VP PR Stittsville Toastmasters Club
I joined Toastmasters in May of this year – a newbie by all definitions. My motives for joining were similar to many others: I lacked the confidence speaking in front of groups, I was very passive in communicating my needs, and the thought of answering an impromptu question in a meeting made me want to sink into the floor and melt away. So I knew intuitively that Toastmasters was the place for me – and it has not disappointed.
However, with the goal of greater self-awareness, recently I have begun to seriously reflect on my ‘why’ for being in this program. Psychology tells us that emotions drive action and if I had to choose one emotion that drives me to continue, I would say it is frustration. But frustration at what exactly? Not being a very skilled speaker? Certainly, but there are many skills that I am lacking that do not irk me quite so much. The inability to influence others like some of my more charismatic friends? This also sounds beneficial, especially professionally, but still that doesn’t completely resonate either. And so this is where I had been stuck in my reflection until recently, when I had a conversation with a friend about self-expression.
Now self-expression is not a term I had given much thought up until now. One source defines it as “the expression or assertion of one’s own personality, as in conversation, behaviour, poetry, or painting”. It is the ability to share ourselves with others, and in the context of Toastmasters, it is our ability to do this specifically through the medium of speech. In theory, a pretty simple idea. But how many of us really truly show who we are, unabashedly and unconditionally, day after day? Especially in a world where endless corporate marketing campaigns inundate us with ideas about who they think we should be, rather than celebrating who we are.
I don’t write this to be pessimistic or bleak. I call attention to this idea to illustrate my realization of an even more significant value of Toastmasters. My realization that the true reason behind my frustration in oral communication is not a simple ego-driven need to excel at all things. It is an inability to self-express within a conversation in a meaningful and honest way; an inability to accurately represent who I am to those around me; an inability to make my intentions and motivations seen; ultimately, an inability to feel understood as a human being. And what could be more important than that?
I realize as I write this that it may seem like semantics to some. That self-expression is just a newer, shinier term for what we already know. And perhaps it is. But what is the purpose of Toastmasters if not to constantly refine the tool of language to better communicate our thoughts and feelings? For me, the term ‘self-expression’ does this just a tiny bit better.