Weighing the pros and cons of Toastmasters

Should I Join Toastmasters to Learn Public Speaking? (The Pros & the Cons)

As of writing this, I’ve been a Toastmaster for about 3 years. My life follows the clichéd journey of a kid being absolutely terrified of speaking – to becoming a speaker who has gone on to deliver multiple speeches, receiving speaking gigs even outside of Toastmasters and is now not completely terrified of the stage anymore!

Skipping that part, however, public speaking and communications was always something that fascinated me.

After stumbling upon some great and inspiring speeches, I wanted to possess the ability to go up on stage and communicate my point (whatever it may be) with maximum effectiveness.

In this pursuit, I joined a 5-day public speaking course in my neighbourhood. Although it was great, the course did not offer me a place to regularly practice my speaking. It’s hard to gather a group of people to listen to you speak on a regular basis (believe me, I tried!).

Trying to find a place that would offer me a stage to regularly practice on, I came across Toastmasters.

Yes, I have learned a lot from Toastmasters in these 3 years. I’ve not only become a better speaker, but also a stronger communicator overall.

Over these years, MANY people have asked me whether they should join Toastmasters or not. So here are the reasons why you should join and also a few reasons that you should be aware of.

The Good

A safe place to fail

toastmaster delivering a speech at a meeting

The thing about an environment like Toastmasters is that no one is there to judge you (even though you may feel like that sometimes). Everyone, even the advanced speakers, are only there to learn.

Toastmasters is a platform where you can go up on the stage and make a complete fool of yourself.

But no one will judge you for it. If you feel you didn’t deliver a speech well, understand what you did wrong, rehearse and deliver the speech again. You can fail multiple times over here! So, it’s an ideal place for people who are completely terrified of the stage to start off from.

Regular practice

This is one of the main reasons I joined Toastmasters. Unlike other public speaking courses which lasted for a limited number of days, Toastmaster meetings occur on a weekly or biweekly basis.

This allows members to deliver a speech in one meeting, take up a role in the next meeting, observe and listen in another meeting and so on.

This regularity of going on stage helps us get much more comfortable with being on a stage which eventually helps to foster our overall confidence.

Mentors

Since Toastmasters is a place to learn public speaking, naturally, there will be a lot of advanced speakers present in the meetings. This is great as it allows you the opportunity to ask one of these advanced speakers for guidance and suggestions on how to go about delivering a speech.

In most cases, no Toastmaster ever denies someone when asked for guidance.

What many Toastmaster clubs do is that they assign mentors to every new speaker who joins the club. The joinee can then seek advice from the mentor when it comes to delivering speeches or understanding club procedures.

Mentors are a great source of feedback and can also act as a motivational source for you if you feel stuck at any point in your journey.

Opportunities

With over 16,000 clubs worldwide and over 300,000 members, Toastmasters is a massive organization.

And so, it calls for great opportunities.

Because of the sheer number of members, you get to meet and interact with people from all sorts of backgrounds, age groups and professions.

The network can not only help you find potential mentors to help you with your speeches but also help you find people who can help you in your professional life outside of Toastmasters!

Even the contests that Toastmasters holds (The International Speech Contest, The Humorous Speech Contest etc.) provide opportunities to take you to national or international platforms where you can deliver speeches to literally thousands of people!

Just check out this speech by the winner of the International Speech Contest, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi:

Overcoming social anxiety

Toastmasters has for sure helped me overcome some level of social anxiety.

Here’s the thing, if you’re a socially anxious or frantic person, going to a place like Toastmasters exposes you to meet new people. It pushes you into a different environment and uncomfortable positions which are key to overcoming social anxiety.

I’m not saying Toastmasters makes you supremely confident, but it can definitely help you be less frantic on stage and in front of crowds.

Beyond public speaking

win speeches and awards beyond toastmasters

Yes, Toastmasters has definitely helped me become a better public speaker. But what I cherish most is how it has made me better in life outside of Toastmasters!

A couple of years into Toastmasters, I got a job doing Business Development in the field of advertising. My work involves creating strategies for potential clients and pitching plans to them. Since these clients are from high-level brands, the pitch has to sound appealing.

Because of my training at Toastmasters, it was fairly easier for me to present pitches to clients as opposed to other people. I realised I was a lot more vocal – my expressions, my tone, my body language – everything was in sync with what I was saying and the overall communication was just far more effective.

Leaving that out, after a year of being in Toastmasters, I could notice subtle but noticeable changes in myself – the way I walked and spoke was just better than before. It’s helped me become a better communicator, not just on stage but beyond Toastmasters as well.

The Bad

Over-friendly

Toastmasters is one of the friendliest and most supportive learning environments out there. While this makes it a great and safe place to fail, it also becomes one of its major cons.

