When I am asked ‘what is Toastmasters like?’, I always suggest that someone comes along to one of our meetings to find out, because it was not at all what I expected.
What made me want to try Toastmasters?
About two years ago I complimented a business colleague after they delivered a totally compelling 60 second pitch at a networking event we attended. They not only spoke for exactly one minute, but they clearly communicated what they did, how they could help other business owners and what business connections they were seeking. They did this without notes, without nerves and with just the right touch of humour – I was impressed. I asked how they did it and they simply said that they went to Toastmasters!
Naively I thought Toastmasters clubs were elite groups of after-dinner speakers, who were likely to be suited, stuffy and always ready to perform. Therefore, not likely to welcome a self-confessed introvert with a life-long fear of speaking in front of large audiences! My business colleague reassured me that I would be given a warm welcome and that I could come along with her as a guest, to see for myself.
What was Toastmasters actually like?
No-one was suited and no-one was stuffy, but everyone was very friendly and down-to-earth. I was under no pressure to take part unless I wanted to, but I ‘dipped my toe in’ by saying a few words in a very gentle warm up session to introduce guests and members. The meeting was very well-organised and even followed an agenda, but also managed to stay relaxed and supportive throughout. The people delivering prepared speeches each received their very own evaluation from another club member and there were also other participants feeding back on different aspects such as timings and grammar. There was an opportunity for other members and guests (again, only if they wanted to) to have a go at a bit of impromptu speaking – talking for a couple of minutes on a given subject topic – the range of topics that people covered was fascinating.
The most surprising aspect of the evening for me was the emphasis on the importance of ‘listening’ rather than ‘talking’. Everyone was there to learn, not show-off, so the focus of the meeting was all about evaluation, development and self-improvement.
After one meeting, I was hooked – here was a safe and supportive environment in which I could build my public speaking confidence at my own pace. Public speaking is a skill that needs to be learnt and practiced, so finding the right place to do that is so important. I haven’t given any after-dinner speeches, but I do now volunteer to speak and present at networking events, seminars and conferences!
So, what are you waiting for? I look forward to seeing you at our next meeting!
Kay Heald, Vice President Public Relations, Shropshire Speakers
Kay also runs her own HR consultancy, Kay Heald HR and has been a member of Shropshire Speakers and Toastmasters for over two years.