I returned recently from the Toastmasters International Convention 2016 where I spoke in the Level 2 final for the Accredited Speaker (AS) designation and earned the designation as the 68th Accredited Speaker and only the 15th woman to earn the designation. Fellow Toastmaster and 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix also earned the designation. There were 5 of us going for it.
The journey to work toward AS started in September/October 2015 when I made the decision to submit my application. It’s a little less than a years time but boy what a year of activity leading up to that point.
I made it the first attempt. Sometimes it takes more than one attempt. While it may seem like a short amount of time and that it seemed “easy” for me, it was not. No one knows what went on behind the scenes to get me to AS other than a few close friends and my coach.
How did I accomplish that goal? The following are the strategies I used when setting and obtaining the goal to achieve the Accredited Speaker designation plus background of what got me to the decision point to go for it. These strategies can be used to achieve any goal you set for yourself.
I have been speaking since 2007 when I joined Toastmasters (end of 2006) and started speaking on behalf of a non-profit, helping women in crisis. We would do leadership and self esteem workshops for women in shelters. I entered and won some speech contests in Toastmasters and developed a brand around my Harley and started speaking about “taking control of the handlebars of your life.” That went nowhere fast and I got some coaching and re-positioned myself with my negotiation expertise and started to get paid. I was straddling a full time corporate job while building my speaking business until the first part of this year.
I built credibility through publicity and speaking at various conferences and events. When I decided to go for the AS designation, I met the requirements laid out in the application (25 speaking gigs, 15 of which are paid to non Toastmasters Audiences of 20 or more).
There is also a requirement to submit a 25-45 minutes unedited video with an introduction read at the beginning. It must be to a non Toastmasters audience of 20 or more. Most of my talks are 1 hour or more. I needed to do a shorter talk to get the video. Special shout out to Craig Duswalt and his Mastermind that I’m part of for supporting me. They were the audience in November of 2015 where I recorded the talk during a main session of the Mastermind with about 80 in attendance.
The following are steps to success I took toward achieving that goal and can be used to achieve any goal you are setting for yourself:
1.Set big goals then go to work to achieve them and visualize your success
Setting the goal requires some thought and preparation. When you set goals, make a “goal setting statement” such as “it is now August 19th 2016 and I have achieved becoming Toastmasters Accredited Speaker #68.” Then visualize yourself doing the goal. I visualized myself on stage doing the talk and receiving the award. Your subconscious doesn’t know what is real or imagined so visualizing it made it real to me down to my core.
Once you set the goal, then the work starts. You have to do the work in order to achieve the goal. Dreams without action are fantasies. You can’t simply dream it and expect to achieve it without putting in the work. People want to flip a light switch to have success. It doesn’t work that way. Simone Biles didn’t walk into the Olympics a champion gymnast. She worked hard to get there. You have to do the work to achieve the success. The Power is in The Work.
2. Enlist the help of coaches to guide you through the process
Once I made the decision to go for AS, I started to complete the application. I got coaching from Sheryl Roush who is not only an AS but is an advocate for the program and gives presentations often on how to become an AS. She knows how the program works and has been instrumental in moving it forward within Toastmasters.
Sometimes people say they don’t need coaching, that they are already experienced at something and will be fine. However, you have to “play the game” the way it is laid out. The only way to find out how to play the game you are playing is to find out the unique things about what you are doing. For me that meant doing a deep dive into the Accredited Speaker process to understand it so I could achieve it the first time.
Sheryl reviewed my video and application and made some suggestions on the application and helped me to ensure it included everything it needed to in order for the judges to see who I am as a speaker and professional.
We went over the application in detail. She helped me brainstorm some of the accomplishments that I didn’t think to include and wordsmithed other areas of the application. While I was doing that, I was also reaching out to 5 of my paid speaking engagements to get them to submit a form letter to Toastmasters about my performance as a speaker. The application to be considered for AS is due between January 1st and February 1st every year. It came down to the wire with the last letter coming in a couple days before the deadline. They are required to send it directly to Toastmasters.
