With these words, Dilip Ahayasekara, the president of the international organization Toastmasters, defined his presidential theme for 2006.
As a member of the Prague Speakers club, Ahayasekara’s message moved me profoundly and since hearing it I have set myself the challenge of exploring its philosophical significance in my own life and in the lives of others.
People around the globe join Toastmasters to improve both their public speaking skills and their self-confidence. By pushing themselves past their fear of speaking publicly, they soon come to understand that the journey they take is as much about self-discovery as it is about becoming a better speaker.
The journey truly is about discovering one’s self.
Voice and identity
Look it up in any dictionary and you will see that the word “voice” is defined as “the distinctive style or manner of expression of a person”. Your voice distinguishes your from others and is one of the most singular ways you have of expressing yourself. In short, it is the best reflection of your unique identity.
At Toastmasters meetings, we encourage members and guests to find their voice by expressing their thoughts, ideas and experiences. It is fascinating to discover that the simple act of telling a story in front of others can often give new insight into life’s events and can clarify the meaning of our challenges, achievements and disappointments.
Our voice can reflect joy and sadness, hope and frustration, passion and fear. It is by far the best measure of an individual’s psychological and emotional well being. Which is why, to find our voice, we need to strip away the emotional barriers that can hide who we really are and what we truly feel.
Our voice tells what is going on in our life. Because our voice is the principal way we communicate with others, it doesn’t take long to discover that what we say is best received when it is fresh and easy to understand.
All this to say that in the end, our voice is a reflection of our character and lets others know who we are and how we take to the world around us.
Unlocking the skills
Because the strength and power of one’s voice is key to success as a public speaker, participants at our Toastmasters meetings learn many practical ways to transform their voice into an instrument that will captivate, convince and/or entertain an audience.
To ensure that even someone with no public speaking experience can achieve such a goal, Toastmasters meetings are structured around the following principles:
- Participants are welcomed into a comfortable environment where they are free to express themselves without criticism or prejudice. In this environment they are accepted for who they are and the ideas they express.
- Participants are encouraged to speak as often as possible during Toastmasters meetings as well as to use their voice whenever the occasion arises in their professional or social lives.
- The support of other members encourages people to get involved and apply the very practical techniques learned at meetings.
- Participants are also pushed to move out of their comfort zone where new and valuable competencies are learned can be combines with existing skills.
Because we encourage one another to find our voice both literally and figuratively, time is spent becoming acquainted with the mechanics of the voice. Posture, breathing and relaxation techniques are skills that can also play a large role in a speaker’s success in front of an audience.
Above all however, our main aim is to find our voice on an emotional level. To do so, participants in Toastmasters must fully understand the values and core beliefs that shape their thinking and influence their behavior.
After all, it is our beliefs and emotions that drive us to get in front of an audience and express our opinions. Therefore, we need to discover what is important to us and let our passion be our guide.
Communicating our thoughts and ideas as a way of reaching out to others is a powerful and exciting emotion. But it cannot be achieved without a good measure of courage to overcome the fear and anxiety of being judged in the eyes of other people.
Fear and anxiety can silence our voice. The rules that limit our behaviors and our relationships with others are often those barriers that keep us from finding our voice. Our desire to make our voice heard can be dampened by our fears of criticism and rejection and by our need to avoid conflict and disagreement.
But silencing our voice means that we hide our true needs and feelings from others as well as from ourselves.
At Toastmasters, we are encouraged to find our voice by discovering our true self, and to train ourselves to care more about who we are and what we think than what those around us may think. Finding our voice is about speaking what is in our heart and in our mind.
Our mistakes are our best teacher, they help us grow and be transformed. Our greatest difficulties, when considered can often show us the truest path to growing into the individuals we were born to become.
Speaking from the heart and telling our truth is an important part of this process. One of the first steps to change our life is to tell the truth about it. And if there are people who cannot be trusted with our truth, and some who won’t understand it no matter what we say or how we say it, there will always be people who will hear us, understand us and care for us. Having the confidence and the ability to say what needs to be said is a fundamental aspect to our growth as human beings.
A voice for others
The author Rollo May wrote in his book “The Courage to Create”: “If you do not express your own original ideas; if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.”
Our voice can help other people face some of the challenges we’ve faced and help them avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made. When we help others by telling our truth, it helps them as much as it helps us.
As a business coach, I have learned that this process of self-discovery often challenges people to help others find their voices. No words are perfect. But when our words come from the heart, then they are a gift to be treasured and shared.
Our voice helps us discover our feelings and what they mean to us. Inside our hearts and minds is a whole world that needs to find a voice. If our words harm no one, lets set them free.
Too often we take our voice for granted, missing the great gifts it can bring when it is set free to express our truth. Which is why, following Dilip Ahayasekara message, I strongly recommend that you find your voice and serve your world.