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Learning Environment

November 29, 2015

I’m a long time member of a local Toastmasters club.  When I first joined, the emphasis was on public speaking, as well as building self-confidence and having fun in a group.  A few years ago, Toastmasters International added a leadership track to the existing public speaking track.  Both public speaking and leadership are valuable skills, ones that can be the foundation for personal growth.

One of the principles of Toastmasters is continuous learning.  All of the club officer roles, from secretary to president, have one year terms.  No experience is necessary for any of these roles.  At the beginning, members may have no idea what they are going to be doing.  They may be quite intimidated by what’s to come.  They spend the year learning how to perform their role.  At the end of their term, they are quite comfortable in their role.  Often they say: “Now I know how to do it”.  They’ve spent the year in learning.  They’ve done their homework.  Now they’re ready to move on to something else, to continue the learning process.

Above all, Toastmasters provides opportunities for people to grow and develop themselves, to become a different person.  In order to do this, they only need to take advantage of those opportunities from time to time.  The experience is always light and enjoyable.  Everybody is there for their own benefit.  The learning is almost incidental, although it’s also quite visible.  Members soon discover that they can become whatever they want, provided that they are willing to devote some time and effort to achieving their goal.

I’ve been describing the ideal case, but not all people have the ambition to improve themselves, especially that rapidly.  It’s easy for some to make a contribution to the club without learning anything new.  Some might do the same officer role over and over again, just because it’s easy for them now that they know what to do.  It may be easy, but it’s not beneficial for the person who is repeating roles, or for other members who might take on that role for the first time.  It would be better for them to take on something they’ve never done before.  Toastmasters provides opportunities outside the club for those who want to take advantage of them.

The president of a club learns leadership, in all of its aspects.  They discover how to work with all the other club officers to keep the club united and dynamic.  All of the officers are volunteers.  Each one is different in their thinking, and in the ways they work with each other and with other club members.  Getting them all working together is a major challenge for the president.

Every other club officer has a specific area of responsibility and specific skills that they need to acquire over the course of their term.  They will need to seek advice and guidance from more experienced members of the club in order to learn what to do.  Even then, they will need to do the work and devote the time to their tasks.  For example, the Vice President of Public Relations may have to learn how to design a web site and how to maintain it.  This is a valuable skill, but it does take some investment of time to accomplish.

I’m wondering if I’m taking too much of an extreme position in advocating that everything that a member does in Toastmasters is also a learning experience.  I’m assuming that every member wants to learn, and is willing to devote the time to do it.  Perhaps it would be better to find out what each individual member wants to get from the organization, and to make sure that the club provides the necessary opportunities.  Doing it that way would result in more satisfied members, and perhaps more happy members.  Of course, learning, acquiring skills, and becoming what you want to become, might well be what people want from Toastmasters.


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