In February I got notified that my application was accepted and I passed to Level 1 judging. Level 1 judging is where five AS judges review your video and application. They have a ballot and judge you based on criteria outlined in the AS program. It’s pass or fail to move onto Level 2 judging which is speaking for 20 minutes at the International Convention with 5 anonymous AS judges in the audience. In the end they have to ask 2 questions; would you hire this speaker and would you refer this speaker? Some of the judges take it a step further and research your “footprint” by going to your website and social media platforms to see if you are speaking professionally and what image you present as a speaker.
15 people applied to Level 1 judging. Only 10 were accepted to Level 1 judging. That means that 5 didn’t meet the submission requirements. Of those accepted only 4 passed to Level 2 judging plus one from last year that didn’t make it and was going for it again. You have the option to go for it 3 times without having to resubmit the application. We were notified in April that we passed to Level 2 judging. Then the real work started!
3. Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions and Take What You Like and Leave the Rest
Now it was time to start doing a 20-minute talk in front of as many groups as I could. No matter what goal you are going for, feedback is an important part of achieving any goal.
It is important to get feedback often outside your circle. Do not rely on only yourself and those close to you. You need to have feedback from people that you don’t know very well and see how they receive you, your presentation style and your content. You don’t have to implement all feedback if it’s not congruent to you or doesn’t feel like it fits your style or who you are.
The Level 2 talk is 20 minutes of your normal content. I attempted to take my hour talk and shrink it to 20 minutes. I headed out to a professional Toastmasters club to give the talk and they shredded it! The feedback was longer than the talk! I went home and wondered if I was ready for this. I recorded it every time I did the talk to an audience, plus the feedback when there was some. I left it alone for a few days after that first attempt, then I watched the talk and the feedback.
I realized I needed to write a specific 20-minute talk for this with my content. I wrote it and pared down the stories, analyzed and worked out which strategies and stories I would use for the 20 minutes and then started working with my AS coach on it and giving it to various Toastmasters clubs and organizations. I tweaked the language and wording over and over. I eliminated some things and added others. We worked on the slides and everything from gestures to vocal variety and all other parts of delivery. I took the coaching even though it was tough sometimes. I was having to grow as a speaker and professional during this process. I am so grateful to Sheryl for all her help and gently guiding me and pushing me when I needed it. That is what a good coach does. They let you have your moments and keep guiding you to achieve the overall outcome. I do this with my own clients as well.
In the meantime, I reached out to at least a dozen of the current active Accredited Speakers to get advice and feedback on the process and I watched all 3 speakers videos from last year. Only 1 made it and I wanted to see if I could understand what the judges saw or didn’t see. It was recommended that I not publicize what I was doing on social media as in the past it had looked like a “vote for me” campaign and didn’t go well for the speaker. I shared it with my Mastermind in the closed Facebook group and asked them not to take it outside of the group for that reason.
I kept it off of social media and told people in person and asked them not to publicize it. I shared it on social media the day before the finals, when I was at the convention.
4. Drill your skills – prepare in advance – train over and over again to master it
I trained it and drilled it at least 200 times if not more. I went over it everyday at home, in the car, on the beach. Over and over again until it became part of my DNA and not a “speech.” I bought a new suit and shoes and also visualized myself on the stage giving the talk and receiving the award. Most of all I prayed for God’s blessing.
Prior to going to DC, I arranged for someone to come do my hair and makeup the day of. I knew it would be live streamed, and there would be photo’s and a video so wanted to be able to look my best and use the photo’s and video for promotion. You have to think about some of these things in advance. Preparing in advance is a negotiation strategy I teach that applies to everyday life.
5. Enjoy the process and when you achieve the goal – enjoy it and CELEBRATE!
My daughter and I headed out to the convention in Washington DC a few days early to do some sightseeing. She was part of my talk. She was affectionately called “the prop” because I told a story about her and had her stand up to be recognized at one point in the talk. We went to the ballroom early before the convention started so I could walk the stage and plan where I would position myself. I also watched the other speakers on stage the next 2 days to see where they were positioned and what looked best to the audience.
