and end-all. I’m sure when you were younger you had things that you really loved. Maybe some of those things carried through until later years, but a lot of those things died away as other priorities came forth. What will matter to me most? That’s really hard for me to say. I could guess that family will be important and that a legacy will be important, but the specifics I don’t know. Will I be part of Toastmasters? of Rotary? I don’t know. It’s amazing how hard it is to predict where you see yourself. If I allow myself to be willing to find new passions and care about new things, I won’t be holding on to what I want now and I’ll be able to have new things in my life and appreciate what I have when I’m eighty years old. Thank you very much, and thanks, John; that was a good question.
Next Ben asked one of us to volunteer. Appropriately, Greta, a former Toastmaster leader, agreed. Her question was: “Tell us about a time when you overcame a challenge in your life.”
Without batting an eyelash, Greta launched in. The challenge she chose was moving, twice. Each time, she moved from a continent to another, from a country to another. The first move was when she was very young, about 21; the second, about 4 years ago when she came to Canada. The challenges were the same, mostly cultural—trying to find out how the people in those countries think, their priorities, so different from her own. The first time, she had a change in language; the second time, the same language and more or less the same habits, but still a huge gap. The first time was with her family; the second, on her own. The challenges are the same. She is still trying to adapt. When she moved from South Africa so many years ago, it took two years to real feel, that, yes, she would stay. It’s a huge challenge. From moving across countries, you come to better understand all the challenges of those who have no choice but have to change continents for their livelihood.
Ben acknowledged that she had been a Toastmaster before. When he first joined, he was nervous, sweaty, and his hands were shaking. Now, five years later, he is called “Theater Guy.” He gave other examples of changes in peoples’ lives through Toastmasters participation. One member had tears during her first speech. Now, two years later, she’s giving ten-minute inspirational speeches and hosting club social events. A highly experienced member told him, “Toastmasters has given me a place to find my own voice, express my own opinion, and develop confidence in front of people.” It sounds simple, but for a lot of people, that is a life-changing difference.
Ben: What do you think? How can Toastmasters and Rotary work together? Who do you know who would be interested in joining something like Toastmasters?
Murray: Where do you meet?
Ben: Cafe Church, downtown. There are four or five clubs at various times. We are now doing online meetings, with the same format. It’s not as exciting but still a lot of fun. You’re welcome to join in.
Robert Reid: When I think of Toastmasters, I think of an organization you might join for a bit and then leave. What is the situation?
Ben: about 18 months on average. I’ve been doing it for five years; one for 10, one 20-25. Do it based on what you need. I went into it because I couldn’t speak to a group of people without breaking down. Then I learned speech writing, leading a meeting; then I got on the executive team and learn about running that and getting people motivated.
Bill Egnatoff: You’ve been to two of our meetings. This is an evaluation question. What practices of Toastmasters might we adopt to enliven and enrich our meetings?
Ben: I really like the group sharing aspect (happy bucks, fines). Group sharing makes a big difference in group engagement. We start right at seven and you do, but you allot 15 minutes for social time. It’s a nice period of settling in and feeling comfortable, and also, for me to learn a bit about your lives. A general public speaking comment: whoever is giving announcements or hosting—think about using your voice, be engaging, enthusiastic, accentuate your voice, otherwise people can’t help but tuning out. Pretend that you’re doing an act. A level of excitement and engagement makes a huge difference, especially in an online meeting.
Bill: Music to our ears!
John Farrow: before attending Toastmasters, I attended a virtual breakout on Rotary and Toastmasters. (John shared this link from Rotary International: Rotary-Toastmaster Alliance FAQ.) A district took all its outbound exchange students—30 of them, and put them through the process of doing a presentation in English and in the language of the country they were going to. Would Toastmasters being interested in doing that?
Ben: John, that is the perfect avenue for Toastmasters. Some join just because of one big event at which they have to speak. Just practising it once is helpful.
Greg Mumford: As part of RYLA, they have support for speaking. What Ben has triggered for me is our Rotary FAR mentoring of post-secondary students in under-served parts of the city. We need to figure out whether there’s an avenue for those we’re mentoring. Do you know about KEYS?
Ben: We don’t have a formal relationship, but one of our members is on the Board of Directors of KEYS.
Greg: There could a huge benefit; there could be some real potential there.
Ben: There are a couple of avenues. People can join. Also, we have programs that are speaking workshops, anywhere from 4-10 weeks, especially good for groups, often with people with a common interest. We can tailor the workshop to the needs of the group. I’ve done it before. It’s a lot of fun, and great for learning how to run such an event.
Greg: That sounds like the right avenue. Those who then want to take it on their own can join Toastmasters. What would be the charge?
Ben: There’s typically a nominal fee to cover expenses, perhaps $15-$20 per person for five weeks. We often donate what we make to a charitable organization.
Greg: It sounds like an excellent avenue that could really help some people.
Murray Cotton: Does Toastmasters incorporate the use of electronics in speaking? Many people need help when using presentation slides.
Ben: Yes; it’s not a formal part of the training. We evaluate presentations. We make sure that people have the most effective Powerpoint possible. Often, there are too many words, too many slides, and people talk to the slides. Slides are most effective when there are just a few basic words and sentences, and large pictures (one or two per slide). Pictures can serve as snapshots of your speech, not a replacement. Also, we’re learning so much about how to host online meetings.
Ana:  On at the Learning Centre, there are workshops for Rotarians by Toastmasters. It would be really good for us and especially for the students at Pathways. It would give them huge confidence and be less intimidating in the group with us. I really appreciate your offer on that.
Ben: John Farrow, do you know more about Rotary-Toastmaster relations? Is it about getting the groups talking to each other? Are there financial incentives between the two?
John: There’s a synergy between Rotarians do and what Toastmasters tries to accomplish. Rotary is about mentorship and professional development as well as service.
John thanked Ben. He really enjoyed attending a Toastmasters meeting recently. He offered Ben a virtual loaf of bread.
Ben invited us and provided the meeting link. (Scribe note: rather than publishing this in the Courier, which would then get on the Web, I sent the link out through ClubRunner email to our Bulletin subscribers.)