Is anyone familiar with the LHC? The Large Hadron Collider is one of the most monumental undertakings of mankind. Vast both in physical size and in ambition, it’s purpose is accelerate sub-atomic particles faster and faster, to ludicrous speeds, around and around, until BANG! … quarks and muons and bits of atoms all over the kitchen floor. Or… hopefully some sensitive detectors where astute scientists can better understand the way our world actually works.

Fellow toastmasters, honored guests. I have made something of a discovery of my own. Perhaps I can pass it on to you in less time than it took me to understand it myself.

Everyone comes to toastmasters for their own reasons. I came looking for a user group for presentations, and I learned ways to improve my speaking and communication skills. However, the way in which we approach something can also act as a bias. Coming at toastmasters as a group for presentations, I saw only what I wanted to see.

Fast forward four-odd years, to a few weeks ago. I was driving home from the Toastmaster Leadership Institute, or TLI. The excitement of the morning was over, the brain is starting to relax a bit and try to make sense of the day’s events. In particular I was thinking of two women I had seen at TLI.

D.M. ran the TLI event, and with with great bravery and did so without pretense about the fact that the people running these events are often “learning on the job”. TLI itself is a major undertaking – a large number of people need to be brought together, checked-in, session leaders need to be ready, schedules created and kept, and refreshments provided. Even though toastmasters elects officers once a year, it for some reason goes to all this trouble to schedule officer training twice a year. One thought, spinning around in my head.

The other person I saw is the sister of our own P.R., herself an enthusiastic toastmaster. One of the things J. said is that when she first sits down with a mentee, she asks “What are your goals?”; “Why are you coming to toastmasters?” Based on this, she decides whether to start with the communication manual or the leadership manual. What? The leadership manual? that thing we sometimes check off and throw back in our papers? I thought everybody started with the icebreaker. There is another thought, spinning around in my head.

I’ve got all these thought spinning around in my head, and then…. BANG!

Learning. By. Doing.

Toastmasters is not only a speech club with an unusually large bureaucracy. Toastmasters is also an environment where people can practice running an organization at all levels. The apparent activities of that organization happen to be speaking and evaluation, both useful skills for leaders. Toastmasters not only runs speech contests for competition and spectacle. Toastmasters also provides people the opportunity to practice planning and running events, from a few people to hundreds of people.

And yet, that weak evidence of memory attests that, if in my four-odd years in toastmasters, anyone has attempted to communicate this idea to me, then it has fallen on deaf ears. I came to toastmasters seeking a user group for presentations. To a large extent, I heard only what I wanted to hear. That is on me. Still, I think that at least in this club, if the leadership manual were to give a speech, the evaluator might suggest “you need to speak more loudly”. Some of us are a little hard of hearing.

At a practical level, if you are here to improve your public speaking – that is fantastic. Keep at it. The apparent activity of speaking and evaluation is the axis about which the implicit activity of the leadership program turns. Without speakers, there is nothing for the organizers to organize.

If I have been at all successful in communicating this idea to you, then you can now go out into the world and share with others. If you encounter people who want to improve their confidence or gain practical experience in leading an organization, then toastmasters is waiting for them. If your primary interest is in public speaking, those people will have an interest in taking club officer roles, freeing you to focus on your speaking without the distractions of officer duties.

LHC might mean “Large Hadron Collider”; or perhaps it means “Leaders Honing Communication”. Certainly if you get people working on communication, going faster and faster, and people working on leadership going faster and faster…..

Imagine what could happen.

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