Powerful Words on Purpose: My Toastmaster Story

Do you remember the first time you realized that the spoken word had power?

Was it when you were small and asked someone to be your friend, and they said yes?

Or, maybe someone used words to hurt you and even though your mom said, “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you,” you knew that wasn’t true.

Or, maybe, like me, you found out . . . by accident . . . words just came out of your mouth and people reacted.

This me at three. Big teeth. Big smile. Bad hair days. . . .some things never change!

However, one thing that did change for me at 3 was that I realized the power of the spoken word.

My mother had brought me to work to meet her boss and coworkers. One look at her boss and I was in awe. She was just about the ugliest woman I had ever seen—long pointy chin, hooked nose, dark, bushy eyebrows over beady eyes. I blurted out, “Mommy! She looks like the Wicked Witch of the West!” Suddenly, there was complete silence. Wow. I had made quite an impression!
My mother turned to me and said, “Diane, don’t you mean, Glenda the Good Witch?”

Hello? Did my mother just lose her mind? “No. Glenda was pretty!”

Fortunately, my mother’s boss started laughing and all was well. And I had found a new power—the power of words.

Over the years, I have continued to learn that my words can have a powerful effect.

From saying “I do” more than 30 years ago when I married my husband to saying yes to adopting my 2 youngest children. When we adopted our youngest child, Yuri, six years ago at age 12 from Russia, words were especially important as both my husband and I had to prepare 10-minute speeches to deliver in front of the judge—speeches that had to be interpreted as we spoke and speeches that would determine if the judge would allow us to adopt Yuri. I even had to convince the judge that we weren’t adopting Yuri just to be slave labor or to harvest his organs.

Those were powerful, life-changing words.

I can thank Toastmasters for helping me develop powerful words.

I’d like to tell you that my joining Toastmasters was part of a bigger plan for my life—a powerful plan for powerful words—but it wasn’t—well, maybe it was—it just wasn’t my plan.

When I first visited a club, Rogers Toastmasters, in late 2003, I wasn’t looking to become a polished speaker or to enhance my leadership skills; I was just looking for a club that would allow my homeschooled, teenaged son to participate, even though he was too young to join. They welcomed his participation, on one condition—I had to join the club!

I joined the club and the next week, I was in a leadership position, as educational vice president, helping to plan club meetings. Over the past few years I have held several club and district leadership positions, greatly improving both my management and leadership skills—“on-the-job” leadership training in the non-threatening and supportive environment that is a hallmark of Toastmasters.

In addition to growing in leadership, I grew in communication skills, through the various projects emphasizing different aspects of communication from the basics of organizing a speech to the challenges of leading discussions. I even entered and won a few speech contests.

As my confidence as a speaker and leader grew, I began to see myself differently. I began to see myself as someone who could use words that could uplift and inspire others—and I could do it on purpose! And, I started with helping people in Toastmasters.

I’ll never forget the first time I mentored someone in Toastmasters—her name was Barb.

Barb was an older woman, in her mid-60s.

When Barb joined my club, I was excited. Now I wasn’t the only woman in the club! I couldn’t wait to hear her icebreaker speech.

The day of her icebreaker arrived and she approached the lectern like someone on a death march. When she got there, she set her notes down, gripped the sides of the lectern, and looked down at her notes and . . . for the next 5 minutes . . . didn’t look up.

Her voice shook. Her hands shook. The lectern—well, it looked like we were having an earthquake. Then, she started to hyperventilate.

It was one of those speeches that both the audience and the speaker couldn’t wait for it to end.

When she finished, she sat down next to me and didn’t say a word until the end of the meeting when she turned to me and said.

“That was awful. I quit.”

I didn’t want her to quit. She was the only other woman, after all!

“Barb, why did you join?” I asked.

“Well, I want to be able to speak at my church to raise funds for a medical mission trip to Argentina.”

“Barb, if that’s still important to you, don’t quit. I’ll help you.”

For the next 6 months, My club members and I helped Barb overcome her fears and polish her presentations.

Six months after that dreadful speech, Barb not only spoke at her church, she also competed in the club humorous speech contest and won!

“I’ll help you.” Powerful words.

Other toastmasters have helped me–encouraged me even more than I have encouraged them—with powerful words of encouragement.

It was with the encouragement of other toastmasters, that I began to consider developing myself as a professional speaker.

Three years ago I applied for a job to teach high school class room workshops for a local college. Vitalia Bryn-Pundyk—she and her husband Roman, are both Distinguished Toastmasters and professional speakers—was a major source of encouragement.  Vitalia was employed at the college and she clued me in that the “information session” was really a thinly disguised audition—everybody had to stand up and talk for a couple of minutes—they used that impromptu speaking to thin the crowd. That was the first of 3 auditions. For the third audition, they told us to prepare to sell something to teens—a product, a service or a concept for 3 minutes. However, they also said, that they would tell us to stop before the 3 minutes was up—when they had heard enough to make a decision.

Picture this: a classroom style room with the two decision makers sitting at the back. 10-15 people who had made it through first two rounds of auditions and this is the final audition. You don’t know how long you really will be speaking, but you know you have to wow them at the start.

Guess how long I spoke before they told me to sit down?

Only 20 seconds.

I used a familiar example—one I’d heard another speaker use—but high school students probably hadn’t.

“Raise your hand if you’d like this $100 bill.”

(I held up  a $100 bill. After most raised their hands, I immediately crumpled the bill, threw it on the ground, stomped on it and then jumped on it with both feet.  I then Then picked up and showed crumpled bill to the audience)

“Do you still want it?” (people raised hands) “Of course! It’s still worth the same!”

“Like this $100 bill, even though some people may have crumpled you, or trampled on you in the past, you are still worth the same.”

I had more but that’s where they stopped me and I got the job.

I could thank my toastmaster experience, and my toastmaster friend’s powerful words of encouragement.

That’s how I got my start as a professional speaker! I now speak to corporations and associations on communication and leadership topics, coach others on speaking and even teach a speech class to homeschooled students.

Where could your powerful words take you?

Now, you might not want to be a professional speaker, but your powerful words can make a difference to yourself and to those you influence. But the most powerful words don’t come out of your mouth accidentally.

Find your powerful words–on purpose–with Toastmasters!

I also have made a short version of my Toastmaster story as a Toastmaster Testimonial Tract that other Toastmasters can use as a template.

Toastmaster Testimonial Tract

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About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

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