Does Toastmasters Work?
Learn why it’s the best $50 you can spend.
Hi Lisa, this is Scott Milford from Madison Heights, Virginia, I was wondering if you can tell us about the Toastmasters Club and any other similar clubs.
A Public Speaking and Leadership Club
Scott, just this past week a colleague of mine went to his first Toastmasters meeting. He told me it was “the best $50 a person could spend.” When I asked him why, he said, “Because it not only allows you to improve speaking, but you get to surround yourself with a bunch of people who are trying to reach the same goal: better communications.”
When I was in my early 20’s I told my father I was interested in public speaking. He told me about a club at RCA (where he worked) called Toastmasters. I remember thinking it was such an odd name; after all, what did toast have to do with speaking? I also remember my father saying incredulously, “Yeah, these people get together at lunch time and give speeches. They think public speaking is fun.”
After talking with one of the RCA members, I ended up joining my local community club, in Haddonfield, NJ. I found out that Toastmasters was (and still is) an international organization with thousands of clubs filled with people who are interested in improving communication and leadership skills.
My Dad was right; people get together--for fun--to deliver short talks and to receive supportive feedback. They’ve even had some famous members like management expert Tom Peters and the founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies, Debbi Fields.
Learn By Doing Using a Structured Approach
I think the first thing a person notices about Toastmasters is how organized, productive, and engaging the meetings are. They’re highly structured, with members filling very specific roles and responsibilities. In fact, if you’re interested in seeing a model of a very well-run meeting, attend a Toastmaster’s meeting. You’ll see a live demonstration of many of the in-person meeting guidelines that I talked about three weeks ago.
Specifically, every meeting includes prepared speeches by a few participants. Each speaker prepares his or her speech according to guidelines outlined in a manual. The first manual is a series of 10 speaking assignments focusing on foundation skills such as gestures, eye contact, organization, and delivery. But rest assured; there are 15 advanced manuals! There’s plenty to learn.
Each prepared speaker is assigned an evaluator, who delivers a short evaluation presentation and also provides written feedback in the participant’s manual. I still remember and follow much of the advice I received on my first 10 speeches.
Valuable, Timeless, Suggestions for Improvement
In fact, there was a local newscaster in our club who I desperately wanted to emulate. I remember this one time I was trying to impress her by matching her very regal, refined style, but I failed miserably. She encouraged me to find my own voice and to always share my personal connection to the topic. I’m following that advice right at this very moment. I’m not just giving you the website information about Toastmasters I’m telling you about my personal experience in my own words. I learned that valuable lesson from my fellow Toastmaster.
In addition to the prepared speeches and evaluations there is also a timer who ensures all speakers stick to their time slots, and a grammarian, who points out errors in pronunciation and grammar. Some clubs even have an “Um” counter who tallies all the filler words that are spoken. There's also a general evaluator who evaluates the entire meeting, pointing out things that went well and things to improve for the next time.
Impromptu Speaking is Fun and Educational
There's another portion of the meeting dedicated to extemporaneous speaking, called Table Topics. That’s my favorite part of the meeting. The Table Topic Master comes to the meeting prepared with questions or topics and then asks for volunteers to stand and deliver an impromptu response. This part of the meeting can be a lot of fun; and for some can be quite nerve wracking. For sure, it's a valuable skill to be able to organize your thoughts and create a concise and compelling response.
The best part about Toastmasters is that it works. I personally witnessed a participant who was so nervous for his first speech that he went to his doctor who prescribed him Valium. This guy continued to come to the club for many years and eventually he came in third in the international contest! I have seen many similar transformations from poor speakers to excellent speakers as a result of consistent attendance at Toastmasters. But Toastmasters isn’t just for “public speakers” – participants develop their confidence, self-esteem, and general ability to communicate and to lead. Of course, improvement in these skills can have a dramatic impact on all parts of a person’s life.
National Speakers Association
However, if you are interested in becoming a professional speaker, you may consider joining the National Speaker's Association. This organization is more costly than Toastmasters and focuses on helping professional speakers develop their business and refine platform skills. I also joined NSA in my early 20’s and received valuable advice from many of the local members.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am no longer active in either organization, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. In fact, I mentioned to my colleague that I was thinking of perhaps returning to Toastmasters to deliver some of The Public Speaker episodes live, in front of an audience. For me, that would be fun and educational.
This is Lisa B. Marshall; passionate about communication your success is my business.
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