The Art of Speaking  

Want success? Try happiness

By Lauren Parsons
Toastmaster magazin

Scientific research suggests that success does not lead to happiness, but that the opposite is true.

Happiness has a profound effect on brain function and significantly increases individual performance, leading to greater success.

If you focus on boosting your personal well-being, you will be a better leader and communicator to the benefit of your company, your Toastmasters club and your family and friends.

Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, was the first to promote positive psychology as a field of scientific study while serving as president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1998.

This approach to psychology challenged what Seligman refers to as “the disease model” and focuses not on what’s wrong with people but instead on what’s right with them.

“Psychology should be just as concerned with human strength as it is with weakness,” Seligman says in a 2004 TED Talk, adding that researchers are developing measures of “what makes life worth living” and “different forms of happiness.”

Shawn Achor, a leader in the field of positive psychology and founder of GoodThink Inc. and the Institute for Applied Positive Research, has found that increased happiness leads to “a 23 per cent reduction in stress, 39 per cent improvement in health and 31 per cent improvement in productivity.”

Specifically, Achor found that happiness leads to increased cognitive function, improved problem-solving ability, increased memory and retention, higher accuracy and greater creativity.

All of these things give happy people a significant advantage, allowing them to perform at their peak. Imagine how keeping your brain in positive mode could affect your next speech or conversation with your friend, boss or spouse.

Through his work in 50 countries, including with Fortune 100 companies, Achor discovered that happy people work smarter and produce significantly better results. They stay in an organization longer and are more engaged in achieving its vision.

How to Be Happy

Below are four practical strategies to use in and out of Toastmasters to keep your brain in “positive mode” and create the “happiness advantage.”

Practice gratitude

Gratitude and thankfulness are cornerstones of every Toastmasters meeting. Skilled evaluators congratulate and encourage speakers, offering practical suggestions and support by highlighting speakers’ strengths, just as positive psychology focuses on strengths versus weaknesses.

The human brain is designed to scan the world for danger, which often means focusing first on the negatives. People are inclined to notice when things go wrong more often than when they go right. A disgruntled customer or broken equipment tends to get the attention, whereas people doing daily tasks well are often overlooked.

Leaders can shift this paradigm by “catching” people doing things right and thanking them on the spot. Immediate and specific feedback creates a nurturing environment in which people thrive, because prompt, affirmative reinforcement increases positive behaviour and motivation — people do more of what they are thanked for.

This is why genuine praise is one of the best parenting, relationship and management techniques available. 

Actively encourage kindness

You can rarely give a gift without getting something back yourself. As we give out “random acts of kindness,” we feel a deep level of contentment that keeps our brains in positive mode. Kind acts also deepen social connection, a key indicator of happiness.

The New Zealand College of Fitness fosters kindness by ending team meetings with each staff member awarding a gold star to a colleague, publicly explaining why that person was chosen. The gold stars go up on a large wall chart to track progress toward rewards.

This one small practice creates immense positivity; staff members are more inclined to help one another and feel valued hearing direct compliments from co-workers.

Be intentional and set yourself a goal. See how many acts of kindness you can do each week and share your stories with others. It will encourage a culture where people continue to “pay it forward,” not only making someone else’s day brighter but also boosting their own happiness.

Don’t forget to move

Our physiology directly affects our psychology. Frequent movement is beneficial for both bodies and brains, improving creativity, focus and efficiency. Exercise augments neurotransmitters in the brain, increasing both short- and long-term happiness.

The good news for busy people is that studies show that even short intervals of exercise can be more effective than longer periods at a lower output. Try to integrate movement throughout your day by taking regular “deskercise” breaks, even for just 60 seconds.

This will not only put your brain in positive mode and leave you feeling more alert, it will also increase your productivity. 

Recharge in rhythm

Learn how to tune in to internal body-clock rhythms and pay attention when it’s time to take a break — when you become distracted, tired, thirsty, hungry, fidgety or frustrated.

It is possible to ignore these signals, say if you have a report deadline looming and just don’t want to stop; your body will go into fight or flight mode, pushing through with a burst of adrenaline.

This is acceptable from time to time, but if you continue this practice day in and day out, you will reach a chronic state of stress, which has serious health consequences.

To refocus, create a change of state by spending a few minutes outside, standing, walking around or stretching. Your brain will be sharper, allowing you to complete your work faster and with greater accuracy, all saving time and making you happier and more productive than when you simply “push on through.”

By fostering a thankful attitude, intentionally spreading kindness, integrating uplifting movement into your day and taking time out in rhythm with your body, you will not only increase your personal, physical and emotional well-being but also fundamentally improve your performance and experience greater success in all areas of life.

Lauren Parsons is an award-winning Wellbeing Specialist who equips and inspires people to boost their health and happiness, for life. Get a free copy of Lauren's e-book and register for updates at www.laurenparsons.co.nz.


Leading by example

Toastmasters not only helped me become a better speaker, but helped make me a better leader.

I have learned from many people and I continue to grow and to not only be a leader to myself, but to my family, my mentees, employees, friends and community.

Toastmasters is just one of the many ways I strive to learn to develop my abilities and grow as a leader.

