As I was thinking about the theme for this edition – Expression – I thought about how hard it was when I was younger to express my thoughts and ideas in public. I was blessed at the beginning stages of my career to be given the wonderful opportunity to participate in the downtown Sioux City Toastmasters group for a few years. This was a great way to learn the basics of public speaking and develop good speaking habits (give a strong introduction, and even stronger close; leave your audience inspired, challenged, and hungry for more) and break some bad speaking habits. (Did you know that at Toastmasters, there is a person assigned to count all the “ah’s” and “uh’s” and “um’s” the speaker utters? And the goal is Zero??? Which is difficult to achieve, believe me!) I strongly recommend you consider Toastmasters if you know that your public speaking skills are, ah, uh, um… maybe a little lacking.
Anyone who has been a part of Toastmasters knows that one of the requirements as you work through the program to advance to the next level is to learn to be successful at Extemporaneous Speeches. This challenging part of the program is when you are brought up to the podium and given a topic with no advance notice or ability to prepare and immediately need to deliver a 3 – 5-minute speech. Believe it or not, some people find this fun! I still remember my topic for my first Extemporaneous Speech – “If you had to be a fork, knife or spoon, which would you be and why?” At the time, I couldn’t imagine a more challenging topic. Now, I realize I got off pretty easy!
I still remember that I chose spoon but don’t remember how I expressed my reasons for this choice. However, I have given some thought to my personality over the years and am happy to stay with the “spoon” decision. I have learned over the years that I am not a knife – a utensil that cuts and divides. I am not a fork, a utensil that can poke and lift layers to decipher and analyze each component. No, I am a spoon – softer edges and a utensil that does stir things up (but gently) and then is used to gather together and lift the portions. In real life, as a person, not a spoon, I work hard at gathering people of differing backgrounds and experiences together and stirring up good conversations and discussions; and then lifting each person individually and jointly to help them stand on their own AND stand together. I have learned enough about myself to express myself in different ways that others can relate to, also. Everyone knows what a spoon, fork, and knife are, explaining personalities by using common utensils can help people truly understand different techniques and styles.
Learning to express your ideas and thoughts clearly, respectfully, but honestly is an important skill. A considerable component of Leadership Siouxland’s curriculum is to provide training on how to have difficult conversations and how to have conversations that are inclusive vs. divisive; that are conversations in which the participants seek to listen to understand vs. listening to persuade or disagree. Expressing our viewpoints in ways that encourage discussion and open dialog is of utmost importance. Within the class, it is a safe environment built on trust and the common desire to learn and grow together.
If you have a desire to improve your leadership skills and ability to express yourself and your viewpoints and experience the delight of learning from others, please consider joining our next class. Applications are now being accepted. Go to www.leadershipsiouxland.org or Leadership Siouxland on Facebook, or contact me at 712-898-8594.
Peggy Smith, Executive Director for Leadership Siouxland