If you’ve been reading this blog, you may notice that I make frequent references to Toastmasters. Of all the organizations I’ve joined, Toastmasters has had the greatest positive impact on my life. I believe the benefits of membership extend far beyond simple public speaking skills. I think almost everyone would benefit from joining toastmasters.
First a little information about what Toastmasters is for those who are unfamiliar with this organization. Beginning in 1924 through Ralph C. Smedley to train public speaking, the organization has since grown to over 200 000 members in over 90 countries worldwide. Focusing on public speaking and leadership skills, Toastmasters is one of the largest organized systems of personal development in the world.
Not Just Public Speaking…
One of the big problems I see with Toastmasters current reputation is that most people on initial inspection believe that it is simply a program for speakers to get together and practice what, for most people is an often unused skill. Since most people don’t do any public speaking aside from the occasional meeting or toast at a wedding, they see the (usually) weekly meetings as being a considerable investment for unsure benefits.
Unfortunately what most people don’t understand is that the skills learned in mastering public speaking and leadership are core skills needed for dealing with other people. These skills are the communication skills you use many times every single day. Instead of thinking about doing a big presentation with your toastmaster skills, think about something as simple as talking with a group of friends.
Many people who have labeled themselves ‘introverts’ or lack social skills can find Toastmasters to be a fantastic place to rapidly improve their communication skills. Even if you are currently a very sociable person, Toastmasters can teach you to improve your skills and give you the confidence that comes from being a competent speaker.
But if you just go to one meeting and see the prepared speeches, this benefit of Toastmasters might not be apparent. It took me several months before I really found the intrinsic benefits to Toastmasters. Although the improvement to public speaking comes immediately, it can take a little longer before you recognize the benefits it has in all communication.
Toastmasters is a great place to make friends and meet new people. Organizations in general are great places to meet people, but I would say that the Toastmasters atmosphere facilitates it even more. I have met many people through Toastmasters, including many people I might not have otherwise had the chance to meet.
One of the reasons I feel Toastmasters makes it easier to meet people is because there is a strong emphasis on being very supportive of the people around you. It’s too bad that this attitude isn’t ingrained in all our dealings with other people, because it really makes it much easier to make friends. I can’t speak for all clubs when I make this statement, but generally I have found Toastmasters to be a place that tries its best to make people feel welcomed.
The second reason Toastmasters is a great place to meet people is because there is mutually positive feedback between members. By giving and receiving positive feedback I think rapport is established much more quickly. If you do decide to join a club with a high volume of new members I have found this to be even more true as everyone is trying to learn at the same time.
One of the aspects of Toastmasters that surprised me most was just how fun the meetings are. Even without all the skill and relationship benefits, I would go to meetings sheerly for entertainment.
Unfortunately I think this aspect of Toastmasters is also overlooked by new members. In the first few meetings you might feel a bit fresh and nervous, so it might be hard to enjoy yourself. But I’ve found after just a couple meetings members have often told me that they come just for the stress relief or laughs.
I’ve been to meetings where there was improv comedy, jokes, and even charades. Even the regular activities such as prepared speeches, table topics and doing introductions are usually filled with humor. If your initial impression of Toastmasters was that of a stuffy, boring organization where people gave toasts to each other, then I think you should look again.
How to Join Toastmasters
Now that I’ve spun on about how great toastmasters is, I want to tell you how you can join a club in your area. Joining is incredibly easy and is extremely cheap compared to the value you get out of it.
Step One: Find a Club
Finding a club is actually much easier than you would think. There are thousands of clubs all over the world, so even if you live in a remote place of the world, you might be able to find a local club. I used to live in a small town of a few thousand people several hundred kilometers away from any major city and I was surprised to realize that there was a club in my area. Find your local club here.
Step Two: Contact the Club
Most of the clubs have a contact address where you can send the vice president of membership an e-mail asking about the club. They should be able to tell you when they meet, what kind of members (experienced, new, etc.) and what to expect. If you live in a larger city you can probably find many different clubs so you can pick and choose what best fits your schedule. So far all of the clubs I have contacted were extremely receptive to new guests, so just send a few e-mails and you will probably get quick responses.
Step Three: Come as a Guest
Each club has a different membership policy, but almost all of them allow for guest visits for a couple of meetings before membership is required. So if you aren’t sure about the Toastmasters experience, come as a guest and check it out. This way you can check out several clubs and find one that suits your needs.
Not all clubs are perfect and some might not be suitable for you. As the VP of Membership in my own club I’ve seen a lot of guests pass by our club (as well as those who join). Just because you dislike the first club you go to would be no reason to stop. I would say try at least three different clubs before making a decision about whether Toastmasters is right for you. Clubs can vary like flavors of ice-cream so just because you don’t like vanilla doesn’t mean you won’t like chocolate.
Step Four: Come for at Least Six Months
Unfortunately one of the biggest downsides of Toastmasters is simply that the benefits of membership won’t be apparent initially. When I did my first few speeches and impromptu speaking opportunities I didn’t notice drastic improvement and I hadn’t yet gotten to know all the members. However after completing more speeches and spending several months I really began to see Toastmasters as being fun, educational and useful to my life.
This may be a bit of an investment to spend six months as a trial period for whether you like this Toastmasters thing, but I believe that it can take at least this long before the benefits come pouring in. Some people respond well to Toastmasters and make huge improvements within just a handful of meetings, while others may take longer to build skills and it could take several months.
I’ve said before how I believe in the thirty day trials of experimenting with an idea for thirty consecutive days. Well since Toastmaster meetings are usually only once per week, expanding one month to six would be about fair. If you are willing to invest a month into a new idea, diet, or habit then I think coming up with a little cash and an hour a week isn’t too hard.
Toastmasters is a great club for all ages to join. My last club I was the youngest member by at least ten years, but the new club I am in is a student club where most people range from 20 to 25. If you are in a foreign country and don’t speak the native language, Toastmasters can be a great place to learn. Many members have noted it was a great place to learn English (or whatever language your club speaks).
There are few things I strictly advocate because I believe each person is different. While I’m not arrogant enough to assume Toastmasters is for everyone, I have found it an overwhelmingly positive experience. And again, if you haven’t already clicked the find a club link, here it is.