In August this year a member of Lausanne International Toastmasters Club, Eric Fingerhut, received the Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) award. This is a special mark both for Eric and for our club. As proud and happy as we are, we decided to share the story of his journey towards the award and to learn from it.
Eric, how does it feel like to become a Distinguished ToastMaster (DTM)?
At first, I simply worked towards the objective of completing the requirements for the DTM status, and when I received the award plaque, I felt very proud. The plaque is huge and impressive. At some point, I felt an impostor syndrome, asking myself if I really deserved it and how much more I could improve in my public speaking abilities. Honestly, although people’s feedback after my speeches is generally positive, to date I notice things that I want to improve. So, I can’t sit on my laurels.
So, you probably have a strong self-observing mind. Did it evolve with the TM experience?
Well, one capacity that arrived early in the public speaking experience and remained with me is social awareness. I have always been present and outspoken publicly, but my communication before TM was less focused, hence less impactful. Once someone told me that I needed to improve my communication skills. But I didn’t know whether it meant my oral expression, the message I wanted to convey, the content of my presentation, my emotional message, or my style. In the club I made sense of various aspects of my communication and with practice I became more self-aware. At the beginning of my TM journey, I aspired for the perfect speech, and now I realise what it takes to deliver one. I learned to perform well enough. For example, recently I gave a speech at my club and there were many guests. I was slightly scared, as I didn’t have time to prepare. So, I carved out the best I could, applied the techniques and performed as well as I could. I can say that now I know my strengths and weaknesses and manage my performance with this knowledge in mind.
How did your journey with TM start?
I joined TM in February 2019 in a corporate club. I saw so many good people getting promotions, but it wasn’t my case. Someone suggested I join the club, I tried and fell in love with it. What has changed since then, is my attitude to public speaking. Before every occasion of public speaking was a chore, extra-work, and burden. I thought I would quickly go on stage and then off, back to my work. As a result, I got invited once, maybe twice. Since then, a lot has changed. Now every occasion to speak is an opportunity and I’ve learnt to respond to it. Now my first attitude for an opportunity to present is “Of course” and later I figure out what and how.
You got to the DTM in 4 years – this is so impressive…
I got completely addicted to TM and made sure I took the floor with every opportunity to practise speaking at meetings, competitions etc. When on the journey, I never thought of the DTM. I went to each club meeting at least twice a month and I always took a role. For some roles you prepare more than for others. I gave prepared speeches once every 6 weeks, or every 3 meetings. Let’s say 3-4 hours per week I’ve invested into public speaking. Then about a year ago I realised that with some additional steps I was qualifying and so I went for it.
How many pathways did you accomplish in the past 4 years?
To become a DTM you need to complete at least 2 pathways plus a DTM project. Recently, I started a 3rd pathway. After a while I noticed that I did more speeches than needed. A pathway contains about 15 speeches, and although at first you find it hard to start, the more you do, the more opportunities arise, and you don’t have to count speeches anymore. At the same time, your pathways force you to pause and reflect. You dive into your project, on what worked well or not, and to deliver those findings in your speech.
What’s for you next after the DTM award?
I learn a great deal by visiting clubs, practising, and observing others. I love to compete and try to get further. Also, this June I began writing a book on public speaking, as the DTM award empowered me to think I have enough credibility for it. The objective of the book is to help managers to succeed in their careers.
How advice would you give to fellow TMs?
Firstly, leverage a mentoring opportunity. I was assigned to a mentor at the beginning, but back then I didn’t know how to leverage it. Working with a mentor is about understanding their experience and asking for suggestions. Mentor can help understand technical parts of the speech preparation and delivery, or can help you connect to the right people, for instance, to find the right coach to prepare for a competition. Those are quick and proven ways to get to your destination, rather than searching for answers by yourself.
Secondly, the TM Magazine is a good source of info. Back in my times I read it in paper, now it’s a pdf and it gives you pointers to explore. You can reinforce them by doing additional research on some specific topics, like how to do evaluations, how to hone specific skills etc.
Additionally, find a buddy who can keep you accountable, someone who has joined at the same time as you and can keep you motivated.
Lastly, don’t skip meetings: the more you show up, the more you observe and learn. If you skip even one meeting, your motivation drops and a vicious cycle kicks in.
How did the TM shape who you are today?
My self-confidence improved exponentially. I get to express myself freely and clearly, and the feedback I receive reinforces my own insights. Now I can articulate ideas in a much stronger way. I see my role more and more in helping my colleagues, who are in the process of acquiring those skills.
Practically, I got promoted during my TM journey. Before I used to focus on the delivery, rather than on exposing my work and synthesising my learnings. But when pitching for a role, the core skill is to paint yourself as the right person for that role. If one can’t articulate why, they create a so-called glass ceiling for themselves. What is the difference between a project manager and a program director? The latter can clearly explain why some projects fail and the others succeed.
Is the TM community helpful in your personal development?
Absolutely. Firstly, because we foster the community of support and practice. At each meeting there is a “mini–Ted Talk” just for you. A wider TM community is a great source of inspiration. This year we went to the division conference in Milan. We had TM world champions giving their speeches. The support network goes well beyond your typical professional network; I’ve got plenty of new friends. As I work for a corporate company, I have more contact with my fellow TMs than anyone else just working for the company and I find the best resources for my projects among my fellow TMs.
In the TM feedback is embedded in everything we do. How do you use this tool?
Throughout the years of my corporate life, feedback has always played an important role. Not only it’s a mechanism for improvement, but also a knowledge transfer, which at the organisational level boils down to transmitting your organisational culture.
So, in my TM experience, letting go and accepting feedback was easy. I found that TM has a great way to nurture feedback, extending beyond the boundaries of an official meeting program. For instance, if I can give informal feedback to the general evaluator, people with other roles, I’d go for it. In the same way, I encourage fellow TMs and guests at the meeting to share their feedback.
At TM we learn to give feedback in a smooth and accepting way. Taking on an evaluator role is a great way to learn. One tip for evaluators is to summarise their points at the end of the speech. Another advice I give is to suggest doing something differently in the future as a caring gesture, rather than a critical observation.
Did your TM experience impact other facets of your life?
Being reflective extends beyond the club and my professional realm. I learned to focus on what matters. Rather than saying a lot, be intentional about what the audience wants and is ready to receive. I became more choiceful and zoomed in just a few points. Whatever piece of information is passing through me, I ask myself the “So What”, what are the key takeaways, and what would I say had I to give a speech on the occasion.
Interview by Aysylu Kaya, published on 21.09.2023