By Wangu Kamundia, DTM
When he was younger, Oltesh Thobias DTM often dreamt of inspiring breakthroughs. He imagined himself on stage, delivering impactful messages. But he was shy, introverted, and had grown up taking instruction. He did not believe that he could do it. Therefore, when he was older, he set off on what has become an illustrious career in banking.
In this feature, Oltesh shares his experience as a Toastmaster – what inspired him to join Toastmasters, his journey to DTM and why he stays.
On joining Toastmasters In 2011, while on assignment in Tunisia, I began to feel unfulfilled – like something was amiss. For the first time, I began to use an alarm clock to wake me up. Conversations with my mentor inspired me to start writing about what inspired me.
After 3 years of writing every day for 10 minutes, 3 things stood out: I wanted to inspire people. To inspire people, I needed to be able to speak in public. I also needed money.
You cannot exercise 3 times in a year and expect 6 pack abs at the end of it. This was true of my Toastmasters journey, and I discovered that my apprehension, procrastination and lack of a plan were hampering my growth. Having an end-date for my DTM gave me clarity, and spurred me towards my goal.
In 2014 I borrowed USD 20,000 and pursued training in public speaking. I attended courses run by public speaking experts. One of them – Brian Tracy – recommended Rotary, BNI and Toastmasters as consistent training arenas for public speaking.
I have participated in various contests at club, area and division level. I have often felt disappointed by losing, but learnt great lessons from the process and forged forward.
In 2015, following failed attempts at public speaking and few opportunities to practice, I joined Early Birds Toastmasters Club. I have never looked back.
Toastmasters taught me how to break the ice and develop the building blocks of oratory. I have received a greater return on investment from Toastmasters.
During one of my contest runs, someone remarked, “English is not his first language, so there are some things that he will never be able to address.” Although this was true, I was disappointed by how this truth had been spoken. Despite this, that speech, “Round and Round”, placed third in the Toastmasters International My journey to Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) Video Speech Contest. This experience taught me that when something is said about you, it does not mean that you will not make it. You can catapult from whatever is holding you back.
Why I stay on at Toastmasters At the beginning of 2018, I discovered that I had taken 3 years to complete 10 speech projects. During this time, I had taken roles at all meetings that I had attended, and taken on 3 club leadership roles. But the thing that had brought me to Toastmasters had lain forlorn and forgotten.
I read somewhere that your health depends on the 5 people that you spend your time with. Because of Toastmasters I have found friends, had promotions at work and continued to chase my dreams. I have found that there is still a lot that I can learn.
As I prepared for the rest of 2018, I spoke to my mentor.
I told Carol Gathuru that I would attain my DTM by the end of that year. Although she was skeptical – attaining my DTM required me to complete 30 speech projects in a year – she pledged her support.
Toastmasters has enabled me to tell my ‘Jonah and the Big Fish’ story. I had shied away from pursuing my calling to impact lives through taking the stage.
Toastmasters helped me find my voice, and I am now using it to actualize the vision that I had when I was younger.
In June 2019, on the road to my DTM, I only repeated one speech project; the only one for which I did not seek Carol’s guidance.
Reflections on my Toastmasters journey
By the age of 27, my brothers were married. I married at 35, and the discussions were initiated by my wife. I believe that if I had had the confidence to articulate myself, I would have married earlier. You cannot grow if there are gaps in your training.
At work, I often missed out on promotions because I could not effectively present what I was bringing to the table. Now, I have been able to present a strong case for my skill set, and found my niche in business negotiations.
Beyond the growth in my career, I have been able to impact society through delivering keynote addresses, contributing to charitable causes and training teams. I have also been called upon to support fundraising efforts.
On balancing Toastmasters with family
As a father, there are times when I want to control the conversation. Sometimes, my daughters will say, “Dad, it’s time for you to listen.”
I stay at Toastmasters because there is still value to be unpacked from Toastmasters. Presently, I am pursuing the Accredited Speaker program and look forward to sharing my messages with more audiences.
How I am paying it forward
The feedback skills I have developed at Toastmasters have allowed me to listen and understand that I am not always right. I have learnt to craft my messages around the sandwich method, focusing on what has been done well, what can be done differently and areas for
improvement. I have also learnt to read in between the lines – I pick cues from the non-verbal communication that I am receiving.
I have supported the charter of Arusha and Mt. Meru Toastmasters Club. Right now, I am working on the charter of the first bilingual Toastmasters club in Tanzania.
My experience in chartering clubs, as well as sponsoring new members in other clubs is that like me, many of them come into Toastmasters without clear plans for the outcomes that they seek. Many leave because their needs are not fulfilled.
My wife is from a different culture, so I like to say that our differences are 90%. Toastmasters has given me the tools to use the 10% to make up for the 90%.
Toastmasters takes time from family. Relationships are about give and take, and there is need to include your family in your Toastmasters experience. My wife and children have heard my speeches, and have attended physical meetings with me.
As a mentor, I tend to give my proteges space to define their goals. I also practice empathy and allow them to be themselves. I find that when clubs push too hard for their Distinguished Club Goals, members may help them attain these goals, but get to the finish line burnt out. It is hard to get these members to stay.
Parting shot I encourage mentors and club leaders to balance the need to help members grow, with the need to help them stay at Toastmasters to reap greater benefits.
Practice care and develop Toastmasters has given me a platform to develop my capacity to impact lives while asleep. I want the messages that I share to outlive me. This is a priceless outcome for me. friendships, not transactional relationships.