This is a post for those people who are considering joining a Toastmasters club.
If you are not familiar with Toastmasters, I would summarise it by saying that it provides a structured format and friendly environment for people who want to improve their presentation skills. Toastmasters also allows its members to get hands-on experience in organising and conducting meetings so time management and hosting skills can also be developed. This official Youtube video provides a general overview of how these sessions are planned and what responsibilities each member can take during the events. I only joined two months ago and I would like to share my experience with you so that you can evaluate if this is something that you might want to get involved with.
Why did I end up joining
I am sure that a lot of people appreciate the importance of good presentation skills. I have been aware of this for quite a while but throughout my career I was never in a position where presentation skills were the key determinant of success or failure or rather, unfortunately I could say that I never came to the obvious realisation that being a strong presenter could really boost one’s career prospects. I always had a strong bias towards improving my technical skills and I thought that if someone knew what they were talking about, the method of delivery wouldn’t be as important. As I got the opportunity to meet, study and learn about great leaders, I realised that they all had something in common, they all had a good mix of technical skills and possessed excellent presentation skills in addition to being charismatic leaders. I thought Toastmasters would be a way for me to start practising and picking up these skills to have a greater impact, not just at my workplace but within my sphere of influence. Another important reason for joining was my desire to meet and speak to people from different backgrounds and professional fields; I think one major drawback of working in the financial sector in a specialised role like mine, is that very often you risk developing a very narrow-minded view of things and end up losing touch with many areas of society. I wanted to talk to types of people who I didn’t interact with on a day to day basis. I also wanted to have interesting conversations and learn about different perspectives on society.
What kind of people attend Toastmasters?
Before joining Toastmasters, I had this flawed conception that it would be full of people aiming to do their Ted Talks one day. After attending for the first time, I realised that I couldn’t be more wrong. Toastmasters is attended by people who made the realisation that the club is able to help them develop valuable skills that will aid them in their lives. All the people who I have met have been extremely humble and pleasant to talk to and the vibe that I get is that everyone is there to help each other improve. Saying that Toastmasters is just a club for improving presentation skills would be inaccurate as people join to achieve different goals. These goals are reflected in the 11 different pathways listed below (I am currently enrolled for Presentation Mastery).
Feedback from my first speech
Last week I did my first speech. Usually you start with what they call an ice breaker speech which is a short 4-6 minute talk. It can cover a broad range of topics and is meant to tell the group something about yourself. This might sound like an easy task for a lot of people but I believe that there are many pitfalls for the inexperienced speaker. Here are a few of the issues that I encountered as I tackled this challenge.
(1) The Topic
The fact that you have so much flexibility on your speech personally made it hard to choose the “right topic”. When I was coming up with the draft, I spent a lot of time thinking of a topic that would be interesting for the audience but at the same time something that would allow everyone to know a bit about me.
(2) Memorising or not Memorising
I initially opted for memorising my speech but as I was attempting to practise it, I realised that I wasn’t sounding natural so I just jotted down the key bullet points and memorised them. I have been told that delivering a good speech is also about finding the style that works for you and I believe that for me, summarising rather than memorising is what works best.
(3) Timing and Pace
The paradox I felt was that 6 minutes felt like both an eternity and a split second. When I was practising my speeches I found myself going over time but also finishing too early. This was driven by me not being confident with the speech’s content and being inexperienced with pacing myself. I was doing OK towards the end of my preparation with a timer on my phone but that ended up impacting my body language as my eyes would be glued to the ticking seconds.
After you deliver your speech other participants write their feedback on a small piece of paper for you to review. Some people might find this idea intimidating but I want to emphasise from my experience that the feedback tends to be constructive and is meant to encourage people in improving on their weaknesses. After all, the reality is that the moment you start presenting, you get judged and this is an inevitable part of public speaking so it’s good to get used to it in a “friendly environment”.
People who have mastered the art of public speaking can take it to the next level by entering speech contests where they will battle like minded people. If you are curious to see examples, you can find many videos on Youtube. I am sharing a few of my favourite videos below.
- Speaker: Aaron Beverly , An Unbelievable Story
- Speaker: Dananjaya Hettiarachchi , ‘I See Something’
- Speaker: Mohammed Qahtani Title: , ‘The Power of Words’
Should I join the club?
If you are debating whether or not to join, my advice is to give it a go, you might be pleasantly surprised with your first session (a lot of clubs allow you to join as a guest for a few times before committing to join as a member). What I realised from being a member for close to two months is that Toastmasters isn’t just for people who want to overcome the fear of public speaking or improve their presentation skills, it’s an environment for ambitious people who want to improve themselves and use their communication skills as means for achieving their goals.