Interview with Chevening Scholar, Toastmaster Stephen Francis UCT Toastmasters Club, Jamaica
Take a read or listen to the interview with Chevening Scholar, Toastmaster Stephen Francis!
You joined the UCT Toastmasters Club in Jamaica in 201. How has joining the club helped you to hone your leadership and communication skills?
Being a Toastmaster has helped me to navigate very tense situations. Leadership will always put you in positions where decisions have to be made and you have to interact with different personalities on the team. I have done this in my career as well as in my personal life and Toastmasters has helped me to fulfil my role as a club executive and member of different standing committees within the club. Toastmasters has empowered me to become a better communicator as I tend to speak quickly and I have fine-tuned my speaking to eliminate filler words. I am also able to measure the pace of my speech.
Given the fact that Toastmasters is the place where leaders are made, relate your choice of focus on policy and leadership in your educational pursuits to Toastmasters.
Initially my choice did not start off being related to Toastmasters, however I can see where there are differences and areas of overlap. Based on the projects in the Pathways Program, especially the one related to understanding your leadership style, everyone has to do that project. The project helped me to understand myself as well as the people with whom I work. With the focus of my academic pursuits on leadership and policy, it makes me happy because I covered the content in Toastmasters. This is one of the main areas of overlap.
You are pursuing two paths in the Pathways Education Program, Innovative Planning and Visionary Communication, how have you been able to straddle the projects in those two paths at the same time?
I think of Toastmasters as one experience, not as a dichotomy. I joined Toastmasters to work on the two paths, and even though they are different things on Pathways I view them as an engagement. I do not divorce the concepts in my mind, but view them as one path that I am trying to achieve.
You have served as your Club President, Vice President of Membership as well as Vice President of Public Relations. What is the value in serving on the executive of a club?
Service is one of the core values of Toastmasters International, it is also my core value and that of several institutions with which I am associated.
Service to me means helping people to achieve their highest good. Serving on the executive, while doing the different projects on Pathways are ways in which I can leverage the skills that I am learning in Toastmasters. It is not until I fulfilled leadership roles at the club and district level that I felt all the feelings that come with the leadership aspect of the program.
What can you take from Toastmasters as you traverse this particular journey as a scholar at the University of Bristol, UK given the cultural differences?
It is a different country with a different culture. One of the first things that struck me when I landed in the UK and exited the airport is that for the first time in my life, I realised that I am part of a minority group.
There are a lot of Asians, and my leadership experience in Toastmasters will definitely help me to navigate the cultural differences.
The second thing is my networking skills that I have managed to hone in my journey as a Toastmaster. I say to people that UCT Toastmasters Club is not a club, it is a family which welcomes everybody and you feel that familial warmth.
Having applied for the Chevening scholarship you would have had to undertake an interview. How has Toastmasters helped you to prepare for that interview? I am sure you may be telling me something about Table Topics.
It is almost as though you can read my mind. It is a sort of Divine Providence that led up to that moment this year, as this was the year that I took on Table Topics and the competition with full force. I conquered the area level and there was a lot of preparation that went into the competition. Every meeting I attended, I volunteered to answer a question, because it builds that skill for you to answer questions off the cuff.
Participating in Table Topics was not intentionally a part of my interview preparation, it was like Divine Providence. I discovered that even though the scholarship interview is the most intimidating experience that I have had thus far, I answered the questions with a sense of calm even though I did not know what the panel was going to ask me. Having done this before in a supportive environment with persons who care for my development, made the process more manageable.
What is the message that you want to say to young Toastmasters or anyone who has not become a member of a Toastmasters club or is aspiring to become a scholar like you?
To the persons who are already a part of the Toastmasters Program, I encourage you to take on the Program with full force. Toastmasters has put me on the cutting edge of every single job opportunity and every single room that I have walked into. Work the program for what it is, it works only if you work it. You will get out of it, what you put in.
To the persons who are not yet toastmasters, what is it that you are waiting for to make that decision? There is a line from one of my favorite poems that says what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life? Toastmasters is the place where you can learn the necessary skills within a very supportive environment.
Before I joined Toastmasters you could not get me to be part of a recorded interview. If you told me that I was going to serve in any capacity in Toastmasters I would have told you no. Whatever it is that you want to achieve, Toastmasters is the place to equip you with the skills and scholarship for success.