The great improvement

This time it’s Domeremember Enya’s turn to talk about what he thinks about the parallels among the two different educational programs, the Competent Communicator manual and the current Pathways.

“I have been a Toastmaster for just less than three years and have completed the competent communication manual under the old education programme. I switched to the Pathways programme when it was launched and have since done two projects, one of them an ice-breaker. This article is about my experience under both programmes.

The old education programme was compact, simple and easy to understand. As a new member, this was important because I needed a simple system that I could easily slot into. There were ten projects to complete, each aiming to develop a unique skill or set of skills. I understood the objectives of the projects and ran with it. A new member often has fears and confidence issues and when a system is easy to understand and as compact as the old programme, it gives them the confidence that they can do it. It also shows them that speaking is not as complicated as they had thought. Another merit of the old programme was that it had clear goals and targets. I knew exactly what I had to do to achieve an award. For example, I needed to complete ten projects from the Competent Communication manual to get the CC award. The clarity of the process and the fact that the end was in sight served as motivation for me.

However, the old programme was a bit narrow and one-dimensional. Because of its simplicity, there was that tendency to get comfortable and operate on autopilot mode. If that happens, it becomes mere routine and stops being challenging. This is often accompanied by the temptation to do the barest minimum to achieve the awards. Also, the programme seemed generic and did not consider preferences or the fact that people come to Toastmasters with different speaking challenges, and for different reasons. Therefore, it felt like a one-cap-fit-all system, which could undermine its effectiveness.

The Pathways programme, on the other hand, is broader and multidimensional. There are up to 300 competencies across ten paths. Hence, it attempts to capture the different preferences and challenges that people may have. The initial assessment I did when selecting a path gave me the sense that the one I got was tailored to suit my needs. It felt like my aspirations and challenges were taken into consideration. Furthermore, the Pathways is designed to develop a range of vital speaking, and non-speaking, skills at the same. For example, I had to carry out deep research while preparing the project I did under Pathways. This helped me to improve my researching skills alongside speaking skills. This has since proved useful to me. The broader nature and range of competencies of the Pathways programme make it more challenging. This forces people to go out their comfort zone and builds greater confidence as they develop other useful skills. I believe this is what makes the Pathways programme more effective.

The drawback with the Pathways is that it comes across as complicated and confusing. I still don’t understand completely what I am required to do to achieve an award. I also get the sense that there are too many projects. Maybe it is just me being lazy, but I did not have a hard time understanding the old programme. This can be demoralising, especially for new members. I believe it is important they get recognition early to encourage them.

So, that has been my experience with both programmes and I know it would be different for different people. It is my opinion that the Pathways programme is more effective. Although it still seems complicated to some, I believe that as we spend more time with it, we will understand it better.”

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A new Path, a new goal

We continue our travel through the ideas of our members who have had the chance to try both the Competent Communicator classic manual and Pathway.

This time, it is Moira Beaton, DTM, to tell us about her impressions between the previous and the current program.

“As an active member of Toastmasters since July 2004, I had been fully immersed in the traditional education programme and reached Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) status in 2011. Many DTMs start again by delivering speeches and earning the same awards all over again. I decided to explore the advanced manuals I hadn’t already completed.  It was interesting but meant I had no clear goals, and no awards to pursue.

I hadn’t been completely idle, though. I took on leadership roles in the clubs and District 71, took part in contests, looked after the club website and written blog posts for the club and for the division. But, something was missing – a greater challenge.

Then along came Pathways and, in 2017, I became a Pathways Guide. This entailed attending online webinars hosted by Toastmasters International, visiting clubs in Division S to deliver presentations about Pathways, hosting weekly virtual webinars for club VPEs, answering members’ questions and, generally, be available to help with the changeover. This meant that not only was I helping the clubs but I was also gaining in-depth knowledge about how Pathways works.

Change isn’t easy and members greeted the new programme with mixed feelings. Some looked forward to the challenge, some viewed it with suspicion, and some didn’t want to hear about it at all. Like anything, it has its pros and cons. Here’s my view:

On the positive side:

  • Pathways is more focused on the member’s individual needs. With ten Paths to choose from, members start off by taking an assessment to help them choose the Path that’s right for them. In the traditional system, all members work from the same set of manuals with the same projects and objectives.
  • Pathways is delivered online although you can request printed materials. It’s available twenty-four hours a day, on multiple digital devices and members have access to their Path, projects, information, videos, and tutorials. And you can start straight away after you join – no waiting for manuals to arrive by post.
  • Members have to take more responsibility for their own learning. Pathways forces you to stop and consider your speaking abilities by completing a short questionnaire at the beginning and end of every project.
  • Evaluations are more targeted – there are individual evaluation forms for every project, all easily downloaded. And they have easy-to-score evaluation criteria to help you evaluate.
  • There is more emphasis on mentoring and it’s an integral part of the learning, more so than in the traditional programme.
  • DTM – you now have to undertake a ‘capstone’ project before you can become a Distinguished Toastmaster rather than reach DTM status by default after you have completed multiple awards, as you can under the traditional programme.

