Last week there was a meeting of the Westside Toastmasters at the Ocean Avenue offices of UBER. It turns out that UBER has some beautiful meeting spaces and Toastmasters has some amazing training programs in public speaking and leadership that UBER was interested in for their employees.

At 6:30 p.m. I perambulated across Ocean Avenue from the Loews Santa Monica Beach hotel to the hip and swanky UBER offices. Making it past security on the first floor I was immediately greeted by round two of security where I was asked to sign a waiver that probably gives them any children I may have, and all my digital data in perpetuity. Once signed in, with a bad photo to go on my printed ID card, I was told to head up the stairs past the shuffleboard table.

Entering a dining area / meeting room there was a tremendous amount of food spread out that had been provided by Benny’s Taco’s on Wilshire Blvd. Trays of guacamole, veggie quesadillas, chicken and beef fajitas and fresh churros were laid out for the 25 or so people who would be attending this club meeting.

UBER reached out to the Westside Toastmasters to see about working together and having us bring a meeting into their offices to demonstrate for their employees what Toastmasters is all about. It’s a forward-thinking move on their part, and a great way to develop their employees speaking and leadership skills. By hosting us in their offices it makes it easy for their team members to attend a meeting. This was the first time that we were there, and the turnout was about 5 employees.

I have seen the changes in people when they regularly attend an organization like Toastmasters and work to improve their skills. I think it’s one of the great failings of society today that we don’t encourage more young people to develop their interpersonal and communication skills. I think the reliance upon texting and email is a profound mistake because so much of what makes for true effective leadership is the ability to look someone in the eye, share a story and be able to gauge their reaction.

Texting and email are marvelous tools and I rely upon them immensely. However, I am also very aware of just how difficult it is to know how what I wrote was received. The written word can be exceptionally motivating, but also can be so easily misunderstood. The lack of a punctuation mark can dramatically change a meaning. For example: “Let’s eat! David!” versus, “Let’s eat David!” I have been on both sides of the misinterpreted text and email, which is why I value the in person chats, even on the phone, as more valuable and informative than an email. We can all tell in a second when a loved one calls if something is wrong, if they’re happy, sad, upset. Those nuances are what are lost in the written word.

I was very encouraged when the five employees of UBER attended the club meeting for Westside Toastmasters – it tells me that they are interested in bettering their skills, and more importantly that they have the backing of their company in improving themselves. It’s that level of investment in today’s youth and workforce that will continue to move us forward as a state, a nation and the human race.

UBER has changed lives for many people, all across the globe, and I know this is true as I have used Uber in New Zealand, South Africa, England and all across our country. The drivers I have met and spoken with, have shared their hopes and dreams. I’ve driven with Muslims in Auckland, and wanna be travellers in Johannesburg, I’ve had conversations with hustling entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom and busy parents in Florida who were doing UBER so they could be at home parents when their children were young.

The world is an amazing place and we can learn much from our fellows if we stop texting and start talking, and more importantly, listening. I want to thank UBER for opening up their offices to the Westside Toastmasters, but also for opening up the world to me, and those who want to build a better life for themselves and their families.

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