How Toastmasters Can Help

By Eric Monse (edited by Fran Watson)

I have a fear of public speaking. More precisely, I should describe it as a phobia.

I’m not really scared, I just react badly when I get up in front of a large group of people. My blood pressure starts to rise, my skin starts to get flush, and worst of all, I lose all ability to think on the fly.

I’m not so bad if I have something prepared, but God forbid if I have to think up something right then and there.

Learning to be a better public speaker is a great thing. But conquering this area of my life probably wouldn’t be enough for me to practice public speaking every other week.

I don’t make very many public speeches. But the benefits that I pickup with learning public speaking will help me in my every day life and in meeting new people.

People are attracted to the person up on the podium speaking to hundreds of people, whether he’s a preacher, a politician, or a professor. He is the one wielding control over the room and captivating the multitudes. True charisma is the ability to seduce thousands, not just one person.

Toastmasters is a worldwide nonprofit organization for the purpose of helping its members improve public speaking, communication, and leadership skills. Joining a Toastmasters club is one of the best things you can do to improve several aspects of your ability to meet new people.

I joined a club about three months ago and it has been a fantastic experience. The people there were skilled and knowledgeable and at the same time, they were warm, friendly and supportive in helping new people learn the ropes and pickup tips to improve.

Toastmasters grooms you to speak in front of large groups of people by critiquing or evaluating your public speaking.

They teach you to focus on things like your body language:

* Don’t rock back and forth when you speak.

* How to move comfortably around when you speak.

* The importance of making solid eye contact.

They also help you learn:

* Ways to vary your tone of voice.

* How to vary your pace but don’t speak too quickly.

Sound familiar? These are all things you should be focusing on when meeting new people.

You will also get critiqued on your language.

A member taking on the role of Grammarian will keep track of unnecessary words like: um, you know, and stuff, right, like, etc. That member will report towards the end of the meeting as to who used what “filler words” in order to help people improve their speaking.  Eliminating riff raff from your vocabulary makes you a more effective and high-value communicator– exactly what you’re looking for when communicating with someone you are interested in.

Developing Leadership Skills

A little known fact is that one of the best aspects of Toastmasters is their focus on teaching leadership skills.

Everyone at a Toastmasters meeting is a volunteer. There are numerous roles at a meeting such as Toastmaster, Sergeant-At-Arms, Table Topics Chair, General Evaluator, Evaluator, Quizmaster, Grammarian, Joke/Word, Educational Tip, Speaker, Table Topics Speaker and Timer.  During the meeting the person in each role gets up at the front of the room and conducts that part of the meeting and or gives reports about that part of the meeting.

The Grammarian is the person who listens and keeps track of vocabulary errors.  The Timer keeps track of all the aspects of the meeting to ensure that everyone is on time.  They will make note by use of cards or lights when the person reaches the minimum amount of time (green card), when they are close to their time (yellow card), and when their time is up at which time they will hold up a red card or turn on the red light to let the person speaking know that they should be wrapped up.

There are usually two or three people who give a 5-7 minute prepared speech at every meeting, and there are people designated to critique those speakers. These people are known as the Speech Evaluators.  Those people get up in front of the room and speak for 2-3 minutes on what the speaker did well and some points for improvement.

During the Table Topics segment, members of the club who do not have a role will get an opportunity to present a 1-2 minute speech on the topic of the week.  This way, a meeting will rarely pass when you would not get up and practice speaking.

Many of the members of Toastmasters are excellent speakers. They know how to captivate an audience. They are a diverse group of people and are varying ages as well. Some of them have been in Toastmasters for 20 years or more. The speeches they give are usually insightful and worth a listen, even if just to see how people can communicate.

At the same time, they provide an amazingly supportive environment for a new person to learn. These people know what it was like to have such a fear of public speaking. This makes it also easier to get up in front of a group like this and speak.

How Toastmasters Helped My Fear of Speaking to Strangers

When you’ve never done it before and you begin speaking with strangers, the anxiety can be nerve-wracking. It was an emotional roller-coaster ride for me when I started.

If I talked to three people, by the end of the night I would be drained. I felt like I’d been through an emotional heavyweight title match.  However, as I talked to more new people, the fear and anxiety lessened. But Toastmasters helped out as well.

The fear of approaching people is very similar to that fear of getting up in front of a group of people and speaking. As I got more comfortable with one, I became more comfortable with the other as well.

There are thousands of Toastmasters clubs around the world. Different clubs meet at different times and for differing amounts of time.  Some are breakfast clubs, some are lunch hour clubs, some are evening clubs, some are Saturday morning clubs.  Some are advanced clubs, some are corporate clubs.  There is a club for every need.

When you attend Toastmasters as a guest, you’ll be offered the opportunity to speak in their Table Topics  impromptu section where you will speak for 1-2 minutes on a random topic. It’s a great exercise and it’s good practice for speaking on the spot at work or at a cocktail party.

The cost is minimal compared to the value you will receive.  It varies from club to club, depending on the costs of the meeting place, but one fee will cover you for a year and you will receive a monthly Toastmasters magazine, your first two manuals – Competent Communicator and Competent Leader and when you have completed your first 10 speeches, you will also receive your first two Advanced manuals. The cost is usually less than a one day program and definitely less than a 4 day or 4 week program at a local college.  Meetings are held weekly or bi-weekly.

You also get educational materials and an opportunity to speak in the Speech Contests where you can get up in front of hundreds of people, not just the 15-25 people who attend at each meeting. They also try to set you up with a mentor to help you with your first few speeches, or as long as you need help.
Toastmasters is an excellent way to become more confident, and it will improve your social life and help you to feel more comfortable in social situations.

I have been a Toastmasters member since 2002 and I have served in all of the Executive roles in my 3 clubs.  I have also served as an Area Governor and a District Public Relations Officer.  Toastmasters has made a big difference in how confident I am in speaking with minimal notice at various functions including a recent memorial service for a friend and fellow Toastmaster.

Why not check out a local Toastmasters Club?  There is no cost to visit and you just might find out it isn’t at all what you feared it would be.  Tell them Fran Watson sent you!!

To your speaking success

Fran Watson


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