Growing Up in a Magical Community

I don’t go to Toastmasters, I come from Toastmasters.

My friends imagine Toastmasters is where I practice toasting or roasting bread. Bread might be a great addition to our meetings since we meet around dinnertime on Wednesday nights. The truth is we’re a community who practice public speaking. For me that’s only 50% of what it really is. The other half has been the personal adventure I’ve embarked on with this magical community.

Straight out of college I thought I had everything figure out after living in NYC, social dancing for several years and cultivating friendships with people from all over the world. I arrived in Toastmasters hot-headed and thinking, “I’ll just do a couple of speeches because my employer is telling me to do so and then go back to dancing.” I danced religiously nonstop for several years every Wednesday night. But I stumbled on a truth that inspired me to stay around.

In 2013, at Post-Toasties, a get-together after the regular Toastmaster meeting in Palo Alto (yeah we have late-dinner!), we were having one of the usual debates over drinks. A member remarked, “Rocio, aren’t you going to stand up for yourself?” I froze. He had a point. At times I struggled voicing my opinions. I tried to avoid conflict — sometimes settling down with others’ opinions and choices. I had to change this now. I wanted to standup for myself instead of having others telling me to do so.

Someone suggested I join the Officer’s team to grow and to give back to the club. I refused. I already had too much going on in my life. I did not show up to elections to deliver my campaign speech. Eventually I came back and halfway through the term I observed and wondered: Why are members not renewing? Why are the meetings not going well? Why am I not growing…I put the blame on people. But on the way to the parking lot someone stopped me. He challenged to rephrase my questions and even to inspire people by leading. That’s when I first understood the connection between leadership, the club and my personal quest.

I moved away from speeches or talking in front of an audience. I found myself often times performing or reading from the script, instead of speaking from the heart. (I can tell because there was no reaction from people…not even a chuckle).

As an Officer I focused on talking to people and listening, the best way to practice speaking from the heart. It sounds simple like chatting with a friend over drinks. For an introvert like me it was not easy especially when I was the only girl or youngling in the group.

“What you put in the well is what you get from the well” –Gerry Cannon

By working with others in the Officer’s team over the years, I became more aware of my interpersonal dynamics (or as the Stanford GSB calls it –Touchy Feely). I discovered sometimes I was forceful or had too much energy, which may have intimidated and demotivated some members. When it came to recruiting, I found it difficult to persuade people. I struggled to navigate disagreements and debates gracefully when we argued over budget, programs or the schedule. But over time, I built that spark — Confidence — to stand up and say “I don’t agree with this because…or I think there’s another way…” And out in the real world, I started to see the same pattern in my job, my relationships with friends and people. Even my skills in public speaking were refined because I listened before I spoke.

“I knew you were the right person to open our presentation. Way to open the topic and grab the audience’s attention. I love how you added in a throwback to Daniel tying together what we heard earlier. You rocked it, Rocio!” –Senior Manager

Last week, I delivered a solid evaluation with poise and chatted away with the guys at Post-Toasties like a social butterfly. Achieving this level of confidence has taken time and patience. Behind the scenes I had a fair share of panic attacks and also great joys with the friends I have made along the way. I keep coming back to this magical community, even when I hear the toughest feedback, because this is not a lonely adventure. People offered to help. Some really meant it and even hand-held me from my first Officer meeting as president to practicing for the International Speech Contest.

Each meeting, each person, each story I’ve heard and even those random talks at Post-Toasties have empowered me too — helped me blossom into a girl who is not afraid to speak up her mind. This magical community continues to nurture me even today.