Of all the organizations I have ever belonged to, Toastmasters has probably had the greatest positive impact on my life. I believe that the benefits of membership extend far beyond simple public speaking skills. In fact, I think nearly everyone would benefit from joining Toastmasters.
First a little information about what Toastmasters is for those who are unfamiliar with this organization. Founded 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley to train public speaking, particularly to the unemployed during the recession, the organization has since grown to over 332,000 Toastmasters in over 135 countries worldwide. Focusing on public speaking and leadership skills, Toastmasters is now one of the largest organized systems of personal development in the world.
So, Not Just Public Speaking…
One of the problems I see with Toastmasters current image, is that most people believe that it is simply a program for people to get over their fear of public speaking. Or for speakers to get together and practice what, for most people is an often unused skill. Then there are others who believe we simply get together a couple of times a month to get drunk and try and out toast each other!
Unfortunately what most people don’t understand is that the skills learned in mastering public speaking and leadership are core skills needed for dealing with other people, not only in the workplace but all the time. These skills are the communication skills you use many times every single day – when did you last try to reason with a teenager for example? Instead of just thinking about doing a big presentation with your toastmaster skills, think about something as simple as talking with a group of friends, if you want to be heard you need skills there too.
Most of us have at least one or two driving reasons for joining Toastmasters. Perhaps a desire to get over a fear of public speaking, a desire to speak better or more confidently to groups for business or personal reasons, or maybe you just enjoy listening to speakers and making new friends?
Well I would like to give you just 8 of many reasons why you will get more out of Toastmasters than you ever hoped for:
- Self Confidence & Leadership Skills: Not pretentious, but having well-founded confidence in your own abilities and knowledge. When you develop speaking and communication skills leadership skills automatically follow, to say nothing of the leadership program and meeting roles. Ever heard of a great leader who could not communicate?
- Keen Listening skills: Toastmasters believe in giving and receiving positive feedback, but in order to evaluate you have to learn to actually carefully listen and to assimilate what you hear. This also leads to…
- Tolerance and Undersanding: You will learn to see both sides of arguments and issues before wading in with both feet! And speaking of feet…
- The Ability to Think On Your Feet: Impromptu speaking, such as table topics and improv, teach you to react quickly and with clarity. It also has a way of honing your off the cuff humour – as those of you who have seen it in action will know.
- Learn to speak effectively: To anyone or any group – large or small, AND get your message across. This is regardless of how much – or how little time you have.
- Creativity: Preparing and writing speeches can seem daunting at first, but within a very short time you start seeing possibilities in almost everything you see and hear. This makes you a great conversation starter too, although my friends are sick of hearing “now that would make a great speech topic”
- Real Friendships: Toastmasters makes it easier to meet people because of the strong emphasis on being very supportive of the people around you. Also, by giving and receiving (mostly positive) feedback I think rapport is established much more quickly. I have met a lot people through Toastmasters, including many people I might not have otherwise been fortunate enough to meet. (Online I must add, as well as face to face)
- Good Times: I have been to meetings where there was improvisation, comedy, jokes, and even fancy dress. Even the regular activities such as prepared speeches, table topics and doing introductions are often filled with humor. Then there are the competitions, especially Humorously Speaking and Impromptu – even if you do not want to enter they are great to attend.
If your initial impression of Toastmasters was that of a stuffy, boring organization, then I think you should look again. Bear in mind that if you only go to one meeting and see the prepared speeches, the benefit of Toastmasters might not be immediately apparent. It can take a few meetings and active participation, either with speaking or meeting roles before you really find the intrinsic benefits of Toastmasters. Although the improvement to public speaking comes remarkably quickly, it may take just a little longer before you recognize the benefits it has with all forms of communication. That said, you are encouraged but never forced to speak. Just by learning to listen and evaluate your communication skills will improve dramatically.
Of course there is so much more that I could tell you, it would be so easy to carry on, but I am also, and possibly most importantly for me at least, learning the value of when it is time to shut up!