The Real Meaning of Toastmasters- Reflection on 25 years,

As I write this blog, I’m sitting at the dining room table where a small group of my Toastmaster family gathered in November to share in the celebration of my 25-year anniversary in the organization.

That night, the room was alive with boisterous conversations and intriguing stories of experiences, heartaches and triumphs. The laughter was contagious and complimented the culinary delights that were passed around the table.

The only thing that got too heated was the tiny fire in the oven from my bacon wrapped scallops! This ridiculous oversight by the hostess, yours truly, will be the topic of many speeches and embarrassing stories to come.

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Jason, Don and Pat: before the flames!

The evening ended on a fun and creative note as we formed a large circle about the kitchen and asking asked each other Table Topics questions.  One of the most memorable responses came from a husband of a Toastmaster I work with.  His impromptu query was “Grateful Dead or Led Zeppelin?” and he enthusiastically answered that he had seen both bands live and shared a short rainbow of memories.

A long time Toastmaster and past International Director, Don Griffith, asked me to talk about my journey in Toastmasters over the years and I happily shared my adventures of joining my first club, Word R Us, in Bentonville, Arkansas and how so many people have touched and changed my life.

When I joined this organization, I had no idea that I would have such an extended circle of amazingly talented and generous friends and colleagues. For this I am eternally grateful.

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The club I helped charter at Charles Schwab- Lone Tree, CO-  2015

In this time of deep and divisive polarization in America, it was heartening to see so many people come together in peace and good will, with the simple goal of celebrating a positive achievement. The group had two things in common, 1) we are part of the human race and 2) we are (or are spouses of) Toastmasters.

It is a rare, novel and happy occasion to have a group of people of such diverse political, religious and cultural backgrounds come together to simply laugh, plays games and tell stories.

After this milestone and event, I reflected upon the real meaning of Toastmasters that goes beyond the communication and leadership skills it builds in its members.

To me, the real meaning of Toastmasters is fueled by the authentic connections and camaraderie which lifts so many spirits and inspires so many to achieve their dreams.

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Great people from District 26, Colorado- Deborah, Mitch and Linda

The real meaning of Toastmasters is: 

People Sharing Life, Love and Laughter

Like a health tonic with the ability to uncover superpowers, Toastmasters clubs across the world are making a positive difference in this challenging and sometimes lonely world.

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A Christmas Party with friends from the Titan Toastmasters club in Lone Tree, CO

I was so happy to be able to celebrate my 25thAnniversary with so many special and talented people.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store in the next quarter century and I’ll be sure to cater the event to avoid a flaming surprise!

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The Courage to Communicate: From Bowling Alone to Better Angels

Being Aware

Bowling Alone

Bold Action

Better Angels

Add a “Q” and I give you Brenda’s Audacious Quest!

I now have the courage to communicate an important message and mission that I hope will resonate with you.

I feel that my 25 years as an active Toastmaster member has prepared me for this moment and I’m happy and excited to get started on a new and somewhat scary endeavor.

Written as a full sentence:

Over the course of time I became aware of the bold action needed to go from Bowling Alone to Better Angels.

At this point you may be asking-  what the hell am I talking about?

How much time?

What bold action?

What is Better Angels?

Simply put, my goal and quest is to help depolarize America.

What?

I want to improve our country’s health, one conversation at a time.

Why? 

Like many of you, I am saddened and tired of how divided we have become as a country.

Other reasons include my desire to:

  • Reduce our collective stress
  • Make our communities stronger
  • Increase civic engagement and bridging social capital

How?

I am an Organizer for Better Angels, a citizens’ organization that is uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. 

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So what does Bowling Alone have to do with this?

It all started in the early 1990s when I joined a bowling team called the Misfits.

I was living in northwest Arkansas in a town called Bentonville, the location of the world headquarters of my employer, Wal-Mart. 

To blow off some steam from my intense data center operations job, I joined a local bowling league and happily knocked down some pins every week with total strangers.  We named our team the Misfits and we proudly wore dorky, self- designed black T-shirts with a cheesy silk-screened logo. I had nothing in common with my teammates except the love of the game and the fact that we lived in the same state.  I didn’t remain in Arkansas for more than a few years but I have fond memories of the strong and happy social connections we shared.  Although we may have differed politically, religiously and socio-economically, we bonded and cared for each other.   To this day, I still love to bowl and miss my Misfit friends in Arkansas.

