Guess what? The world’s number one fear is not spiders, global warming, nuclear war, space invaders or even death. It it is in fact public speaking. Surveys keep confirming that presentation skills are vital to success in business and life, yet the idea of it somehow fills us with terror. If you can become that person that gladly steps up to talk, you will earn more, build your business or get promoted quicker and your personal brand will be boosted to new and greater heights.
How to improve your speaking skills
How does one go about to conquer this fear? I am sure there are lots of ways but one that is working for over 250,000 member is Toastmasters International. You may have heard the name before, in a nutshell it’s a public speaking club that was founded in California back in the 1920s and there are now 12,500 clubs around the world, each comprising of about 30 members.
This may sound rather dull and like a support group where a bunch introverts hold hands and try to overcome their fears of public speaking. Au contraire, the members at Toastmasters are anything but shy. I believe most folks that join Toastmasters already have a showman streak in them and their club provides the perfect outlet for this.
7 reasons you should consider Toastmasters:
1. Presenting and speaking before an audience
Presentation skills are crucial in the business world and if you are aspiring to climb the corporate ladder you have to be confident speaker. The speaking and presenting part is what most people expect to learn from Toastmasters so let’s move on.
2. Writing and structuring a speech
What are you actually going to speak about? Whatever you like, but you have to put it together yourself. The content of your speeches has to be researched, structured, written, re-written, proofread to have the maximum impact. These activities take time and effort but you pick up a knack for it over time.
3. Listening and evaluating other speakers
Some people are born good speakers. They do not tend to be born good listeners as well. If you work in sales, you will know that your ability to listen and understand your client is perhaps the most important aspect to your success. Toastmasters requires you to evaluate other speakers and giving constructive feedback before the group. After you have done your evaluation, prepare to be evaluated yourself, there is no hiding here!
4. Picking up leadership skills
Once you are a regular member you will be asked to get involved in organizing and running meetings and other events. These activities take more effort than you would expect but make for excellent training. The sweat equity you put in will be returned to you as invaluable leadership skills that transfer over nicely to the corporate world.
5. Getting to know your local community
You club will be made up of people like you, ambitious, curious and keen to improve their lives and careers. You will expand your professional network exponentially by simply showing up to meetings and talking to fellow members. Toastmasters is not an old boys club intended to further each others’ careers but it is one very useful side to it.
6. Giving you a perfect failure platform
At Toastmasters, you can fail as much as you like. Mess up a speech, show up late, forget to print the program, whatever it is you have not done any damage to your career. And perhaps more importantly, it won’t cost you anything to fail. You can basically regard Toastmasters as a sheltered environment where you can expose others to you shortcomings without fear of repercussions. Over time you will learn from any mistakes you make and you will be stronger as a result, trust me I have done quite a few myself (and keep doing them to a lesser extent).
7. Staying very affordable
Got you attention now? You are looking at a fee of about $100 for 6 months which is not bad considering a corporate speaking course could cost that per hour. The lion’s share of your membership dues will go towards the room hire, the rest to the global HQ which provides you with course manuals and other handy things. Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization and your meeting is run by functionaries who are basically unpaid volunteers (and before long, you will become one as well).
I found Toastmasters through a Google search, looked up a club near to me (The Grosvenor Square Speakers in London) and went down to check it out. Guests are always welcome and there is no obligation to join up.
After a few meetings I made my mind up to join. When I announced it at the club, this elderly Irish fellow came over to where I was sat, firmly shook my hand and said “son, this is the best decision you have ever made”. That to me was a very powerful endorsement that has stuck in my mind ever since.
Once I started speaking and getting in to the swing of things, I somehow ended on the club committee and I have realized that the many facets to Toastmastering have been very conducive to my business and career. I never did see that Irishman again, perhaps he was a guest, perhaps he was the resident ghost of Toastmasters – whatever the case I am very happy I joined.
Call to action
Joining Toastmasters is my best business and career tip and I recommend it to everyone. The one thing you have to bear in mind is that it is not a quick fix and it will take time and effort to get through the manuals in order to becoming the confident speaker and leader you aspire to be. So with that in mind, there is certainly no time like the present to visit a club near you to find out whether it’s the thing for you. Here is a link to the Toastmasters club finder.
Is public speaking something you fear? Did you think Toastmasters was related to sliced bread? Please feel free to leave a comment!