There comes a day in a life of any professional when we are asked to give a speech, present our idea, offer an opinion, provide feedback, facilitate a meeting, or show a vision to our teams. In short, we are asked to communicate. How do you improve the basic skill every leader needs? How do you get better at communication? You join and actively participate in Toastmasters!
It all started in 1924 when Ralph C. Smedley held the first meeting of what would eventually become Toastmasters International. Smedley worked as a director of education for YMCA. He observed that many of the young men needed training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings so he decided to help them. The word “toastmaster” refers to a person who proposed the toasts and introduced the speakers at a banquet. Smedley named his group “The Toastmasters Club” to reflect the pleasant, social atmosphere he wanted to create.
Today, Toastmasters International is an educational (nonprofit) organization with mission to teach communication, public speaking and leadership skills. Headquartered in California it has more than 280.000 members in 116 countries.
The official Toastmasters International mission statement: “We empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.”
What are the benefits?
- The Toastmasters communication and leadership program is a proven way to become better communicator as proved by 280.000 members worldwide.
- The club meetings are held in a supportive and positive atmosphere. You should have some fun when learning.
- The feedback you will be regularly getting will improve your skills faster than in any school. The feedback you will be regularly providing will improve your skills as a leader.
- The experience you gain by getting involved in club functions will improve your leadership.
- The access to the educational materials and resources on public speaking skills compiled over almost ninety years existence of the organization.
How does it work?
A typical Toastmasters club will have between 20 to 40 people who meet on regular basis, most often several times a month for 1 to 2 hours. The meeting is sort of social gathering but with strict rules and given agenda. The limited number of participants in each club ensures friendly atmosphere and opportunity for each member to regularly speak and get involved in various leadership activities.
Agenda for the meeting will look like this:
- Introduction – introduction into the meeting, explanation of what Toastmasters are to new members and guests. Don’t be late for your first meeting so you won’t miss this part.
- Prepared speeches based on projects from Toastmasters manuals – there are 10 projects (meaning 10 speeches) in the basic communication manual covering various aspect of public speaking such as body language, voice variety, organization of the speech or making the point. Furthermore there are 15 manuals to go through so you have enough learning materials for years.
- Table topics (impromptu speeches) – one to two minutes long speeches that will be done without prior preparation on a variety of topics. By participating in this portion you will learn to collect your thoughts and organize a short speech “on the spot” – improvise.
- Evaluations – the key to the learning process. Everything in the meeting is being evaluated. There is a constant stream of feedback coming to all the speakers so they can learn and improve. The evaluations are meant to help so they are given in a constructive and helpful manner.
Each new member of Toastmasters will receive manuals and resources about how to become a better speaker and a more confident leader. She will also have access to additional resources and variety of books dealing with various topics related to communication and public speaking.
Think about some of these statements describing the Toastmasters program:
- It is a self-paced program
- You learn critical thinking
- You learn flexibility
- You learn to give and provide feedback
- You learn to overcome your fears of public speaking
- You learn to listen
- You learn time management
- You get confidence
- You meet new people and make friends
- You will have fun
How to join?
Just go to the Toastmasters International website http://www.toastmasters.org/, find the clubs that are near your location and visit one of the meetings as a guest. The meetings are geared towards welcoming new members so you won’t intrude, in fact you will be expected. When you see for yourself the value such club meetings bring talk to the club officers and sign up!
Twitter type summary: “Toastmasters International gives you a chance to learn communication and leadership skills while having fun.”
Disclosure: as of this year I’m a member of Fort Bonifacio Toastmasters club in Manila/Philippines and starting July 2013 also a club officer (VP of Education) responsible for organizing regular meetings and educating members and potential members on the value of Toastmasters.