Toastmasters helps build self-confidence
WHETHER YOU are an extrovert or an introvert, speaking in public, for professional or personal reasons, is a daunting task. The key is being prepared. The trick is finding a place that provides a warm and supportive atmosphere in which to learn and practice. That place is Toastmasters International.
Toastmasters was started in 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley, who was working for the YMCA in Bloomington, Illinois. He recognized a need for men to “learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees,” according to the Toastmasters website (toastmasters.org). (Women weren’t officially admitted until 1973.) Since its founding, the organization has helped more than 4 million men and women become more confident in their speaking and leadership skills. Membership now exceeds 345,000, with more than 15,900 clubs in 142 countries.
Differerent reasons to join
Toastmasters members join for a variety of reasons.
Margaret Page (margaretpage.com), a Costco member in British Columbia, was running a successful business when she was asked to speak at an international conference in Las Vegas, but she didn’t feel up to the task. She was left with the feeling ways to enhance her speaking skills and found a Toastmasters chapter nearby.
“It is a big step for many, many people to walk in the door of a Toastmasters club,” Page acknowledges. “It takes great courage. I found a tribe that was willing to support me in my growth.”
Fourteen years later, Page is international director for the organization. “I’m still growing and learning from the experience,” she says.
Her efforts with Toastmasters opened doors of opportunity, including hosting a radio program, moderating a federal debate and being a campaign manager in a federal election. It also led to speaking engagements in Japan and Europe.
“That simply would not have happened had I not walked through the Toastmasters’ doors,” she says.
Costco member Rochelle Rice, a Toastmasters Accredited Speaker, moved to New York to be a dancer. As her professional dancing career was winding down, she moved into the fitness arena and started speaking at conventions.
“I knew how to dance and move, and I knew how to speak, but Toastmasters brought it together for me,” she recalls. “Before Toastmasters, I was really challenged putting the sequence together. Toastmasters teaches you the basics: the opening of the speech, the body of a speech—which usually includes one to three bullets points—and the closing of the speech. Whether you are giving a toast at a wedding, whether you’re doing a eulogy or giving a presentation for the company, that’ll tie up an incredible speech.”
Josephine Lee, a Costco member in Southern California, majored in communications in college and thought Toastmasters would be fun and could help to continue her education. But she found it was much more.
“Toastmasters has provided [me with] so much more than just communication education,” she says. “It provided a community of like-minded people, and it also helps me a lot with my business [thepointeshop.com].”
Costco member Jim Key (jimkey.com) has a 30-year background in information technology in Texas, but Toastmasters gave him an additional path. He recalls seeing noted speakers Zig Ziglar and Les Brown at a couple of business conventions and thought speaking was something he wanted to try. He reached out to both.
“They said, ‘Don’t do anything in the speaking business at all until you polish your presentation skills.’ They each gave me a list of different recommendations, and one of the common ones was Toastmasters International,” Key recalls. “Well, when two people who are on top of the mountain that you want to climb give you the same recommendation, and there’s nothing in it for them, it’s probably fairly good advice to take.”
Rising to the occasion
“A lot of people have this paralyzing stage fright when it comes to being on a stage, speaking before an audience, and I never really had that,” Key says. “My father was a minister, so I was accustomed to seeing someone on stage speaking before people. But what I didn’t have were good content-preparation abilities, organization and making things concise but memorable. Toastmasters gave me a great arena where I could work on those skills and become more and more proficient over time.”
Key mastered those skills, and on August 23, 2003, he became the 2003 World Champion of Public Speaking at the Toastmasters International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia (the 2017 Toastmasters International Convention takes place from August 23 to 26 in Vancouver, British Columbia). He has been a popular professional speaker ever since.
“[Toastmasters] also created for me a network of contacts who have largely become very good friends around the world, because there are Toastmasters organizations scattered all over the United States and all over the globe,” he adds.
Lee, who won third place at the World Champions of Public Speaking at last year’s Toastmasters convention, attributes to Toastmasters another skill that has helped in her business life.
“Overall, it gives me confidence,” she says. “Confidence is very important in communication, because when you’re communicating with your employees, your customers or potential customers, you have to have confidence in order to show them that you trust yourself and you trust your judgment, and that way you can gain their trust as well.”