Can you imagine a room full of kids, ranging in age from 4th grade to 11th grade, all eager to learn how to be comfortable with public speaking?
When I decided to tackle the Youth Leadership Program, one of the advanced projects in Toastmasters International, it sounded intriguing to me. This would definitely be outside my comfort zone, which meant for me, go for it.
I enjoy children, one at a time, but a roomful? The very thought was rather scary. I let it sit on my back burner for a while, several months, and then reality landed in my lap. A woman named Kim, a mother of 2 boys in our school system, approached our toastmasters club and asked if we could sponsor such a program. I had been searching for something more meaningful to do with my life than dealing with an aching back, a mother in a nursing home, and a new dog guide. And here it was. Time to roll up my sleeves. I ordered the workbooks and met with Kim and another Toastmaster, Andrew, who volunteered to help with the project, and we divided up the responsibilities for our first meeting last Friday. We were expecting 11 students, but 18 showed up. Kim told me that by the next day, there were 26. Yikes! I told her to tell the parents that the enrollment was now closed. I had been told that we might expect 4 or 5 kids. Were we ever shocked as more and more kids drifted in. Many of the parents stayed to see what this was all about. The first meeting was mostly about getting to know one another. The next meeting will be in November, and we asked for volunteers to give their first speech then. 6 hands shot up. We then asked for volunteers for December and January, and they were responding so quickly that Andrew was having trouble keeping up with trying to get all the names written down. I dont know what I was expecting, but the enthusiasm blew me away. The next day, I was on the phone, ordering more workbooks and trying to figure out how we were going to get all those speeches in. According to the Toastmasters guidelines, every kid is supposed to have had a turn to speak in the first 4 meetings. Im thrilled that so many parents could see the importance of enhancing their childrens communication and leadership skills. Im even more thrilled that the kids seemed to get it too. This could be one of the most exciting ventures I will have taken on in my Toastmaster life. Starting a Toastmasters club for adults in the community, winning speech contests, and organizing special events all have their appeal, but guiding young people toward feeling comfortable and confident in communicating with others is far more rewarding.