I’m wearing one of many hats, speaking about my recent nomination as President of Lagan Valley Toastmasters Club, overcoming my fear of public speaking and climbing mountains!
Toastmasters International is a not-for-profit organisation that empowers individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders. It was set up in the U.S. in 1905 by Ralph Smedley to help young men initially to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees in his local community. There are now 15,900 clubs in 142 countries worldwide. Men and women of all backgrounds are welcome.Learning a new skill is always exciting but getting over your fear of public speaking can be especially daunting because in front of an audience you are at your most vulnerable.
Toastmasters’ clubs provide a supportive environment, a journey with similar people where you can learn at your own pace.
What to Expect at a Toastmasters International Event
They say that the best way to learn is by doing it in a fun environment. What we can guarantee at every Toastmasters meeting is that it won’t be dull and that it will be educational. There is a set structure. Each meeting lasts 90 minutes.
- It begins with an address from the club’s President. The holder of this office changes every year.
- We then allow 2-3 speakers to deliver a structured speech that lasts 5-15 minutes.
- Next, there is a Table Topics segment, which teaches you to think on your feet.
Each week speeches are evaluated as is the entire meeting. On average, there are six leadership or speaking position-holders at each meeting. These are in constant rotation, so each member is constantly pushing themselves to learn a new skill. The Committee is made up of six people, which also changes every year.
What I’ve Learned
The most important skill I’ve learned is the art of listening. This is the hardest skill of all, some would say! As Stephen R Covey put it:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
My first job was in the Export Department of Ulster Carpets. Everywhere I went, I analysed the design and colour of carpets. Now, as a Toastmaster, any event I go to I find myself examining how the person is standing, the structure of their speech, how they engage with the audience and the relevance of their message. Those are all skills that we learn in Toastmasters.
As I’ve been on the Committee for last year and taken on different roles at club and district level, I’ve learned many skills that I can transfer outside of Toastmasters.
This includes facilitating meetings, chairing other committees that I’m on, structuring agendas and keeping things running on time. Being a Toastmaster no longer just refers to a person who gives toasts at banquets and other occasions.
Local Toastmasters International Meetings
There are currently 6 clubs in Northern Ireland where I’m based.
- Citi Group Belfast meets on the third Wednesday of every month at Citi Bank HQ (17:30-19:15)
- Belfast Group meets on the second and last Thursday of every month at Europa Hotel (19:00-20:45)
- Lisburn Group (mine) meets on the first and third Wednesday of every month at Lagan Valley Island Centre (19:00-20:45) – check out our website and Twitter
- Newry Speakers Group meets on the first and third Wednesday of every month at Canal Court Hotel (20:00-21:45)
- The Mid Ulster Group meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month at Gortalowery House (19:30-21:45)
- Erne Speakers meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month in Enniskillen (19:30-21:00)
Find your local Toastmasters group.
How Toastmasters International Has Benefited Me
I joined Toastmasters in August 2015, just two months after I launched my own business. Virtuali Admin Solutions .This was no coincidence. I was literally petrified going to business networking events and having to speak in front of others even for a minute! I knew my fear of public speaking was really preventing me moving forward professionally and personally. After seeing an advertisement on Meetup for Lagan Valley Toastmasters, I decided to go along and have never looked back.
- Two years later and thanks to Toastmasters, I’ve grown in confidence and no longer shy away from speaking.
- Last September, for example, I gave a speech to some Queen’s University Belfast Modern Language students about graduate opportunities.
- I also entered and won an Ulster Bank Dragons’ Den pitch through Women in Business’ The Power of 4 Programme. I would never have had the courage to even enter such a competition had it not been for Toastmasters.
- I’ve been on Toastmasters Committee for this past year. I have also learned a lot about leadership, which is one of the twin pillars of Toastmasters (the other is communication). And I am very much looking forward to taking over the Presidency of the Lagan Valley Club from August this year.
Whether you want to practice a work presentation, business pitch, wedding speech or just want to speak for the fun of it, please feel free to come and join us. The first three visits are free. And we’re a very friendly bunch!
Find your local Toastmasters group.
This guest blog was published by Sensei for their July month of blogs on presentation skills. Find out more about how they can help you communicate better with your clients and teams, in person, on paper and online.