They say that one of the toughest things you can do is speak on front of an audience and that public speaking is one of the best skills you can learn. As a member of Toastmasters, I can attest to both of these points.
For those who aren’t familiar with Toastmasters, it’s an organization committed to helping you learn and practice your public speaking skills. They have clubs in ever major city and municipality in the world and membership is dirt cheap (though the experience is priceless).
As part of your membership you receive a series books each containing a series of speeches, which you give during your club’s weekly meetings. You start off with a simple speech about yourself and eventually progress toward advanced speech scenarios such as running a business meeting where other members play the role of “difficult” coworkers.
But there is more to Toastmasters than just delivering speeches. Each meeting is organized into a series of roles designed to challenge members in different ways. The evaluator roles for example, are where your peers evaluate the speeches of yourself and others and then give their evaluation as a mini speech. Other roles include the humour and rant speeches where members provide a short–usually hilarious–speech designed to entertain the audience. There are even the roles of chairman and MC designed to give members experience in leading meetings and ceremonies. Perhaps one of my favourite roles is “table topics”. This is where members are randomly called upon to stand up and give an impromptu speech about a random topic, with just seconds to prepare their speech. This is designed to not only test your impromptu speaking but also your listening skills.
So how can Toastmasters help you? Well for public speaking you will get used to the “one way” conversation which takes place when speaking to an audience and you will be able to organize and eventually remember your speeches without the use of notes. Once you have mastered these dynamics you will find all other forms of communication come much easier. You will also learn to sharpen your listening skills, provide constructive feedback to others and gain experience communicating in all types of group situations.