Call time was 6:30am on the day of the finals. We started at 8:00am. My stylist John showed up at 5am to do my hair and makeup so I would “look the part.” I got up at 3:00am that day! I couldn’t sleep. I spent time praying, reading and looking at social media until it was time to let John into the building. We were staying in a 1 bedroom apartment that I got through airbnb. It was a block from the convention hotel and we had a complete studio apartment for half the price. Always thinking like a negotiator to get the best deal!
Hair and makeup done, dressed and ready to go, we arrived at the venue at 6:15am. We started the logistics discussions and practice session. During the practice session prior to the event, we each had 5 minutes to run through part of our presentation. The “clicker” had been giving other speakers problems with a delay in the slides advancing. I was concerned about that since many of my points had certain slides that needed to appear right when I said a certain phrase. These are things you have to think about as well. I am used to a handheld mic and my own clicker. Now I had a lapel mic and a much bigger clicker than I was used to. Adapting to situations is certainly something to be prepared for.
I was first up and when I was introduced I came out to music playing which was cool but they started the countdown clock when I walked out there and the music didn’t stop for a bit which threw me off for a few seconds. We were told we could not go over 20 minutes and the clock would start when we started speaking. Once I started it flowed smoothly. There was laughter and applause. The audience was with me and engaged. They cheered my daughters negotiation success after she had someone attempt to take advantage of her. They laughed at the stories and cheered for the successes. I learned later people took down copious notes and when I was done I felt great!
I was done, it was over and I watched as each of the remaining 4 gave their presentations. All nicely done. Now we had to wait to be notified. They informed us we would be notified by phone. While Sheryl Roush and Rochelle Rice were giving a presentation on how to become an Accredited Speaker, I got a text message to meet the Chief Judge out in the hall.
He told me I made it! Then I had to keep quiet until it was made official the next day. Wow! Goal accomplished. All the hard work paid off.
I forgot about what came next. I am usually audience focused and while I said my traditional prayer asking God what 3 things am I suppose to be to the audience today so I take “me” the speaker out of the picture and keep it focused on the audience, I sort of forgot about the audience in a way. I was on autopilot with my talk. It came across great but the purpose was different than the normal talks I do which put it in a different context. I was being judged after all!
What came next was the onslaught of people who told me they took notes, they learned, and they were inspired. They appreciated my talk and it really resonated with everyone. So many people came up to me and thanked me for what I shared. I was humbled and grateful. That’s why I speak, to transform people’s lives. I was so focused on doing “the talk” that I forgot that I was doing what I’ve been gifted to do at the same time; give people something they can use to change their lives!
The goal was complete the next day when they announced me as the 68th Accredited Speaker. That was my visualization of the “end step” of achieving the goal; me going on stage to receive the plaque. I visualized it down to the outfit I would be wearing! If you know me and are wondering where my signature blue is, I had blue shoes! I am so thankful, grateful and blessed to be able to achieve this goal I set for myself. I was again approached by people the entire day and into the night to take photo’s and for congratulations and accolades. It was phenomenal, amazing and so much fun.
When I got back I had one of our Connection Dinners that I hold monthly specifically to celebrate that success. That’s an important part of the end step – celebrate when you achieve something! Oftentimes we keep going onto the next goal and forget to take time to realize and celebrate what we accomplished.
Toastmasters is a great organization and I met many amazing people at the convention. The entire experience changed my life in a positive way, now it’s time to evaluate the next step. What will that be? I’m “holding my cards” while I evaluate the possibilities before me.
For your next goal, use these strategies to set that goal for yourself, whether you are going for the AS designation in Toastmasters or another goal in your life. Remember, the power is in the work, you do the work, you will have the power!
Veteran negotiation and contracts expert Eldonna Lewis-Fernandez, author of “Think Like a Negotiator,” has over 30 years of experience crafting killer deals both stateside and internationally, many in excess of $100 million. She’s currently the CEO of Dynamic Vision International—a DVBE specialized consulting and training firm that helps individuals hone negotiation skills—as well as a nationally regarded keynote speaker, session leader and panelist on the Art of Negotiation. She produces a bi-annual training on negotiation in Orange County CA and is a Toastmasters Accredited Speaker. Eldonna may be reached online at www.ThinkLikeANegotiator.com.