Sometimes, Toastmasters can be an over-friendly place and not give you a true sense of where you stand with your speaking skills unless you really ask for it.

Non-profit

toastmasters is a non-profit

Toastmasters is one of the largest non-profit organizations in the world. But because of this, the people running the organization are, at the end of it, volunteers. Not employees.

Most people have their day job, their family and their social life. Toastmasters is a hobby or a side project in most cases. This can result in a lack of accountability, a drop in quality and reduced motivation since there is no monetary incentive.

Despite this, I must point out that the organization has been around for almost a century now and continues to thrive even without paying anyone to run the show. That speaks volumes in itself!

Your evaluator’s feedback is not always right

In Toastmasters, when you give a speech, it is evaluated by a fellow (often senior) member. While these evaluations can be helpful, they should be taken in with a grain of salt.

The problem is that while everyone is there to support each other, not everyone is good at giving feedback.

There is a method and a way to critique someone when it comes to public speaking. Since any member can be assigned as your speech evaluator, it isn’t necessary that what the evaluator says is the correct feedback for your speech.

Instead, find a mentor. Someone who you know is a good speaker and who you feel you can trust.

After each speech, ask him/her about your speech for a real evaluation. You’ll get a much better idea of how you performed when you hear the feedback from your mentor as opposed to an evaluator.

Related article: The Skill of Crafting the Perfect Speech Evaluation

Don’t get too caught up in it

Thanks to Toastmasters, I’ve come across several types of speakers. Many of them have been Toastmasters for years and when you see them speak, it shows. Their delivery, content and message are so powerful!

But again, I keep coming across a group of people who have also been a part of Toastmasters for years. But when they speak on stage, it seems like the person has hardly ever been on stage.

I don’t mean to disrespect anyone, of course. Many people join Toastmasters with the aim of becoming better speakers.

But instead of giving speeches, learning and actually improving as a communicator, they simply attend all the meetings, take up roles in the executive committee (which organizes the meetings), make many friends at Toastmasters but don’t really go up on stage to deliver speeches!

If you’ve joined Toastmasters, have some sort of a goal in mind as to where you want to be with regard to your speaking in the next 6 months and work towards that goal with each meeting.

Don’t get too caught up in all the extra-curricular. While they are helpful and you should definitely take part in them, don’t let anything override your main goal for being in Toastmasters in the first place.

Real-world speaking

Toastmasters has often been criticized for this, that the organization focuses a lot on the technicalities of public speaking that might not make much of a difference when it comes to speaking in the real world.

In many cases, people join Toastmasters because they want to be able to pitch to investors better, deliver a toast at their best friend’s wedding or give spectacular business presentations.

In these situations, perfect body language or the number of times you use ahs and ums doesn’t really matter so much as long as your message is effective and easy to understand.

Related article: 6 Techniques to Stop Saying Filler Words: Eliminate the Ahs & Ums!

So don’t restrict yourself to just improving as a speaker at Toastmasters. Try and find more opportunities to speak publicly and use Toastmasters more like an experimental ground to try out different speaking styles and methods.

A speech outside of Toastmasters will teach you a lot more as opposed to speeches delivered within the organization.

Should I Join Toastmasters or Not?

While it has its cons, if you are someone who is looking to improve their public speaking regardless of the field you’re in, Toastmasters is definitely one of the best places to start off your public speaking journey, not only cause of the supportive environment, the vast network and the opportunities it offers but also because of its Do-It-Yourself learning method. This means that if you put in the work, you will get the result.

Related article: How to get the most out of Toastmasters

Alternatives to Toastmasters

While I do believe Toastmasters is a great place to learn public speaking, it certainly isn’t the only option. There are other resources you can use to improve public speaking and overall communication:

  • Local courses: Since every city has its own set of courses and teachers, I’m not going to dive into specifics here. But a simple Google search will do the trick. Just search for public speaking courses near you, visit them, arrange for a demo session if possible and pay up if you like it! That’s how I started my journey as well.
  • Online courses: I’m a big advocate of online courses! The beauty is that not only are they cost-effective in most cases but also that you can learn from the best teachers across the world no matter where you live! Udemy and Coursera offer some great public speaking courses which you can check out.
  • Virtual learning: Companies have been leveraging VR to help others overcome their fear of the stage. By creating a simulation of the stage and a large audience, you can practice speeches and other soft skills in a safe, repeatable manner.
  • Books: While there are some great books out there which teach you great public speaking tips, I wouldn’t recommend only using books as your guiding source of learning public speaking. The best way to learn is to actually go up on a stage and speak. Use books only as an additional resource to add to your skills along with whatever course you are doing.

Hrideep Barot

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.