It’s common that a person will say “I’ve never heard of a place called Secunda!” For this reason, I will be presumptuous and briefly promote my town and club in the next two paragraphs.
Surrounding the coalfields of Mpumalanga lies the small town of Secunda just over an hour’s drive from Johannesburg. As the largest coal liquefaction plant in the world, it’s not surprising that the town has the highest capita of engineers per square mile in Africa. In addition to that, this very town boasts an exemplary Toastmasters club, housed at the Sasol Recreation Club every second Tuesday.
When you enter the Sasol Recreation Club and make your way to the Function Hall, you see varnished wooden floors with a U-shaped setup of tables covered with white table cloths and comfortable cushioned chairs ready for those to be seated. The pastel grey walls make an accommodating contrast that readily projects on the white screen. The venue is well illuminated with phenomenal acoustics. There is a teleconference facility, wireless internet and a glass lectern with SASOL branding. A wooden gavel is neatly placed on the lectern and the room itself looks pristine enough to eat from the floor!
This venue means business.
It exudes an aura of professionalism and conferencing.
Any time after 17:30, you will witness smartly dressed individuals walking in ahead of their 17:50. On any given encounter, attendance averages 18 members and three guests.
This is SASOL Secunda Toastmasters club and all are welcome! People from as far as Standerton attend and the professionals range from SASOL to ESKOM and government employees. You cannot miss the energy dynamic which entices any guest to want to join. This newly registered club (May 2019) is full of life and the desire to progress with every meeting. From the high caliber of speeches to the spirit of ubuntu that is fostered in the club, one cannot imagine humble beginnings.
However, the journey was a challenging one. What started off as an idea to charter a club between two colleagues required a collaborative effort, patience and resilience to successfully execute. Our Toastmasters journey is tabulated below:
Without manuals or resources, our current president guided us from experience and trained as we went along with the intention of roping us in to becoming Toastmasters and accessing training material. This journey would take an entire nine months to eventually culminate in the birth of a chartered club.
Our setbacks ranged from securing a venue to attracting and converting visitors to registered members, but ours is a coming of age story. Throughout the nine months of chartering a club, we continued diligently with Toastmasters ‘meetings’ and maintained the discipline of a pilgrim to their promised land. This passion and drive would eventually secure us sponsorship for a venue and even see us having our club mentors assisting us in both a financial and advisory capacity because of their faith in us.
We lost some dedicated people along the way due to unforeseen circumstances such as retrenchments, relocations and personal reasons. These were trying times, but not all hope was lost. Ours was to keep on keeping on.
We were encouraged by having Toastmasters from Johannesburg visit us and even sponsor our trophies and name badges. Attending Club Officer Training also kept the fire burning within and reminded us that we are not and are never alone in this journey.
Despite having reached this milestone in Secunda, this is only the beginning and the best is yet to come.
The take home message from an idea to chartering a club is as follows:
- Committed people can be made competent (collaborate with committed people)
- The lack of resources is not an excuse to get started. Start!
- Find mentors (always readily available) within the Toastmasters body and consult tirelessly. They are there for you.
- The right attitude and commitment goes a long way
- Don’t be afraid to market and put your club out there. People yearn for Toastmasters!
Next time you find yourself visiting any Toastmasters club, understand that things don’t happen overnight. Don’t be intimidated by state of the art facilities and venues. If your chartered club does not embody state of the art, don’t be discouraged. It’s the people who make a club a success and ultimately our contagious spirit of excellence draws the right people to making everything else come into place. Even if our venue was under a baobab tree out in the wild, I’d still attend.
May you be inspired from our story to lend a helping hand where possible and also be given the tenacity to weather any storm when chartering a club or starting something in your own personal capacity. After all, it has been said, “You don’t need to be great to get started, but you need to get started to be great”.
I take my hat off to the 20+ heroes who made SASOL Secunda Toastmasters possible.
Toastmasters, where leaders are indeed made!