I was chatting with a few prospective new Toastmasters members, and one of them asked me a very introspective question—“Why do you stay?”

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters for eight years. I stay because Toastmasters has embedded in my psyche that searching for incremental improvement dramatically accelerates my growth. I watch other speakers who resonate and ask myself—how are they making me feel? —how can I resonate with my audience? Instead of comparing myself to other speakers, I ask, how can I learn from this? Is there a technique they are using that I can try out? What are they doing to keep me on the edge of my seat? How can I do that? Then, I use the Toastmasters playground and see how it works for me. (I call all Toastmasters meetings, “the playground,” where you can try out new things and not worry about what people might think.) You might be wondering, how is my speaking coming along? Here’s a sample from a Humorous Speech Contest two years ago. https://youtu.be/8yEcIgMP6kM

Over the past eight years, I have also discovered that Toastmasters are fascinating people. They explore new ideas and often are involved in all kinds of fascinating endeavours. I know a Toastmaster who has run marathons AND has personally attended Toastmasters meetings in all seven continents of the world. He combined these two feats and then wrote a book about his experience! Interesting people indeed! As they share their adventures, they stimulate new ideas for me. I’ve found that this exposure has shifted my attitude from Why? to Why Not? My world is so full of possibilities that I often need to figure out what to let go of to free up time to try new things.

I spent decades in tech in Silicon Valley, and I know some of you, the overachievers in particular, might now be wondering, what do I have to show for it? How did I benefit directly? (Why should you devote your precious time to something that seems so innocuous, single-purposed, and not very broad-reaching?) I’ve got great news for you! I found that my years in corporate America ended up narrowing my focus. The guard rails of my life kept closing in, limiting what I could see, do, and believe. It was being an active member of Toastmasters that broadened my focus, expanded my horizons, and encouraged me to reach for things that quite frankly, I never thought possible. I know you want specifics, statistics, proof! Since I joined Toastmasters, I have started two consulting companies, authored a non-fiction book, started a podcast, became a speaker, and am now selling my photography. Toastmasters will open you up to new possibilities!

There’s one more bit I want to share. Being open to new possibilities is just the first step. The second step requires you to act. It can be daunting to undertake a new endeavour. And it is not something you should try to do alone, especially when you are trying something new. Your path will be much easier if you enlist others as information sources, mentors, guides, referrals, and advisors. The Toastmasters in your club and your district are an amazing source of support, encouragement, and inspiration. A big part of the Toastmasters culture is to help others grow. I have found a plethora of people willing to support me in a variety of areas far beyond speaking. I encourage everyone to take the plunge, invest in yourself, and accelerate your growth trajectory while becoming a more interesting person.

–  Written by Karen Cornwell, DTM representing SCUMBAT (Santa Clara University MBA Toastmasters) Speaking Club, Area D05, District 101