I have an immense appreciation for the founder of Toastmasters International – Dr. Ralph Smedley. He was a fascinating man! Here are a few aspects of his journey and character that resonate deeply with me.
He was a pioneer in adult education.
Ralph Smedley was only 27 when he recognized the need for a public program to train people in effective communication. At the time, learning communication skills was only available through high schools and universities, so Ralph formed a club at the YMCA where he worked.
The academics of the time were dismissive, convinced that his club would prove ineffective. “That’s not the way people learn. They learn in a classroom.” His response was simple, yet profound: “We learn best in moments of enjoyment.”
He championed experiential learning.
All around the globe, people take classes in leadership. They read books and listen to lectures, studying philosophies, techniques and examples. At one point, I was one of those students. Having started college later in life, after building several successful businesses, I expected to excel – but when the leadership class ended, I felt more confused than before I began! Theoretical knowledge was of little use to me at the office.
Years later, as a new Toastmaster, I discovered Smedley’s perspective: leadership is best learned through experience. That resonated deeply with me, and I knew without a shadow of doubt that I had found the “classroom” I had been searching for.
He lived a life of selfless service.
There are so many ways that Ralph Smedley embodied the spirit of service, and many will be lost in the sands of time. Yet his legacy as a selfless leader was cemented in time when he signed a legal document to ensure that his family would never earn a single dime from the Toastmasters organization. It was his gift to humanity, and he asked nothing in return.
The magnitude of his intentions, contributions, and vision are reflected by his words of wisdom: “While most of us may have entered Toastmasters to learn to make speeches, that benefit is but the beginning of the good which may come to us, and the good which we may do for mankind.”
As we work to cultivate our communication and leadership skills, and support others on their journey, may we all remember Smedley’s vision that Toastmasters is here to help us shape the future of humanity. Whether large or small, any act of service moves us all in the right direction.