A Toast to Toastmasters

Do you consider yourself a strong communicator at work? How about at home, are you able to convey your thoughts and opinions clearly, without instigating an argument? Well I thought I did, that is until I challenged myself on it and realized I often fall victim to many of the pitfalls that make public speaking such a fearsome undertaking. And so I began a search to find how I can better my speaking skills as well as my career.

Toastmasters LogoThere are many ways for people to expand their skillsets and pursue advanced educational opportunities to better oneself in his/her career. With the growth of online education institutions, like Stanford or MIT, the possibilities are pretty much limitless. As long as you have the motivation, and an internet connection, you can be on your way to career advancement. Advancing your career, however, doesn’t rest solely on obtaining an advanced degree or certification, as these opportunities do not offer the tangible feedback of in-person peer participation and critique. I found myself searching outside of educational institutions, and inside of my own community. Then bingo, I had found my solution. It’s called Toastmasters. No, it’s not an after-work drinking activity, which was my first impression as well. Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization devoted to “empowering individuals to become better communicators and leaders” through in-person weekly meetings designed around giving and evaluating speeches. Through better communication you build a confidence in yourself and in the message you are trying to deliver.

I sat down with our Vice President awhile back to brainstorm how we might improve our staff’s effectiveness in verbal communication when working throughout the region with local leaders and community members on our wide array of projects. Many ideas surfaced that focused on expensive trainings and conferences, and we weren’t convinced that these would result in the outcome we were looking for. Toastmasters, however, was an option that stood on its own. Club membership is inexpensive and the weekly meetings are frequent enough to make it a great choice for ongoing improvement. Thus, our climate planning staff will be the test case for improving our communications, and will be attending our respective local Toastmasters meetings over the next 6 months.

One of the greatest benefits of participating in Toastmasters is that all of the members are there for the betterment of themselves and their careers/lives/pursuits. The atmosphere is centered on genuine interest in members’ personal growth and the critique is done in a very respectful manner. There is constant evaluation throughout the meeting, which keeps everyone honest and is only slightly intimidating. Members are critiqued by each other on everything from giving a speech to off the cuff roundtable discussions. This method of evaluation is fair and provides real-time feedback to help instantly start the improvement.

So why am I writing about improving my speech communications skills amongst blogs concerning perceivably larger issues like the water bond and cap and trade?

The reason is simple, some issues can seem so large and so daunting that we often lose motivation to continue taking small steps towards those monstrous tasks, so taking smaller, more creative approaches to solve these problems can be very efficient. By improving our communications and leadership skills through Toastmasters, we are taking those small, creative steps to empower ourselves to more effectively communicate our mission and lead projects in our communities.