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“Toastmasters is only for amateurs!” Several years ago I attended a National Speakers Association (NSA) meeting and that was the response when someone mentioned Toastmasters. Truthfully, I feel both organizations have their share of amateurs and professionals with NSA having a higher percentage of professionals and Toastmasters having mostly amateurs. But as a Toastmasters graduate and someone that attended many NSA meetings (I’ve qualified for membership since 2007 but never joined), I can see the benefit in joining either or both groups.
If you’ve taken that first step towards becoming a professional speaker, then congratulations. It’s an exciting journey that can be both fun and frustrating, but in the end, you’ll find it worthwhile and rewarding. There’s nothing better than wowing audiences day after day. Of course, making the decision to become a professional speaker is the exciting part. But in addition to the fun stuff, there are a lot of business and administration tasks that need to be done.
Sometimes it seems like a meeting where everyone practices their public speaking skills can only be so fun. I mean honestly, how many speeches about people’s dogs, families, jobs, etc… can one tolerate? I personally love these types of speeches because I’m fascinated with people and like to learn about them (and truthfully, I’ve actually walked away from many of these types of speeches with useful advice). Of course, not everyone is like me so sometimes you need to change things up.
I’ve written numerous times about how joining a Toastmasters club can help your career based on what you learn from going through the program. However, not everyone is interested in joining a speaking club and not everyone’s goals involve communication skills. The good news is that there are hundreds of clubs out there for every interest. You can find clubs for hobbies on topics such as sewing, reading (book clubs), chess, cribbage, car enthusiast and even video games. There are clubs that focus on business or political issues as well as public service. And there are clubs that are community focused that can focus on anything from improving a neighborhood to planning statewide events. My point is that there’s a club for practically every interest and most of these clubs (unless it’s something bizarre such as a fetish club) can give you an opportunity to move ahead with your job or business.
The great thing about clubs is that your involvement is the perfect win-win situation. The club wins because volunteers help run the club and provide the benefits to the members. The volunteer wins because he or she gets experience that otherwise might not be available to him or her with their current job. This experience falls into several categories and depending on the club and the position, not all of them may be present.
Speech contests are a huge part of Toastmasters and can be interesting to watch. While I’ve never competed, I’ve had the pleasure of acting as contest master and chief judge (on separate occasions, of course) and have really enjoyed being a part of them. But the big question about speech contests is whether or not it’s worth all the time and effort.
Like anything, it really depends on your goals. I know people that make thousands of dollars for each speaking engagement they do, yet have never participated in a speaking contest. I also know of people who have won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking that haven’t been able to leverage their win to create a successful speaking career. But on the flip side, I know people that haven’t participated in contests that have struggled to make a career out of speaking and people that have won contests and have done well for themselves. And of course, there are thousands of us in between.
I get asked this a lot by aspiring speakers, especially those in Toastmasters that are looking for a shortcut on the path to becoming a professional speaker. The short answer is no, you can become a successful paid speaker without joining the National Speakers Association (NSA). The follow up question is then “will it help me if I join?” My reply: it depends.
It’s no secret that most people associate some sort of discomfort with public speaking. In fact, many people flat out hate it. I believe part of the reason for this is that there’s a lot of advice on how to be a better speaker (and even how to get rich from public speaking) that is either only semi-accurate or in some cases, completely inaccurate. So when people follow it and it doesn’t work they get frustrated and think that there’s something wrong with them.
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