Fly High in Formation
My assigned topic as a participant in the Area Governors Speak-off for Founders District was 1983-84 International President Eddie Dunn’s “Experience the Power of Toastmasters” theme. As I began preparing the speech my emphasis was on “power,” the tremendous power of the Toastmasters organization. In a short time, however, I found my emphasis shifting to “experience.”
I began to realize the power of Toastmasters is like the power of a storage battery. The power is always there, but to realize its benefit you must make a connection to the battery. Experience is the connection for tapping the power of Toastmasters and participation is the key to experience.
As I pondered this new insight I remembered a lesson I learned from my dad on a warm spring day many years ago in northern Minnesota. As we fished for trout on the Prairie River my attention was drawn to a flight of geese heading north to their summer home in Canada. My youthful curiosity aroused, I asked my dad why the geese were flying in a “V” formation. He said geese fly in formation because they can travel up to 30 percent faster in formation than if they fly individually.
Each goose was flying independently and yet they were all flying together. The formation’s structure gave them the extra speed. In that simple concept is the reason Toastmasters is such a powerful force today. Each of us works independently within the Toastmasters structure to improve communication and leadership abilities and is able to grow at a much faster rate than if we work alone.
By uniting individuals within the Toastmasters club we have a true demonstration of synergy – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The structure provided by the Communication and Leadership manual -and a well-run Toastmasters meeting create the same result as the “V” formation for the geese.
As I thought about that flight of geese after all these years I realized they also knew where they were going. They had a goal – their summer home in Canada. We as Toastmasters have goals as well. We all work to become Competent Toastmasters, Able Toast-masters and ultimately Distinguished Toastmasters. In the process of achieving those goals we achieve our goal of becoming more effective communicators and leaders.
The geese also have commitment. I have never heard of a flight of geese giving up and stopping in Kansas. They always reach their goal. Without structure, without the direction of a goal, without the commitment to reach our goal, we begin to wander aimlessly and lose momentum in our growth in communication and leadership.
My dad also told me the geese take turns in the lead position, the most demanding position in the “V” formation. When the lead goose begins to tire another quickly takes its place, enabling the lead goose to fall back into line to rest and regain energy.
Again the analogy is particularly relevant to the Toastmasters situation. Every six months we elect a new slate of officers and each week a different member serves as Toastmaster of the day. Maintaining the role as dub president for too long a time, just as flying at point too long, will result in reduced performance and leadership burnout.
In addition to the built-in sharing-the-load benefits, the Toastmasters method results in sharing the learning opportunity. Members are able to exercise leadership skills by participating as Toastmaster of the day or as an officer of the club. We learn more about our leadership style and become more effective in achieving results through other people.
Learning leadership in Toastmasters has two advantages. First, it is a totally safe environment. I don’t ever remember hearing about the president of a Toastmasters club being fired. In fact most clubs go to the other extreme, honoring even ineffective presidents with a plaque at the end of their terms.
Second, in a leadership role in Toastmasters you possess virtually no position power. You are therefore forced to achieve results by the use of personal power. Threats of reprisal don’t work in Toastmasters, but setting a positive example yields fantastic results. As the vice president of a manufacturing company I am very much aware of the scarcity of effective leaders in the United States today. So I am amazed by the reluctance of Toastmasters to participate in this greatest of leadership learning experiences, serving as officers of their Toastmasters club.
There is more to the lesson of the geese. The next thing my dad told me was that when a goose becomes too tired to continue the journey, at least one other goose stays with it97to watch over it, protect it and support it until it is strong enough to fly on. Here the obvious Toastmasters analogy is the mentor program, where an experienced club member is assigned to direct, assist, support and encourage a new Toastmaster.
However, in strong Toastmasters clubs the support extends beyond the designated role of mentor. All members rally to support a faltering fellow member, with an encouraging comment on the brief evaluation form, a touch or a word after the meeting or a telephone call to share a reaction or offer support.
Lastly, my dad said the noisy honking that draws your attention to a flight of geese also has its purpose. He told me the noise came from the geese at the back of the “V” honking encouragement to the geese in the more difficult roles at the front of the “V.” The Toastmasters tradition of applauding all participants fulfills this same role and so should the evaluation process. Some may feel that viewing evaluation as encouragement is a contradiction. But it is only a contradiction if the evaluation is destructive.
The role of evaluation in Toastmasters is to provide direction and support: direction in identifying areas for improvement and support in acknowledging positive aspects of a speech and progress the speaker is making. We should never underestimate the power of positive feedback nor should we ignore the absolute need to provide direction.
The flock of geese flew on to their destination in Canada. The memory of that warm spring day on the Prairie River in northern Minnesota is melted into the memory of many similar days of my youth. But the lesson I learned from my dad that day will never be forgotten. It has made my Toastmasters experience and my life a whole lot richer. It has helped me to understand the value of total participation in Toastmasters.
I encourage you to make the connection of total participation in the Toastmasters program. Participate as a club, area, division or district officer. Participate in the educational programs, the speech contests, the workshops. Participate in Youth Leadership, Speechcraft and the Success/Leadership programs. If you do, then you will know what it means to “Experience the Power of Toastmasters.”
By Jack M. Kantola
Published in April 1985 Issue of The Toastmaster