Toast Your Way to New Business Development

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I have a good friend Rosemary who, after 22 years as a trusted member of a prestigious law firm has just been downsized right out the back door. She received a generous severance package but that didn’t ease the sting much. I asked her what her plans were. She told me she was toying with the idea of opening her own law practice but wasn’t sure it was the right time. This gal places a lot of faith in her gut feelings and said she’d know when it was right. Until then she was going to do some traveling and relax a bit.

One of the things Rosemary has always wanted to do was to become skilled at delivering speeches. She didn’t have a lot of experience as a trial lawyer and thought she might feel more comfortable in the courtroom knowing she had a commanding presence in front of a live group. This is what led her to join Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a worldwide organization that helps people develop the skills to deliver great speeches. She joined a Thursday afternoon group that meets in one of the Department of State Transportation buildings in her state capital. This would turn out to be quite the blessing.

Rosemary was surprised at some of the prominent folks in her Toastmasters group. Important individuals from various levels of state and local government were members of her group. They too were seeking to improve their communication and speaking skills. Every member of Toastmasters is required to give speeches that are outlined in a member’s manual. Each speech is designed to have the member achieve a set goal for a particular lesson.

For example, in one lesson the member is to deliver a speech that introduces that member to the group, sort of a human show and tell. In another, the member tells a funny story, and still another the member must evoke emotion from his listeners. Rosemary delivered many of her speeches around the law theme offering a lot of useful information. And interestingly enough, she began to get some work from other members as a result.

Rosemary really enjoyed her Toastmasters membership and took advantage of most of the opportunities for learning the group offered. This is what led her to entering a regional speaking competition. The competition was nationwide. The winner would advance to the semifinals held in Washington DC. The regional competition was held in a state capital meeting hall with more than 400 people in attendance. Rosemary gave a passionate presentation about business fraud and placed third among seven entrants for the competition. But it was a week later that her speech really paid off.

For her presentation in the competition Rosemary gave a rousing speech about fraud and abuse in the stock market and banking industry. She cited many large brokers and financial institutions that were in trouble for questionable practices such as selling stocks they don’t actually own and other manipulative exploits. Her conclusion was that reform with actual criminal consequences for the perpetrators was necessary. She closed the speech with an outline of how some of the abuses might be curbed.

At her regular Toastmasters meeting the following week Rosemary was approached by two attorneys. Based on the speech she delivered for the competition she was offered an equal partnership in a brand new firm whose primary clientele would be victims of such abuse – especially the wholesale fraud found in the stock market.

One of the two attorneys offering the partnership had been in attendance at the Toastmasters competition and heard Rosemary deliver a passionate and factual overview of the abuse in the financial arena. He and his partner had recently successfully tried a blatant stock fraud case and had been awarded a sizable settlement. They were uncertain as to whether to unite and form a partnership to pursue such cases until hearing Rosemary. They felt she was a perfect fit for the two attorneys as she brought more than two decades of varied experience to the table as well as passion, intelligence and enthusiasm. They showed up at the regular weekly meeting to offer her a partnership.

Surprisingly, Rosemary didn’t jump at the opportunity immediately. She felt there were still things she wanted to do before getting back into the full swing of litigating. I asked Rosemary if her gut was telling her this was a valid opportunity. “Oh, yes,” she said. I then asked why she wasn’t jumping at the chance to be a partner in her own firm. This is when I found out just how savvy ole Rosemary was. She told me that one should never take a first offer, no matter how enticing it might be. She’d told her potential partners that she would work with them as a consultant while finishing up some personal business. That way she remained in contention for the partnership. “Besides,” she said, “they really want me in.”

Then she told me something in confidence. She was chomping at the bit to get into her own practice. But she wanted to be sure to be able to finish all of her speeches at Toastmasters first. Priorities, you know.