You should join Toastmasters
Toastmasters International has been recognized as the leading organization for communication and leadership development since its inception in 1924. With a membership base of approximately 330, 000 worldwide, it is one of the largest organizations focused on personal development in the whole world. They are uniquely positioned to help you become a better speaker, communicator, or leader, if that is what you want. But, that is not all they do.
What is Toastmasters?
Toastmasters, as I mentioned above, is an international organization devoted to improving communication and leadership skills. It is most known for its focus on public speaking, but it is important to note that the skills you gain are not only public speaking related. You are taught (and practice) how to give feedback, improve your vocabulary and grammar, think and answer questions off the cuff (think interview questions), and how to lead.
Depending on the club, meetings are typically once a week or once every other week. They have a relatively standard agenda, which makes it easy for guests and new members to follow along without getting lost or feeling out of place. Often, clubs will have their own website and a club newsletter that will contain more information on the club and club activities.
Guests and new members are encouraged to partake in the activities but are in no means required to. Translation: you can just sit and watch if that is all that you want to do. No pressure. When you show up for the first time, you will be greeted (likely by many or ALL of the members) and made to feel welcome. You will likely be asked where you heard about the club and about Toastmasters because the members are genuinely interested in knowing.
What are the benefits of joining Toastmasters?
What can Toastmasters do for you and why should you join? There are many benefits to joining Toastmasters; here are some examples:
- You improve your public speaking skills. I doubt that this will come as a surprise to anyone who has ever heard of the organization in any way. This is what the organization was founded on. You will learn skills related to speech organization, vocal variety, posture and gesturing, movement during speech, and content strategy. When you begin, you work out of the Competent Communicator manual, which serves as a framework to begin improving your public speaking. It’s all about practice, practice, practice.
- You will learn Leadership Skills. You will also have opportunities to use them, whether through meeting roles or as a club officer. You begin using the Competent Leader manual as a guide to learning and using these skills during meetings. There is a leadership track where you can earn rewards and certain Toastmaster distinctions.
- You improve other communication skills. As mentioned above, you are able to work to improve your ability to ‘think on your feet’ through an activity called table topics, you have an opportunity to provide written and verbal feedback of speeches, and you get to work on some general language skills. Though, that last one is kind of learned through osmosis, rather than actual skill building.
- Positive atmosphere. An often ignored benefit of Toastmasters is how GOOD you feel during and after a meeting. There are a number of reasons for this but primarily, it is because of how positive and encouraging the members are. There is no fear of, “you sounded like crap” or “you did a terrible job.” There is a larger focus on what you do well, with some small suggestions for improvement. Everyone in a Toastmasters meeting wants you to succeed. That cannot be stressed enough.
- As a result of the positive atmosphere, you will find yourself making many new friends. These people are like minded, remember, as they likely joined for a similar reason. They want you to succeed and you will find yourself wanting them to succeed.
- Fun and entertaining. Because of the positive atmosphere and the tendency to make new friends, you will find that a Toastmasters meeting is both fun and entertaining. You will have a number of laughs and good times with good people.
- You always learn something new. I am not just talking about the skills listed above. You will run into people from all walks of life, all with different interests and expertise. These people will create speeches that teach you about what they know, share their beliefs and opinions, and generally expand your mind in ways you would never have considered.
How to join
The first thing that you should if you are even remotely interested in joining is go to the Toastmasters website, select find a club, and make note of the clubs that are local to you. Hopefully, and likely, there are a few options in the area for you. Take a look at their club websites and see what time and what days they meet. Don’t forget to check around where you work as well. There may be a lunchtime meeting near you that makes more sense.
Next, reach out to the clubs and express interest in being a guest in order to check out how it works. You can be a guest as many times as you want, and in as many clubs as you want. Be a guest at a few meetings. Get a feel for how the meeting runs, the people involved, and the process.
If you are interested, know that joining is cheap. Membership is done in 6 month increments, so the commitment is small. At this time, I believe it is $45/6 months + club dues (ours are $6/6 months) (International dues set to go up to $54 in October). If you are a first time member, there is a $20 initiation fee.
Think about it. You get a lot out of what amounts to roughly $10/month.