Toastmasters: Your Local Vocal Gym
To become a better public speaker, you’re going to have to speak, in public as often as possible. Seems obvious but I’m convinced that some people are under the impression they can do this by only speaking when they absolutely have to. In the words of Darren LaCroix, world champion public speaker and speech coach extraordinaire, it takes, “Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage Time” which coincidentally is the name of his company, Stage Time University. There’s no silver bullet. For you to become a winning public speaker, it’s going to take time and practice in front of a live audience and that’s what’s available to you at Toastmasters.
Toastmasters clubs are like vocal gyms where you can go every week to work out and build those public speaking muscles in a very warm, supportive atmosphere. I joined in 2008 after years of being on the air in radio and television where you generally don’t work with a live audience at least not one you can see. I wanted to develop my communication skills talking to people face to face and Toastmasters was a great place to do it.
YMCA Santa Ana, California, 1924
In case you’re unfamiliar with the group, Toastmasters is a non-profit program that was developed by Ralph Smedley who launched the first official Toastmasters club in a YMCA in Santa Ana, California back in 1924. Over the years, the program has grown organically to over 358,000 members in 16,800 clubs in 143 countries. I like to call it the Best Buy in Self Improvement because the cost can be as low as $45.00 every six months. Dues may be more if the club has to pay to rent the meeting space or has other expenses.
At Toastmasters there is a real emphasis on the basics of public speaking; eye contact, pacing, pausing, vocal variety, gestures. There is a new education program called Pathways with 11 different education paths for you to choose; everything from Presentation Mastery to Innovative Leadership. The format of a Toastmasters meeting is pretty much the same throughout the world and it hasn’t changed much since those early days in Southern California. Members are given a chance to practice their extemporaneous speaking skills during a portion of the meeting called Table Topics. Then, a few members will give prepared speeches which are usually 5 to 7 minutes long. Those speeches are then evaluated by an assigned member during the evaluations portion of the meeting. The Toastmasters program definitely works. I’ve seen countless people attend their first meeting with hands shaking, terrified at the thought of saying a word. If they put in the work, a few months later, they have become a more confident, poised and articulate version of their former self. It’s quite a transformation and I’ve seen it again and again. It works.
Early Toastmasters Manual
I have to warn you, however, that Toastmasters can become addictive. As I mentioned, it’s a non-profit organization that relies entirely on volunteers. Before you know it, you may find yourself elected to Club President, Area Director or Division Director. Trust me on this. It happened to me. It’s great fun, however, you’ll meet some terrific people and it will definitely help you on your way to becoming a winning public speaker. Find out more and locate a club near you by clicking here: Toastmasters.
Steve Evans, Speech Enthusiast