by Matthew Arnold Stern
I originally gave this speech on April 7, 2004 when I was presented with my Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) award. This is speech five from the Communication and Leadership manual, “Work with Words.”
I have been in Toastmasters for twelve and a half years. That sounds like a long time to you, but I know people who have been in Toastmasters for decades. They don’t just have one DTM, they have drawers full of them.
What keeps people going in an organization or any activity for so long? And I don’t mean merely trudging along out of force of habit, but with a passion that grows every year.
As an example, we can look at Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps. She began covering the White House after John F. Kennedy was inaugurated (which is as long as I’ve been alive). At age 83, she remains an active journalist. What has kept her going for so long? It is because she is passionate about what she does, and she refuses to become complacent. “There’s no such thing as success,” she says. “There’s always another mountain to climb.”
Toastmasters has mountains for us to climb as well. They are the educational program, outside opportunities, and leadership.
The Mountain of the Educational Program
What do Toastmasters do when they finish their DTM? They exactly what I’m doing right now: starting the educational program all over again. I am working on my second CTM.
Why would anyone do that? Because no matter how accomplished or skillful we are, we can all benefit by going over the basics. Organization, vocal variety, and gestures are the fundamental building blocks of speaking. By practicing them, we can correct lazy habits that might have slipped in, and we can focus on making our speaking stronger.
Toastmasters also changes the manuals and programs every few years. The new Communication and Leadership manual has some different speeches from the one I used back in 1991. Toastmasters comes out with new manuals. By starting the educational program over again, we can take advantage of these new program features.
The Mountain of Outside Opportunities
Toastmasters doesn’t end with the club. There are plenty of opportunities where you can stretch yourself and make new friends. One of our members is doing that right now by competing in speech contests. By competing in contests, members can reach out to new audiences and strengthen their skills by speaking in a competitive environment.
You don’t have to be a contestant to benefit from a speech contest. You can be trained to be a judge. Or, you can serve as a sergeant at arms or contest Toastmaster.
Toastmasters also offers opportunities to help different organizations. Our district has a Speaker’s Bureau where experienced speakers can learn how to speak in front of outside groups. We also provide judges for community speech contests.
The Mountain of Leadership
The most important mountain is leadership. Toastmasters really is the safest place to develop leadership skills.
For me, leadership was the greatest mountain to climb. I had some bad experiences with leadership in the professional world, so it took others to prod me to become a leader in Toastmasters. Once I did, I found that leadership can be positive and can enable me to make a difference for others.
Toastmasters offers a number of opportunities for leadership. You can serve as a club officer. From there, you can move up to serve the district as an area governor or district officer. At each level, you will find plenty of supportive, encouraging people who will guide you towards success.
Find Your Mountain
I’ve discovered that the secret of success is to find something you enjoy doing and do well and pursue it with passion. When you’re fully engaged in what you love to do, the years just fly by. Find your passion. Find your mountain to climb. You will then find yourself on a life-long adventure that you will never want to see end.