The hand of friendship

Yes Toastmasters Club celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary with a simple, out-of-cycle meeting on Friday the 14th September.

No big deal, right? After all, Toastmasters is approaching its centenary.  There are hundreds of clubs that have been around for decades, so what’s all the fuss about?

For me, it is. And I’m writing this down for my own memory’s sake.

I’d moved with my family to Australia in 2009.  I’d struggled to find work, make friends & all the other challenges that a new migrant finds themselves in in the first year or so, sometimes longer. In my case, a chance meeting, about 4 months into this life-upending move, with someone who worked at Optus, turned into a 3 week contract, & then a  6.5 year stint there for me. A life-changing event but this story is about something else.

I’d been at Optus for a few months, when I realised that there was a Toastmasters club in there. I’d married into a family of Toastmasters, & had it inflicted on me previously 🙂 so I knew what it entailed. So I decided to go along to a meeting. It was at work after all, lunch time, & I knew how welcoming these people are, so what I did I have to lose?

I walked down to the room that was listed on the campus info email. I don’t think I’ve been that nervous even at my own wedding. The room was at the end of a long corridor, & there seemed to be a handful of people in there. Yeah, I can do this, I thought to myself. And then, I have no idea why, I had butterflies. What if they don’t understand me? English is my fourth/fifth language, & these people are all going to judge me. Nope, not worth shattering my already frail self-esteem, & I literally ran back to my desk.

I did that for at least four months after that – every Wednesday at lunch time, I’d walk down that hall, pretend I was looking for a different meeting room, peer inside & then walk away. It was on my 17th attempt that as I was peering into the room, a man simply put his hand out, introduced himself, & said, “Welcome to Yes Toastmasters. Have you been here before?”  I have no idea if he’d seen me on my previous aborted missions, or if it was an innocent banal question.  I mumbled something, & sat down in that room that day.

There was no timer that day, so I offered to do the role. It is, for those who’ve never done it before, a fairly difficult role, especially when you don’t quite know who’s speaking, or the club’s customs, but I remembered getting praised for my effort, even a little comment about how I seemed to be a natural, even though it was my “first time” 🙂 Little did they know I’d done this many times before!

I remembered the feeling at the end of that meeting.  The group, made up of Aussies & migrants & second generation Aussies & for some for whom English was like me a second or third or fourth language were friendlier than I’d expected. In fact, a couple spoke to me for a while after the meeting, most likely missing their lunch.

I joined that first meeting simply to make a few friends, & grow my confidence in public speaking. That meeting changed my life.  It has done so for all my time there, & then some. I’ve served every year on the committee in some official or unofficial role. I’ve given tens of speeches, struggled through hundreds of table topics & given as many evaluations. And I remember none of them. What I remember though is the hundreds of people I’ve been privileged to listen to, meet, & in many cases, to call my friends.

And most importantly, I’ve never forgotten the feeling of having Suben reach out & offer a heartfelt welcome. It’s something I’ve tried to remember at every Toastmasters meeting when we’ve had guests. It’s become a part of me at every work or social event that I’ve found myself at, when I notice someone on their own.

I’d never told anyone about that first meeting. Coincidentally, it was in the same room that we were celebrating the 10th anniversary meeting. I stood up as the last impromptu speaker, & memories came flooding back. They gushed forth, leaving me choking. And I could feel everyone of the 30 or so guests in the room egging me on. Suben was in the audience, & I may have seen a pair of moist eyes.

Happy 10 Years Yes Toastmasters. And with the legacy you’re built on, I have no doubt, you’ll last a ten-fold more.

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