This interview is the second in a series spotlighting rising stars in Toastmasters District 39. Do your club’s younger members feel the same way? How are you cultivating your next generation of speakers and leaders this year?
Q: Hello Rasheed. Which Toastmasters club do you attend and how long you have been a member?
A: I belong to Speaking Machine in Elk Grove, and I’ve been a member for around 3.5 years.
Q: What was the original catalyst that prompted you to visit the club?
A: I realized that I struggled with public speaking (and social interaction in general), so I needed to get out of my comfort zone and become a boss at the aforementioned things. I was influenced by a Brian Tracy book called “Eat That Frog,” whose premise was basically “If the first thing you do in a day is eat a frog, you can be rest assured that it is the hardest thing you’ll have done that day.”
Brian mentioned Toastmasters as a way for people to get out of their comfort zones. If they could overcome the fear of public speaking, little by little, they could overcome almost anything. I wanted to be able to overcome almost anything, as I was going through a difficult time in my life and filled with self-doubt. So this was something I knew I had to do.
Q: What was it about the first meeting experience that made you want to come back?
A: It was the encouraging environment. The VPE Darlene Crockett asked me to volunteer for a Table Topic on my first night, and even though I know I bombed it, everyone was so encouraging. They told me I did well and that I’d be a welcome addition to the team, so I would have felt bad if I never came back.
Q: What are your 3 proudest achievements in the club?
A: I have a lot, but here are three biggies:
1) Becoming the youngest president in the club’s 27 year history, and carrying the torch of President’s Distinguished Club for one more year.
2) Ascending to Area Director.
3) Making it to Division level in the International Speech Contest, and winning 3rd place against much more seasoned speakers. This was a big deal for someone who could barely read a speech 3 years ago.
Q: What would you recommend to other clubs looking to attract more Millennial members?
A: Millennials love free food (just saying.) Seriously, Toastmasters meetings I attend primarily consist of people over 40. So, an older person calls the meeting to order and leads the meeting. When I go to contests, it’s usually older people who are competing, and chairing the contests. There are some cultural differences between millennials and baby boomers.
Many millennials are against outdated notions of what it means to be professional. It is more than just wearing a super expensive suit… any snake-oil salesperson can do that. We will only wear a suit when we absolutely need to, and even avoid situations that require us to wear them. Millennials believe our professionalism lays in our work ethic and how we treat others. If we are to recruit and maintain millennials in our Toastmasters clubs, we need to discourage judgment based on how people are dressed and focus more on acting professional, which includes tolerance and respect.
Q: Any other examples of the differences besides the way you dress? What should older members do and NOT do to recruit and retain younger members.
Unfortunately, many times, older members can be a bit patronizing or even condescending to younger members. It is important for young people to be given an opportunity to grow. I am fortunate in that Darlene Crockett saw potential in me as a young leader, and nominated me for an officer position. Since I did not see my own potential, it was a pivotal moment in my Toastmasters career. I would have never thought I’d be ready for an officer position without her nudging me.
Young people–no, any person– will make mistakes. These mistakes should never, ever, be chalked up to a person’s age. That is probably the fastest way to lose a millennial. Everyone makes mistakes and it helps us grow as leaders. Millennials don’t want to be involved in a group that believes we are incompetent simply because of our age. We need to be given the opportunity to make mistakes, the opportunity to fail, and like everyone else, we sometimes need a hand to lift us out of our pit.
Q: What is the top personal benefit you’ve received from Toastmasters?
A: The biggest personal benefit would be self-esteem. As I mentioned before, when I joined Toastmasters, I was going through thoughts of self-doubt, wondering if I’d ever amount to anything. Toastmasters gave me a sense of belonging. Even though I hadn’t yet accomplished anything, I still felt better about myself because I felt like I belonged to something big. When I became active within the club, and heard about how a meeting fell apart in my absence, it made me feel like my presence was definitely needed.
Q: What key advice do you have for other younger members to get the most out of Toastmasters?
A: The more you give, the more you get. Jump at every volunteer opportunity you can get, meet new people and get to know the “go-to” people when you need something done. Just be all-around helpful. When you rise in leadership, it is those people you helped that will save your butt when others start bailing at the last minute (it happens more often than you’d think, unfortunately).
And, last, but not least, give credit where credit is due. People love being recognized and honored, even if they are recognized and honored ten times a day because they are always helping people. Express your appreciation to people as much as you can–you can never do too much of that. The fastest way to get someone to never want to do a favor for you again is to forget their contributions to you.
So I will express some appreciation right now. I owe everything I am in Toastmasters chiefly to Joey Waldrop, Darlene Crockett and Rick Pierce. Without their encouragement, mentorship, and guidance, I would not be where I am today.
A big thanks to Rasheed for sharing his thoughts!
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