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The other major thing I did while living in Arkansas was join Toastmasters International.

My first experience was in a club called “Words R Us”. It was a diverse and jovial group ranging from southern Baptist preachers to Italian-American transplants from New York.  We all learned from each other and developed a wonderfully supportive culture of tolerance and inclusion.  The club was a true melting pot of ideas, styles and perspectives where everyone was welcomed and all views considered.  I remember enjoying the nights when we held actual debates in a point-counterpoint format.  Pastor Willie Brown was my favorite club member and I always enjoyed listening to his impassioned speeches even though I often disagreed with his point of view. His big smile and hearty laugh were many times the highlight of my week.

Another important and impactful memory I have is from a speech I gave in 2005 while I living in San Diego.   I was the Test Speaker at a Toastmaster Evaluation contest and the title of my speech was called “Bowling Alone”.  I remember using my bowling ball as a prop and discussing the importance and benefits of participating in bowling leagues and other community groups.  While stressing the importance of bridging social capital and community involvement, I lamented the fact that fewer and fewer people were joining and attending local clubs and events and this was having a negative effect on our country’s civic engagement.  My speech was inspired by the book by Robert D. Putnam titled “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” and focused how the reduction in all forms of in person social activities has caused a decline in social capital.   My message was powerful and I recall many people coming up to me after the speech to express their thoughts and concerns on the topic.

 

Five years after giving the “Bowling Alone” speech, I found myself living in Littleton, CO and a member of the Columbine Communicators Toastmasters club.   There I was again impacted and inspired by the events and people in the local community. The opening words of my presentation that cold day in 2010 were “another school shooting”.   My husband filmed this sober speech with its bold call to action and shared it on YouTube where it has been viewed 3,935 times.  The title of that speech was “Bowling Alone: How to Rebuild our Communities”.

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Fast forward nine years, two more moves and I’m living in Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s 2019 and our country’s civil discourse is at crisis levels. 

The intense amount of polarization is startling to this socially engaged joiner of Toastmasters clubs across the county.  I never imagined that the United States of America would become so divided that friends and family members are not speaking to each because they support different political parties or candidates.

So here I am with my bowling background and public speaking experience, ready to try to bring people together to learn how to communicate again.

My audacious quest is simple yet lofty.

I want to help build bridges and real live connections to overcome our culture of contempt.

I want to help people to see the human faces of their family, friends and neighbors.

I want to help provide a safe environment and forum so people can begin to listen to the shared values and stories of those with whom they disagree.

I want to provide the skills and training for people to have productive conversations.

I want to bring together reasonable people of goodwill to have a sincere dialogue and a healthy competition of ideas.

I want to face fear and contempt with jovial strength and warm heartedness.

I want to listen and find common ground.

I want to disagree without being disagreeable.

I want to live up to Abraham Lincoln’s words below and be a Better Angel. 

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

My name is Brenda Smull and I am organizing a free Communication Skills Workshop in Phoenix, AZ on June 15th, 2019.

Please spread the word and let me know your thoughts on my audacious goal.

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My Compelling Blog: Part 8 (WXYZ)

This is the final post of My Compelling Blog series and the letters are WXYZ.

Words

Xenophile

Yoga

Zest

Words have power.

As a speaker, mentor and now writer, I have a great appreciation for the strength, meaning and impact of words.

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How you ever noticed how many quotes, rules and words of wisdom there are that refer to watching what words you use and how you speak?

Be impeccable with your word.- The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz

Be precise in your speech.  12 Rules for Life, Jordon B. Petersen

Silence speaks when words fail.- Unknown

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Xenophile–  I like this word better than the more commonly used antonym, xenophobe.  A xenophile is a person who has a love of foreign people and cultures.  I like that.

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My friend Shardul, a xenophile and world traveler

Yoga– Some of my best friends have shared their zest for yoga with me.

Here’s a wonderful quote by Amit Ray that frames yoga and words.

“Exercises are like prose,

whereas yoga is the poetry of movements.

Once you understand the grammar of yoga;

You can write your poetry of movements.”

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Zest- I’ll end this compelling blog series like I started it- with great enthusiasm and energy.

My zest for writing and sharing thoughts, ideas and images is what keeps life interesting and I am glad that you have joined me on the journey!

