Toastmasters is an international organization dedicated to improving public speaking and leadership skills for its members. The club’s mission is to “provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.” This has been true for me and my career.
I have been a member of toastmasters since October of 2014. Since then, it has helped me tremendously with my communication skills, presentation skills and especially cutting down on use the of crutch words. A crutch word is considered a filler word that does not add any intrinsic value to the overall purpose of the speech, these are words such as: ah, um, so and like.
We meet every Tuesday at noon for an hour. At each meeting, there are assigned rotating roles. Roles include the Toastmaster, Word Master, Timer, Speakers, Evaluators, and most importantly Snack Master. With meetings being held at noon, no one wants a room full of “hangry” peers.
A typical meeting is called to order by the assigned Toastmaster, who serves as the Master of Ceremonies for the meeting and who ensures we stay on track. He or she calls up the Word Master who has a dual purpose; the first is to provide us with a word of the day to broaden our vocabulary, speakers are asked to incorporate the word of the day whenever we speak at the lectern. The second purpose of the Word Master is to keep track of good phrases and crutch words we use.
The next portion of the meeting is typically for prepared speeches, this gives the speaker practice in forming and delivering speeches based off of a bevy of assignments in the Toastmasters handbook. After that comes evaluation time where the formal Evaluator and the audience analyze what the speaker did well and offer words of encouragement on what they can work on next time.
After that comes my favorite part of the meetings, table topics. Each week an assigned member develops a list of items derived from current events or any relevant topic that forces individual members, selected from the group, to think on their feet about a topic without any advanced preparation.
The table topics portion of the meeting has taught me the most. If I feel passionately about a topic or have done a fair amount of research on a topic, it has always been easy for me to speak about it. It terrified me when asked to think on my feet, regarding a topic I know little about but I still wanted to speak coherently about it. Practicing this impromptu speaking has given me the confidence to speak about any topic thrown my way. This skill comes in handy when I am in a meeting with owners and they ask a question I may not have expected.
Joining toastmasters has soothed my fears of presenting to a large audience, has helped me immensely with my career, and I am excited to see what doors it can open in the future.