Man in his early thirties. Project manager in a global IT company. Ambitious. Focused. Aware of the value of his time.
He approached me during a break at a Toastmasters conference: “Lukas, I’m thinking of taking the role of Area Director. But I’m not sure it’s worth the time. How many hours did it take you every week?”
“Zero”, I said.
He did not understand. And my guess is – neither do you. That’s okay. Let me tell you a story.
I joined Toastmasters because I kind of enjoyed speaking and wanted to do more of it in my corporate career. I wanted to facilitate meetings, I wanted to do presentations, I wanted to give workshops. I was not very good at it. I knew I had to improve. Or drown in spreadsheets for the rest of my life.
In June 2014, I gave my first workshop at a Toastmasters conference. It was on mentoring and sucked really bad. Half of the audience fell asleep after ten minutes of my presentation. The remaining six were dozing off since I started. I struggled with the topic for another year, gave the workshop a few more times and in the end, was selected and gave it at the District Conference in Borås in May 2015. Objectively speaking – it sucked a bit less, but it still sucked a lot. I think the best about that workshop was its name. “Morpheus Is Not Coming” Pretty cool, huh? Well, even I was aware that the name of the workshop was not everything. And after delivering it, I really did not feel I was any closer to using my Toastmasters skills in real life.
There was something I was missing – but I didn’t know what it was. Knowledge? Stagetime? Motivation?
Beside the workshop, in Borås I was also officially nominated to the role of Area Director for part of Prague. That pushed me one level up on the Toastmasters Leadership track, but more importantly, it pushed me one level up to a brand new peer group: The District Executive Committee (DEC), a group of the highest ranking Toastmasters leaders in the Eastern half of Europe.
At the time, in Toastmasters I felt that Prague was My town. Now, Eastern half of Europe was a completely new playing field. And all these people, were almost all more experienced than me.
I wondered: “How can I match those people? How can I get those people’s attention? How can I impress them?”
I spoke to a friend who was part of the DEC the previous year.
“You’ll have two chances Lukas. You’ll meet them for one weekend in September and one weekend in February. In both cases, there will be workshops. Maybe you can do one of them.”
This was my chance! I will do a workshop at the September District Executive Committee Meeting in Wroclaw!
Only – I had a problem. I fact, three problems.
1. I had no clue what to give a workshop about.
2. Giving workshops was not my strength.
3. Nobody knew me, so I was very unlikely to even get a speaking slot.
As Homer Simpson puts it: “Doh!”
Luckily, my situation was not completely hopeless.
Michal Talaga, the new Program Quality Director, was coming to Prague in summer to check our Club Officer Training. That was good news. He was the guy who would put together the agenda for the September DECM.
I did not leave anything to chance. I collected personal intelligence about him to find out “What is this strange guy really like?” I arranged an after-Training-party to get a chance to pitch my workshop-delivering abilities. I clearly expressed my intent to speak in Wroclaw.
I did not get any direct feedback from Michal whether that worked or not. On weekly basis, I was mailing him that: “I really want to do the workshop, just so that you know.” I did not get any specific answer. Until one day…
On September 1st, he responded: “Finally got to setting up the training for Wroclaw.” He even had a topic for me: “Building Successful Teams.”
Fantastic! Even my first problem – got solved – now I knew what to talk about! Five minutes later, my fingers typed a reply in a burst of enthusiasm:
“Wow, super, sounds more than awesome! I’m in!”
“Don’t be so happy. Look at the official material and shed a tear or two.”
This strange guy (whom I kind of got to like after his Prague visit) could not discourage me! I had only one problem to solve. I had never delivered a really good workshop.
Here, luck found me again. As Keith Ferrazzi puts it: “Conference is a place to meet people who can change your life.” Back in May, on the way to Borås, I spent a whole day walking in the streets of Gothenburg with a man more polite than a Japanese teacher of etiquette: The new District Administration Manager – and, in this case, I realized he was also – Dale Carnegie Master Trainer – Andrei Popescu.
Of course! Doing it alone – that’s tough. But with a real pro?
“Hey Andrei, how about doing a workshop together?”
A few weekends, a handful of Skype calls and one Sunday-early-morning-after-party-in-person meeting later, I stood in front of 60 District Officers from the Eastern half of Europe and shared with Andrei the biggest applause I got until that moment – for the workshop we delivered. To be honest, it was Andrei who brought most of the cool ideas; it was Andrei who played the funny videos; and it was Andrei who gave us direction throughout the whole preparation. Still, the fact was: I got the brand of the workshop guy and got enough confidence to do it alone the next time.
It All Started in Wroclaw
Today, many workshops, invitations to conferences and Britney Spears songs later, I still keep this in mind: It all started in Wroclaw. Thanks to Michal who gave me the opportunity even though I didn’t have any track record; thanks to Andrei who was willing to share the stage with me; and thanks to all Toastmasters Leaders present in the room on that Sunday morning, whom I so much wanted to impress and who were such a supportive audience.
How many hours did being an Area Director take me?
It didn’t take any.
It gave me lots.
It gave me an opportunity to work with people who put their trust in me; to learn from people who were better than me; and to deliver in front of people whom I respected and who were a supportive audience. Every minute I spent doing this was a minute I gave – because I wanted.
How many hours would you give?
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