Shannon Beasley Taitt TM interview
From Member to Author
Shannon Beasley Taitt, MPA is a member of SAMSHA Toastmasters in Rockville, MD and president of Deep Roots Consulting.
Shannon Taitt, MPA, President and CEO of Deep Roots Consulting, LLC, is a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor, certified personal and executive coach and educational strategic planning facilitator. She is a transitional leader who believes in helping individuals and organizations get better results for and from themselves. Shannon’s personal mission is to give hope by connecting people to resources that help them live and thrive.
Why is Toastmasters important to you?
Since I was a small child I never had a problem being center stage or behind a podium speaking to people. I enjoyed the gift of storytelling that has been such a part of the oral tradition of the African-American community. I could go on for hours and hours about the stories of my life or others if someone did not take the microphone away from me. I joined Toastmasters three years ago to control the urge to talk forever and to find methods that would help me become more organized, clear, and concise.
I was also in the middle of writing my first book, “Get Your Head in the Game: Life Lessons I Learned from My Mother Through the Game of Basketball” and wanted to push myself to speak at every meeting so that I would be forced to write another small portion of a chapter for the book and get immediate feedback on what I had written in a safe and nurturing environment. Toastmasters is important to me because it’s a forum for me to try new delivery methods and styles that I may never have thought about in order to deliver a message.
As someone who wants to become a professional speaker, the consistency of being in front of people and staying in “speaker shape” is just as important as staying in physical shape is for our health. I want to be an effective communicator so being a part of Toastmasters is a necessity for this growth and development. I enjoy sharing ideas, knowledge and information with large audiences and being a part of Toastmasters has helped me believe that no matter where I’m speaking I’m among friends.
What have you gained by being a member of Toastmasters?
I have gained the ability to rely less on my notes when I speak. I have always been attached to my reams of paper when I spoke before joining Toastmasters. I used them as a crutch and didn’t feel I had the confidence to speak from my heart. That’s what people want to hear. I’m not Barbara Walters with a teleprompter in front of me reading and reporting the news. The information I’m sharing is coming from inside me. It’s a peek into my world and my perspective so I had to learn how to trust myself more when I stood in front of the audience. Toastmasters has helped me become more organized in my thoughts and not ramble on and on. It’s not about perfection in speech it is more about knowing what you are going to say. It’s not just memorizing the speech. It is about knowing how I am going to convey the message and what I am going to say. Knowing this helps me deliver in the moment and helps me connect with my audience better.
The skills I learn in Toastmasters are transferable across my entire life. It helps me when I’m talking to my family, sitting on committees in my community, and working with ministry at my church. It has taught me how to be a more thoughtful leader and team member.
I listen differently now. Understanding how to listen when evaluating other people’s speeches has tuned my ears up in a way that sometimes can become annoying (when I hear every “umm”, “ah” or “so”) when I am sitting in on a presentation or listening to a friend trying to get their point across but overall I have become a more active listener; not waiting to respond but more in tune with the intent of another person’s words.
How has Toastmasters assisted in writing your first book?
I didn’t know how I was going to begin writing my book. I had ideas swirling around in my head but I didn’t know how to get organized enough to get them on paper. Toastmasters helped me do that. Toastmasters was a major component that helped me finish my book. My goal for this book is to share the life of my mother, and in doing so, highlighting the amazing lessons each of us can learn not just through her life of the metaphoric value through the game of basketball, but also from our own fouls, rebounds, wins and losses.
One of my mom’s favorite sayings to me growing up was: “don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.” My mother had a beautiful story to tell about her life and had started writing about her journey along the way but sadly, she didn’t follow her own advice. She didn’t finish her story before she developed stage 4 Cancer and passed away in 2012. I wanted to use Toastmasters so that I can share the life of my mother through storytelling as a means to healing from such a great loss. I think the tools we need to get over our fears are right in the Toastmasters materials and meetings.
When I spoke during our meetings I was able to expand my verbal communication and improve my writing skills. I never thought I would become an author but getting the encouragement from my fellow Toastmasters I believed it was possible. Sharing the contents of my book in speeches helped me focus my thoughts and gain confidence in publishing them. I became laser focused with my Toastmasters speeches content. I was on a mission and I felt like the members of my club at SAMHSA were right along with me.
What do you want others to gain by being members?
One of the things I want people to gain by joining Toastmasters is humility. It is a level playing field. Since this club is at my job, there are many people that are in higher level positions but those titles are left at the door when we walk into the meeting. We can all learn from each other in Toastmasters. It has taught me valuable leadership skills. I have been Vice President of Membership for the last 2 and 1/2 of the three years that I have been in Toastmasters. I completed my Competent Communicator in the first year and a half in Toastmasters and now I’m working on my Professional Speaker Series. I have been very active in speech contests and have won the Club Evaluation and Club International Speech Contests. I placed 3rd in the Area International Speech Contest. I feel that speech contests are a great way to improve your speaking. Many times, I don’t have time to practice my speeches for regular TM meetings as much as I would like to, but when you compete in Speech Contests, you have to work really hard to look your best. They are fun and you get to meet other people from different clubs and areas.
What are three items that you want to share with Toastmasters?
The three things that I would like to share with Toastmasters is from the metaphoric value between basketball and life that is a connection from my book “Get Your Head in the Game.”
1. Lace Up: Be a Player and not a Spectator – It’s easy to watch life go by while watching from the stands. We can sit in the Toastmasters meetings and watch other people grow and change but unless we get the courage to get on the court ourselves we will never grow. Take a chance. If you can’t do it alone, get a mentor. I have had so much success because my mentor Linda Fulton has pushed me and encouraged me to speak when sometimes I just wanted to sit in the background. Get someone who is seasoned and can push you out of your comfort zone. You can’t improve if you don’t speak.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice – No one becomes a world renown speaker overnight. We must practice and use our manuals as our guides for a successful journey into speaking with confidence, tact, and poise. Speeches take time. Not only do you have to research your topic and organize your points, you actually should practice your delivery to make sure your timing is within the constraints of the speech, and your body language and tone appropriately match the speech that will be delivered.
3. Rebound – Yes, we all will have those days that we run over our time, say too many “likes” and “you knows” but we will live to see another day. Take the feedback given in a constructive manner and get back on the court again so that you will overcome your fears and excel.