Four years ago I was in the midst of the dreaded and rejoiced annual review at work. I needed to identify my goals for the next year. One of them was to continue to hone my public speaking skills. Someone mentioned Toastmasters to me.
I’d heard of Toastmasters, but didn’t know much about them, so I went to a meeting that very night. I was a greeted by a room of welcoming faces—men and women from 20-something to 70-something. Teachers, insurance salesmen, military analysts, moms, city employees, and more brought together by a common goal: they were all there to become better speakers and better communicators.
What really struck me, what made me fill out an application, was that all of them were genuinely happy to have me there. It was the start of a beautiful relationship. Four years and over twenty speeches later, I’m a proud member, cheerleader, and officer of Virginia Beach Toastmasters Club 3267.
What makes Toastmasters such a valuable, successful international organization is that it’s about more than just showing up and giving speeches. The heart of Toastmasters is the educational program, which takes a holistic approach to communication, interweaving listening, speaking, evaluating, and leading. Toastmasters gives you a fun, supportive environment that provides structure and guidance while giving you flexibility to make the experience your own at a pace that’s comfortable for you.
I’ve learned a great deal from Toastmasters and continue to learn each time I go, even after four years of active involvement. Through the Toastmasters program, the support of my fellow members, and a good dose of self-discipline, I’ve become and will continue to become a better speaker and a better leader. A few of the lessons that have helped fuel my development include:
• Momentum. Find your thruster for forward momentum. Say what?! Find something about your speech that excites you. If you dig far enough, any topic has the potential for a bright spot. Perhaps it’s something as simple as having put together a great presentation. Whatever it is, plant it firmly in your gut to ground the butterflies and give you energy and confidence to push forward. When you can channel energy and excitement when presenting, not only will it show, it’ll spread.
• Prepare. This is probably obvious, but it always warrants emphasis. Have a clear outline for your speech. Write it out word-for-word if you need to, but don’t memorize it. Practice. Present your speech out loud. Then practice some more. In Toastmasters, each meeting is scheduled to include speech projects with a specific time range, such as 5 to 7 minutes. This helps you to build speech organization and self-editing skills. I tend to be a notorious over-explainer in both writing and speaking. Having to ensure I stay within a time limit has helped me tremendously.
• Feedback. In Toastmasters, each speaker receives written and verbal feedback on their speech. Methods vary, but the evaluation style is to encourage speakers while providing constructive feedback. This is a great practice to develop at Toastmasters. Find someone you trust to provide fair, constructive feedback before and after you present your speech. Every Toastmaster will tell you there’s always room for improvement.
I could go on, but why not learn first-hand? Toastmaster clubs love guests! There are 46 clubs within the Hampton Roads area alone, 26 of which are public. Days, times, and frequency vary, so whatever your schedule is, there’s likely to be a club that meets at a time that works for you. Don’t be afraid to visit several clubs to find the one that works for you. Each club has a different personality, but all want to provide a great experience for members and guests. If you want a starting point, consider Virginia Beach Toastmasters Club, one of the oldest active clubs in the area, which meets the first and third Wednesday of every month from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Marian Manor in Virginia Beach.
To learn more about Toastmasters International, visit Toastmasters.org. To learn more about Virginia Beach Toastmasters Club, visit VABeachTM.org.