On the negative side:

  • There is a lot of information on Basecamp to help members navigate through the programme and that can be confusing.
  • Members need more time and focus to understand the projects than they did when all you had was one manual. You can miss an important step if you’re not careful, e.g. Level One, Project Two – Evaluation and Feedback states you have to deliver two speeches and one evaluation and the evaluation has to be evaluated like a 2-3 minute speech with a designated evaluator.
  • The Paths lean heavily toward communication and leadership with only one Path – Presentation Mastery – focussing solely on communication skills.
  • Pathways is an online programme, although printed materials are available, and that may be difficult for those who don’t use a computer. However, club officers and members can often help with downloading materials.

On the whole, I think the introduction of Pathways was a necessary step that Toastmasters International had to take. It had the difficult task of bringing the organisation up to date with the ever-increasing desire for online learning and, at the same time, continuing the legacy of its founder, Ralph C. Smedley.

I think Ralph would approve of Pathways because he was an innovator and, although the vehicle that delivers the learning has changed, the heart of Toastmasters – the club meeting – has not changed. When he first had the idea of teaching communication skills in a club rather than in a traditional adult-learning class, he said it was because “we learn best in moments of enjoyment”. That’s still the aim of Toastmasters – enjoyable club meetings where members learn skills and put their learning into practice. And I’m sure Pathways won’t change that.”

The ‘Lang Scots Mile’

Our Pathway program started some months ago, and many of our members have had already the chance to try it. In order to provide some interesting insight on what this change has meant, we contacted some of those people who started in the Competent Communicator classic manual, and did the transition to the new program, to ask their impressions in this change.

The first one to answer was Neil MacLure, ACB, CL, who sent the following thoughts…

 

“From the public speaking perspective, there are two important lessons incorporated in Pathways which, at best, only got lip service in the traditional program.

 

The first is how to give and receive evaluations properly.

This not only gives some practical advice and actual practice in evaluating a fellow toastmaster, but also enables to develop a critical ear for structure and delivery which, in turn, helps in crafting one’s own speech projects.

 

The second important lesson in Pathways you don’t find in the traditional program is an appreciation of the benefits of mentoring.

Unfortunately, up until now, education on the befits of mentoring has been patchy – to the extent that even some “experienced” members have missed the opportunity to be better speakers because they think it’s best to do it themselves and don’t need mentoring.

On the other hand, all the Toastmasters I’ve known who became excellent speakers willingly accepted mentoring… without exception.

 

The other major difference is in the much wider variety of projects offered by Pathways.

In the traditional program, the new member was required to do all ten projects of the “Competent Communicator” series before being allowed to embark on anything of special interest, such as humorously speaking or storytelling. That could take two years – if they stayed the course. Furthermore, if the member really wanted to solve a personal issue, such as leading a team at work, they’d have to wait a long time to get a chance of the necessary experience… and then only if they were prepared to join a club committee and be elected to a senior role.

In Pathways the member can choose right from the outset which projects, including leadership projects, will be most helpful to them and of most interest. This is much more time efficient for the member.

 

In summary, my view is that Pathways wins over the traditional program by a ‘Lang Scots Mile’.”

Personal views

The last meeting, on Thursday 30th August, was characterised by the usual variety of speeches and ideas, and what really stood out was the high level of delivery they all had.

Wellcome Musiyamanje’s “Personal Identity” was his first icebreaker in the “Innovative planning” Pathway program. He started wondering how we can talk about who we really are, and not about some “exterior” aspect. He took his first name as an example, something which always caused some additional, puzzling questions when he introduced himself to someone else. He amusingly confirmed that people usually said “Wellcome, you’re welcome”; he also added the other two recurring questions they made were if he was Nigerian and if he were a student. Questions could define three different types of personal aspects. There is the “Personal Identity” (our own features and characteristics), the “Personal Image” (how we are seen by the others) and the “Personal Brand” (a combination of both elements). Wellcome has several qualifications, but they don’t define his identity: another person, too, could have the same qualifications, but they will never be him. Talking about his job and what he does, as well, doesn’t define him. However, his personal identity can be revealed by what he likes, for example, to teach, to solve problems and to help the others… and if he succeeds in all this, he’ll be happy and, answering to a thank you, he’ll say “You’re welcome”.

