Recently I joined Toastmasters, an international public speaking club. I can’t remember exactly where I heard about Toastmasters but it was something which I always had on the back of my mind to look into.
Toastmasters, which originated from California has clubs across the world including many cities in the UK, so I was glad to find one in my own university city. Clubs run in similar ways, with impromptu table topic speeches by guests, planned speeches by members, and evaluations of speeches on the agenda. Everything is meticulously organized with an assigned master toastmaster of the evening, who will introduce the speakers, evaluators and other roles, and make sure the session runs smoothly. The dedicated timekeeper is to monitor the length of speeches, to make sure that members don’t run over time and that there is enough time to get through everything planned for the jam-packed sessions. Other roles include grammarian, who introduces the word of the day, that speakers can use in their speeches as a fun addition, and the ‘um’ and ‘ah’ counter who literally count the number of these sounds and filler words that each person uses! So apart from the main speakers with prepared speeches, there are many other opportunities for speaking in front of an audience in each Toastmaster meeting. Of course each club will have its own unique style and personality, and it is the members of the club that make a club unique.
On my first visit as a guest, I was made to feel very welcome by members introducing themselves to me and approached by the master toastmaster of the evening to see if I wanted to participate by giving a table topics impromptu speech. Even though I was nervous, I agreed. Table topics is an activity for guests to participate in and have a go at presenting a speech in front of the audience. Guests are asked questions on the spot on a random topic. Personally, I find impromptu speeches much more intimidating and harder than prepared speeches. I was nervous at first, but after a minute or so, I felt more at ease and my answer developed into a better speech. I was proud that I had faced my fear and gone up to give a speech to people I didn’t know.
Such my first visit and impromptu speech, I visited once more as a guest before attending a third time as a new member, when I also gave my first prepared speech. My speech was an icebreaker about myself. The speeches you give are from a manual from which you work and progress to achieving your esteemed toastmaster certificate (the current old system is changing soon, so there will be different manuals). The manual gives some instruction as to how to best structure your speech with some tips, aims and objectives, but the speeches can be open to your personal interpretation. For example my icebreaker speech about myself focused more on the concept of minimalism and how it has affected my life, rather than generic personal facts.
I was a little nervous, but felt better and became immersed in the speech, forgetting my nerves as it went on. For the icebreaker speech the duration should be between 4 to 6 minutes, and when I practised it, it was just short of 6 minutes but when I was on stage speaking, it was much shorter – only 4.5 minutes. After my speech, everyone stood up and applauded as this is tradition for Toastmasters giving their first prepared speech. Later I received written feedback on slips from people in th audience and a personal evaluation from another fellow Toastmasters. The comments were positive, and very encouraging with ideas for improvement.
So far, my experience of Toastmaster has been a positive one. It is such a friendly, supportive, safe and non-judgemental environment, which is exactly what people need in order to develop their public speaking skills with confidence. The people are very accepting which makes speaking in front of an audience whole lot less intimidating, and even a pleasant, uplifting experience!
It is important to realize that everyone there has the same common goal – to improve their skill of public speaking, no matter their age, gender, background, ethnicity or occupation (and actually the club I go to has a huge range of people). Everyone will have a unique and different take on public speaking whether in delivery or in content, so there is no need to compare. If everyone were to give the same kind of speech that would make it very boring. Instead every meeting, there will be speakers talking about a whole variety of different topics using different styles, whether that is inspirational, motivational, humorous or serious, which makes it really interesting, engaging and a great night!
So to conclude, I would highly recommend Toastmasters to anyone who would like to overcome their fear of public speaking (which apparently is the number one fear for many people), or anyone would like to improve speaking in front of an audience or just a place to be able to speak to like-minded, positive, inspiring people! Toastmasters is a great place that is open, non-judgemental and encouraging, where anyone is welcome to join. I myself am a big fan of the many great, inspirational TED Talk speeches; so feel privileged to be able to give my own speeches and I hope that this is just the beginning of many speeches. So here’s to Toastmasters!