[Update: Corrected author name on Toastmasters blog at bottom of post.}
Looking to improve your public speaking skills? Need to learn how to think faster on your feet? Hoping for some leadership practice, too? Consider joining Toastmasters.
All of us can learn to be better communicators. Communications skills often make the difference in our current success and future potential. Toastmasters can help you grow your communications and leadership skills.
Here's how it works.
Toastmasters is a non-profit organization devoted to helping people become more confident and competent in front of an audience. Founded in 1924, it now has 235,000 members in 92 countries. Toastmasters is organized into 11,700 clubs of about 20 members each. Clubs meet weekly or biweekly for about an hour and a half.
A Toastmasters meeting consists of three parts. In the first part, a Table Topics Master asks surprise questions of audience members. The person chosen to respond has between one and two minutes to present a coherent response to the question. Table Topics help us learn how to think fast on our feet, and quickly organize our thoughts into entertaining, informative or persuasive sound bites.
During the middle part of a Toastmasters meeting, two or three members give prepared speeches. Speakers work through project manuals that teach a new speaking concept with each speech. Working through the project manuals and giving these prepared speeches helps each of us focus on one part of public speaking at a time, and build our skills to a high level. The speeches aren't long - usually just 5 to 7 minutes - to let us really zoom in on the new skill we are learning.
As each speaker is in front of the group, one of the other members is paying careful attention in preparation for the third segment of the meeting. In this segment, each speech is evaluated by a member of the club. The idea is to give the speaker plenty of support, and one or two ideas for growth. The evaluators hone their ability to attend to details, think critically, and present actionable feedback in a supportive fashion. Don't you wish all managers had practice in this skill?
Not only does Toastmasters hone your speaking skills. It also helps you learn to become a better leader. Each club needs a board of officers and you will be asked to take your turn. And every meeting requires a Toastmaster (master of ceremonies, if you will), a Table Topics Master (see above) and a Master Evaluator to organize all the evaluation activities.
I've been around awhile, but I haven't come across a better laboratory for speaking and leading than Toastmasters. If you are already a member, please give us your success stories in the comments below. If you haven't yet been to a Toastmasters meeting:
- Find a club that meets near you at a convenient time.
- Using the contact information provided on the club listing, call or email the club to confirm the date and time of the next meeting.
- Go to the meeting, relax, enjoy - and join us!
And for more information:
- Check out the Member Profiles for my club, to get a small idea of the breadth of folks who are in Toastmasters. (Note: this includes only profiles for which a picture has been uploaded. The GSU Baton Rouge Toastmasters club has 46 active members.)
- Toastmasters International maintains a collection of free resources.
- See my post on how to give a great speech.
- No need to take my word for it. Search Technorati and you'll find thousands of blog posts about Toastmasters.
- Chris Elliott writes a blog devoted almost exclusively to Toastmasters and related topics.