I first got involved in Toastmasters from 1989 to 1991 and joined Mosman Toastmasters in Sydney. I worked through the first speech manual of ten speeches (now called the Competent Communicator manual) and competed in a humorour speech contest. Then I dropped out because our first daughter was born and I didn’t have time to prepare speeches.
I joined Chatswood Early Risers in 2004 because I was working in Chatswood at the time and a friend suggested a morning club. I love the weekly format of one hour meetings as there are more opportunities for practice. So what skills have I learnt in Toastmasters?
I made a list of skills I have gained. You can gain these skills as well by joing a Toastmasters club and participating in the meetings. The first step is to find a club then visit.
Prepared speaking. Presenting prepared 5- 7 minute speeches on a variety of speeches usually without notes. I have used a variety of visual aids to enhance my message.
Impromptu speaking for about minute on a variety of topics given by the Table Topic Master. This skill involves recalling information, and creating a structured response.
Acted as Toastmaster (Master of Ceremonies) for the speakers at a meeting. This involves collecting information from the speakers – biographical and introductory material for the speech. This is a useful skill for being an MC at a business meeting, conference, wedding, or private party.
Conducted meeting as the Chairman, ensuring that the meeting runs smooothly and to time.
Laughmaster is a role where I tell a joke or humorous story, adding some drama and vocal variety to the presentation. It is quite a challenge to tell a joke that isn’t rude or offensive!
Presented Toasts of 2 to 3 minutes. There is a magic formula to giving a toast and once I had given a couple of toasts, it is easy to do in other situations.
Evaluator. Evaluating another speaker and giving constructive feedback is what I really enjoy. I have to pay attention to all aspects of the speaker – language, body language andvocal variety then summarise my recommendations in a 3 minute vebal presentation.
Mentoring new members. The greatest satisfaction of all is to help new members overcome their fears and to guide them develop their own communication style. Experienced speakers have helped me in the past and I like to pass on my experience and observations of other speakers.
Leadership skills. Serving as Club President in 2009-2010 allowed me to develop leadership skills, team building and creative thinking. I had been in supervisory roles in the past, but dealing with a group of volunteers is a different challenge. When people volunteer for something like Toastmasters I have observed different levels of enthusiasm and commitment. Building a common purpose and enthusiasm to achieve shared goals
Where have I applied these skills?
Over the last ten years my work has been in software support, software testing, technical writing and training development. However, my skills were brought into play when I presented testing methodologies to the software engineers.
I have done occasional classroom training, often to students with English as a second language. Feedback has been positive particular my clarity of speech and ease of comprehension.
I recorded voiceovers for E-Learning courses. This required two particular skills learnt in Toastmasters – writing for the “ear” and voice production. Text to be spoken is different to text that for reading such as this article. I did attend a Podcasting workshop and a Voice production course, both independent of Toastmasters.
Over the last two years I have presented to my industry peers at a meet-up group of technical writers in North Sydney. I was invited to speak at their annual conference in 2010 and again in 2011.
One of the toughest speeches was writing a eulogy and delivering it at my brother’s funeral. Despite the grief, I managed to write a speech from the heart and deliver at the service without an emotional breakdown.
I still need to improve my vocal variety and use of gestures. Vocal exercises and more practice at meetings!
I am keen to explore the format of Ignite talks where the speaker uses a Powerpoint deck of 20 slides with each slide automatically advancing every 15 seconds. This means the speech takes 5 minutes which is long enough to get your point across. I plan to give an Ignite talk when I next present a speech requiring visual aids.
The best thing I have gained from Toastmasters is making many wonderful friendships with the people in our club. Our members are from a diversity of professions, countries, ages, and life experience. I learn so much from their speeches and contributions to our club.
Public speaking and leadership skills are essential for our personal and professional lives. Toastmasters is a an effective and fun way to develop these skills.