I have been a Toastmaster for about 5 years now – a year in the early 80s and four years most recently. I’m a past chapter President and have risen to an advanced speaking level, through the number of speeches successfully completed. If you’re interested in growing your career, there is nothing that will give you the confidence and poise as much a as an ongoing membership in your local Toastmasters club.
Here’s a quote to ponder:
“Your ability to speak effectively in front of other people can do more to advance your career and your personal life than perhaps any other skill you can develop.”
Toastmasters clubs are all over the place. Calgary, with a population of over 1 million has about 75 active clubs. There are morning clubs (with and without breakfast), noon clubs and evening clubs (some are dinner clubs). The club I belong to, Foothills Toastmasters, has been around for almost 50 years and has many long standing members who are exceptionally good speakers. Other clubs are newer and members are not so seasoned. Whatever type of club you’re thinking of joining, remember:
We’ve all been in your shoes! When we all joined, we were scared to death of getting up in front of people. Now, it’s sometimes difficult to shut us up! Sometimes, I wonder which end of the spectrum is the worst!
Toastmasters all started at the bottom and slowly worked their way up. There are many famous Toastmasters – Toastmaster members who have achieved fame on one level or another.
At Toastmasters, members learn by speaking to the rest of the assembled members and working with them to improve in a very supportive environment.
Meetings can vary in size by club. Our club typically has 20 to 30 people who meet for about two hours on a Thursday evening. It’s a dinner club, although having a meal is not mandatory. Members have specific roles assigned well before the meeting – actually schedules are determined each month. Smaller clubs can tend to scramble a bit to fill roles.
You’ll find clubs with members of all different interests. There are clubs that cater to women in business, clubs in the downtown core than are business related and other clubs that are all medical workers. Look around to see what club best fits your needs and attend their next meeting. All prospective members are always welcome for free and you’ll find Toastmasters clubs particularly friendly, as we’re all rather outgoing – certainly after speaking for a year or so!
Each meeting gives everyone an opportunity to practice:
Conducting meetings. Meetings usually begin with a short business session which helps members learn basic parliamentary meeting procedures (not all clubs practice business sessions).
Giving impromptu speeches. Members present one-to two-minute impromptu speeches on assigned topics.
Presenting prepared speeches. Three or more members present speeches based on projects from the Toastmasters International Communication and Leadership Program manuals. Projects cover such topics as speech organization, voice, language, gestures, and persuasion.
Offering constructive evaluation. Every prepared speaker is assigned an evaluator who points out speech strengths and offers suggestions for improvement.
Where You Start
When you join, you’ll be scheduled into smaller roles so that you can gain your confidence slowly. For example, the role of “timer” involves timing each of the speakers for the evening and then giving a very short report as to how long each one took.
Gradually, you’ll take on larger roles until you’re eventually chairing meetings. And then it’s only a matter of time before you’re asked to join the executive. Being on the executive will also do wonders for your self-esteem. You’ll experience working with a very diverse team and learning some leadership skills that will only come from working in a volunteer environment.
The Tools We Use
New members receive a variety of manuals and resources about speaking. The basic manual that you begin to work from has 10 speeches that you must complete to reach the level of Competent Toastmaster (CTM). Once you reach that level, there are four more levels that you can work through. Each of these involves 10 speeches and some additional minor qualifications that have to be met. Completing the second level gives you an Advanced Toastmaster designation.
Members also have access to other books on the International Toastmasters web site, as well as audio and video cassettes on speaking and leading. They also receive the award-winning “Toastmaster,” a monthly magazine that offers the latest insights on speaking and leadership techniques.
A Place to Practice
Even though you may have reached an advanced level, you’ll typically want to attend meetings on a regular basis. As a professional speaker, I think of Toastmasters as a “place to play” and try new things – to see if they work – before I unleash them on a paying public.
Practice Makes Perfect . . . Almost
I mentioned that I joined Toastmasters in the early 80s. I was away from Toastmasters for almost 20 years and found that I’d completely lost all the skills I’d developed. I’d certainly lost a tremendous amount of self-confidence, more to do with some personal setbacks. The key here is that presentation skills have to be practiced continually to stay finely tuned. You’re always learning – in fact, the learning never stops.
Most importantly, though, if you keep your speaking skills finely tuned, your self-esteem will be as healthy as it could ever be! There’s nothing that will advance your career than having a healthy attitude and belief in your own capabilities.