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Toastmasters is the best environment I know of for personal and professional improvement. Here’s why.
The process of speechmaking — writing the speech, giving it, receiving an evaluation, and using the evaluation to improve is possibly the purest form of the Deming Cycle, or the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle:
- Plan your presentation — research, draft, and rehearse it
- Do — give the presentation
- Check the presentation — a fellow Toastmaster evaluates your speech
- Act on the evaluation — take what you’ve learned and apply it
(Was W. Edwards Deming a Toastmaster? He should’ve been.)
Everyone in the club I belong to (and, I think it’s safe to say, every Toastmaster) understands and accepts the idea that improvement isn’t something achieved in a vacuum. Furthermore, your own improvement isn’t worth much if the club — meaning your fellow club members — isn’t improving, too. Instead of “me”, it’s about “us”.
You’re never going to get a completely unbiased, objective evaluation but you might be surprised how much more objective evaluations are when everyone is working toward a common goal. Our goals are: (1) to be the best Toastmasters we can be, (2) to help other club members be the best they can be, and (3) to have our club recognized as one of the best in Toastmasters International. You can’t have one without the other two.
Every evaluation is subjective, to some extent. There is no objective method for determining that one speech or performer is better than another, just as there’s no way to say one business project is more deserving of funding than another. But at least there are objectives for every speech and guidelines for every evaluation.
As an evaluator, I make sure the stated objectives were achieved, and I’m allowed to use my own judgment in arriving at my overall evaluation. It’s my duty to avoid presenting my opinion as fact. Furthermore, while I’m the official evaluator for a speech — standing before the group to present a spoken evaluation — every other member in attendance gives their own brief evaluation in writing. That way, it’s not just one person’s opinion.
This is what sets Toastmasters apart from the business environment. We freely acknowledge that our evaluations are, in part, based on opinion and they’re balanced out with dozens of other evaluations.
In the business world, we like to think our evaluations are entirely fact-based and completely objective. Office politics, personal biases, conflicting objectives, and a limited pool of funds for projects tend to blot out any hint of objectivity, though.
We have to continually keep in mind the “bigger picture”. Even if you’re in sales and I’m in IT and we don’t work “elbow-to-elbow” every day and you and I have different departmental and individual objectives…we are working for the same company, toward the same corporate objectives.
We’re not on opposite sides (though we often act like it). Instead of maintaining some semblance of objectivity and keeping our eyes on the same prize, we put our own goals above those of the company and the result of that is never good.
When projects are being presented to a management team for review, each member of the team must base his or her evaluation as much as possible on the facts of the case, keeping in mind the main goal of the review is what’s best for the company. Acknowledge that there is some degree of subjectivity in each person’s evaluation — get that in the open. There’s nothing wrong with having differences of opinion.
So, remember next time you go into a project review, a design review, a performance review…don’t go in with the goal of making yourself look good at someone else’s expense. Instead, evaluate for improvement!
- Lucas, Suzanne, “Managers: Stop the Shuffling“, BNET Blogs, 12 July 2010.