A Storyteller Salutes Toastmasters International

I emcee VOX at Gizzi's in Delray Beach, Florida

I emceed VOX at Gizzi’s in Delray Beach

A wonderful professional storyteller friend of mine once denigrated “Toastmasters storytelling” to me. I don’t think she knew that I was an active Toastmaster from 1998-2006, or that I still write for the organization. I believe she was making the point that when Toastmasters tell stories, they do so in an instrumental way, that is, the story doesn’t succeed in and of itself as a work of art, but rather as a means to an end, presumably one that is business- or education-oriented.

Toastmasters storytelling is not only goal-oriented; it also looks different. It allows the teller to move around the stage at strategic moments, much like the paragraph breaks in written language. Sometimes it employs props, or other visual aids. Interaction, if any, tends to be more direct than the subtle co-creation of, for lack of a better word, aesthetic storytelling.

Sometimes I tell stories one way, at different times the other.  But in any case, I wouldn’t be a storyteller without Toastmasters. I have written, told and even recorded stories since I was young, but I rarely wanted attention from a crowd, and certainly not from strangers. I didn’t even have a wedding due to my fear of having all eyes on me! With the single exception of standing in a classroom in front of students, I couldn’t bear the spotlight.

Now, looking back, I have such regret about missed opportunities that I must constantly remind myself that I am fortunate that at least I found this organization when I did. Only after obsessively attending and participating in Toastmasters club meetings for a couple of years did I venture into the professional storytelling world. Before, I hadn’t had the slightest interest in anything but writing and teaching. And I certainly didn’t have the skills I have now.

Storytelling and  public speaking can blend together very nicely and effectively. I have said that I think of teaching, speaking, acting and storytelling as sort of like the U.S., Great Britain, Australia and Canada. In each case, the four share many things in common, and so at first glance you’d think it would be an easy leap from one to the other. But similarly in each case, the similarities melt away the better you know them. I think that’s a good thing, because we have so much more to discover.

From time to time, an audience member will tell me that I’m so good, I am “really an actress.” Or a student will refer to a storytelling performance as a “speech” and a storyteller as a “speaker.” I am working on stopping this from bothering me, but with mixed success. Storytelling is storytelling, I tell myself, and my interlocutor. It succeeds and fails on its own merits. But that’s not really true. Storytelling is aesthetic communication, whether at a Toastmasters convention or around the kitchen table. We gatekeepers do no one a service.

Toastmasters, on the other hand, is a gift to us all.

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