THE ART OF COMMUNICATING, LISTENING, AND PUBLIC SPEAKING
In 2002, an elementary school in Katy, Texas, began experiencing symptoms of a mold problem. My name was referred by a friend of a friend, and I went out there to take a look. Sure enough, some water damage had created serious mold growth that needed to be addressed immediately. The mold was discovered around spring break, and the superintendent decided to extend the vacation another week while the district determined what to do.
Understandably, the parents of the students were not happy to hear about their kids spending time in a school with mold. The superintendent asked me if I would help him address concerns parents might have about the situation in a public forum at one of the district’s high school auditoriums. I agreed to answer a few questions. At the presentation, the superintendent introduced me to the audience, and then completely disappeared, leaving me to address 800 confused, angry, and emotional parents. Being required to deliver an impromptu presentation and answer questions from angry parents alone wasn’t what I planned on doing that evening. But, believe it or not, I had actually trained for this exact situation, thanks to my time with Toastmasters International.
I know many people who have been or are currently members of Toastmasters, but if you’ve never heard of this group before, then the quick explanation is that Toastmasters is an educational organization dedicated to helping people from all walks of life improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. I joined Toastmasters in 1992, and in just a few years, I realized that if I’d joined a decade earlier, not only would I have been much further along in terms of public speaking, but my business would be further ahead, too!
A big part of Toastmasters is getting up and giving speeches, but that’s just one tool. Being a Toastmaster means learning how to organize your thoughts, speak and write without rambling, communicate clearly, listen to others, and think on your feet. All of these things came in handy when I stood in that auditorium, explaining to parents that their children were not in danger and that the mold was being dealt with. After about 30 minutes, the superintendent reappeared, ended the meeting, and everything was fine. The parents were reassured, the school district was happy, and after the mold was dealt with, the kids were able to go back to school with no problem.
I firmly believe that without my Toastmasters training, that presentation could have gone a lot worse. There are few people who can naturally handle themselves under pressure, explain their thoughts eloquently, and reassure an angry crowd of concerned parents. A few years later, I was asked to help address the public and community leaders when another school district suffered a mold problem. This time, I was in front of parents, as well as the press, pastors, and one very rude United States Representative. It was a high profile (and high-stress) situation, but my ability to communicate clearly helped everything go smoothly and reduced problems for my client.
I’ve been a Toastmaster for over two decades, though there was a brief period of time when I wasn’t a member. Another unusual incident involving a client soon convinced me to rejoin.
I was called into a commercial building where a client was complaining about an odor coming from the carpets. Considering the carpets had been put in 18 months before, I thought this was strange. I ran some tests and determined there was a chemical compound in the air that shouldn’t have been there, but I couldn’t tell if it was emanating from the carpet, the carpet backing, or the glue that held the carpets to the floor.
When I gave the building owner my report, he said, “Travis, if this was your building, what would you do?”
I thought about it and said, “If it were my building, I would make sure it was all removed, and that the contractor who put it down took responsibility for whatever mistake was made.”
Further investigation proved the contractor did in fact make a mistake. We learned that the glue that project called for would show blue fibers when held under red light, but the glue holding down the carpet had no such characteristics. The contractor ultimately admitted he didn’t use the glue he was supposed to, taking responsibility for the problem and removing any liability from my client.
Would I have been able to articulate my thoughts so clearly without Toastmaster training? No, probably not. Being a member of Toastmasters International has given me a unique ability to effectively speak on behalf of my clients, address concerned occupants or parents in a way that won’t cause them to become more alarmed, and help ensure the best possible outcome while I’m doing my job. It’s an invaluable skill and one I’m proud to possess.