The Hidden Value of Toastmasters

Are you an introvert who suddenly found himself thrust into a foreign environment? Did you just moved to a new city or a new country? Do you generally have troubles meeting new people and have no friends around? If that is you then I suggest you look around for some leisure time or professional circles and organizations. One of them is Toastmasters International. With more than 292.000 members in more than 122 countries the Toastmasters clubs are virtually everywhere and their focus is on teaching and practicing communication and public speaking skills. Sounds like an organization born in expat heaven, doesn’t it?

I moved from Europe to the Philippines for a work assignment a year ago and since the beginning tried to figure out a way how to get involved in the local community to get to know people and make some friends. I was looking for like-minded individuals and realized that Toastmasters are the right community to join. So how can this organization help an introverted individual to meet people?

Toastmasters are open to new people

One of the goals every club has is to grow its membership base and ideally spin off new clubs. The organization is voluntary and run by volunteers and that usually mean some really enthusiastic people who love the club and love to see it growing. Part of each meeting is also welcoming of visitors and potential new members and guiding them through the meeting so they understand what’s going on.

Toastmasters appreciate diversity

This is a truly global organization. It always depends on the language spoken but you can be pretty sure that in every reasonably big city you will find a club that uses English as the spoken language. This creates a great environment for expats and that then leads to diversity from cultural point of view. You can find there members of all ages and occupational backgrounds. There is no exam to get in, and everyone who wants to learn is accepted and offered an opportunity to participate.

Toastmasters focus on communication

It is all about communication. That is the whole point of Toastmasters. The official mission of Toastmasters International is “We empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.” There are two educational tracks one focused on communication and public speaking and the other on leadership. Both of them obviously evolve around the ability to effectively communicate.

Toastmasters provide a friendly environment

The vision Ralph C. Smedley had when he started this organization in 1924 was to provide a training in public speaking skills in an environment that will appeal to young men (he worked at YMCA back then). Since then one of the key principles of every meeting is to learn something while enjoying the experience, and for some clubs even have lots of fun. Each club is of course unique and thus it is a good idea to hop around couple of clubs at the beginning to find one which atmosphere is close to your heart.

Toastmasters let you contribute at your own pace

No one pressures you to do anything. There are official manuals that guide your through your learning experience but it is completely up to you to decide how fast you want to go. The basic manual for public speaking, called Competent Communicator Manual, has ten projects (meaning ten prepared speeches you have to perform) and there are members who manage to finish it in half a year. There are also those who take several years to get through it or even decide to repeat it once completed. And then you have additional fifteen advanced manuals each with five projects. This gives you learning opportunities for a lifetime.

Toastmasters help you build self-confidence

The chance to practice speaking in front of a small group of people in friendly environment when the stakes are zero and you can fail without danger of someone laughing at you is the biggest gift this association can give you. It is a great way to gradually build self-confidence and if you participate regularly, take on some of the roles in the meetings you can be assured that your self-confidence on how to talk to others and in front of others will grow a meeting from meeting.

Toastmasters are fun

The impromptu speeches, also called table topics, is a way to learn how to speak without preparation and it is usually also lots of fun. Some clubs also meet after the official meetings for some socializing and this again helps in getting some friends and meeting people who like to talk to you.

Get it to the next level

And if you want to get things to the next level and you want to push yourself to meet people faster and to have a reason to talk to them? Get yourself nominated and elected as one of the club officers. I might be an introvert but I enjoy a good challenge when I see one and so I ended up very quickly being in a position of VP of Education in one of the Toastmasters club in metro Manila. This is an incredible role that is essentially responsible for running the day-to-day operation of the club. VP of Ed prepares and organizes the club meetings. This entails talking to members in between the meetings to get them plan their speech projects, motivate them to take various roles during the meetings and generally keep them on the Toastmasters educational path. In the day of the meeting VP of Ed oversees the organization of the meeting, meets with guests and potential future members and generally is the go-to-person for anything the club members need. It is a role that gives you a reason why to talk to people and they have a reason why to talk to you. It pushes you to communicate and helps you to find associates and friends.

Twitter type summary: “Toastmasters is a great organization to join if you want to meet people, make friends and improve your communication skills.”

Are you an introvert? How do you meet new people when coming to an unknown territory? And in case you are a Toastmaster what is your experience? If you want to read more on Toastmasters you can find some thoughts here and here.

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