By Ally Bhuiyan, DTM
Ask 100 Toastmasters how they have benefitted from being a Toastmaster, and you will likely get at least 300 different answers. Indeed, the benefits are numerous, but while for some they are quite concrete (“I got a promotion” or “I got a raise”), for many of us they are not. If you are like me, you might use broad generalizations such as “I improved my communication and leadership skills,” or “I met some great people and built my social network,” or simply “I just love learning from others and hearing other people’s stories.”
To non-Toastmasters, such general answers might not satisfy; they might think that such benefits can be easily found in other ways or with other organizations. However, as with our speeches, the personal stories behind our answers are much more interesting than the answers themselves.
I’d like to share the story of my husband, Mushi Bhuiyan, who underwent an enormous transformation after joining Toastmasters, and who serves as an example and inspiration for me on a daily basis.
About 10 years ago, Mushi was a successful consultant for a large international firm, who worked closely with the management teams in several well-known companies. He thoroughly enjoyed his job, since it involved a lot of travel and dealing with a variety of people. However, he recognized that in spite of his successes, he was consistently being passed up for promotions.
When speaking with his career coach and HR, he was told that he didn’t possess strong communication skills, and after expressing his desire to improve them, Mushi signed up for a course with Dale Carnegie. The course was fun, and he learned a lot of techniques on starting conversations, getting people to open up, and asking the right questions. But the course was short, and expensive. His company would not pay to enroll him in another course, but Mushi felt he had a lot more to learn. Now what?
He googled “Cheap Dale Carnegie courses” to see if he could find coupons for additional classes and found Toastmasters on the list of suggestions. Mushi jumped in head first and never looked back. He loved giving speeches and receiving feedback; he loved visiting many clubs and meeting new people; he loved the new friends he had made in his home club; he loved that he was able to take on a district leadership role.
After some time, he was able to convince me to join as well, and later still, we joined efforts with another Toastmasters couple to charter Princeton Manor Toastmasters in our town.
In the meantime, work went on as usual, but along with his newfound love for Toastmasters grew a new distaste for many things corporate. One Christmas, as the proverbial last drop in the bucket, Mushi received a bottle of wine and a fruit basket for his efforts. Did I forget to mention he is a Muslim and doesn’t drink?
He never did receive that coveted promotion, but it no longer mattered to him He started his own company instead. His self-confidence had grown, and along with his speaking skills came listening skills. He felt a much deeper connection to people. He started organizing block parties so that the people on our street would get to know their neighbors better. Once, towards the end of a big potluck, one of the neighbors came empty-handed and looked very distraught. He explained that he felt uncomfortable coming because he didn’t have anything to share with others.
It turned out that hunger had driven him to check for leftovers. We were shocked to hear that his house was in foreclosure and that he was having trouble putting food on his table. It had never occurred to us that people in our reasonably affluent community, people on our own street, were struggling with food insecurity.
Mushi decided on the spot to do something about it. He teamed up with local restaurants to deliver warm meals on a weekly basis to those in need in his and other nearby communities. When it became clear that the need was great, he set up a non-profit organization so that he could solicit funds from generous donors to help increase his efforts. Thus, Urban Food Alliance was formed.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Urban Food Alliance switched gears and instead of delivering warm meals, the organization began handing out boxes filled with groceries that could feed families of 4 every week. The lines of people needing help have been growing steadily, and the efforts to help are ongoing.
Had it not been for Toastmasters, Mushi would probably not have walked this path. Now, he finds fulfillment and purpose in helping others. He can smile at the memory of not getting his promotion, knowing that he has gained so much more instead.
True Toastmasters may find it hard to pinpoint in 1 sentence how Toastmasters had benefitted them, because they have embarked on a journey of self-discovery and confidence that will last a lifetime. True Toastmasters don’t only help themselves; they also help others. Maybe when people ask us, “How have you benefitted from being a Toastmaster?” we should respond by saying that the better question is, “How has the community benefitted from my being a Toastmaster?”
Addendum: The resources of Urban Food Alliance have been stretched thin during recent months due to the COVID-19 crisis. If you are interested in supporting the organization and helping to feed the hungry, please make a donation.