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Craig's Heart for Toastmasters

More Than Shouting into the Wind – Craig’s Heart for Toastmasters

August 9, 2023

Unlike previous generations, those who make their careers in today’s auto-repair industry have an impressive array of outlets to share their multitudes of familiar frustrations.  

Social media offers a simple way to commiserate.  A simple way to vent.  A simple catharsis.

Are these perennially popular social media groups producing anything?  

Are those lengthy threads of lamentations anything more than a cry for help?  

Are we wasting our time digitally shouting into the wind? 

Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, wrote of three C’s.  Three C’s not to do.

Do not:

  • Criticize
  • Condemn
  • Complain

Criticism is negative energy, defensive, retaliatory.

Condemnation is an attack, sometimes personal, and ignores good qualities.

Complaining means we focus on what’s missing, not on what we can improve.  

When talking about this, I will refer to the three C’s as Three C Discourse or 3CD.My lifelong journey in auto-repair has involved all kinds of struggles. At various stages of maturity, I responded poorly, even terribly. 3CD on full throttle in a way that many auto techs know!  I had plenty of justifiable reasons for my frustrations, as do many others who resort to 3CD of public forums.

Fortunately, when I was flying on 3CD afterburners, I wasn’t engaged in social media.  Few who know me now, knew me then.  I also feel that those who know me now… wouldn’t have wanted to know me then!  

As Carnegie points out in his book, I’m certain that 3CD costs people friends and influence.  In my worst years of frustration, I remember seeing people fixate on my frustration, never the things I was frustrated about.  If the digital age we are in makes our language a multiplier, and 3CD makes others defensive, we’re in fact preventing or delaying meaningful actions.  I feel unique and fortunate that before I became engaged in social media (2017), I had already discovered a coach, the benefits of networking, and the power of having a culture of support. 

This eventually resulted in me traveling to AAPEX in 2017.  My coach, Bob Greenwood, encouraged it.  He met me there and ensured I didn’t get lost in the city of Las Vegas. 

A Better Way to Use Social Media:

While at AAPEX, mid-week I caught an early AM keynote presentation I will never forget. 

It was the first time I heard Chris Cloutier speak.  In fact, this was the second time I ever heard of Chris.

The first time I heard of him was at dinner the night prior when another mentor, technical trainer Eric Ziegler, talked about Chris and his software.

On the stage, Chris was speaking about digital communication, transparency, and challenges facing the industry.

I remember his words connecting with me, thinking to myself, this guy gets it.

I remember his presence on that stage and how confident, open, and sincere he was.
I remember- feeling influenced.  What’s more, I learned Chris was building solutions for key problems in the industry.  

He was walking the walk, not just talking.

While he was still on stage, I searched for Chris’ profile on LinkedIn and requested to connect.
When he was finished speaking, he accepted the connection request.  For me, a guy new to LinkedIn and professional networking, this was a great day.

Later the same day, at an ASA seminar, Chris deliberately took a moment to introduce himself and shake my hand.  As I was still widely unknown, for a keynote speaker to take the time to shake my hand… Well, this further made me feel like I mattered.

Over the next few weeks, I began consuming articles and blogs that Chris had written. Having found a respectable person with shared outlooks, I commented on a few articles through LinkedIn once or twice. Chris always responded.

Three months after AAPEX, I reached back out to Chris on LinkedIn looking for an opportunity. 

I let him know things weren’t going well at the company I joined (I wasn’t alone in leaving that company at the time.)  I was on the last week of my two week notice.

It was the last time we talked on LinkedIn. 

Now we just talk on the phone, use google-chat, or company email… (lots of emails!).

I joined Chris’ team in January of 2018. 

Finding Toastmasters

It wasn’t long into my time working with Chris that I realized how unique he was as a leader.I came to discover a great deal of characteristics that impressed me.  Chief among which was his ability to deliver constructive feedback and develop those around him with the same fervor he had for developing software.

In time, I learned those characteristics I admired were not something Chris was born with as some innate ability.  This was a person who had struggles of his own and overcame obstacles.  Those admirable characteristics…they were learned, practiced, and implemented.

I remember well a day, several months into my employment, I had just done a presentation that had plenty of room for improvement.  Chris didn’t pick me apart or criticize; it was just clear I was trying to prove myself in the talk and could have paused more to listen to the client. 

