Toastmasters: Your Pathway to Emotional Intelligence
By Philip Lai ACS, Area D82 Director, member of both Clarkson Toastmasters and Port Credit Club
There are more than 168,000 Toastmasters Clubs in 143 countries around the world today. Of the 358,000 plus members worldwide, many join Toastmasters to gain more confidence in public speaking. Since 1924, the Toastmasters program has provided a well-structured, positive and feedback-rich environment for members to build capability and confidence in communication at members’ own pace. The unique meeting format and educational system provide a near perfect environment in which members could invigorate their emotional intelligence, an integral part of effective leadership, while having fun.
What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?
It is “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships”. (Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman).
According to Goleman, EQ is essentially a composite set of competencies that can be learned and significantly improved over time if appropriate learning conditions are present.
Generally speaking EQ is made up of five clusters of competencies. Mastery of these EQ competencies is critical to the overall successes and well-being in many aspects of our life according to the researchers.
The 5 Emotional Intelligence Competencies and Toastmasters Experiences
- Self Awareness - self knowledge, self confidence, and emotional awareness.
Toastmasters Experience - Evaluation, with encouragement and constructive feedback, is the cornerstone of the Toastmasters program. Essentially, all speakers in the meeting will receive feedback one way or the other from fellow members. Sometimes, the feedback helps confirm what we already knew about our strengths and weaknesses. Other times, the evaluators would shed light on our “blind spots”, which could be our unrecognized strengths or stumbling blocks. These insights are critical and invaluable to the development of our self knowledge and understanding.
- Self Regulation - self control and self management.
Toastmasters Experience – While a typical Toastmasters speech would last between 5-7 minutes, it often takes hours if not days to prepare for it. It takes much efforts and planning to ensure we have a coherent message for the audience. Obviously, a great deal of self-management and prioritization are required to allow us to stay focused on the task.
- Motivation - achievement, commitment, initiative, and optimism.
Toastmasters Experience – Motivation works multiple ways in Toastmasters. First, members get guidance in developing our communication skills based on a well-structured curriculum called Pathways. We choose among the 11 Paths that are currently available based on own interest and aspiration. Each Path covers a variety of learning projects and speaking assignments spanning across 5 levels of complexity. Members’ achievement of each level is promptly recognized and celebrated at meetings.
Second, members are encouraged to pursue our learning at our own pace. While it is not uncommon for many of us to complete our Pathways Level 1 in a number of months, quite a few others have indeed finished their entire Path in a similar time frame. It is therefore entirely up to us to make the journey a “dash” or a “marathon” as we are the one responsible for our own growth.
- Empathy - awareness of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns.
Toastmasters Experience – Members develop our speaking skills through giving and receiving mutual evaluation and feedback. The desire and ability to provide constructive feedback to each other is very important. For feedback to be of value to the receivers, it must be given with sensitivity and care. Above all, members need to have a heightened sense of awareness of the speaker’s feelings, goals and concerns. Empathy, therefore, is a key competence in providing constructive feedback and evaluation that motivate.
As research has shown, empathy is a learned set of behaviors which can be improved through practices and receiving feedback. The good news is that the feedback-rich environment provided by the Toastmasters program offers an optimum condition by which we can develop our empathic capabilities effectively.
- Social Skills - influence, leadership, teamwork, and conflict management.
Toastmasters Experience – members are offered many opportunities to develop social skills through the meetings and educational programs.
It is also worth mentioning here is there are plenty of leadership development opportunities through serving on the club’s executive committee. By serving fellow members, club executives have the opportunity to sharpen their inter-personal and influencing skills, learn to collaborate with others by working through individual differences, and resolving conflicts constructively.
Emotional Intelligence is a learnable set of skills that matter much to our everyday life and overall well-being. With the right learning conditions, EQ competencies could be developed and greatly enhanced. The above-mentioned Toastmasters experiences represent a small sample of such learning opportunities. Readers are cordially invited to discover and benefit from the many more growth opportunities as you immerse yourselves in the vast array of Toastmasters experiences.