Want to up your game at work and life in general? What do you think the best ways to do so might be?
Improving your communication or leadership skills would likely fit the bill.
Have you ever heard of a “little” organization called Toastmasters? Their mission is to “empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.” They do this by teaching people how to be more effective communicators, allowing members to practice public speaking, and giving feedback on their performance in a positive, empowering way.
This is the secret to success that so many people are lacking. If practice makes perfect, how can this not be beneficial? AND the best thing is: it’s not expensive. Membership is approximately $100 per year (fees vary). All this to get weekly training in one, two, or both tracks: Communication and Leadership. Each track has a series of projects you work on to gain competencies. It’s all self-paced. Some groups will even allow members to forego the tracks and just show up to practice speeches they plan on giving in the real world. What better way to improve your speech for maximum effect than through feedback from a group of people that are there to support you?
I attended my first Toastmasters meeting in 2015. Some friends were interested in joining but wanted moral support. So, my boyfriend and I drove to Redmond, Washington to check it out. I have to admit that I was more than a bit scared just walking into the room. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but as it turned out, there was nothing to worry about. Everyone was warm and inviting. I gave my first speech here - it was an impromptu “Table Talk” speech about electric cars. I stood at the podium a nervous wreck. My palms sweating, my heart thudding in my chest...by the time I was done I had no recollection of what I had even said. Somehow, I remained coherent and was voted to receive a ribbon for my speech!
Enough about me. Let's move on to the good stuff...
Toastmasters is actually Toastmasters International. The organization originally began as a series of speaking clubs/workshops organized by Ralph C. Smedley in Bloomington, Illinois through the YMCA. The first official meeting was on March 24, 1905. The participants (young men) all took turns giving short speeches and were evaluated by the more experienced, older men.
After a bit of a troublesome start, Smedley moved to Santa Ana, California in 1922 and the clubs began taking off in 1924. Smedley started writing books to aid the members. Things became so successful that by 1930 there were nearly 30 clubs formed in the US and Canada. This is when they renamed Toastmasters to Toastmaster’s International.
Toastmasters is still going strong today, having celebrated their 90th anniversary in 2014. They now have over 300,000 members worldwide.
When you go to a meeting you might be surprised that people have different roles.
Obviously, first and foremost there are Speakers. Each meeting has scheduled speakers who prepare their speeches ahead of time. Their speech is either related to the track they're advancing in or can be a personal/professional speech where they orate for an allotted time period and receive feedback from the Evaluator. The Evaluator’s role is to listen to the speech and give valuable, pertinent feedback in a positive and supportive way. Evaluators are encouraging and offer motivation as well. Feedback is also based on the skill level of the person giving the speech. This means that your first speech won’t be reviewed the same way as someone who has been a member for 20 years.
There is also a Timer. The Timer keeps a record of the length of each member’s speech throughout the entirety of the meeting. They also notify the Speaker when they are getting close to the end of their allotted time. Timers also keep track of the meeting agenda - making sure things don’t get out of hand. This is a very handy leadership skill which keeps everyone on task during meetings in your professional life.
The TopicMaster plans and prepares the theme for the Table Topics to be discussed that particular day. Table Topics are brief 1-2 minute speeches which the members do not prepare for prior to the meeting. They teach you how to speak extemporaneously. TopicMasters might also pick members randomly. This is a great way to work on listening skills as well as increase your comfort level when faced with giving an impromptu speech during "real life". After a few of these, you’ll no longer have the “deer in headlights” look when someone unexpectedly calls on you to speak in front of others in a professional environment.
General Evaluators analyze and evaluate everything that occurs during the entirety of the meeting. They are the lead over the Evaluation Team which consists of:
- Timer - Keeps track of speech times
- Grammarian - Provides the word of the day and is responsible for evaluating grammar and word usage of the speakers
- Ah-Counter - Takes notes of pause filler words like um, uh, ah, er as well as inappropriate usage or unnecessary usage of words such as like, well, and, but, so, you know, etc
- Speech Evaluators - Give valuable, pertinent feedback on the speaker's speeches
- Table Topic Evaluators - Give valuable, pertinent feedback on the Table Topic Speeches (short 1-2 minute impromptu speeches)
Last, but not least, is the role of ToastMaster. The Toastmaster organizes and conducts the entire meeting. They introduce speakers and act like a host - basically filling a role similar to that of Master of Ceremonies (MC). Toastmasters have been in the organization for awhile and are familiar with all of the roles and responsibilities of each position. They're also responsible for making sure the meeting doesn’t go off the rails; working with the Timer to ensure that the meeting starts and ends on time. Often even preparing an agenda in advance.
Another beautiful thing about Toastmasters is that there are probably several groups near you right now. If you attend a group and don’t get a good vibe, you can always check out others. There is no obligation. You can attend a meeting or two for free before deciding if you want to join.
If you'd like to learn more about how to find a job that brings you joy and fulfillment why not schedule a no-risk, no-obligation Strategy Session. (Don't worry, first one's on the house.)
Join the Facebook group #LevelUp Your Career for support from others looking to achieve career success.