He recommended Toastmasters.
I had never heard of Toastmasters before. 
Chris explained it succinctly as a club focused on practicing and developing public speaking and leadership skills.  He offered to cover the cost and taught me how to find a club in my area.  It took a few months to get to my first meeting, but once I did…I was hooked. 

I quickly saw how my club echoed the same characteristics I appreciated in Chris’ leadership style.  I saw that this, along with Chris’ example, would help me develop those same traits.  Perhaps even preparing me to speak on a stage.

Toastmasters meetings are well structured, highly professional, and a great deal of fun if you find the right club. 

Meetings are split in two halves. 

During the first half, members give planned speeches and are evaluated on those speeches.  There is a speech evaluator that gives a verbal evaluation after each speech.  The evaluator has specific items they look for and generally help the speaker understand if they accomplished their objective or what could have helped them do so. 

The second half of the meeting is for practicing impromptu speaking.  This is called Table Topics.  All guests and members are welcome to participate here, and a random topic is chosen for you to speak on for one minute.  It often becomes quite hilarious (…if you find the right club; my home club has improv comedians!).

During the meeting, there are roles filled by members of the club. 

  • The Toastmaster keeps the meeting on pace and manages transitions.
  • The “Ah-Er Counter” looks for filler words.
  • The “Grammarian” looks for good or improper use of language.
  • The “Timekeeper” keeps track of time, alerting speakers when they are near the limits.
  • Lastly, there is a general evaluator that quite literally evaluates the other roles, evaluators, and the meeting itself.

Each evaluator role gives their report at the end of the meeting. 

New members quickly realize that  taking meeting roles is one of the most important things to practice.  It makes you a better listener, a better notetaker, and it constantly teaches you to give and receive feedback effectively.

The Toastmasters meeting structure is designed with feedback and evaluation at the core of it all.  Even if public speaking isn’t your goal, we all communicate.  We all have a voice.  Toastmasters’ mission is to make you more effective as a communicator and as a leader. 

Beyond meetings, there are even online learning paths through Toastmasters International that teach topics as wide ranging from project management and executive leadership to presentation mastery and the use of humor. 

Toastmasters in the Auto Repair Industry

What I am hoping to show through my brief story and summary of Toastmasters is something more than motivating people to change.  I have come to believe that you cannot motivate people.  Not really.  The best thing leaders in this industry can do is find what motivates others.  That happens through deeper and more deliberate communication.  I think Toastmasters, or at least its model, can bring about the professional image we see in some, but want in more.

If our community, online or otherwise, is generating endless cycles of 3C discourse, all that can do is drag us down.  Since that discourse never seems to stop and appears in these times to worsen… we need to learn a new way to communicate.

People who are listened to don’t need to cry for help.
People who take communication seriously do more than shout into the wind.

Let’s look at how Toastmasters could be applied as a solution to 3C discourse:

  • Criticism vs. Feedback – Where criticism is negative energy, feedback is delivered as positive reinforcement.  Learning to give and receive feedback is the most important characteristic of Toastmasters.  The chief difference between criticism and feedback is in the desire to see another person succeed.
  • Condemnation vs. Listening – Labeling others causes them to become defensive.  Learning to take an interest in people and learning to really listen is another key reason to participate in Toastmasters.  Look for the positives.  If you aren’t getting along with someone, resolve “I must get to know them better!”
  • Complaining vs. Ownership – Complaining surrenders control to others.  Creating a desired future state is within all of our control.  If you catch yourself complaining about something, ask instead what you could do to make it better, and do it.  Anyone can shift the culture in a shop.  Toastmasters clubs thrive on inviting members to help make meetings great.  There are even leadership roles that can be taken to practice your skills at implementing changes.

I believe a key step to changing the industry has to involve engaging with each other at a higher level.  We’ve put this belief into action.  Along with Chris Cloutier and Carm Capriotto, we created Remarkable Results Toastmasters.  An online Toastmasters club for the auto-repair industry.

We hope that people will join us as a guest and learn the Toastmasters way.  Owners, techs, and advisors – all are welcome to join!   

Craig O'Neill

Craig O'Neill

Vice President of Training

Craig O'Neill