Eileen Scott, too, had her icebreaker speech in the “Dynamic Leadership” Pathways program, although this was certainly not her first speech in our club. She started recalling her first icebreaker nine years earlier when the path to regain her abilities as speaker had started. She thinks what helped her a lot was the evaluation, so she decided to do a survey about herself, distributed among her family and friends. She summarised the results in a series of slides, and she commented on them. There were different types of questions, like what she likes and dislikes, what are her strengths and what one likes the best about her. At the end of this amusing examination, she quoted Robert Burns (“O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!”), and she concluded the greatest gift of all this was the evaluation.

Finally, Marcin Aleksander Radecki reached the fifth step in the “Interpretative reading” program, that is “The Oratorical Speech”. For this, he deftly read “Stephen Fry on the Catholic Church”, a transcript of his speech during a debate hosted in the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, in October 2009, about whether the Catholic Church could be considered or not a force for good in the world.

It’s always interesting and enjoyable to see such different types of speeches from the two parallel programs, the classic “Competent Communicator” Manual, and the new Pathway program, and you can be sure there will be other new interesting and engaging speeches at our next meeting, on Thursday 13th September.

Slice of life speeches

On Thursday 16th August the usual triplet of speeches entertained all the members and guests who attended our meeting.

Hendrick Hendrick delivered his first speech entitled “A Beautiful Mind” for his “Persuasive Influence” Pathway program. With this icebreaker, he wanted to talk a bit about growth. In his opinion, growth gives him a better balance in life, and any kind of growth improves relationships, beliefs, etc. He studied Chemical engineering for 4 years in Manchester: when he succeeded in his exams, he felt he had positively grown because he could grasp the subject; when they didn’t work well, he felt he had grown in that occasion, too, despite the results. Now he is working in the IT field, but he doesn’t think he wasted any time studying something completely different from what he is currently doing because that period made him grow. Looking back at his past, he realizes he had an attitude slightly narrow: he only thought at the academy and not about other things. On the contrary, now he is trying to learn different things. He is also trying to change his mindset: the most important growth is the mind so he invites everybody to make our beautiful mind even more beautiful.

Then with “My Grandfather, an extraordinary man”, Ricardo Galera continued his Competent Communication manual, with his second speech – that is, “Organise your Speech”, whose objective is “Strong opening and conclusion; outline that can be followed and understood; clear message with supporting material; appropriate transitions”. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, his grandfather took a spoon before they fled to Catalonia, because it would have been useful to eat. The man had always had a hard life: at 4 he lost his mother; at 7 he went to live with a relative because his father married a second time and his new wife didn’t want him with them; at 11 he became a shepherd, at 17 he went to the Army and some time later he married Carmen. They had 7 children and lived on a farm. His grandfather had a passion to tell stories, and Ricardo provided us with an example: when he was a boy, he used to climb a tree to watch the birds. Once, however, he found a snake and to escape him, he fell from 20 feet high. When he woke up, he returned home and was punished for his lateness. His grandfather, with all the difficulties he experienced and with his seven children, left a legacy of love and kindness.

Finally, Mabel Prieto delivered, too, her second speech, as Ricardo did, and the title was a declaration of what she was going to tell: “Digital Humanitarians”. In Mabel’s words and experience, the Internet deeply changed the world. She volunteered in a refugee camp, and she noticed that refugees couldn’t do anything while they were waiting for their visa, and this process could take up to 2 years. There, she discovered how the Internet could help them. For example, there was an app which was able to top up the mobiles of the people in need. This opened her eyes to the possibilities which could lie in front of her. Last Christmas a teacher, who was teaching English through Skype, contacted her because she was looking for a partner in her new project: to teach languages to refugees. She accepted the challenge, she learnt how social media work and the possible impact they may have, and now she has a company working only online, without a physical office. She also gave three examples of people they helped to learn a new language because they had to leave their countries and relocate somewhere else, because of their beliefs, skills or sexual orientation.

Three different personal experiences and speeches, which let us wonder what we might expect at the next meeting on 30th August.