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JD Austin - DTM

jd_riogov.jpgAs a quintessential GEEK, I am perfectly happy to sit in a dark corner writing code for ten hours with little or no human interaction. The problem with being such an introvert is that I have always felt like a fish out of water in social situations. Bad habits that seemed impossible to overcome such as staring off into space, squinting, and avoiding eye contact have almost dissapeared.. all thanks to Toastmasters!

I still remember the day when I realized that there was hope! My wife and I were still dating and she loved karaoke. The thought of singing in front of other people terrified me as much as speaking in front of people. Not wanting to ruin a good thing, I tried it anyway. The first few times were so bad that everyone laughed at me! After about 10 times 'at bat', however, I improved to the point that people I didn't know would ask me to sing. It was then that I realized that there was hope for me... If I could learn to sing in front of people, I could learn to speak in front of them too! Working on other things such as communication and learning to dance were added to my 'list' of goals.

TGLOGO_0_0.pngIt always takes a catalyst to get things moving. When I started my business (Twin Geckos Technology Services LLC ) in November 2003 I discovered that my skills didn't always meet the demands of running a business. For me it was a meeting with a client, that could only be described as a complete train wreck, that provided the urgency needed to act. I decided that I had to do something to improve my communication skills immediately! But what could I do???

In April of 2004 I received an email invitation to be a guest at a Rio Copa Toastmasters meeting from Dee Dee Tapson. I didn't even give it a second thought, I knew I'd join the first meeting! Although I was scared to death during my Ice Breaker speech I got up and spoke! Of course as I talked about "How did I get here", I actually exhibited the social faux pas I was speaking about such as staring off into space and at my shoes instead of the audience. It wasn't until my 5th speech that I realized that I was no longer so afraid to speak in front of people; it had become something that I enjoyed doing!

I achieved my Competent Toastmaster award in February of 2005 and my Distinguished Toastmaster Award in July 2007. While I am not a professional speaker, I have improved significantly! Currently I am working towards my fourth Competent Communicator award and my second Advanced Communicator Bronze award and second Advanced Leader Silver Award. I am sure by the time I reach my second Distinguished Toastmaster award that I will be even more comfortable speaking in front of groups and in social situations.

There were things that I learned that I didn't expect too! Performing the Ah Counter, Grammarian, and other meeting functions forced me to become a better listener. Speech evaluations taught me a good approach for evaluations in general and better ways to communicate; I highly recommend managers of people join Toastmasters just to learn how to evaluate! And then there is leadership. I didn't join the club to learn how to lead people and didn't even know that it was an opportunity. Being a leader in Toastmasters changed me in some very positive ways!

Toastmasters presents a lot of opportunities to learn leadership skills! I have held every club office and learned something different in each one. First as Sergeant at Arms then Vice President of Education, Vice President Membership, Vice President Public Relations, Secretary, President, and Treasurer in Rio Copa, Well Done, and East Valley Echoes. In 2005-2006 I was the Assistant R4 Area Governor and received the R4 Outstanding Toastmaster of the Year award. In 2006-2007 I was the R2 Area Governor and in 2007-2008 I was the Rio Division Governor. All in all being a Club, Area, and Division officer has taught me a lot about myself, how to interact with other people, and how to be assertive in an effective way. Toastmasters teaches 'servant leadership'. You learn to manage people without the ability to punish them or pay them... imagine how well it will work when you can. I am now confident that when I finally have employees that I can manage them in a way that will motivate them to achieve!

For me Toastmasters is an island of positive energy in a negative world. I have nothing but good things to say about Toastmasters, I highly recommend it!

JD Austin

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