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A Toast to Toastmasters Clubs
Fear of Public Speaking
How do you feel about speaking in front of a group?
Keep Talking! Communicating works!
A Toastmasters to the masters of talk!
Close your eyes and picture people who are really listening to you. Their eyes gaze at you while you hold their rapt attention. Thanks to the skills you have attained, you have the poise, flair and wit, to engage your audience. They hang on your gestures and utterances, while you deliver a message that resonates throughout the room. This is Toastmasters International. This is reality for many of the over 200,000 members of a worldwide educational group.
Warren Buffet has been quoted as saying that “the best investment one can make is the investment one makes in himself”. When an adult considers what this truly means, many answers are possible. Does it mean returning to school? Does it mean getting healthy? Does it mean acquiring a new skill or a new hobby? Depending on one’s station in life the answer may lie in places beyond training theatres.
Let me start by saying that I am a Competent Communicator level Toastmaster. Essentially that means that I have done what could be considered a Bachelor degree in oral communication. This is important for the reader to know, because I have a proud bias about Toastmasters International. I believe! Along with 292,000 other Toastmasters members, I am proof that the Toastmasters Club educational and leadership programs are effective.
Toastmasters International is an organization of people who are trying to improve their speaking and presentation skills, as well as their leadership expertise and most importantly, their ability to listen with clarity. People who participate in any of the 14,350 Toastmasters clubs worldwide understand that communication is more about appreciating, listening, observing and perceiving than it is about merely stating a fact or offering an opinion.
Communication has become a lost art in our world of text messages and email blurbs. The clarity that comes from delivering a message or from appreciating a theme is what Toastmasters Clubs are all about.
As many people know, public speaking is the most dreaded task that most adults are asked to perform. Ninety per cent of adults would rather die than deliver a speech. Thanks to its belief in fraternal encouragement and supportive feedback, Toastmasters Clubs offer learners the ability to grow in a safe environment where experiments are encouraged and specific feedback is offered.
What impact does Toastmasters directly have on individuals? Obviously, the fact that members are in a community of learners enables the building of the twin blocks of confidence and belief. Confidence in knowing that the member is doing something that few people ever attempt to master and belief in the way even the most difficult speeches can be nurtured toward excellence. The fact that this learning is done in a fun atmosphere merely adds to the experience of the members.
Demographically, Toastmasters Clubs offer a fairly equal mix of genders with a 52-48 per cent female to male ratio. Average annual income ranges from $50,000-74,000, putting members squarely among the middle to upper middle class of earners. While there may be a stereotypical view of Toastmasters as sales people or “Ra Ra” do gooders, the reality reflects a different picture. Toastmasters clubs are definitely involved in community work and volunteer projects. Of course they promote member growth and educational achievement, but Toastmasters Clubs also develop networks of likeminded individuals who can be counted on for support, friendship and wisdom.
There are hidden benefits from becoming a Toastmaster as well. Job interviews are now looked on as “just another speech”. Office presentations are done with aplomb and distinction. Leadership of teams and workplace groups are more skillfully managed as a result of the skills which are offered to each member.
Toastmasters impact individuals beyond the walls of the meeting however. They impact families in the way communication is encouraged. Husbands and wives learn the art of clear interaction and precise listening. Spouses learn to appreciate the leadership styles of each other and utilize those approaches to harness the energy of a strong family unit. Children learn that relating outside of the iPod is possible. All of these aspects of a Toastmasters club ultimately promote family values and democratic living.
In a gentle sense, one could say that Toastmasters Clubs are 12 step programs for people who desire a stronger sense of connectedness with those around them. As in many other groups, the adage “Keep coming back- it works” is actually true. The club skill activities are self taught so that members understand that the road to successful communication begins with them, in community of others. The sense of shared commitment and co equal journey is what allows new members to learn from more experienced people, while contributing to the club in relevant ways.
While Toastmasters Clubs are indeed filled with laughter and clapping, the lessons learned from the Toastmasters training guides are valuable text books which can be applied to a variety of situations. Because Toastmasters Clubs are inhabited by educated people, the sophistication level of the meetings is generally high. Seventy Four per cent of Toastmasters have at least a Bachelor’s degree and 35%per cent have a Masters Level or higher educational background.
How does it work? Why is it so effective? Toastmasters members learn by doing. They use active learning and inquiry tactics to better their presentations and their knowledge of topics as well as communication techniques. Dovetailing with mastery learning research, members give ten speeches per training manual before advancing.
Thanks to an active, hands on approach to educating its members, Toastmasters Clubs engage adult learners in best practice learning environments where activities are varied, interest is high and the dreaded sit and get of most university classroom and training seminars is kept to a minimum. Speeches are generally five to seven minutes long, thus promoting frequent topic changes and thinking time for the audience. Advanced members have the opportunity to speak for up to 20 minutes.
It’s interesting that 20 minutes is the agreed on time limit for advanced speakers in light of educational theory that explains elements of a good lesson. In schools, mini lessons are 10- 20 minutes long. At Toastmasters, for a nominal fee, we learn what educators pay multi thousands of dollars for. Essentially, Toastmaster membership becomes a cost effective adjunct to many training programs.
Thanks to the documented benefits of positive mentoring, enhanced teamwork and increased productivity, companies as diverse as IBM, Kimberly Clark and Disney all sponsor Toastmaster clubs.
"The Ridgewood Toastmasters group has not only changed my career, but the group has changed my life. I have increased my confidence tremendously and my speaking abilities have allowed me to change the lives of professionals across the country. This is more than a club; it's really a family of great people!" Anthony Fasano, Toastmaster member of the Ridgewood club in New Jersey.
Ultimately, in the era of a flat world, communication is the essential element that can transform society from fear to acceptance. It can promote active democracy through elimination of prejudice. It provides the corner stone of family, success and positive life. Are Toastmasters silly? Sometimes. Are they serious learners? All the time. Is a Toastmasters Club for you? Come visit a club and see. You’ll find out- “Keep coming back, it works!”