Addicted to novelty since 2001

Is Toastmasters for Me?

I recently read Guy Kawasaki’s How to Get a Standing Ovation. He makes a number of good points, such as:

Here’s the way to heighten your audience’s concern for you: circulate with the audience before the speech. Meet people. Talk to them. Let them make contact with you. Especially the ones in the first few rows; then, when you’re on the podium, you’ll see these friendly faces. Your confidence will soar. You will relax. And you will be great.

I do a fair bit of public speaking, and people tell me I’m good at it (it’s difficult, of course, to get an unbiased opinion). I’d like to do more, because I enjoy it and it’s interesting work. As such, I’d like to get better at doing it. Practice is the best teacher, and I’m getting plenty of that. However, there are surely other methods of improving. Do you think I should go to Toastmasters?

I ask because my impression of Toastmasters is that it’s a bunch of noobs trying to overcome their desperate fear of speaking in front of 10 people. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not for me. I want to go from being a 6th Level Speechifier to a 10th Level Barbarian of Oration. Will Toastmasters help me with that, or is there some more appropriate alternative?

17 Responses to “Is Toastmasters for Me?”

  1. Andrea

    My husband went to Toastmasters once. He said it seemed better suited to people completely terrified of speaking.

    For me, the public speaking training I had during my EMBA was very helpful. However, I’d be interested in finding out what other programs are available.

  2. Stewart

    I’ve been to a couple of different groups and would say it depends on the group. From what I understand though if there isn’t a group that suits you then set one up – Hardcore Toastmasters – then only invite people who you feel are on the same page.

  3. Darren

    Andrea: Interesting. I, likewise, have some training from theatre school. Maybe I just need to hire a private coach for a few yours?

    Stewart: Indeed, setting up a group would be one solution. However, I’d prefer to throw money instead of time at this issue.

  4. Jen

    I’ll second the “toastmasters’ primarily purpose is to alleviate people’s fear of public speaking.”

    However, I did go through their Speechcrafters course, and found a couple things useful:

    1) Table topics. They throw out a totally unknown to you topic, and you speak on it in some capacity for 3-5 minutes. It really helps with the impromptu thing.

    2) Writing a speech for the audience. While I knew how to do this going in, it did help as a “for dummies” style reminder that build upon levels such as telling a story & incorporating gestures and props.

    They will also mercilessly beat you down regarding being under/over time, not projecting properly, and using too many “uhm’s” etc.

  5. Andrea

    Darren: theatre’s certainly an excellent way to get started in public speaking. But you’re probably now ready for something more executive-track. Maybe there’s something in the continuing ed / exec ed coursework at SFU that would fit with your needs. I know the feedback I got during my EMBA was way more brutal than anything I’d experienced before. It was focused on how business people perceive you, as opposed to other people in the world. I think the Executive Leadership program touches on this, but you probably want something more focused.

  6. Andrea

    Speaking of coaches, the SFU Downtown Alumni Group had Margaret Hope speak about a year and a half ago. It’s one of the only seminars on networking that ever actually learned something from. Maybe she’s got something that would work for you.

  7. Declan

    Hiya Darren,
    I know two people who were involved in Toastmasters. Firstly my brother is/was involved in Toastmasters in Limerick, thats where he met his wife (so actually I know three). He didnt need to get over his fear of public speaking as he was heavily involved in university debating and was on the Worlds Council. http://www.debating.net/flynn/

    The second was a former manager (not in CC) of mine who was involved in it for the networking potential.

    I think alot of it comes down to the Toastmasters club you go to. Some will be mostly new speakers, some will be experienced and some will be business people. I’d say go, what have you got to loose?

  8. sofasophia

    Darren,

    I’ve seen you speak — you are way beyond first level Toastmasters. However, they do have clubs for advanced speakers (those who’ve completed their ten speeches) where you can get excellent feedback on your speaking & presentation.

    But for you, especially considering your background/training in theatre and communication, forget about Toastmasters. Just get out there and do it — book a speech a month for 2006 at any gig you can get.

    s.

  9. Phil

    I found the straight-up Toastmasters good for on-your-feet thinking. It’s the ticket if you want to practice before an easy audience. They’ll throw flowers at your feet.

    For my money I’d look for a chapter that meets at the Buckhorn or some other outlaw biker saloon. Maybe there’s a Toastmasters Underground run by ex-Berkeley radicals. Something with a little more juice than the school librarian crowd.

    A poetry slam is another option.

  10. donna

    Toastmasters helped me most with my bad habit of filler’s — I’m bad for um’s and ah’s. I still use them more than I should, but I’m at least aware of them.

