This past January 1, I didn’t do resolutions. Rather, I spent several hours going through a life “action plan.” Resolutions are something you should say every day, but planning is for that annual moment, when it is time to plot your year.
One of the things I included in my action plan was leadership skills — something I have always moved toward but something wanted to add more focus to in 2015. I wanted to be a better leader. I also wanted to become a more polished public speaker.
I had heard of Toastmasters but never thought it attractive. I thought it would be a typical networking event of stodgy salespeople in stiff suits. However, in an effort to be a better leader and public speaker, I checked out the Toastmasters website. I was happy to find a chapter within a few miles of my office that meets twice a month at lunchtime — perfect for my schedule — and I went.
I was a little nervous going to the first meeting because it was a wholly new experience with new people. But I was pleasantly surprised! The group was small and not at all intimidating, and everyone was friendly and supportive.
Since that first meeting, I’ve performed three speeches, made new friends, and have truly benefited. I’ve found that Toastmasters is such a helpful organization that I would like to share with you a list of 7 reasons about why I recommend Toastmasters.
1. It’s Fun!
This first reason was an unexpected bonus, as I had no idea how fun Toastmasters would be. The meetings are so lighthearted and we really have fun! I enjoy talking to the members and listening to their speeches. Also, we do this thing called “table topics,” which involves answering questions off the cuff, like at an improv. At first I nervous but now love table topics — they’re just fun.
2. You’ll have Support
My fellow Toastmasters are hugely supportive. Each meeting involves a lot of clapping and praise, and it’s not all fluff. It’s genuine positive praise. It is wonderful to have such a support system.
Plus, as you can see in my photo, you get ribbons! I haven’t gotten ribbons since I was in grade school. How awesome is that? What a motivator.
3. You’ll Refocus on Positive
Participating in Toastmasters meetings has helped me refocus my mental thoughts in a more positive way. When acting as a functionary such as a “grammarian” or “um/ah counter,” I’ve learned to not focus so much on what was done wrong (negative) but what was done well (positive) and can be done even better (constructive). This is a massively important aspect of leadership and one I admit I’ve not always excelled at. I’ve been a boss for many years and, when something is done wrong, it’s sometimes hard to not only think about the negative. Good, effective leaders, however, uplift people’s spirits and do not bring them down. Therefore, focusing on positive thought is a massively big deal.
4. Get Guidance
After you join, you receive two guidebooks, which are almost like course books. The first is the Competent Communication manual, which guides you through preparing your first 10 speeches. In each speech you focus on a specific aspect of public speaking or speech writing. It’s almost like taking a college speech class, but without the grade, and more fun.
The second book is Competent Leadership. This book allows you to focus on things like listening, time management, critical thinking, planning, and organization, and you easily complete projects based on these topics.
In each manual, as you complete a project, your evaluator will write notes. In a way, the manuals become your score books (even though you are not given a score). I’ve taken to carrying both manuals around in my handbag/tote, so they are always on hand if I need to reference one.
5. Make New Friends
You get to know people in your Toastmasters chapter because being part of Toastmasters includes talking about yourself or things you are interested in and listening to others talk about themselves or things they are interested in. I also noticed that, though everyone in my Toastmasters group has a different background or occupation, each has the common interest of self-improvement, and each person is really terrific and interesting. You may have heard the adage that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Why not spend more time with such great people then? I’ve found Toastmasters members to really be great people.
6. Self Improvement
The best thing, however, and the goal, about Toastmasters is that it will lead you through self-improvement. As you go through Competent Communications and Competent Leadership manuals, you will be focusing on improving your own communications skills. And you will improve!
7. Minimal time and money commitment
Lastly, you will be getting all of these benefits for a very small time and money commitment. The Toastmasters dues are ridiculously low, something like $36 every six months, plus a one time $20 joining fee, and a low chapter fee. These dues pay for materials, including your guidebooks, ribbons, and a monthly magazine — so it is totally worth it. The time commitment is small, as our group only meets twice a month at lunchtime, so I can totally fit it into my schedule. Other groups meet in the mornings or evenings, so you can find a group that fits into your own schedule.
There you have it – seven reasons to try Toastmasters. Find a chapter near you. Or, if you’re in Orlando (Colonialtown/Baldwin Park area), check out the Uptown Toastmasters. We would be happy to have you join us!