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June 24, 2024

Toastmasters 101

By Mary Klaebel

Imagine you have been asked to make a presentation before a group of fifty of your peers. Or, perhaps you are being asked to speak at a college commencement. Would you be able to do it? Would you know how to write the speech to keep it within a reasonable time limit? Would you feel confident walking up to the lectern? Would you feel the need to fill your pauses with "um" or "you know?"

If you don't think you could do it, don't feel alone. It has been shown in survey after survey that people fear public speaking more than they fear death. So, if you fall into this group that fears stepping up to the lectern and speaking to a group, large or small, what can you do?

The answer is Toastmasters International. This organization was founded in 1925 to promote more effective speaking skills for professionals and those who might find themselves standing in front of a group, expected to talk confidently. More precisely, Toastmasters is the governing organization of a large number of smaller groups ranging from ten to two hundred individuals. These smaller groups meet weekly to practice public speaking.

If you join a Toastmasters group, you can play a number of roles at the meetings, from speaker to evaluator, to table topics master. A speaker, of course, creates and then delivers a speech of anywhere from four to seven minutes. Someone is on hand to time the speaker, using a series of three lights to indicate how much time that person has left to wrap up their talk. Being timed this way encourages you to keep it within the given time. Have you ever wished a speaker would just hurry up and be done? Haven't we all?

The evaluator's role is a bit more challenging. An evaluator is assigned to a specific speaker. After the group votes for best speaker, the evaluator takes the lectern and shares with the group their evaluation of the speaker's presentation. Daunting, yes, but valuable both to the speaker being evaluated and to the evaluator. The speaker learns about both their weaknesses and their strengths. Maybe they were leaning on the lectern while speaking, or kept their hands in their pockets. However, they may also learn that they have a way with a story or that they have a natural knack for putting an audience at ease.

The evaluator, on the other hand, learns to honestly share someone's strengths and weaknesses with them while encouraging and empowering that person. This is a key skill, if you are ever in a position to have to bring a person's mistakes to his or her attention gracefully. A seasoned evaluator will know how to keep the tone positive and uplifting, rather than discouraging the speaker. Meanwhile, the speaker gets valuable insight into how they are perceived by the audience.

Table topics is great fun. As table topics master, you get to select a range of topics and then choose random group members to stand and speak, with no preparation whatsoever, on the topic of your choosing. Of course, the chosen victim is not in any way required to give a factual or honest answer. Just a well presented one. Often, these one to two minute speeches are amusing and imaginative. They also teach valuable lessons in confidence and poise.

All of this probably leads you to ask why you should consider joining a Toastmasters group. Well, for one, it will do wonders for your composure under pressure. After being selected for table topics a few times, it takes a bit more to fluster you. You will also gain self confidence that will lead you to speak up where you might not have done so before. Public speaking ability also opens up a world of opportunities for you to give presentations about your career field at schools or to other groups, such as Rotary Clubs.

Finally, statistics have shown that persons with strong public speaking skills earn more than their equally educated and experienced peers. Why? Because they have the poise and confidence that comes with spending time at the lectern. They also have a wonderful world of networking connections within their Toastmasters group.

If you are interested in learning more about Toastmasters and what it can do for you, personally and in your career, log on to www.toastmasters.org or visit a club near you.

Article © Mary Klaebel. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-09-18
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