I joined an entrepreneur incubator to learn how I could launch my career in Psychometric Testing or how to sell psych tests to employers to avoid hiring people like me. The lead counsellor would make us rehearse our 45 second intro, over and over. After, my rendition he strongly suggested –"that’s the worst intro I’ve ever heard,” – that I join the Heights Toastmasters Club.
The club was affiliated with the Heights Chamber of Commerce and new business members in the Chamber got a free one year membership in Toastmasters for their employees. I attended the Charter banquet as one of the original 20 members required to found a new club. I gave my "Icebreaker,” Competent Communicator Manual speech projects #2 and #3, met a young attorney, Howard Kahn, who ‘pro bono-ed’ my divorce, while I moved my sense of belonging energies to AA and Kiwanis.
Ten years later, my second marital partner moved us to the Texas Panhandle where the only non-sectarian social gathering was the weekly Follett Lions’ club luncheon (catered by the local Quick Stop) at the bank. I took a health insurance job with all of western Kansas as my sales territory which gave me the opportunity of visiting Kiwanis and Lions clubs Monday through Friday from Dodge City to Elkhart. The Elkhart Kiwanis club had $50,000 in the bank, saving it for a rainy day? Elkhart was uniquely isolated in the soutwest corner of rural Kansas so far from the rest of the state they once attempted to secede but 500 miles of nothing separates them from aligning with Colorado or New Mexico. Elkhart needed Kiwanis and Kiwanis needed Elkhart but none of the Kiwanians needed health insurance.
Lions, Rotary, and Kiwanis were all founded over 100 years ago as Community Service clubs that provided funds and elbow grease volunteer projects locally. Example: the Follett club paid the Boy Scouts to pick up trash along the highway and held an annual pancake breakfast fundraiser. Membership was originally based on exclusivity, one butcher, one baker and one candlestick-maker.
I called the Amarillo Rotary Club and said that I wanted to attend their luncheon but was refused because I had not been invited. As Groucho would say, "I’m not sure I’ll ever join a Rotary Club anywhere, anytime soon.” But then again Amarillo is a quirky place, as Oprah discovered in her trial with the Texas Cattleman’s Association.
When our Full Blood South African Black Boer goat breeding stock sales grossed only $500 that first year, the handwriting on the barn door dictated a move to greener pastures that ended up 50 miles southwest of Houston. Each Thursday night I drove two-thirds of the way into town to attend Sugar Speakers Toastmasters, not because I needed socialization but because I wanted to practice my sales pitch to sell raw goat’s milk for $45/gal.
Ten more years zoomed by and I am in Zhengzhou, the middle of nowhere China, no Lions, no Kiwanis, not even Rotary but praise be to Andrew Garcia, there was the Middle Kingdom Toastmasters club. Garcia, used his contact with the GM of the Sofitel to not only stock the pond with 20 charterees from the hotel staff but got a free five star venue. My need this third time of joining Toastmasters, was not to get a job, or improve my 45 second intro, I desperately needed somebody to talk to in English.
Toastmasters arrived in China in 1999 and now along with India has no problems recruiting members and starting new clubs because both countries have an ESL need. Yes, India has been a member of westernized civilization for, only Ghandi knows how long, yes, they already can speak their own version of English but like me their 45 second intro needs work. The Chinese warm to Toastmasters because outside or even in school there are very few chances to practice speaking English.
How to start a Toastmasters club? Find a bunch of people that have a burning desire to improve themselves through communication and leadership training. Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary and even Toastmasters in North America have that "your father’s Oldsmobile” appeal. When you’re unemployed or looking for a better job, the Toastmasters-mobile takes on new lustre. I was sent to Alcoholics Anonymous because I used alcohol to avoid owning my emotions. Speaking in front of a group of people is definitely an emotional experience but you have to want emotional ownership really bad to force yourself to join. Sixty-eight percent drop out after three speeches because self-help is like losing weight – it takes self-discipline.
Where do you find these self-disciplined, over achievers who have a burning desire for self-improvement through speaking in public? ESL training schools! Here in Antalya, Turkey the "iT’s In The Cards” distribution of Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts is skewed towards Spades (Doers) and Diamonds (Dreamers). Whereas, even at Zhengzhou Foreign Language School the students matched the norm, 10% Spades, 40% Diamonds, 40% Clubs (Thinkers) and 10% Hearts (Feelers).
The ESL training school students in the 20 to 40 age category are usually paying their own way and are enduring the pain of learning a second language, yet they have limited opportunities to practice, practice, practice. However, they all realize that they have a NEED and are looking for a solution to their problem. Everybody loves TED talks but only Toastmasters teaches how to give a TED talk.
How to start a Toastmasters club in your neck of the ESL woods? Volunteer or work with a non- brand name training school. New Oriental, EF, Liguaphone or the most popular ones don’t think they need your help. I spent seven years in Houston Toastmasters teaching myself – experience is the best teacher – how to speak, then seven more years using the Toastmasters program to teach ESL in China. Driver’s Education is my analogy, where you watch all the videos you want in the classroom but you never learn to drive until you get behind the wheel. You can work your parrot tail feathers off learning grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary and never learn to speak.
Toastmasters teaches the remaining 90% of oral communication utilizing a curriculum theme of "Your Body Speaks” in 15,000 clubs in 130 countries, where groups of 10-20 likeminded individuals gather to help themselves by helping each other practice driving, their message home.