“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. NSA has a higher percentage of professionals and Toastmasters has 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.
So since we’re going to focus on Toastmasters, let’s look at some ways that professional speakers can benefit from joining (or rejoining) it. To level set, I’ll use the term “professional speaker” to mean someone who makes money speaking. When I looked into NSA membership, a paid speech was a paid speech whether the speaker made $1 for it or $1,000,000 for it. So if you have any paid speeches in the past year, you’re a professional speaker in my book.
1. It’s a great way to test out your material.
I found Toastmasters to be an excellent way to test out material for my classes. While I couldn’t practice the entire presentation in one speech, I’d cut it down into 30 to 40 minute chunks so it would fit perfectly into one of the advanced speech projects. Some of the benefits of doing this:
- It gave me a false deadline so I was forced to prepare my talks early.
- I got constructive speaking advice. I was fortunate to be in a club with other experienced speakers that gave me tips and suggestions to improve my presentation.
- The audience feedback from a diverse group of over 20 people was also helpful. They told me what made sense, what they liked/disliked and what they wanted to hear more about.
So if you’re changing or updating your material, Toastmasters could be a great place to test it out. It’s also a good way to test out humor or changes in your speaking style as well as to just experiment in a safe environment.
2. Networking opportunities.
Toastmasters clubs are a great place to network. I once got a job thanks to a friend in my Toastmasters club who put me in touch with the HR director in his company and I know several others with similar stories. I know people who have found romance through Toastmasters or made connections to help them find places to live, hard to find services or other things. And I know several speakers (myself included) that have increased their business through connections made in Toastmasters.
3. Increase the reach of your brand.
Toastmasters leadership opportunities outside of the club such as being a district officer will give you more chances to speak to groups than you’ll probably have time to accept. I was an Area Governor for a year and visited each club in my area several times. And if you become a Division Governor or an office at the district level, it increases the demand for your time. I’m not saying that you should use your position to sell yourself — you’ll naturally have people interested in you and what you’re doing.
Speech contests are another way to shine – especially if you can reach the division level. It helps get your name out and makes you look like an expert. The same holds true for presenting at district conferences or TLI events. Presenting gets more people interested in you and what you’re doing.
4. Become a mentor.
There’s nothing more rewarding than helping others. Toastmasters is a great place for you to be that person that helped you when you were first starting out (or that person that you wish was there for you). I mentored five people during my run in Toastmaster. It was great to help them with various issues. I was fortunate to have several experienced speakers in my advanced club providing advice and guidance. So there’s always a need for experienced speakers to help those that are just starting out.
So you’re probably wondering why I’m not currently a member of Toastmasters. To be truthful, it’s lack of time. I used to visit my old club twice per year to keep in touch with my friends and meet some of the new people. I’d also help out whenever I could. But lately, I’ve had too many commitments that conflict with the meeting time so I’ve been unable to attend. However, there is another club that better fits my schedule so I’m highly considering joining.
There were two things I wanted to accomplish in Toastmasters that I didn’t get too. The first was to earn my DTM (I received my ATM-S & AL under the old system so I’m close). The second is to participate in (and win) a speech contest. So stay tuned.
James Feudo owns the Boston Web Design Agency JVF Solutions and loves blogging about personal development and communication in his spare time.