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For those of you who love lists, here are the 26 words I have featured in my last 8 blogs:

Action

Bold

Creativity

Don’t

Encourage

Faceplants

Giving

Heroes

Inspire

Just

Keep

Laughing

Molding

Novel

Outlooks

Perspective

Quality

Reputation

Standards

Trust

Unites

Values

Words

Xenophile

Yoga

Zest

My Compelling Blog: Part 7 (TUV)

Welcome to Part 7 of My Compelling Blog where the featured letters are T, U and V.

I had the hardest time choosing three words this time.  So many words, thoughts and concepts have been swirling in my head this past week and in the end, after countless lists and sticky notes, I landed on Trust Unites Values (with Vision and Voice).

Okay so there are 3 V words, you’ll see why in a moment.

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Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States

I’ve always been inspired by the leadership and oratory skills of the many great Presidents of the United States and since today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, I thought it fitting to share this perspective and story which was featured in the LA Times.

Below is an excerpt of an article by David Blackenhorn, President of Better Angels titled “ Today’s leaders should ask themselves:  What would Lincoln do?”

“In 1865, when Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address, the Civil War was nearing an end, and he was already thinking about how “to bind up the nation’s wounds.” In that same address, when he urged “malice toward none,” he meant it.

Throughout his political career, Lincoln rejected dogmatism, embraced pragmatism, and sought compromise, something that often didn’t sit well with those he considered his allies. 

Lincoln chose humor over vitriol and understanding over judgment. He liked telling stories more than delivering lectures and making suggestions more than issuing orders. A strong, confident man, but one who also experienced dark depression, Lincoln was mild-mannered. His capacity for empathy was striking to those around him.

Lincoln had important flaws, but was providentially suited to his times. In a time of disunity, he tried to remind Americans what united them.

Amid conflict, he sought conciliation.

Amid anger, he advocated “charity for all.”

Amid despair, he summoned “the better angels of our nature.”

On his birthday, today’s leaders would do well to contemplate his wisdom.”

Link to LA Times Article

And so it was honest Abe who was trusted by millions of Americans to unite a fractured nation.  He used Trust to Unite our Values with his Vision and Voice.

It is my hope that our nation’s leaders today choose humor over vitriol and understanding over judgment.  I can dream, right?

I wish you all a safe and happy President’s weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Compelling Blog: Part 1 (ABC)

2019 is here and it’s time to change things up!  After six years of writing this blog,  I’m ready to step outside the fox and try something new.

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Red Fox in Colorado. Photo by Steve Smull

Thanks to the Toastmasters Pathways program, I am expanding my horizons as it relates to my communication and blogging skills.  To finish up Level 4 on the Effective Coaching path, I need to complete one (1) elective project from a list which included activities such as:  Create a Podcast, Managing a Difficult Audience and Public Relations Strategies.

For many reasons, I chose the “Write a Compelling Blog” project and am ready to take Strong Words and Simple Truths to the next level.

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My new challenge and project objective is to write 8 blogs in a one-month period.

Twice a week I will share my thoughts, ideas and insights on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I plan to use the alphabet as my guide and will run through the 26 letters in 8 weeks ( 3 letters per article with a big bang of V-W-X-Y-Z for the part 8 series finale).

Here we go with Part 1 of my Compelling Blog!

Starting with A, B and C.

WHAT

A- Action, take it.

B- Bold, be it.

C- Creativity, nurture it.

 

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HOW

Here are some tips on how to get started on your WHAT.

  1. “Just Do It’ is easier said then done! Getting going is often the hardest part of taking action.  I recommend starting with small, incremental steps.
  2. To boldly go where no one has gone before is great if you are aboard the USS Enterprise but a bit more daunting for us mere earthlings. A fun way to start being bold is by standing up straight and keeping your shoulders back.  Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose really works to improve your confidence!
  3. Young children seem to have an endless supply of creativity.  I encourage you to tap into this amazing energy and remember what you loved doing when you were 5 years old.

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WHY

The Why is very personal and will vary from person to person.

Knowing your WHY can help you with your HOW.  For me, I’m:

  1. I’m taking Action because I have a new goal I want to achieve this month.
  2. I’m being Bold because it feels good and helps me be more confident.
  3. Being Creative opens up my mind to new ideas and ways of doing things.

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My parting question to you is-  WHAT do you want to do this month and WHY?

How important is it to your health and wellbeing?

Hopefully these thoughts on Bold, Creative Actions will provide some wind to your back and help you achieve what you desire.