I attended my first Toastmasters meeting last night, here in Inverness. I was warmly welcomed, and despite being asked to speak extemporaneously for one minute, I have to say, it was a very pleasant experience. Given the trepidation most people feel about speaking in public, I was surprised to find I wasn’t nervous at all.
In fact, I was so not nervous, that when they were looking for volunteers at the start of the meeting, I volunteered for one of the roles! In total, I got up to speak in front of the group three times last night. The first occasion was to introduce myself. The second was to give my “Table Topic” speech — an impromptu speech on a topic provided to you as you stand up (!), and finally, to present my Grammarian’s report.
And you know what? It went swimmingly. I was completely comfortable, despite the newness of the surroundings, and the fact I had never been to a Toastmasters meeting in my life.
And that made me wonder: is this group is a good fit for me? If you have no trouble getting up in front of a roomful of strangers and saying a few words — or worse, delivering an entire speech — should you belong to a group whose express purpose is to improve your confidence and public speaking?
I believe the answer is “yes”. Why? First, because even if you are comfortable with something, it doesn’t mean that you can’t improve. We all have areas that we are experienced at — let’s say, writing — but that we know we can continue to develop with practise.
Secondly, being comfortable with something probably means you have the skills and expertise to help to develop another’s ability.
And that’s what these groups are often about. If everyone was a pro, then no one would need the group. But because everyone’s skills are at a different level, it means that expertise can be shared within the group, so that even experienced speakers can continue to progress.
And that’s the thing — even though I was comfortable at the Toastmasters meeting, I know I can still learn a great deal from these people. Toastmasters isn’t just about public speaking — it’s a leadership development programme. And who can’t benefit from that?
And how did I come to that? By stepping inside my comfort zone. Paradoxical, but true: there is a lot to be gained from trying something that doesn’t terrify you.
So here are my 3 tips to continue your professional development:
- Try something you aren’t terrified of. Just because you are comfortable with something, doesn’t mean you can’t improve. Toastmasters provides a venue where people with a range of skills in public speaking can develop at their own pace, in a safe environment, with a proven format. That’s a goldmine waiting to be tapped.
- Remember that learning can happen even when you aren’t aware of it. Every time you do something, you get better at it. Incremental changes aren’t obvious, but think about it: I bet you are a much better typist now than you were even five years ago. That’s the power of repetition.
- Remember that there’s often more to it than meets the eye. Talented listeners at Toastmasters (like Gilda at last night’s meeting) are able to identify — and critique — the structure of a speech, something most of us wouldn’t have the first clue about!
Chairing a meeting may involve speaking in front of a group, but it is also an opportunity to become a more confident leader. People at a meeting you are chairing are like guests in your home: it’s your job to ensure they are comfortable, feel safe to speak up, and ultimately, benefit from having accepted your invitation. Toastmasters and groups like it provide an ideal opportunity to develop that expertise.
And so, to the Inverness “ToastMonsters” group, I say “thank you!” Thank you for the warm welcome, and thank you for providing me with an opportunity to develop a skill that is partly formed, but my no means at expert level. And for opening my eyes to an opportunity to develop a host of other skills I hadn’t considered. I will be seeing you folks again next time!
For those wanting to learn more, I have pasted some information below about Toastmasters:
The Toastmasters Mission: A statement of shared values
Every Toastmasters club shares the same mission, clearly defined in the following mission statement:
We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater selfconfidence and personal growth.
Through this mission, each Toastmaster gains a clear understanding of the club’s purpose, and the organization as a whole benefits from a shared set of values and goals.
Click here (and see below) for more information: Toastmasters Britain and Ireland – Inverness Chapter