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  • Karen Brook

‘We’re Short Tonight!’

There are times in my life -when I don’t want ‘to do’. What I do want is opportunities to sit back and relax. I want to immerse myself in what’s going on around me, listen and soak it all in.... at my leisure. However, if I’m having ‘to do’, I feel compelled to achieve something and that can add more pressure to my day.


Sometimes I want to do a speech because I want to progress in my learning Pathway. However it takes focus to write a speech, practice it over and over and then to deliver it. Life is busy as it is. Other times, I want to sit, switch off from daily life and focus on listening to my fellow toastmasters as they grow in confidence in front of me. Mostly, I usually combine sitting and listening with taking on a meeting role. Partly because of the skills I’m learning from these roles (listening, leadership, presentation and teamwork skills) and partly because the roles are vacant and need to be filled for a successful and entertaining meeting.


Many years ago, I chose to take on the role of Ah Counter for a second time. I rehearsed my introduction on numerous occasions before the meeting, however I was still apprehensive about standing up in front of an audience and delivering just one minute’s worth of words.


At the meeting, before it began, I ran through my introduction inside my head for the umpteenth time. ‘Karen! Can you be our Grammarian tonight!’ exclaimed the Toastmaster of the meeting. ‘I’m the Ah Counter’ I replied nervously. ‘We’re short tonight’ he said. ‘Sometimes the Ah Counter doubles up as the Grammarian. Pick a word of the day that you can explain to us and write it on the flip chart’.


On reflection, the Toastmaster had confidence in my abilities.... although I did not! I wanted to grab my bag, run from the room and go home. I wanted to do one role well, not two roles badly! My mind went into panic mode. I couldn’t even think of a word to use. And my grammar? Let’s put it this way, I spent my time day dreaming in my English lessons!


Finally, I was able to calm down to think of an appropriate word to explain to the audience and for the audience to use the word as often as they could during their speeches. I even remember the word. It was ‘nebulous’. But I was still worried about my Grammarian report, so I focussed on the descriptive language used throughout the meeting, rather than on the grammar. Encouragingly, I received positive feedback for both roles and no one criticised me for not picking up correct/incorrect grammar. I learnt three lessons that night.


• One, the Toastmaster had confidence in me when I had doubted my ability.


• Two, I felt I was being thrown to the lions, however I had my baptism of fire and felt more confident in handling a similar scenario in the future.


• Three, I really needed to brush up on my grammar!


After the meeting, I decided, it was a good idea to try all the roles, so that I had some experience incase I was called upon to step up at short notice (this can be the case for the experience members of Toastmasters, when a member is unable to attend at short notice). I also didn’t want to become rusty at doing the roles. When life is busy, I can choose one that doesn’t take too much preparation. When I have more time, I take on a more challenging role.


When I became more experienced, I went through a stage of clicking onto the agenda to notify members that I was attending, but waited until shortly before the meeting to ‘mop up’ the last role, giving other members more choice of what role they wanted to do. It wasn’t until I was preparing to host one of the meetings, that I wondered why the roles were not being filled that I realised that maybe several members were doing the same thing as me! I then had a lot of chasing up to do with members to get the agenda filled at short notice!


Meeting roles are opportunities to speak in front of an audience and learn different skills such as listening, planning, unleashing your creativity, leadership and teamwork. And you can have fun and plenty of entertainment doing the roles.


So don’t wait for those words ‘We’re short tonight’! Get your name down early on the agenda for meeting roles -it will save both you and the Toastmaster from pulling your hair out! Be proactive learning new skills and let you be the one, to choose the meeting roles that will benefit and enhance your leadership journey.

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