Think back to this past year. What words did you hear the most? I’ll bet it was “you’re on mute.” And in response, you unmuted yourself to be heard – in meetings, for family gatherings, with friends at virtual happy hours, and at Toastmasters.

How often have you accidentally started talking in a meeting and forgotten to unmute yourself? And how often have you purposely decided to avoid speaking up, because you lacked the confidence to make your voice heard? 

That’s the idea behind our theme for the District 101 Spring Conference – Unmute Yourself! We have come through a year with many changes, and we’re still standing strong, or at least sitting strong in front of our computers on Zoom! We chose this theme in part because it is a common phrase that we use every day. Remember that recent television commercial and the  famous phrase, “Can you hear me now?” It worked because everyone said it while trying to get better reception on their cell phones.

Instead of limiting yourself – or muting yourself – to only look at the Zoom aspect of the theme, let’s take this theme to the next level.

Unmute your Mic!  Ok, of course, we’ll start with unmuting your microphone. While it’s common courtesy to mute your microphone when you are not speaking to avoid unnecessary background noise, have you forgotten to unmute yourself when you are speaking? Unmuting your mic is the first step in preparing to be heard by others.

Unmute your Video!  Even when your mic is unmuted, are you turning on your video? Fully participating with both video and audio increases the connection you can forge with others, even online, and shows your engagement. With the sheltering rules, many of my colleagues have started turning on their videos during our meetings on Microsoft Teams for better collaboration and human connection. 

Unmute your Voice!  Go beyond just physically unmuting your mic, think of it as gaining the confidence to step up and speak up in any meeting, whether in Toastmasters, at work, or in your community.  

Unmute your Message!  Do you have something to say? Your personal story can inspire others dealing with similar situations, a customer story can motivate other customers, your Toastmasters journey can guide other members. And your humorous story may lift the mood of your listeners. In other words, your experiences can have a positive impact on others.

Unmute your Goals!  It’s easy to procrastinate, I’m the queen of that! Don’t put your goals on the back burner, waiting “until” you have more time, more resources, more confidence, less responsibility. Set a goal today of something you want to accomplish, whether in the short or long term. Maybe your DTM? A promotion at work? A personal project? Being a coach to your kids’ sports teams? Participating in a contest or conference?   

Unmute your Progress!  Once you have set a goal, define the steps you need to take to get there. And associate these series of smaller goals with a timeline. Choose a few friends or Toastmasters to help keep you accountable. As you reach each step, celebrate your progress, and let others know that you’re on your way. 

Unmute your Ideas!  Innovation and new ideas, and thinking outside the box, are more and more important. You can practice your creative thinking by expanding your horizons with Table Topics. If you have ideas, don’t mute yourself – spread them around! In a collaborative environment, who knows where it will take you? 

Unmute your Passion!  What are you truly passionate about? Is it Toastmasters? Your career? Maybe it’s your family? Are you engaged in other activities, from the arts to sports? For me, it’s ballroom dancing! It’s too easy to always wait until a “better time” or until you are “less busy” or “more prepared” to start or continue. But if it’s your passion, you should express it – don’t mute yourself from pursuing it. Prioritize your personal passions and make time for them, it will help you feel happier and more well-rounded.

Because this year’s spring district conference theme of Unmute Yourself! expresses something that we either hear or say every day, it becomes top-of-mind for you. And every time you hear it, or say it, think not only about your microphone or the District conference – think about what parts of yourself and your message you want to unmute going forward.

Written and narrated by Birgit Starmanns, DTM, Public Relations Manager of District 101 (2020-2021), and member of five clubs: Evening Stars, Silicon Valley Storytellers, Next Step, Readership 101, and Online Presenters