By Coach Delisa Deavenport, MBA, CPC
As I took my seat at the Board of Director’s meeting that fall afternoon many days ago, I can remember how it felt like my stomach was doing flip flops. I noticed that just breathing was proving to be a challenge. I was not a board member. I was the Director of Finance for a small non-profit in downtown Dallas. However, the Board of Directors of this small non-profit was made up of prestigious, professional women and men from Dallas that held much power and money. These influential difference-makers were eminently well known in all of Dallas. I often see their names in newsprint, television and on numerous buildings as they made their mark in that fine city.
My CEO felt it was important for me, as the new Director of Finance, to report the financials of the non-profit directly to the board and field financial questions. I was not nervous about my financial ability. I was intimidated by such powerful people and felt completely inferior and self-conscious as a person. As it turns out, I am no longer worried about situations where the worst can go wrong. I have experienced this dreadful phenomenon and have surprisingly lived through it. Although humiliated, I left a much more educated person as to how esteemed board meeting etiquette is carried out.
There he was, Mr. Bobby Lyle, Chairman of the Board – a powerful, renowned Dallas oilman. I do not remember exactly what Mr. Lyle said to me, but I do remember my response, “No Bobby, that is not what I said”. As I completed that short sentence, I heard gasps from around the room as if they saw someone falling out of the sky as they peered out the full length-windows on that 42nd floor. I stopped and looked at my CEO in hopes that she could somehow relay to me what had just happened but then I heard Mr. Lyle say, “Get this woman out of here,” referring to me of course.
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Later my CEO explained that I violated three major unwritten protocols of highly distinguished board meetings. First, NEVER call the Chairman of the Board by his first name unless you are the closest of friends and even then, caution is used. Second, you never insult the Chairman of the Board by making a statement that implies HE said something improper. Third, I should have either waited until I truly understood what his concerns were or asked simple, short questions to help me understand how I could better explain my results. I was never asked back to that board meeting.
My CEO suggested I find a Toastmasters group to join. She would have the company pay the dues. I went to my first meeting and it was not what I had expected. I was confused but excitingly surprised. That was a 7:00 AM meeting and I quickly knew that I was not going to get up that early every week, so I found an evening meeting. I won the Table Topics ribbon that first night. I found out later that they give guests a ribbon when they participate. I liked the recognition. I drank the Kool-Aid and became hooked. I faithfully attended; I had always dreamed of becoming a motivational speaker. The results were remarkable – growth in confidence and my communication skills soared. What a difference being in the right environment makes in learning new proficiencies. Being around people I truly felt a connection with and trusted to help me grow, was such an amazing ambiance. I have since, addressed many board meetings quite successfully and with complete confidence and respect.
I left the aforementioned job about a year later as we moved from the busy life Dallas offers, to a rural, more laid-back area. I accepted a job as Director of Finance for a mid-size company, United Way. This organization had a Toastmaster club that met in its community room. The United Way CEO was the club president. One section of the Toastmasters meetings is Table Topics. A few people at each meeting are asked a question by the Table Topics Master. Each club member responds to the question, extemporaneously with a one to two-minute answer. Thinking impromptu is still hard for me some several years later but back then, it was almost impossible. My United Way CEO would pop into my office door a few times a day with a Table Topic question, “ What is the difference between living and existing?”, “What would you regret not fully doing, being or having in your life?”, or my favorite, ”What is the most desirable trait a person can possess?”. He would just stand there, earnestly waiting until I gave him a complete and acceptable Toastmaster Table Topics answer.
Fast forward a few years. The time finally came to put in my notice at United Way and take the leap of faith to start my motivational speaking and coaching business. It was a bittersweet day. I would miss the security a J-O-B’s steady paycheck brings. I would replace it with purposeful intention using the skills Toastmasters continued to bring to me. I practiced my keynotes at my Toastmaster club meetings. I received mixed results; I could tell by the look on their faces. Finally, one day my fellow Toastmaster explained to me that I sounded like an informercial – a great infomercial – but an informercial nonetheless – straight forward with all the pertinent facts but no connection or emotions. Another fellow toastmaster pointed out that I spoke at the audience rather than to the audience.
A club member explained that I seemed more concerned with what I wanted to tell the audience than focusing on giving each member of the audience value that they could then take home and use. Still, another club member insisted that I was more concerned with getting my speech exactly right and that I needed to just get out in the community and practice knowing I would get it wrong a few times. Boy was she right. Today I am still learning to perform my keynotes and I get better and better each time I give one. I concentrate on that one person sitting in the audience that needs to hear a sincere, effective message to change their future. I finally have people coming up to me after my talks or sending me notes or emails telling me that I gave them true direction and that they were truly inspired.
The Toastmasters environment has given me so much more than confidence or speaking skills. I learn about myself. I learn what my weaknesses are. I learn to accept what I can not change and grow in those areas that I can. The leadership aspect of Toastmasters gives me these types of opportunities. I have thoroughly offended some people and I have made sincere, deep friendships with others. We see each other at our best and our worst. We provide a safe, learning atmosphere in which to better ourselves. Of course, you get as much out of Toastmasters as you put in it. Some people stay a few months, some a few years and some a few decades.
My home club, Positive Professionals Toastmasters in Port Huron, MI is having an event called, A Taste of Toastmasters, on November 17, 2019, at 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM in the Sperry 2nd Floor Dinnerhouse. The event is free and there is a pizza – salad bar included. Sit back, eat pizza and feel free to get yourself an adult beverage at the Dinnerhouse bar. Bring a date and enjoy a Sunday afternoon on us.
Delisa Deavenport is the founder of Healthy Evolutions, LLC, a coaching company that focuses on learning quieting techniques to find your direction, purpose and joy.
Coach Delisa shares her message to “Find Your Direction in Your Quiet” and authored a book by the same title, published in March 2019. She describes her life with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and how she finally learned to manage her anxiety, quit drinking and find joy and purpose. She is currently writing a book titled “One Man’s Courage, One Mother’s Strength”, the story of fighting for her son’s survival from alcohol, malnutrition, dehydration over a two-year period stunning the medical profession with his complete recovery.
Before devoting her life’s work to coaching and public speaking, Delisa worked in the nonprofit finance world after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Walsh College and her MBA in Leadership from Argosy University. She is an active member of Toastmasters, a certified speaker and Legacy instructor from the Ziglar Corporation, a certified coach from the Professional Coach Academy and her proudest accomplishment – “granny’ to a precious little boy named DJ.