After the Spring and Fall conferences and, for some, the International Convention, it was nice to meet up again with fellow Toastmasters at the District 101 Toastmasters Leadership Institute. This is an opportunity for all members to attend educational sessions on Toastmasters communication and leadership skills and topics that help us use those skills in our everyday lives. Importantly, there is also the opportunity for club officers to attend club officer training. This is when club officers get updated on the latest strategies for making their club run smoothly and grow to greater heights.

Even if you have been to many before, it’s surprising how there is always something new to learn. At the VPPR session, I discovered that there were a lot more ways to use social media – a non-profit page on Yelp, for instance. Or starting a “WhatsApp for Business group” for members. Adding social activities on weekends seemed like a good idea to spread the word about one’s club. Someone suggested that Starbucks allowed flyers. There you have it, even if it’s your third session for the same role, it’s still a source for new ideas. Best part is you get to meet fellow officers from other clubs that have the same position in their club.

What was special about the January 27th Toastmasters Leadership Institute was there were other educational sessions as well, including one for those who were not officers. District Director, David Spence, opened the morning with a heartwarming keynote on how he figured out the pieces in the puzzle of his life and how they matched the value we get from Toastmasters. It was interesting to hear about his childhood in Scotland where he says one of the first pieces of the puzzle became apparent to him – “Gather” Family would gather together for Christmas every year through many changes – something we do at Toastmasters. Another piece is to “Grow”. As he watches his two-year old daughter, he sees how change happens slowly and steadily.  Very often we attend the meetings in a routine way, participate in contests, get trained as officers. Little do we realize how much we grow. The third is to “Go”.  He spoke about how he learned to kayak in high school and eventually took the plunge to go on a kayaking adventure along the coast to nearby islands. In the same way, we can take the skills form Toastmasters out into the real world.

This inspiring speech was followed by a talk by Toastmasters International Region 2 Advisor, Charlie Patton, speaking about “Leading with Intent: From Voluntold to Volunteer” He joked about his original motivation for joining a Toastmaster’s club – free pizza. A whole new doorway opened up, however, when he was “voluntold.” The President of the club “told” him that one day he would have to be the President of the club.  The talk brought to light the power of mentorship.  Someone believing in another person’s potential so sincerely brings out the best in them. It takes a lot of generosity to be vested in the progress of others instead of being competitive.  A story about the progress of a co-worker he mentored demonstrated that a good leader is one who creates other leaders.

Fueled by a hearty breakfast that included veggie options, fresh fruit and strong coffee, participants were ready to go to their training sessions in different rooms of the venue an excellent facility for the training, thanks to the generosity of Synopsys and host club Toasters R Us.

Educational Sessions #1 included:

  • Practical Pathways with Carlos Puig and Ken Braly
  • Mentoring for Member Retention: How to Keep Your Members Engaged with Charlie Patton
  • Threshold Reset: The Magic Switch that Moves the Needle with Rajesh Shetty
  • Educational Session #2 included:
  • How to Become a Powerful Storyteller with Michael Chojnacki
  • Change Management: Discomfort for Fun and Profit with Charley Patton
  • When Being Brilliant is Not Enough with Rajesh Shetty

Sadly, since they were all happening at the same time in each session, choices had to be made. In the interest of consistency, I chose two sessions by the same speaker – Rajesh Shetty, an author, entrepreneur and mentor.

“To know your level of incompetence on a topic, you have to be reasonably competent on that topic.” – Jeffrey Pfeffer, an influential thought leader on management.

This quote was the opening line of the first talk by Rajesh Shetty, He says that there are many thresholds in our life, but they are often invisible. When you cross a threshold, your status changes. However, if we become aware of these thresholds, then they become very useful in our journey through life. One example he gave was how as a young boy in school he wanted to write his own novel because he wanted to influence the outcome of a story. He started writing and completed a novel. Without having any knowledge of the publishing industry or having an agent he started knocking on doors, making phone calls. He got so many rejections, he says, that his threshold for rejection became saturated – he became very comfortable being rejected! This spurred him on to keep trying and eventually he found someone who agreed to help him. His novel was published.

He also spoke about how good habits can be formed by applying this principle. When your internal tolerance for something reaches its threshold, you are motivated to change. The concept can also be applied to happiness. Very often, our threshold for joy is high. Something extraordinary must happen before we feel happy. On the other hand, the threshold for disappointment is low – the smallest issue throws us out of gear. If we reverse these thresholds, then we find true happiness – which is unconditional.

The threshold of our public versus private personas is another idea. Many people put up an external image because of a fear of rejection. Ironically, the more vulnerable you are, the more likely you are to make meaningful connections.

Using graphs and a scientific approach he was able convey good points on this interesting idea of thresholds.

Mr. Shetty’s second session continued along the same theme of self-development, but from a different angle – how brilliant people often sabotage themselves.

One of the most significant ways is not being able to say “No”. Shetty demonstrated the art of saying no through interactive sessions with audience members. The four-part process is simple.

  • Repeat the question – so you clearly know what you are saying no to.
  • Just say No. No equivocation or excuses – like maybe or I’m busy.
  • A simple reason for your refusal. Any explanation or defensiveness dilutes the answer.
  • Finally, be pro-active and offer your expertise in the area of your choice. This way, you keep the door open for future interactions.

Judging from the questions asked by audience members, this appeared to be a useful exercise!

Another reason a brilliant person may not succeed is because they don’t take action. The reason often is that they dislike change. Change and going beyond your comfort zone requires effort. The only way is take the plunge and act.

Brilliant people also need to share their knowledge. People with a lot of potential often feel that they don’t have enough knowledge. Ironically, the more they try to learn new things, the more inadequate they feel. The reality is that others can benefit from their knowledge because each person is in a different level and may need the expertise of that person.

Finally, gratitude is important. Smart people often have serious failures in life, because as they move up the ladder, they forget those who helped them. When you ignore someone, you lose their eco-system as well. Everyone, regardless of how important they are, may have a network that could be useful to you.

Shetty ended the talk by offering a plan to identify strengths. A big way is through mentors or by asking competent people who care. Keep a journal he says and notice what requests are made of you – valuable tips from someone who clearly has an understanding of human behavior.

The morning flew by because it was so productive. Getting up for this event early on a Saturday morning was totally worth it! We join Toastmasters for many reasons – some to improve presentation skills at work or to become effective leaders. Others just to have more confidence speaking in a group. Many want to become thought leaders. Regardless of our motivations, events like these inspire us.  Renewed, we are ready to continue our journey, each day becoming better than we used to be.

Written by Lakshmi Jagannathan