PlaNetworker

Become a PlaNETWORKER at the Fall Conference

by Carina Paton

Pla-Networking

Have you challenged yourself to push past your safety net and graduate from a safety networker to a cabinetworker? At my club meeting this past week, one of my fellow toastmasters beamed with pride as she told us a story of her doing just that.

Normally, when this Toastmaster attends external meetings for work, she sits with others from her organization—keeping well within her safety net. But at the most recent meeting, this Toastmaster built up the courage to sit next to people that she didn’t know, away from her colleagues. Not only that, but this Toastmaster initiated a conversation with one of them, using the tools in her cabinet: she asked this person standard questions about themselves.

To her surprise, the person sitting next to her grew up just 10 minutes away from her parents! Had this Toastmaster not worked up the courage to sit next to this person and strike up a conversation, she would have missed the opportunity to learn of her connection to this person, and they would still be strangers to one another.

My fellow Toastmaster attributed her ability to do this to Toastmasters. It would be an understatement to say that our club is proud of her courage and achievement. This is just one story of many about networking skills growing due to Toastmasters. What is your story so far? What do you want it to be?

The upcoming District 65 Final Fall Conference is an ideal place to continue to build your networking skills. If you are a notworker, aim to be a safety networker at the conference. If you are comfortable in your safety net, aim to be a cabinetworker. If you think you’ve got that down pat, it’s time to move on to the next level: be a planetworker!

Planetworkers use things in the world around them as conversation pieces. The following are just a few of the many items in the environment you can talk about.

Weather and Seasons: This is the classic planetworker go-to.

  • Isn’t this weather beautiful?

  • Do you know if it is supposed to rain all day?

  • Have you had a chance to look at the fall leaves yet this year? Where did you go?

Food and Drink: This is good to use when you are at a catered event.

  • Have you tried the salmon? It’s delicious.

  • What kind of beer do you drink?

  • That looks good. Would you recommend I try it?

Speakers and Program: Good for an event with a set agenda and speakers.

  • What did you think of the keynote address?

  • Which workshop has been your favorite?

  • Which session are you going to next?

Meeting Location: This can be used anywhere, but is particularly good when you’re in a special location.

  • Didn’t they do a wonderful job decorating this room?

  • I’m just amazed by the renovation. Did you see the ceiling in the main foyer?

  • What else should I do while I’m in town?

Note that all are in the form of a question. Questions are wonderful conversation starters – it gives the person that you’re talking to a chance to talk. And we all know that Toastmasters love talking any time they’re given a chance!

What are you waiting for? Sign up for the conference if you haven’t already, and give those networking muscles some exercise. Just like any other form of exercise, it gets easier the more you do it—I promise!

Mingling Open House

Mastering Mingling at an Open House

By Carina Paton

Carina Paton

Yet another wonderful opportunity to practice your mingling skills is nigh. That’s right, it’s Open House season again! As a club member, you have one of the most crucial roles at your club’s upcoming open house… to float and interact with guests.

Every club is unique because it is composed of unique individuals. And because you are one of those individuals you are the ideal spokesperson. Is your heart suddenly aflutter because you have no idea what to say to guests? Never fear, your mingling mastery guide is here!

By simply attending your club open house, you move up the mingling mastery ranks from a Notworker to a Safety Networker. I encourage you to use this upcoming event to push yourself to progress the next level in mingling mastery, which I call a “cabinetworker.”

The cabinetworker takes standard items that are stored on the shelf in their cabinet and uses them to help network. These are the building blocks that can help you make a new connection. Standard items many cabinetworkers have on their shelves are:

· Hi, I’m (name). And you?

· What do you do for a living?

· Where do you work/study?

· Where are you from?

These are great questions to pull out when you are making your first courageous foray into mingling. They are easy to ask, and because they are so commonly asked, generally easy to give a well-rehearsed answer to.

In the open house environment, we can stock much more valuable questions on our cabinet shelves:

· How did you learn about us?

Not only is this an extremely easy question to ask and answer (and therefore an easy way to begin a conversation), it’s a simple way to find out what marketing and outreach methods are working for your club.

· Why did you decide to come to our meeting today?

Asking about a guest’s motivations help us frame how we can help them. Rather than rattle off the myriad ways that Toastmasters is beneficial, it’s much more effective to listen to the guest’s motivations for coming, and then aid them in understanding how your club can help them meet their goals.

· What did you think about our meeting?

Asking this question one-on-one helps threefold: 1. It gives us immediate feedback on meeting from the perspective of a guest. 2. It gives the guest an opportunity to practice giving an evaluation in a non-threatening environment, and they feel that their opinions are heard and valued. 3. It can often serve as a bridge to further conversation on an aspect of the meeting or the club that they are interested in.

· Can I answer any questions?

Remember that guests are in an unfamiliar environment, and they may be afraid to speak up. Asking this lets them know that it is okay to ask questions. Even if they can’t think of any questions right at that moment, it lets them know that you are willing to help them understand what Toastmasters is all about.

· Would you like to join our club?

This is the question that guests are often waiting to be asked, so don’t be afraid to put it out there!

Now that you have the tools to be a proficient cabinetworker at your upcoming open house, go and give your club all that you have. And remember: You can practice these mingling questions year-round. Every time there’s a guest at your club meeting is one more opportunity to push the boundaries of your comfort zone that little bit further. You might be surprised just how flexible those boundaries can be!

