Who cringes at the mere thought of public speaking? ME for one! It is Toastmasters International Week. The week to reflect upon and promote the intense personal improvements that are waiting to be unveiled for all.
Toastmasters is a self-development group of people that are aimed at helping members improve their communication and leadership skills. Toastmasters was established in 1924 and now operates in 52 countries with more than 200,000 members in over 8,000 clubs.
Only a few months ago, I joined Toastmasters International and ever so quickly… my life has improved, in confidence and my public speaking skills are starting to emerge. Despite feeling anxious and somewhat overwhelmed at speaking publically, Toastmasters has incredibly helped me overcome my initial fears and is helping me develop some insight into the art of speaking.
I wouldn’t say miracles have happened in this very short time, but my involvement at Toastmasters has certainly improved my confidence levels and ability to not “run away” at the mere thought of speaking to an audience. I like the structure and opportunities presented at each meeting. I also like the supportive members that assist and guide with their friendly natures and mutual desire for personal improvement.
Our level of confidence improves with our ability to control our nerves and overcome the fear. Toastmasters helps you to overcome that fear, control your nerves and increase your confidence. Leadership skills are the great underlying strength in Toastmasters with their structure, organisation and operation. Toastmasters can help you improve your ability to think more quickly, learn meeting procedures and have an evening of fun and enjoyment.
For me, I like to speak from the heart and give an emotional authentic style of speech. My problem is I like to write, so of course, I can prepare an engaging speech of some sort. But presenting a speech is my struggle. When I stand up, I lose the words, I don’t know what to say. This is my challenge to overcome and I have enjoyed the journey to date.
I attended my first meeting to check it out and observe as a guest. Then I joined up on the spot, despite thinking that “I am way out of my depth here”. I believed I could never speak in front of people like this, even though it was only a small audience of about 12 people.
But I was on a recent mission to challenge myself and gain personal growth. Nevertheless, I joined up because I knew that would make me return and I would not give up without even trying. I am really a scrooge and money is very valuable in farming… so in my mind… if I paid the membership, I would have to return to get my money’s worth. I know… I am a little eccentric… but it worked for me.
Toastmasters has produced a new program called Pathways that allows members to choose their own unique path, subject to their own aims and desired outcomes. I find this very personalised and more dedicated to the individual. I also enjoy the online opportunity of my pathway.
The new program Pathways was introduced in 2010 with 5 core competencies:
- Public Speaking
- Interpersonal Communication
- Strategic Leadership
There are 11 different Pathways to choose from, based on your own objectives and to develop those skills as you embark on this new experience and journey. Through answering questions about my aims and purpose, several Pathways were suggested. I chose “Innovative Planning” and was guided to the tasks and their purpose.
So I was keen, although nervous, at the next meeting to present my first 5-minute speech the “Ice Breaker” which is all about introducing yourself and learning the basic structure of a public speech. I would normally have quit before I even started… because I feared public speaking so much that I would even refrain from asking questions for the lack of words. I have recently managed to shift my mindset, so I was very nervous yet very eager to begin and get it over with. Surprisingly under the nerves, I actually enjoyed presenting my speech and my passion in life to the small audience.
As part of my new challenge for self-improvement, I elected to take on the assignment of the “Inspiration” segment at the next meeting. My short speech entailed Christmas and the festive season and an inspiring poem. I also enjoyed doing this, despite the nervous energy within me. I am still amazed by how a supportive group of people with a mutual interest in improving speaking skills can encourage me to be so involved.
At following meetings, I have continued to take on an assignment role where needed, in an attempt to make myself step outside my comfort zone. This has lifted my confidence and improved my ability to speak and find those words somewhere within. I do feel empowered to explore and enjoy what Toastmasters offers in developing my communication skills.
My next big speech will be in a few weeks, so I have been thinking about where to begin. The topic can be about anything of my choosing. I would like to talk about drought in Australia, the mental health of farmers, the empathy of strangers with drought support and the unspoken yet heartfelt gratitude of farmers. As a farmer, this is quite an emotional topic, so I am not sure how it will come together and be presented. I would like to try presenting a speech without having it written on paper, word for word. But I am fearful that my true message will get lost when I forget all the words and I will feel disappointed. I must talk to some more experienced fellow Toastmasters to get some advice.
Toastmasters really is a supportive and positive learning environment with opportunities for members to develop communication and leadership skills. This leads to self-confidence and personal growth.
Anyone over the age of 18 can join Toastmasters… male or female… from any career or background. I encourage you to make enquiries at your local Toastmasters Club as you will be amazed by this incredible life-changing experience that will improve all areas of your life.
Take care, Karen.
“The thing you fear most has no power.
Your fear of it is what has the power.
Facing the truth really will set you free”.
~ Oprah Winfrey