Several years ago during an annual performance review, I asked my manager how I could improve on public speaking. I knew that working in marketing, I would someday need to be comfortable speaking in front of groups in order to move up in the organization. He suggested Toastmasters and told me a bit about the group.
At the time, the thought of speaking up in front of a room freaked me out. And speaking in front of a group of people who were GOOD speakers freaked me out even more. But this manager, Keith, was one of the best managers I have ever had. And he is a confident, engaging speaker. (Visit him here: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/4/294/868) So for Keith to tell me to join Toastmasters, it made me think that maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea...
A few years went by, and I finally started looking into professional organizations and found Toastmasters again. After several visits, I joined the Warren Toastmasters Club. It took me a few meetings to make the commitment, and I'm so glad I did.
Toastmasters is known as the "public speaking" organization, but what it's really about is improving your communication and leadership skills. Thank you to Vera for reminding us of this. When people join Toastmasters, they join for their personal goals. It might be improving their public speaking skills. It might be overcoming their fear of speaking in front of groups. It might be working on improving their English. Or, it might be because someone told them about Toastmasters and they really liked the members of the club. But regardless, I've found that when Toastmasters has started giving back to me is when I started giving back to my club and to our members and guests.
Toastmasters has taught me how to turn nervousness into positive energy. Toastmasters has given me the ability to practice speaking on a regular basis, so it's not as nerve-wracking to speak. Toastmasters has helped me to think on me feet - really helpful for those tough job interview questions. Toastmasters has taught me that it's not about me and my message, but it's about the audience and making a connection. And Toastmasters has taught me that I actually ENJOY speaking in front of people. This is coming from a person who was painfully shy.... plus it has given me confidence in myself and it has helped me to find my speaking voice.
And Toastmasters has introduced me to some really great speakers, friends, and mentors. People like Mary Comfort who has the gift of being an incredibly engaging and down-to-earth presenter and motivational speaker. People like Jim McVicar who has the ability to make you smile and laugh when he gets up to speak - and this is before he has said a word! And people like Joe Meirow, who started a new club in Shelby Township, Michigan - and he wasn't even a Toastmaster when he started the club! And people like Vera Johnson and Nancy Zychowicz - both which I consider to be true role models and mentors. Vera: for her enthusiasm and passion, while balancing an amazing career and young child. Nancy: for her willingness to support members of every club, and for her spirit and warm demeanor.
I aspire to be a strong speaker like Keith, Mary, Jim, Vera, and Nancy, and I know that Toastmasters will help me get there. Yes, I'm still nervous when I'm asked to speak, but I find speaking to be such a great experience that I push that nervousness aside. And now instead of dreading speaking, I actually enjoy it. In fact, I competed in a contest tonight and came in 2nd place!! :)
There are so many reasons why I love Toastmasters. If you're intrigued, check out a club sometime. http://www.toastmasters.org/ and click the orange FIND button to enter your zip code.
ps -- here's a sample speech I gave at the Park Street Presenters group at Walsh College about my son Joshua, entitled, "He's Only Four."