The first thing most people hear about Toastmasters is that membership can help them become better presenters and conquer public speaking fears. That’s true, but it’s also true that Toastmasters offers much more. By participating in the meetings, members enjoy learning and practicing skills in various areas that can improve not only their social lives, but their professional lives as well.
If you’ve never attended a Toastmasters meeting, you may be puzzled by the assortment of activities available to members. Not everyone gives a prepared speech at every meeting. Volunteers enjoy several roles that help them develop confidence in other areas. Furthermore, a member can develop skills without ever volunteering – simply showing up and having fun can bring surprising benefits.
For example, time management is a skill that is prized in many avenues of life – particularly in the workplace – and members enjoy plenty of practice in this area. Several key events in each meeting are timed, and everyone receives feedback with notes on their successes as well as tips for improvement in working with the clock. It’s amazing how quickly a new member learns to keep the time limits on presentations.
A Cordial Atmosphere
Another benefit of membership is the camaraderie that develops between the members. Many people join for similar reasons – perhaps they’re overcoming a fear of public speaking or they want to move up the corporate ladder. Because of their shared circumstances, it’s hard not to form friendships. When you’ve applauded your fellow Toastmaster for presenting her first speech, you’ll recognize that look of gratitude on her face. The bond of friendship that forms between people who are learning and enjoying fun times together can last a lifetime. And the opportunities for networking abound.
But what about the fun? Some parts of a meeting seem to draw laughter. For example, Toastmasters often practice their impromptu speaking skills. Just watch the antics of volunteers who boldly stand and answer surprise questions in one- to two-minute sessions. This might seem like a game – and to some degree, it is – but it’s a game with hidden benefits. Everyone who participates learns to think and speak coherently and without hesitation. They build confidence each time they master a topic – which really helps later with such challenges as job interviews. Even a member who simply watches and applauds will develop critical thinking skills while having fun trying to figure out how he might have answered that last question.
A Place to Develop Skills
When a member does perform a speech, she benefits in more ways than merely presenting a talk to an audience of friends and supporters. She also learns to write a speech that dazzles. The first few projects in the Competent Communication manual, the basic manual for Toastmasters, offers help in developing speechwriting skills. Members can practice organizing their thoughts on the page, getting to their point quickly and using language with eloquence. This leads to clear written communication the member can rely on – whether she’s writing a cover letter for a résumé or a personal note to a friend.
Some volunteers can build their organizational and record-keeping skills while they help to set up and run the meetings or keep track of their fellow members’ progress. It’s not hard to learn the steps to success in these projects, and the volunteers are then able to transfer what they’ve learned to their careers and personal lives.
The skills don’t stop there. When members spend time in Toastmasters meetings, their confidence grows. They discover that they can successfully perform the same kinds of activities outside of Toastmasters. Their circle of experience widens, and they’re ready to try new challenges. This is why so many companies host Toastmasters meetings in their offices. Members become stronger, more confident leaders at work – and highly valued employees.
All of these provide Toastmasters with opportunities to develop skills that reach beyond giving a speech. And for many members, the benefits of this personal growth may mean more in the long run to their success in life. Whether they’re interested in honing leadership skills, strengthening one-on-one communication, practicing presentations, excelling at job interviews or just becoming a more articulate or dynamic speaker, Toastmasters is a benefit to everyone.