As I prepare to give my sixth speech (click here to read it) at the Hilton Head Toastmasters meeting, it strikes me what a wonderful organization it is and that I really should try to convince others to join. A Toastmasters meeting is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a no-pressure environment. I find that when people ask me about Toastmasters, they shrink away when the two dreaded words, “public speaking,” are heard. Toastmasters is so much more than public speaking! I need to find a better way to explain what we are without uttering those two words. Here I go:
1. Win Friends and Influence People at Toastmasters
The Hilton Head Toastmasters club, The Fast Trackers, is a varied group of individuals running the gamut from younger to older professionals, current and former lawyers, bankers, magazine editors, artists, non-profit executives, retired professors – you name it! The common element is they all want to become better at leading and speaking. The nice thing is, they want to help YOU become better at this, too. This nurturing environment ensures you will make lifelong friends at Toastmasters as you learn to present yourself in a professional manner and become a positive influence on those around you.
2. Toastmasters Teaches You to be a Better Listener
I thought Toastmasters was all about learning to speak, but I was wrong. Yes, you have several chances to speak at a Toastmasters meeting, but, you have even more opportunities to listen. At every meeting, you hear three impromptu speeches and three prepared speeches. Each prepared speech is evaluated and encouraging advice is given to make it better. If you choose to be an evaluator, you have to carefully listen to the speech and then give a two-minute evaluation. I have filled this role twice so far and, let me tell you, it isn’t easy! My listening skills are a work-in-progress.
3. Never Say “Ah” Again Because of Toastmasters
Personally, I used the “Ah” word every time I couldn’t think of what to say next – which is occurring more and more the older I get! I cured that habit very quickly after being subjected to the “Ah Counter” and her little bell. Each time you use the “Ah” word or any other filler words, the person assigned the role of Ah Counter dings a little bell to gently remind you to pause instead. It sounds awful, I know, but it makes you realize how often you use filler words. With awareness comes learning and most people quickly drop the “Ah” word altogether. This alone is worth joining Toastmasters.
4. Toastmasters Helps You See the World in a Different Light
For each of your prepared speeches you are given goals and guidelines. The subject of your speech is up to you. Speaking about topics familiar to you is encouraged. In fact, your first speech, “The Icebreaker”, is all about you and intended as a way to introduce yourself to the club. I spoke around the theme of “Cocktail Hour”, answering typical small talk questions one would encounter when meeting someone new at a party. John’s speech, titled “Crossroads,” used Gregg Alman’s lyrics “Crossroads, they seem to come and go” from the song “Sweet Melissa” to describe his life’s journey. With each upcoming speech, you see everything in your world as a possible speech topic. Going on a vacation? You might give a speech about planing your trip or packing for it. The way people interacted at the airport or in your tour group could also be fun topics to explore. One of my speeches compared my Carnival Cruise to an African Safari. “Animal Behavior 102” was good for quite a few laughs. The Hairy Chest Contest at the pool vs. a herd of wildebeests roaming the African plains – well, you get the picture!
5. Expand Beyond Your Comfort Zone at Toastmasters
Let’s face it, there aren’t too many people is this world who just love to stand up and speak to a group. Yet, being able to speak well in front of others is something we all would like to be able to do, and do it well (or at least not embarrass ourselves). Joining a Toastmasters Club allows you the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone in a safe, nurturing environment and become the kind of person who doesn’t mind speaking in front of others. In fact, you may find you even enjoy it!
Why not visit your local Toastmasters Club and see if it might work for you? Here on Hilton Head Island, we meet every Friday morning at 7:45 at the Palmetto Electric Community Room at 111 Mathews Drive. Get out of your comfort zone and please come join us. Visitors welcome!