Speak up and lead with Toastmasters International

There is an organization dedicated to changing lives and making leaders. With a membership of 280,000 it’s likely that you probably know someone who is part of it. This non-profit that started with humble beginnings in Santa Ana, California has grown to have a global reach that now includes 13,500 chapter clubs in 116 countries. This organization is Toastmasters International, and for the past 88 years it has been working to empower individuals to be comfortable in their own skin and find success in their daily lives through public speaking.

The 14 regions of Toastmasters International (Credit: Toastmasters International)

The 14 regions of Toastmasters International (Credit: Toastmasters International)

Using a learn-by-doing approach, Toastmasters International is helping its members practice and sharpen their speaking and leadership skills in a no pressure environment.  Their wide range of members has included 1997 Miss America  Tara Dawn Holland Christensen, former coach of the Boston Celtics K.C. Jones, U.S. Senator from Kansas Pat Roberts, and author and television host Chris Matthews. All were looking to improve their communication skills in one way or another. So next time you find yourself discouraged about speaking up or speaking in front of others, remember that at one point these famous names also needed some help…and then maybe look up your local Toastmasters club.

Credit: Toastmasters International

Credit: Toastmasters International

The organization also hosts an annual convention that culminates with the World Championship of Public Speaking. This competition encourages those who are ready to showcase their public speaking skills and compete against other members globally for the honor of World Champion of Public Speaking. The competition involves a six-month long process starting at the local club level and advances until nine finalists emerge who are then judged at the convention. The competition has produced winners from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, including  Ryan Avery who we heard from earlier this week.

Whether you struggle to just say your name in public, are prepping to give a speech to hundreds, or are an aspiring world champion, Toastmasters International is here to help. This week as we continue our exploration of public speaking, Collaborative Services spoke with Toastmasters International President John Lau to learn more about the organization’s history, the services they offer, and how we can get past doubting our public speaking skills and grow into great leaders. We welcome his insights.

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Toastmasters International has grown from its start in a YMCA basement in Santa Ana, CA in 1924 to a renowned international organization with a membership of more than 280,000 today. To what do you attribute the organization’s success?
For more than 88 years, Toastmasters has offered a proven education program that empowers people to become better speakers and leaders. Through a supportive and friendly club atmosphere, members sharpen their communication and leadership abilities. These timeless skills apply to people of every ethnicity, education level and profession. The skills taught help not only business and community leaders; they also build confidence in coaches, parents, mentors and others.

The YMCA in Santa Ana, California where the first Toastmasters club meeting was held in 1924. (Credit: The University of California)

The YMCA in Santa Ana, California where the first Toastmasters club meeting was held in 1924.
(Credit: The University of California)

Approximately three out of every four people suffer from public speaking anxiety. According to the Toastmasters International website, a Toastmasters meeting is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a no-pressure atmosphere. How has Toastmasters International managed to remove the pressure from practicing public speaking?
Through a hands-on approach, lots of practice and regular feedback, members learn to control emotional triggers and physical symptoms associated with public speaking anxiety. Members participate in the self-paced, step-by-step program in which their leadership roles increase as their confidence as speakers grows.

Why do so many people experience anxiety when it comes to public speaking?
Public speaking anxiety is generally triggered by fear of failure or worrying about what others think. Through regular practice giving speeches and impromptu talks, as alluded to previously, members gain confidence and learn to recognize and control emotional and physical conditions that cause anxiety.

For tips on how people can control public speaking anxiety, view this Toastmasters video or listen to this podcast interview with Matt Abrahams, author of “Tame Your Stage Fright,” in the Toastmaster magazine, March 2013.

Credit: Living Large

Credit: Living Large

Toastmasters International hosts the World Championship of Public Speaking at its annual convention. How does someone become the World Champion of public speaking? What type of process do they have to go through to get to the championship and what criteria do the judges use to determine the world’s best public speakers?
The International Speech Contest begins every January. With more than 30,000 contestants in 116 countries, the contest is the world’s largest of its kind. To be eligible, all participants must be active Toastmasters members, age 18 or older. They present a five-to seven-minute speech in English on any topic. Judging criteria includes content, organization, gestures, style and timing. To reach the semifinals, the contenders advance through club, area, division and district-level speech competitions. Nine finalists emerge to compete for the title of World Champion of Public Speaking.

2012 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking Ryan Avery accepting his award. (Credit: Toastmasters International)

2012 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking Ryan Avery accepting his award from 2012-2013 International President John Lau.
(Credit: Toastmasters International)

How does successful public speaking go hand in hand with great leadership?
Communication and leadership complement each other. For instance, Toastmasters’ leadership program is an exercise in applied communication. By regularly giving speeches, directing teams and guiding others, leaders emerge from the Toastmasters program. Leaders command influence, and Toastmasters helps build the leaders of tomorrow through developing personal and public communication skills.

Once members gain the confidence to speak in front of others, they often find that they are ready to tackle other challenges or goals in their lives. It’s not only about becoming better communicators. Members perform a variety of roles during club meetings that help them gain leadership skills. For example, they lead meetings, give and accept feedback, organize, plan and deliver special events, and learn to listen critically.

Credit: Toastmasters International

Credit: Toastmasters International

How can the average person use public speaking and leadership skills they learn from Toastmasters International in their daily lives?
Toastmasters’ membership is one of the greatest investments individuals can make in themselves and their careers. For example, it fosters better communication with family members, and improved listening skills and evaluation sessions at work. By joining a club, people enter a friendly community of learners who share similar self-improvement goals. These goals can include building confidence, giving more effective presentations, increasing interpersonal communication skills, overcoming the fear of public speaking, combating a speech impediment, or simply inspiring others.

Toastmasters Club, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Credit: Toastmasters International)

Toastmasters Club, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Credit: Toastmasters International)

What are the most important things to remember when speaking to an audience?
It’s important to remember that audience members want you to succeed. They’re rooting for you.

These additional key points can lead to success:

  • Focus on your message and your audience, not on yourself
  • Know your subject and your speech
  • Know your audience and your space
  • Never apologize for a minor mistake
  • Imagine yourself giving a great speech

(Read more Toastmasters public speaking tips here.)

Credit: Toastmasters International

Credit: Toastmasters International

There is an abundance of free resources available on your organization’s website and 13,500 Toastmasters clubs in 116 countries. How does the availability of meetings and resources help contribute to the success of the Toastmasters?
Through local Toastmasters’ clubs, manuals and other instructional materials, members gain flexibility to work at their own pace. To improve their speaking and communication skills, they aspire to gain their Competent Communicator designation. Or they can focus on a leadership track. Anyone over age 18 can take advantage of the Toastmasters program and join a club. Clubs meet in corporations and communities at different times and days, offering a range of options. People are encouraged to visit and join a club that fits their schedule.  To find a local club, check out www.toastmasters.org/findaclub.

What are the organization’s goals for the future?
Toastmasters International aspires to be the first-choice provider of dynamic, high-value, experiential communication and leadership skills development.

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Thank you, John for introducing us to Toastmasters International. We are excited to practice our public speaking, and watch as Toastmasters International members flourish into great leaders all around us.

Liz Faris, Associate
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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One thought on “Speak up and lead with Toastmasters International

  1. […] to a client or a sales pitch or what have you.  If you really need practice, I highly recommend Toastmasters, which is an organization that you can join that lets you practice making speeches before an […]

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