My background has primarily been in retail:

  • managing stores
  • merchandising
  • team leader
  • analyzing
  • store openings
  • buying — with such companies as Woolworth Canada, Footlocker, Ricki’s,(Comark group).

During the last eight years, I have partnered with CMS Toys to run Halloween Alley stores in the Okanagan (Most recently adding the district co-ordinator role over-seeing stores all across Canada.

I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that strong leadership skills are a key ingredient to success in business and in life.

There are many books on leadership, and I encourage you to read them, but in business, it’s important to learn from everyone, and to create your own skills and style.

My favourite book is Yes or No: The guide to Better Decisions, by Spencer Johnson

It may sound unusual, but it teaches you to own your decisions and to keep moving forward.

Top influencers such as Richard Branson, Napoleon Hill, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill state that we need to fail to become more successful.

Even actor Will Smith has advice on using failure as a tool to get better.

“Fail early, fail often, fail forward,” he said.

We all want people to be proud of us, to be better role models and achieve our dreams and aspirations.

I will share with you some of what I believe can make you a well-rounded leader.

Inspire, be passionate and motivate

Everyone has a vision. Share it! With everyone you know. I recently asked the owners of Halloween Alley what they thought my contributions to the company were.

“You are the company’s biggest cheerleader,” they said.

I agree. Although my stores are only open seasonally, I breathe and promote the Halloween Alley brand all year.

Your enthusiasm and excitement for whatever you do is addictive; you need to believe that everyone would want to be a part of whatever it is you do.

You are the most invested. For every action, there is a reaction, so let’s make them great ones.

Be proud of what you do!

Be a teacher

No one knows your product and vision better than you.

It must be a priority to teach your staff, and your family, to be better than you.

We have a huge opportunity to share the best tool in the world — our knowledge.

If we take time in the beginning to set people up, grant them access to the things and information they need, you will eliminate frustration and find you’ll be able to work more efficiently together.

If something is working, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Give up ownership!

Although the hardest thing for us to do, as a good leader we must realize that we need a full team to be successful.

Whether it is our children or an employee, we need a team working cohesively to create a better world. As VP of membership and previous vice president of public relations for Kelowna AM Toastmasters, I'm part of the club executive that works to ensure a great experience.

Take a step back, and allow others to rise and be the best they can be.

I wear many hats in my life and these are just a few things what I believe help me a better leader. Taking on new roles and consistently challenging myself to learn and grow makes me who I am today.

We meet people for a reason, a season or a lifetime, so make the most of and be the best to everyone who enters your life.

Deb Lawless is a mother of three very busy and active children, an entrepreneur, an employee (working part time in the accounts payable department at Total Restoration Services), district co-ordinator For Halloween Alley and VP of Membership for Kelowna AM Toastmasters.

Webb of words

Moya Webb will be the Okanagan’s champion when the best talkers in Southern B.C. clash in Kelowna this weekend.

Webb won the Toastmasters Division K (the Okanagan and Western Kootenays) International speech and Evaluation contests. That earned her the right to compete at the Division 21 (Southern B.C. and Vancouver Island) spring conference.

“It is quite an honour to have Moya represent us in both the International Speech and Evaluation contests,” said Jennifer Mlazgar, director of Division K.

“She is a true representation of what it means to be a Toastmaster, so to be able to see her compete at this level is an honour and privilege,” said Mlazgar, a Penticton accountant, who has won the District 21 impromptu speaking contest.

Webb is the quintessential Toastmaster — dedicated, hard-working and always learning. In addition to the two division championships, she has won area contests for humour and impromptu speaking.

In 2017, she also received the District 21 Toastmaster of the Year Award for leadership.

“Toastmasters is the best training program I've ever been on in my career, and certainly the most cost effective,” said Webb, who has a BSc and MBA.

And she has poured her heart and soul into that training program since joining the Kelowna Club in 2006.

She has since been area and division director, sponsored the Okanagan College Toastmasters club and the Downtown Express club, and is now helping start another one.

She is a member of two clubs: OC Toastmasters and Kelowna AM.

“This is the first time I have won the International speech contest at even the club level. I guess I never felt before I had anything to offer from an inspirational perspective,” said Webb, who, with her husband, Dave, runs InvLogik Solutions.

She almost pulled out of the club contest this year because she didn't think she had a good enough speech – until one wrote itself while she was sitting on a Big White chairlift.

“A new speech came into my head — just like that. In basic terms, I considered how the lessons learned while learning to ski were great life lessons for designing a fabulous life.”

In spite of her accomplishments, Webb is humble and self-effacing; she was surprised to win the division since she came second in the area contest.

“The fact that I had come second to Dave Maller (Westside Toastmasters) in the area contest and then beat him at the division contest was unexpected. It was a tough contest.”

After the area contest, she re-wrote parts of her speech, gave it at various city clubs, seeking feedback and incorporating what she felt helped make it a winning speech.

“I even changed the title. I practised it, edited it, practised it some more and felt very good about it.”

While many people have butterflies before they give a speech, Webb had them after winning the division contest.

