Are you terrified of public speaking? Are the words um, er and ah in your vocabulary? You have lots of company in the world.
Perhaps you should consider joining Toastmasters. By putting yourself in terror’s path regularly, you can learn to make those butterflies in your stomach fly in formation and eliminate filler words when your mind goes blank.
Anyone can benefit from joining Toastmasters. The Anacortes club, called the Anacortes Dockers, includes people of all ages and walks of life: entrepreneurs, small business owners, city employees, realtors, financial advisors, a filmmaker, an attorney, and retirees, among others.
Marcelle, a social media entrepreneur, says she joined because she understands the value of collaboration and she thought Toastmasters might help her communicate more clearly. “It’s helped me think on my feet, organize complex ideas and make some exceptional new friends,” she says. “I’m new to town so being connected to local residents and business owners has rapidly connected me to our lovely city.
“I keep coming to learn,” she continues. “I’m always finding new ways to open speeches and transition thoughts, and I enjoy getting immediate feedback too.”
Alan, a retired psychiatrist, visited the Anacortes club once and joined immediately. “I had a grand time,” he says. “I recognize a good thing when I see it.
“I saw Toastmasters as a fun activity to add to my retirement regimen,” he continues, “but it has proven to be much more than that. One of the best things Toastmasters has done for me is to teach me how to condense a chosen topic into a 5- to 7-minute presentation, really forcing me to discipline myself to drill into the very essence of my topic.”
Alan keeps attending Toastmasters because he can count on hearing speeches on a wide variety of topics presented by others. “All are interesting to me,” he says. “The Anacortes club is outstanding.”
Susanne, owner of a marketing agency, joined Toastmasters for her personal enrichment. “I also joined to encourage the young women on our team at work to improve their confidence and public speaking abilities,” she says. “It worked!”
Susanne keeps coming for personal growth. “The noon meeting is a great break from work and an opportunity to be among interesting people who also want personal growth,” she says.
Ann, a student and owner of a small business she operates out of her home, also joined to increase her confidence when speaking in front of others, and to become a better speaker overall. “I come back because I am making progress,” she says, “and because Toastmasters members are always so positive and supportive.”
As for myself, when I started my personal history business, colleagues told me I should give presentations and workshops. The mere idea of public speaking petrified me, so I joined Toastmasters to overcome my fears. I now have the confidence to give presentations outside Toastmasters, and to teach memoir writing.
Toastmasters has also made me a better listener. At Toastmasters meetings I must listen closely to others’ speeches. I also must keep an open mind, because an evaluator may not comment upon the content of someone’s speech, only on how it is delivered. Better listening skills have helped me become a better interviewer and teacher.
I keep attending Toastmasters because I enjoy it, and because there is always room for improvement. Feedback from seasoned Toastmasters and newcomers is equally valuable.
Most people think of a toastmaster as a master of ceremonies, someone who proposes toasts at banquets and introduces other speakers. This requires speaking in front of a usually large audience, and the fear of public speaking is said to be second only to the fear of death.
Back in 1924, a man named Ralph C. Smedley decided he wanted to help people (then all men) to gain confidence in public speaking and presiding over meetings. At the time he worked as director of education for the YMCA in Santa Ana, California. He started a group that met in the YMCA basement. He dubbed it The Toastmasters Club because he thought that name conveyed a pleasant, social atmosphere appealing to young men.
Club members practiced their speaking skills in a supportive, informal setting. The seedling club blossomed, word spread and soon people in other communities and states formed their own Toastmasters clubs. By 1930 the burgeoning clubs formed a federation, which soon became Toastmasters International (TI) when a group of Canadians joined the organization.
Ralph Smedley died in 1965, and five years later TI admitted its first female member, Helen Blanchard, albeit under the name of Homer Blanchard. In 1973 TI began to officially admit women, and in 1985 Helen Blanchard became its first female president.
Today TI boasts over 292,000 members – 52% of them female – in more than 14,350 clubs in 122 countries. The purpose of the nonprofit organization is to help members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills. Its motto is “Where Leaders Are Made.” In fact, many members do become leaders – or better leaders – in their varied professions.
How it works
There are two educational tracks through the Toastmasters program, a communication track and a leadership track, guided by manuals of different kinds of speeches and leadership projects. Some members follow only one track, others follow both but separately, and others follow both concurrently. However they choose to do it, they do it at their own pace.
Manuals dictate the focus of each speech, be it body language, voice inflection, or humor, but not the topic. Any topic may be chosen, even a controversial one.
Every speech is evaluated just a few minutes after it is delivered. Members take turns delivering speeches and serving as Toastmaster of each meeting, evaluator, timer, grammarian, “ah counter,” and other roles. The club’s Vice President of Education creates the schedule of who serves what role when, as equitably as possible.
The Anacortes Dockers is one of the most vibrant clubs in northwest Washington, and welcomes visitors and new members anytime. Come visit us and check us out. Though of course we’d love to have you join us, you will not be pressured to join.
Meetings are held weekly on Tuesdays from noon to 1:00 in the conference/party room above Village Pizza, 807 Commercial Avenue. If this is during your lunch hour from work, food may be ordered from Village Pizza and it will be brought upstairs to you.
We’re looking forward to seeing you – and hearing you!