Shortly after joining Toastmasters I couldn’t imagine myself getting to a point in life where I wouldn’t be regularly attending meetings. There were so many things to do in Toastmasters such as go for my DTM, participate in speech contests and get roles at the district level. But life is funny and sure enough, I quit Toastmasters, not just once, but twice.
I know that there is this perception that Toastmasters is just for amateurs – I remember hearing one woman vocally express this during a National Speakers Association meeting I attended. I don’t believe that to be the case as I know several excellent speakers who still use Toastmasters to sharpen their skills.
So why did I leave? The first time I quit had to do with some changes in my personal life that made it impossible for me to attend meetings. I rejoined after an 18 month hiatus to get back on track and sure enough, after two years, I made the tough decision to quit again. I left a second time due to scheduling – I simply couldn’t attend over 70% of the meetings each year. I still go back and visit from time to time and I’m tempted to rejoin – but I’ve found that my path to success requires me to focus on other areas to improve.
So how do you know if you’ve reached the point where it’s time to move on? Here are five signs:
1. You no longer find it challenging to give a speech at meetings.
If you find yourself at the point where you can improvise a manual speech and get a great evaluation, then you’ve at the very least outgrown your club. You might want to try a different club (preferably with a larger membership) or an advanced club if you qualify to change things up. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself putting less effort into your talks which will show through in their quality.
2. You get the same feedback each time you give a speech.
If you hear the same area of improvement each time you get evaluated, then either you have a problem that you’re ignoring or the evaluator has no idea how to tell you to make your speech better. If it’s the first case, then work on it – unless you feel the advice is incorrect such as you didn’t grab the audience’s attention right away. In the second case, then it’s time to move on.
3. You gave a terrible speech but got great feedback.
If you’re a long time member of your Toastmasters club or an advanced speaker, others may grandfather you in as a speaking guru. They may be reluctant to tell you that you’ve given a bad speech. Or they just assume that your speech must be good because you gave it. A good friend and I used to share our feedback privately as we both wanted tougher feedback, but didn’t want the rest of the club to think we were harsh. He mentioned that every time he does a speech contest, he wins – even if he felt that someone else was better. If you’re in this position, consider the old saying: when you’re green you’re growing, when you’re ripe you’re rotting.
4. Your speaking skills are where you need them to be.
People join Toastmasters for a number of reasons. Most people join to overcome their fears and improve their skills so they can give better talks for their jobs or businesses. Others join with the intention of making a career out of speaking (that was my motivation for joining the second time), but that’s a relatively small amount of people.
Let’s say your goal for joining Toastmasters is to be able to give a ten minute speech without being nervous or losing your audience. Chances are you’ll find yourself there by the time you’ve given your first ten speeches and that’s where one of two things happen. You may set a new goal related to your speaking skills or may want to take advantage of the leadership opportunities within Toastmasters to grow in that area. Or you may decide that you’re where you need to be as a speaker and it’s time to focus on building another skill.
As long you as speak to groups every few months, your skills will stay sharp. You’ll still want to maintain your speaking skills while you work on other areas of growth. Remember that public speaking isn’t like riding a bike, you have to keep at it to stay sharp.
5. You find it difficult to come up with manual speeches.
I often used my speeches at my club to test out new content before presenting it to other audiences. Fortunately, I belonged to an excellent club so I got a lot of useful feedback whenever I did this.
However, it was tough to fit the talks I wanted to give into a format that fit the manuals. Part of it was due to time as my talks are typically between two and eight hours (I still do some keynoting from time to time, but my primary focus is on training). So I’d either have to give such a high level talk that would barely scratch the surface or focus on one small part of my talk.
The other trick was finding a speech project in which my talk would fit into. So my options were often to either give a non-manual speech (which I refuse to do because the club doesn’t get credit) or change my talk around to the point where it no longer serves the purpose of my practicing it.
So as you can see, it’s not uncommon for you to outgrow Toastmasters. With a little creativity, you can find bigger challenges within the world of Toastmasters such as presenting at a TLI or conference. Again, I find it irritating when people say that Toastmasters is just for amateurs – there’s an abundance of challenges to test your skills in this great organization. But you also need to figure out whether your time is better suited elsewhere.