One of my future goals is to become a public speaker who inspires, motivates and uplifts people from all walks of life while giving them practical ideas they can implement easily. Throughout my childhood I was involved in theater and have never lost my reverence for the power of the stage and the ability it gives me to move people.
In a theatrical performance, my goal as an actor was to move my audience into the imaginary world of the play so that they suspended disbelief and became immersed in my story. Once immersed, I could entertain, teach, infuriate, amuse and challenge them just by the words I said and the actions I took on that limited space on stage.
I no longer have access to the stage in that way, but I believe the podium is just as powerful when used in the right way. It can be an even stronger agent of change than drama because the world I am taking my audience into is not imaginary – a speech is usually speaking to very real issues and experiences that are immediately present to the audience.
You can challenge people about very real experiences and ideas without the need for them to ‘get the metaphor’.
Therefore, if I want to fulfill the tenants of my personal manifesto, I need to significantly improve my abilities as a speaker.
A Tribe for Those Who Want to Become Better Speakers (and Leaders)
Last week, I took the first step towards my goal by attending the introductory session of a ‘Toastmasters‘ chapter that is starting up at my job. Not only did I learn a lot in that initial session, I was able to sit back as an observer and enjoy the many elements of tribe building that are so masterfully used by this organization.
There are three that really stood out for me – you can keep these in mind when thinking about your tribe:
- A shared set of values
- A shared vocabulary
- A shared system
Shared Values: Unity in the Midst of Diversity
This first Toastmasters session was referred to as a ‘demo’ meeting and it was a mix of people from my company and volunteers from a few other chapters in our area who came to help us run the first meeting.
Just from the sample of volunteers who showed up, I was impressed by the diversity of backgrounds, speaking styles and personalities. Despite this diversity, there was something about all of them that made them similar – they all had a warmth, friendliness and generosity that was contagious.
And it was clear that they all took Toastmasters seriously.
When I asked one of the volunteers how far he had come in the middle of the day for this meeting, I was surprised by his answer – he came from at least 45 minutes to an hour away. As I expressed my surprise at this he explained that there are four values that all Toastmasters follow:
And of these, they take ‘Service’ very seriously and so whenever there is an opportunity to help another chapter, they do their best to participate.
In absence of attending that meeting, the four values could sound a little ‘pie in the sky’, but when I reflected on how they had run the meeting, I saw elements of all four.
As a tribe, they embodied the values they espoused.
Shared Vocabulary: Of DTMs and Other Acronyms
As I was speaking with a collegue this week about our experience in that first Toastmasters meeting, she humorously commented that this was a very ‘nerdy’ bunch of people. I think one of the things that built that impression in her mind (and probably those of other attendees) was the wide variety of specific jargon and acronyms that they used as part of the meeting.
None of it was used in an exclusionary way – they were happy to explain all the different terms they used – but it was clear that there was a very specific ‘lingo’ that went along with Toastmasters.
I didn’t experience it as ‘nerdy’ but rather found myself identifying and wanting to be a part. As I found out what each thing meant, I appreciated the thought and order that it represented.
This is an important point to keep in mind as you study your audience and think about how to solidify your tribe. Look out for recurring themes and ‘coin’ specific terms that capture those ideas. Over time, these ‘nerdy’ words will be part of how people self-identify with your tribe and will help to build community.
Shared System: The Competent Communicator
My final observation in my first encounter with Toastmasters is that they have clear a system and structure that helps protect the integrity of their tribe.
A good example of this is their ‘Competant Communicator’ award. This is the first level of recognition that every Toastmaster member works on when they first join. It is a series of different types of speeches that you make to your group over time so that you can master some basic techniques of public speaking.
Because it requires a certain level of commitemnt to complete the Competent Communicator track, it is a clear way to dilenate somebody’s level of engagement with the tribe – whether they are just ‘shopping’, or whether they are truly sold on what the community represents.
As you work on the different steps of the track, you become more confident as a speaker while integrating into the values, vocabulary and system of the tribe.
You gain personal value, while contributing to the tribe just by plugging into their system.
I guess I’m the same kind of ‘nerdy’ as the Toastmasters that hosted our demo session because I am looking forward to working towards my Competent Commmunicator designation.
I’m not so sure about my collegue – maybe by the time she takes part in enough meetings, she won’t realize how ‘nerdy’ she is becoming too.