In Toastmasters, Learn to Give Gifts (and other tips from Seth Godin’s Linchpin)

It’s Not Easy to Give Gifts

Some eight years ago, I challenged myself to participate in the Random Act of Kindness Week.

The idea: Perform an act of kindness for a stranger.

First, I wanted to get someone a cup of coffee in Starbucks. But just as I approached the counter, I stressed out and bought the latte just for myself.

In my second kindness attempt, I bought an expensive bar of chocolate with the plan to give it to a receptionist in our office building.

As I entered the building and started approaching the reception, my heart started pounding as if I was sprinting, and the rate of my perspiration made me doubt whether I was not in a sauna. I wasn’t. I was just nervous about giving a gift.

In the end, I succeeded. But the moment I handed the receptionist the bar of chocolate, I ran away so quickly that I did not even notice her reaction.

Giving gifts is not as easy as one might think.

Who Is a Linchpin

In Seth Godin’s Linchpin, giving gifts is a metaphor for our original contribution to our jobs. It’s easy (and not emotionally challenging) to do what we’re told and follow the rules.

But whenever we want to do anything “extra,” we need a little courage.

In the book Linchpin, Godin aims to make us “go for it.”

Who is a Linchpin?

A couple of illustrations from the book:

“Leaders don’t get a map or a set of rules. Living life without a map requires a different attitude.”

“Linchpins are able to embrace the lack of structure and find a new path, one that works.”

“She (Linchpin) is the key player, the one who’s difficult to live without, the person you can build something around. You reject whining about the economy and force yourself to acknowledge that the factory job is dead. Instead, you recognize the opportunity of becoming indispensable, highly sought after, and unique.”

Seth Godin, Linchpin

One of the things Seth Godin underlines is that being a Linchpin will make you super-desired to work with. Both for your current employer, for potential new ones in the future, or directly for your clients.

5 Linchpin Tips to Practice in Toastmasters

Good news for you, Toastmaster: You can practice gift-giving a-la Linchpin in Toastmasters. Below are five quotes, insights, and actionable tips that will bring you one step closer to becoming a Linchpin yourself.

1. Go all the way

“Being slightly remarkable is a losing strategy. Blander than bland can work, and it has. Indispensable linchpin works, and it is the future. But the in-between spaces are scary.”

– Seth Godin, Linchpin

General Insight: Once you decide to stand out from the crowd, go all-in. Half-assing this won’t get you far.

Toastmasters Tip: In your speeches, try something that no one else in your Toastmasters club tried before. You don’t need to come up with original stuff, just stuff that people don’t know in Toastmasters. Watch stand-up comedians. Watch TEDx Talks. Read books on presentation skills. And then – be bold in trying things out!

2. Think of Who You Work For

“If you are working only for the person you report to according to the org chart, you may be sacrificing your future.”

Seth Godin, Linchpin

Insight: Sure, make your boss happy, but then – think about who else you can make happy.

Toastmasters Tip: If you have an officer role: Think of who is your “boss.” I know what you’ll say: There are no real bosses in Toastmasters. On the other hand – there is always someone you can call a boss. Think of what you need to do to make that person 100% satisfied with your work. Then: Think of who else you can make happy with your work.

3. Make Bad News Fuel Your Learning

“If bad news changes your emotional state or what you think of yourself, then you’ll be attached to the outcome you receive. The alternative is to ask, “Isn’t that interesting?” Learn what you can learn, then move on.”

Seth Godin, Linchpin

Insight: When things don’t work out, don’t despair. Take notes.

Toastmasters Tip: If your speech ends up in a catastrophe and your evaluator tears it apart, don’t break down in tears. This is your training ground, remember? Write down what did not work, why, and what can you do better next time.

4. Liberate Yourself by Accepting Failure

“(..) you might fail. Of course you might. In fact, you will. Not all the time, certainly, but more than you’d like. “

Seth Godin, Linchpin

Insight: Liberate yourself by accepting the inevitability of failure before you start preparing anything.

Toastmasters Tip: This works for a speech, a membership campaign, a conference. Then do your best to make it work anyway. Consider yourself liberated from your own unrealistic expectations.

5. Always Move Forward

“Doesn’t matter if you’re always right. It matters that you’re always moving.”

Seth Godin, Linchpin

Insight: Doing something with the risk of failing is more useful than doing nothing and being 100% safe.

Toastmasters Tip: Reach out for opportunities you’re not 100% convinced you are ready for. A 15-minute educational speech? Two-hour workshop? Division Director role? Did you say you’ve never done those things before? Well, it’s time you did!


Whenever you’ll find any of the tips above hard to try in reality, think of them as gift giving. Yes, you will be trying something new. Yes, it will probably be uncomfortable. But if you think of your actions as a gift to the people around you, you will find the motivation to overcome your discomfort.

May the results be your reward.

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