    Someone who is terrified of public speaking will definitely get more out of it. I’m definitely *not* afraid of public speaking, but it was helpful to refine my skills a bit.

    I wouldn’t go too far out of my way for it, but when I was working at Telus, we had an office toastmasters, so it was a good way to spend a lunch break once a week. :)

  11. Richard K

    A mailer from a company called Padget Thompson just came across my desk promoting a seminar called “Dynamic Public Speaking”. I’ve never heard of them but you can check them out at NationalSeminarsTraining.com. Let me know if you want me to sent it to you via mail.

  12. Sara

    As a toastmaster member I can tell you that it’s more about overcoming your fear of speaking. Many people join, but it’s more about learning to communicate and lead. It is a great way to improve your speaking by learning how to properly write speeches and presentations as well as eliminate words like ah and um from said speeches. Once you get through the basic manual you can use the club to focus on specific types of speaking you want to lear more about. There is a whole manual dedicated to the types of speeches managers frequently give or learning how to be funny.
    I must admit that there are quite a few middleage/baby boomer members, but that seems to be the age most people seem to decide to do something about their speaking skills. It would be nice to know more Gen Xers and younger knew how improving your communication skills can improve your job performance and give you an edge over the competition.

  13. Ashley Tait

    Hi there,

    I’m the president of the UBC Sauder School of Business’ MBA Toastmaster’s group. We are far beyond trying to get over the “desperate fear of speaking in front of 10 people”. Feedback is grueling and we really dig in deep for critical improvement.

    Toastmasters can mean a wide range of things in the hands of different groups, from hokey knee knockers up to high level competition worthy speeches :) I’m going to compete in the District competitions next week in Prince George because of the great feedback I’ve received in the group :)

    Plus it’s like a cult, in that we love each other and stick together ;)

    Love to hear from you!

    Sincerely,

    Ashley Tait, CMT

  14. Fran Watson

    Hi
    I am currently President of two Toastmasters Clubs in the Ottawa Valley, one which has been around for 20 years and one which is in formation. There are differences in the two clubs and these two clubs are different from others I have attended.

    The advice I have seen above is good. If there are some clubs around you, check them out, see if there is a “fit” for you. In our district (61) there is a club called Laughing Matters which is all about humour. There is also a Singles Toastmasters Club. The advanced clubs are much harder on you than the general clubs and it depends on what it is that you want to improve, as each person is competing against their last speech.

    Many of the Toastmasters who have become World Champion Toastmasters have gone on to build successful businesses based on the skills they developed during Toastmasters meetings.

    There are also many people who are involved in CAPS – Canadian Association for Professional Speakers or APS – American Professional Speakers (I think that’s the correct title). Some may be current members of Toastmasters, some have been Toastmasters, some are just talented speakers, but these associations help you to grow your business by offering networking opportunities and training.

    I was a member of CAPS for a couple of years (I got it backwards, I joined Toastmasters later.) because of Tom Antion. I had been reading some of his material and he mentioned he was going to be speaking at a CAPS meeting in Toronto. I actually joined in Ottawa and eventually did meet Tom at a convention.

    Toastmasters has some excellent conferences where you can meet world class speakers, so it is also an excellent networking opportunity.

    Hope this information is helpful.

    Fran Watson
    P.S. Toastmasters info is available from my website

  15. GILBERT

    Hi…
    I have this idea that I have not seen within the walls of TM.. I want to present a “co-Speech” with another member.. whereas two people are delivering a message together, not unlike a duet..
    Besides being frowned upon, is there a Toastmaster mandate forbidding such an act..??

    something tangible so when we are told that is is not permitted, we can point to a ruling that say this is allowed.. I look forward to youe response.GG

    David Beaulieu Reply:

    Hi Gilbert,

    Toastmasters encourages speakers to work through manual projects. If you and another Toastmaster want to work together there are several things you can do.
    1. Talk to the V.P. of Education who is usually in charge of the club schedule. I’m sure you can arrange your tag-team talk if it can be done within the time constraints of the club.
    2. Both you and your co- speaker should be evaluated using project manuals that are being used to develop your speaking skills.

  16. Alan Stein

    Toastmasters is like joining a gym, or taking an art class, or almost everything else we do – the more you put in, the more you get out. Statewide and international contests give a speaker that big audience several asked about. The two-person speech Gilbert asked about is “approved”. There are several advanced projects requiring two speakers. And if your own club won’t allow your presentation, you need new officers or a new club.

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