“So what did you do last weekend?” my coworker asked me to which I excitedly responded, “I attended my first Toastmasters meeting!” She looked at me and said, “You are such a nerd!”
It has been 4 ½ years since I first walked into the mini-auditorium of a condominium building to a group of strangers not knowing what to expect. The first thing I noticed was that a lady immediately smiled at me as if we were long-lost friends instead of strangers. Immediately I felt at ease.
That day, for two hours, I listened to people deliver speeches, mostly Icebreakers of people telling their origin stories. As a person who loved reading and hearing stories, I was instantly hooked. I also even got to participate in the impromptu speaking portion or what they called Table Topics.
What struck me the most was the general ambiance of friendliness and excitement amongst the people there. Before the meeting was over, my mind was already made – I will be a part of this club no matter what it takes. Turns out, the willingness to join and learn is all it took. By the next month, I was a part of this special club that meets bi-weekly intending to improve one’s public speaking and leadership skills.
Ever since then, I have been an avid fan of the Toastmasters program. Now, more than four years and two clubs later, I still reap the benefits of joining this wonderful organization. In this post, I will share what to expect if you are a new Toastmaster.
1. You will embark on the path to public speaking confidence
The main reason people join Toastmasters is to overcome the fear and anxiety that comes with standing in front of an audience and eventually gain public speaking confidence. There is no better solution than to practice, to “prepare for your talk by talking.”
Toastmasters will give you the platform to hone your public speaking skills in a safe and supportive environment. And I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s an intensely supportive place. Toastmasters applaud everything and the people there will cheer for you no matter what.
One speech at a time, you will also learn how to manage your nerves, craft a compelling story, and even think on your feet. Speaking impromptu is a skill that will take you far and is beneficial no matter what setting and career you are in.
2. You will take charge of your learning
Upon joining, your VP of Education will guide you in enrolling in Pathways, the Toastmasters educational program. There are eleven paths to choose from based on your own personal and professional goals.
Depending on your club’s mentorship program, there will be a mentor and/or accountability partner assigned to you who will guide and sometimes nudge you to sign up for speeches and take up other meeting roles. But ultimately, your pace and progress in going through the projects and levels would depend on you. You decide how frequently you’d like to participate and deliver speeches.
Public speaking is a skill and skills are developed through consistent learning and actual practice of the craft. Showing up despite how anxious you are or unprepared you think you might be is the only way you progress.
3. You will learn to value speaking time
In Table Topics, you learn how to deliver clear, concise messages in 2 or 5 minutes with minimal filler words. I used to think it’s impossible or at least daunting to make an impactful message in 5-7 minutes, which is the length of most regular Toastmasters speeches.
Now I have proved myself wrong. With the right structure, you can make the most of the time you were given. With limited speaking time, I learned how to carefully choose the best words, phrases, and sentences to use. You also learn to respect other people’s time.
I always remind myself, “I have 5-7 minutes of people’s time and attention, what is the most important message I want to highlight? How can I best serve the audience by either informing, inspiring, or entertaining them?” When you have a stage, time, and the attention of an audience, use it to talk about something you are passionate about.
4. You will appreciate feedback (even more)
As with every skill development, feedback is crucial and the good news is that there is plenty of that in Toastmasters in the form of evaluations. If I haven’t attended a single Toastmasters meeting and someone told me that an evaluator will dissect my performance and give me feedback in front of the whole audience, I would’ve said a flat-out “No, thank you.” But in Toastmasters, collective learning is very much valued.
The evaluator’s feedback delivery is in itself a mini-speech and teaches you active listening skills as well. For each speech, you will have a different evaluator, so the chance to receive feedback from a different member every time is also a great way to receive varied perspectives and expertise.
5. You will hear unique stories from all walks of life
This is one of my favorite parts, especially if you belong to a community club – being able to hear stories from a diverse set of individuals from different backgrounds at different stages of their lives. You will hear tales of childhood adventures, the thrills, and perils of people’s pursuit of their dreams, overcoming fear, failure, and what success looks like to different individuals.
Needless to say, you will surely hear a story or two that you can relate to as well as new stories that will fascinate you. Sit back, relax, laugh, cry, and of course, cheer and clap.
6. There are a lot of ways to be involved outside your club
Aside from participating during meetings taking up various roles, there are also a lot of inter-club activities. If you decide to pursue leadership opportunities, there are bi-annual training programs where you interact with officers from other clubs within your Toastmasters district.
When Toastmasters also travel, some make it a point to attend a local Toastmaster club in a city they are traveling to. I have met many amazing Toastmasters members from different countries visiting our club and it was always wonderful to hear their stories. In 2020, I got the amazing chance to help organize a virtual 6 continent inter-club meeting – 6 clubs from 6 continents participated in a friendly contest. The collaborative effort paid off and it was attended by over 300 people globally.
7. You will form friendships and gain a community
On top of improving your skills, one of the best things you will gain from this whole experience is gaining a community through the people you meet. In 2017, I moved from the Philippines to New York City. The top three things on my bucket list are: go to Times Square, eat a proper New York pizza, and find a Toastmasters club. During that uncertain time where I was dealing with change, Toastmasters has helped me acclimatize to a new environment, and start over a new chapter.
Having been a member of two clubs and attending meetings from various clubs from different locations, I know that the format may vary, but one thing that transcends is the welcoming and supportive atmosphere. People who go to Toastmasters rarely go there by force, some by chance, but mostly by choice. This means that these are the types of people who like to improve, overcome their fears, and continuously challenge themselves. These are also the friendliest, most generous bunch of people I have met. Not only that, they will influence you in positive ways.
We also value community outside meetings. We go hard on supporting each other and celebrate milestones in and out of the club. Through the people I’ve met, I’ve attended art shows, conferences, an improv class, and other social or networking events. Having a community is especially vital now with all the challenges that we are experiencing in the world. And having a platform where you can talk about current struggles in an empowering way is definitely a bonus.
Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to most people, so a low-stakes and supportive environment is a great place to start. I am most excited for you as you start your Toastmasters journey.
Just be reminded that in the end, your Toastmasters experience will ultimately be what you make of it. Whether it will be one of the most rewarding investments of your time, energy, and money, or simply a pit stop in your journey towards achieving your goals is up to you. Nevertheless, show up, speak up, and of course, have fun.