Last Thursday, I attended my first Toastmasters meeting in weeks. Later that night, when a Toastmasters friend based in a foreign country asked me about the meeting, I replied, “It was a fun learning experience.”

A Toastmaster for decades, I always find Toastmasters’ meetings interesting. There is always something new to learn.

Take, for example, the Connections Toastmasters Club meeting I attended last Thursday night. The theme of the meeting was “The Last Supper” because it was Holy Thursday and a day before Good Friday, a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at Calvary and the redemption of Christians.

The table topics that night focused on servant leadership, as shown by Jesus Christ in serving his disciples and followers and true leadership.

Table topics are impromptu speeches during a Toastmasters meeting. The purpose is to assist members to think on their feet and speak on a particular subject for between one and two minutes. It also provides speaking opportunities for those who do not have roles at the meeting.

As a Business Studies student, I know about many other common leadership styles like democratic leadership, autocratic leadership and bureaucratic leadership but not servant leadership. Thanks to the Table Topics section that night, now I know servant leadership prefers power-sharing models of authority and encourages collective decision-making.

Four club members were selected by the Table Topics Master to speak on the subjects and as Table Topics Evaluator, my role that night was to evaluate them and share my evaluations with the audience.

Through the years, I have performed this role numerous times and each time it is a new experience because the speakers and the topics are different. When you are the Table Topics Evaluator, you also have to be on your toes to make your evaluations meaningful to the participants.

At the end of the meeting, one of the participants went home with The Best Speaker award. It was a unanimous vote by all those present.

What I enjoy most about every Toastmasters meeting are the prepared speeches. Different manuals have different purposes and objectives. And different speakers will do projects from the different manuals.

Many new Toastmasters are now continuing their personal and professional development through Pathways, Toastmasters’ new education programme.

Toastmasters International, the world leader in developing communication and leadership skills, launched the Pathways learning experience last year. The launch marked the first complete redesign of Toastmasters’ education programme since the organisation was founded by Ralph C. Smedley in 1924

Pathways is designed to help the members build the competencies they need to communicate and lead. They have the opportunity to build up to 300 unique competencies and can choose from 11 specialised learning paths. The contents which are available online so that they can learn anytime and anywhere are available in Arabic, English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, Spanish and Traditional Chinese.

Toastmasters International now has more than 352,000 members in 141 countries and more than 16,400 individual clubs.

At Connections Toastmasters meeting last Thursday, two new members were doing speeches from Pathways while two did theirs from the old educational programme.

The title of one of the speeches from Pathways, “Where has the time gone?” reminded me of the song “Where have all the flowers gone?” while another Pathways’ speech entitled, “Life at the sea” reminded me of the book, “The Old Man and The Sea” by Ernest Hemingway.

In his speech, “Where has the time gone?”, the new member actually shared tips for effective time management while in “Life at the sea,” the other member shared stories about foreign countries he visited while serving on board a ship.

From the old educational programme, another member, a well-known property developer, was doing project number five from The Competent Communicator manual. The title of his speech was “I am a property man”. That night, we learnt about his latest condominium project in Kuching City.

Yet another member was attempting a “Speak off the cuff” project from the Specialty Speeches manual for her Advanced Communicator Silver award. She was asked to speak about the differences between a good teacher and a great teacher.

“Wow!” I thought to myself. “A lot of new things to learn tonight.”

Decades ago, I joined Hornbill City Toastmasters Club to improve my communications and public speaking skills. I am now a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) after successfully achieving the highest level of educational achievement in Toastmasters. I received the award under the traditional education programme.

To earn the DTM designation, I had to earn the Competent Communicator (CC) award, earn the Competent Leader (CL) award, serve at least six months as a club officer, serve a complete one-year term as a district officer, serve as a club sponsor, mentor or coach, participate in the preparation of a Club Success Plan, earn my Advanced Communicator Gold or Advanced Toastmaster Gold award and earn my Advanced Leader Silver or Advanced Leader award.

The requirements to achieve the DTM have changed slightly with Pathways. To earn the DTM in Pathways, a member is required to complete two learning paths, serve as a club officer for 12 months and participate in a district-sponsored club officer training programme, serve a complete one-year term as a district officer, serve successfully as a club mentor or coach, serve successfully as a club sponsor or conduct a Speechcraft or Youth Leadership programme and complete the DTM project.

Some people are born communicators and public speakers. They are superb and have no problems talking off the cuff. One such person I know is Datuk John Lau, past International President (2012-2013) of Toastmasters International and the only Malaysian so far to be elected President of the international organisation. I don’t know how he does it but he can present a complete impromptu speech with proper introduction, body and conclusion!

Unlike him, I am a trained communicator and public speaker. If you want a good speech from me, you have to give me time to prepare and rehearse. An introvert by nature, my journey towards DTM has been long and challenging. I could not have achieved it without the help of many Toastmasters friends like Datuk John Lau.

Dear friends, if you want to improve your communication and public speaking skills, how about joining a Toastmasters Club? If you do all the required speeches, you will really benefit from the training. Like me, you will become a better speaker and leader.