This is the third installment of a series encouraging fellow District 65 Toastmasters to take every opportunity to develop their mingling skills. The first two articles are Making Large Groups Less Scary and Push Past Your Safety Net.

Push Past Your Safety Net

Push Past Your Safety Net

by Carina Paton

Social Safety Net

Most people are afraid to initiate conversation with strangers. In fact, even those who appear to you to be comfortable are often terrified on the inside!

Many of us join Toastmasters to overcome a fear of public speaking. But rarely do we realize that Toastmasters is also an ideal place to overcome a fear of interacting one-on-one with people that we don’t (yet) know. Even more rarely do we utilize what opportunities the organization makes available to us to build these skills.

Your upcoming Area and Division speech competitions are just two of these opportunities. Even if you aren’t competing in the contest or filling a contest role, attending the contests will benefit both you and your club.

Many of us are comfortable at our club meetings. We quickly get to know our fellow club members, and each greeting and speech adds to our comfort. Our club members, once a group of very welcoming strangers, fast become our safety net. Given that, it’s not surprising that when we go to Toastmasters events above our club level we tend to stick to this safety net of our fellow club members.

I’m not going to tell you to leave that safety net behind entirely; rather, I would like to see more Toastmasters in our District use that safety net as a trampoline instead. Go to Area and Division contests with your fellow club members (in fact, why not be the one to encourage them to go with you). But instead of sticking to them like a fly in a spider’s web, use them as a point to jump off from and a place that you can come back to if you need it. This way they become true safety net—and a fun bouncy one at that!

We all have our own level of comfort at social events with unfamiliar people. Some of you will be what I call a “notworker,” which is someone who avoids networking entirely. If this is you, I encourage you to go to your Area and Division contests with others from your club. Consider carpooling—not only is it great for the environment, it can also ease nerves to arrive at an event with your safety net in tow.

If you are already what I call a “safety networker,” then take that next step: try initiating a conversation with someone you don’t yet know. The “strangers” that you will meet at Area and Division contests are some of the nicest to practice with. Think of how forgiving the Toastmasters in your club are of your mistakes. Toastmasters in your Area and Division are no different! In addition, those that you approach will very likely also be feeling out of their comfort zone. By being the one to initiate conversation with them, I bet they will be thankful for your courage. Who knows, you may even make a new friend!

Getting to know other Toastmasters in your Area and Division is priceless. Want to share ideas with others in your officer role at other clubs? They’re now just a phone call or email away. Need to find a test speaker or judges for your next club contest? You’ll now have numerous people to call to ask if they, or someone in their club, would be willing to take on a role. Having trouble filling speech roles in your meetings, or have more members ready to give speeches than you have space for in your meetings? Use your new network! Giving a speech at another club (or even listening to a speaker from another club) can prevent your meetings from becoming stale by bringing new ideas to your club.

I look forward to getting to know some new people at upcoming contests. See you there!

 

Making Large Groups Less Scary

Meeting Mixing Motivations

Making Large Groups… Less ScaryMingling at meeting

By Carina Paton

Carina Paton

When I first ventured to events above the club level last year, the first thing that I noticed is that people were tending to stick with the people they knew. This is great to continue building relationships with people that you may not see as often as you like, but it’s not so great for the first-timers who have not yet built their “circle.”

I noticed this phenomenon because I was that first-timer. I sat and talked with a couple others in my club who attended the conference. One of the reasons that I came to the conference was to meet new Toastmasters that I could learn from. But despite my best efforts, my fellow club members were pretty much the only ones I talked with. It did not feel like an environment in which I could approach people that I didn’t know.

Those of you that attended Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI) trainings (a.k.a. officer training) in Batavia and Syracuse this past month may have noticed that it felt different than the last one you went to. Our new District TRIO, Ellen, Lillian and Keith, encouraged everyone sit next to people that they did not already know, and get to know them.

You may have grumbled about it feeling like a forced speed networking session—but honestly, did you feel that way because it put you a little bit outside your comfort zone? The result was incredible! By the time lunch came around, people chose to sit with “strangers” and it was hard to hear over all the wonderful discussions that people were having over their salads and sandwiches.

This is the first step our District has taken this year to create a welcoming environment for all. And a welcoming environment is one of those “intangibles” that Corey Wilson and Alex Turner, spoke about in their presentations both at the TLI and in their workshop in the Spring conference in Rochester earlier this year. If we create a culture of welcoming environments, we will have more successful clubs, areas, divisions, and districts—and as a result we will have more successful members.

We are always telling new members that Toastmasters is a safe place to try things out. But we forget that this also applies to our social skills, our mingling skills, our networking skills—whatever you call it. Your next club meeting is the perfect opportunity to push the boundary of your comfort zone ever so slightly. Often people will tend to sit in the same seat, next to the same people meeting after meeting. Mix it up!

When you next enter your meeting room, ask yourself: “Who haven’t I chatted with for a while?” Sit next to them. Ask how their week has been or what they did over the weekend. Ask about their family. Ask about their work. Ask about their next goal in Toastmasters and how you can help them.

Take every opportunity to practice those skills—the more you practice, the more confident and friendly you will be, and the more you will help your club, area, division, district and yourself.