I was first introduced to the public speaking group in May of 2017. Initially I went to a Toast of TCS meeting solely to support a coworker who wanted to give a funny speech on her love-hate relationship with CTA and the El. (For the out-of-towners, that's Chicago Transit Authority's subway trains.) But after observing several team members on my marketing team in their roles as Wordmasters, Timers, Grammarians and Evaluators, I wanted in. The culture of the group was friendly and constructive. The 2017-2018 president for Toast of TCS was warm and encouraged me to join. By June 1, I was a member.
A year later, and after making it all the way to the district round of the 2018 International Speaking Competition, I've joined a second Toastmasters group (Unity Toastmasters) and was elected the VP of Education.
So what is it about Toastmasters that made me join not one but two clubs?
Constructive feedback to make you a better speaker: As someone who has always enjoyed writing workshops, I'm big on constructive feedback. It is neither productive nor interesting for someone to drown me in compliments. I want to know what works, what doesn't and even why certain techniques work. Founded by Ralph C. Smedley in March of 1905, the intention of the club was to create a speaking and socializing group. His "Manual of Instructions" and "Ten Lessons in Public Speaking" were the groundwork for creating what has turned into 352,000 memberships in 16,400 clubs in 141 countries.
Effective way to network: I enjoy getting feedback from family, friends and coworkers, but there's something special about people volunteering to give up their lunches or weekend mornings to come out solely to help other people. It's a different level of networking and conversation because they're not getting paid to be there. In elementary school, I had approximately 50 penpals (remember when we actually needed postage stamps?) from all over the globe. So the ability to continue to meet people of different ages, races, backgrounds and cultures is a win-win for someone like me.
Improve leadership skills: While the ongoing joke in my first club was that I was almost dragging new people into meetings, I really enjoy recruiting. (I got approximately eight people to either attend a meeting or join in less than a month of them working on our marketing team.) I didn't particularly care about having an officer title. I have said countless times that I have no desire to be in any type of management position. (This confuses my mother because her response is always, "But you would make a great manager. You've been bossy since birth!") I just wanted cool people to come out to share speeches and provide feedback.
Although "natural leader" sounds much nicer on the ears than "bossy," I'm guilty of both. But it's so much easier to just be accountable for yourself instead of a team of people, which is the reason I almost always shy away from leadership positions. Getting a group of people to all be on the same page can be a little like herding cats; everybody just wants to do their own thing. I was asked and elected into the position of VP of Education without ever even considering the idea beforehand. When I saw the handbook and all the job entailed, initially my thought was, "Oh gawd, this is the kind of management role I've always dodged." But the vibe of my second group was so chill that I thought, "Well, why not?" To my surprise, in addition to just really loving Unity Toastmasters group, there was a startling satisfaction from successfully organizing the 2018 Table Topics and Evaluation competition and being the go-to for the president. And the teamwork that went into this was a lifesaver.
Become a better speaker or fine-tune your best speaking skills: I have never been someone who is shy around a crowd. I've done everything from dance competitions to music recitals (piano and alto saxophone) to live plays. As a journalist, specifically in the entertainment journalism world, you have to get past your nerves fairly quickly in order to get some of the harder interviews. And quite a bit of my business and/or entertainment interviews are either sitting backstage after someone's performance or via phone. It's an altogether different world moving a podium out of the way and talking to a crowd for anywhere from five to 10 minutes at a time. When I first started, I talked entirely too fast, tended to rely on my Google Slides and combined too many stories into one speech. Nerves weren't my problem. My busy mind was! All of the feedback I earned to get to Competent Communicator has made me a better speaker (and leader) all around.
So are you interested in joining Toastmasters? Are you already a member of Toastmasters? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below. And if you're interested in joining a nearby Toastmasters, click here for locations.