“I do feel a little intimidated, but at the same time a little excited. That's what competing does for you. The more you challenge yourself, the more you grow and the better the results.”

After Webb won the International, a five-to-seven-minute speech, she competed in the Evaluation contest in which listening and the ability to pick out nuances that most people miss are crucial. Contestants then have five minutes to spin a coherent three-minute story that teaches the speaker and the audience.

“I find the Evaluation contest much harder, because I can't prepare. I have to depend on what I hear, what I think and how I feel about the test speech.

“This is what I'm most nervous about for the district level contest — I could just draw a blank and have no idea what to say. When I say it like that, it makes you wonder why I decided to compete.”

But, she argues, when people step out of their comfort zones, their abilities grow and so does their comfort zones.

“If I have pulled anything out of all of this, it is that I enjoy spending my time with energetic, positive people, working together to achieve something worthwhile and giving back in some way.

“I like to make the best of every day, because you never know what lies around the corner.”

Erin Trifunov was second in the International speech contest and Sharleen McBlain second in the Evaluation. Both are members of the Kelowna Club, which is marking its 60th anniversary this weekend at the spring conference.


Club creates champions

Former premier Bill Bennett was president. So was his brother, R.J. And well-know businessman Tom Capozzi.

They are among the prominent and less-than-prominent members of the Kelowna Club, the city's first Toastmasters Club, which is marking its 60th anniversary this year.

There will be a celebration during the Toastmasters District 21 spring conference banquet April 20-22 at the Coast Capri Hotel, and June 4 at the Rotary Centre of the Arts.

The Kelowna Club — and the seven others in the Central Okanagan — is part of an international organization with 352,000 members in 141 countries.

Toastmasters was started in 1924 by Ralph Smedley in Santa Ana, Calif. It became international when First Canadian Toastmasters formed in Victoria in 1935.

Although Erin Trifunov and Vera Ito are from different generations and have never met, they have much in common.

Trifunov joined the Kelowna Club two years ago, and Ito retired from it two years earlier after 27 years giving speeches, listening to others and evaluating how they did with suggestions how they could improve.

They have something else in common — they are both champions.

Trifunov just won the club and area championships in speech evaluation and the International — a five to seven minute speech — while Ito is a former B.C. impromptu speaking champion.

And they both joined the Kelowna Club in pursuit of excellence.

"I originally was taken to a meeting by a friend that I'd met in the Pursuit of Excellence courses," Ito said. "Toastmasters seemed to be an organization that would help me gain confidence in my abilities, and indeed it did."

In addition to speaking, listening and leadership skills, Toastmasters also teaches how to adapt and flow with circumstances, a skill in high demand during the impromptu speaking part (called table topics) of every Toastmaster meeting.

And those skills are transferable to life, something Ito learned in 1989, just after she joined the Kelowna Club.

"A group of us went to the fall conference in Vancouver, but there was a major slide on the Coq and we got stuck about a mile from the toll booth. It turned out to be a 12-hour trip; we amused ourselves by playing table topics.

"Next day, the person who was supposed to be representing Division C in the TT contest had not arrived. Our division chairman, Ken Richardson, was trying to convince someone else to do it, who refused, and I found myself saying 'well if you're really desperate, I guess I could give it a go.'"To my great surprise, I won."

Trifunov, project manager of a highperformance computing organization, joined after the birth of her third child.

"I was just returning to work and was feeling a bit rusty and nervous when speaking at meetings and giving presentations.

"Also, working from home and still spending a lot of time around young children meant I didn't have many opportunities to practise key meeting skills such as responding to impromptu questions, basic and formal introductions, running a meeting, or even having adult conversations.

"Toastmasters provided all these opportunities and more."

The Kelowna Club has been teaching excellence and providing opportunities since in1959 when it was started by Don McGillvary, its first president.

Since a president can, normally, only serve a one-year term at a time, there have been many in addition to the two Bennetts and Capozzi.

Ito was president for 1.5 years in 1991-93 and again from July 1998 to June 1999.

Melody Bailey, the current president, joined because Monday was the only night she had free. Three years later, after numerous speech and competitions, she still enjoys every moment of the Toastmasters experience.

"I joined to keep up, and improve, my public-speaking skills and I've stayed because there is a always something more to learn and room to grow."

Former president Lorne Barker is still a member after eight years for the same reason. The former stand-up comic on cruise ships wasn't afraid of public speaking, but he wanted to be better.

"No matter what you do in life, even if you are good at it, you can always improve."

Pat Nelson, a Toastmaster for 31 years, was a charter member of the Fabulous Facilitators in Edmonton, but joined the Kelowna Club five years ago.

"I was terrified to speak in public," said the retired librarian. "I went from being unable to introduce myself in a club meeting to being a trainer, and speaking at conferences in Canada and the U.S.

"Toastmasters will make you confident and a skilled communicator and you will have fun doing it."

Those are sentiments that hundreds, if not thousands, of members and former members would echo.

More The Art of Speaking articles

About the Author

The mission of a Toastmaster Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment that offers every member the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.

There are eight Toastmasters clubs in the Central Okanagan.

For more information and/or to find a club near you, check http://www.toastmasters.org.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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