Toastmasters is a great organization for people who want to become better speakers. It provides a safe, low-pressure environment where you can achieve your speaking goals at your own pace. With thousands of Toastmasters clubs throughout the world, chances are there is at least one club in your area.
Regardless of your reason for wanting to join a Toastmasters club, there are three things that you want to look for in selecting the club that’s right for you: convenience, membership, and experience.
With our lives becoming busier and busier because of increasing family and career commitments, you need to find a club where getting to a meeting isn’t a big chore. Toastmasters clubs fall into two basic categories: community clubs and corporate clubs. Community clubs often meet in the evenings, early morning, or on weekends, so they are perfect for people that have a busy work life. Corporate clubs mainly meet at lunchtime with some meeting towards the end of the workday or immediately afterward. If your only availability is during your lunch hour, you might want to look to see which companies have clubs in your area (and if they let non-employees join them). So factoring the meeting time is important when addressing a club’s convenience.
Location is also a big factor as you don’t want to spend two hours traveling to attend a one-hour meeting. Plus, you don’t want your commute or inclement weather to prevent you from attending meetings. In addition to distance, you may need to consider whether the facility has free parking or is near public transportation.
A club’s biggest asset is its membership. If you look at just numbers alone, small clubs (less than 15 active members) have plenty of speaking opportunities, but you’re less likely to make connections or get useful feedback from other members. Small clubs may close down due to lack of interest. Conversely, large clubs (30 or more active members) are more difficult to get speaking opportunities (unless the group meets frequently) but there is a good chance that you’ll learn a lot from the club’s members when you do speak.
Membership diversity and attitudes determine the success of a club and if it will meet your goals. Now, by diversity, I don’t necessarily mean demographic differences, although clubs with members from a variety of backgrounds have many benefits. Look for clubs with members at all levels: newer members that you can grow with and advanced members that you can learn from.
Member attitudes are also an important factor. A club where everyone is negative and provides such feedback would not help you reach your goals and clubs where the feedback is always watered down and positive will not help you improve. Look for clubs that are easy on new members but provide experienced members with useful ways to improve. Also, look for clubs open to new ideas and to thinking outside of the box. If you limit your learning to the book, you’ll limit your skills to the book, so look for clubs that are always giving their members new and exciting challenges.
Another thing to consider with member attitudes is are the members of the club friendly and welcoming. If they are, it’s more likely that you’ll be encouraged to take risks, try new things and get up and speak. Clubs that are welcoming also attract new members and keep their existing members longer.
A club’s leadership is a direct reflection on the health of a club. Clubs that have all leadership positions filled indicate that they have a strong base of active members. Each club has a banner in which award ribbons are attached. Clubs that constantly reach their goals at the club levels signify that they are properly servicing their members.
Each Toastmaster year (which runs from July to June) clubs are encouraged to achieve ten goals. Some goals have to do with the club officers doing their jobs (such as filing documents on time and attending training), some have to do with membership (attracting new members and helping existing members earn individual awards). Clubs that achieve five or more goals are given distinguished status – seven or more goals are considered select distinguished status and clubs that meet nine or more are considered Presidential Distinguished.
The best strategy is to visit several clubs before selecting one to join. Keep in mind that you can attend meetings for free as a guest – and only a rare few limit guests to three visits before having to join. Each club has its own unique spirit and offers its own benefits, so you’ll most likely find one that meets your needs. If your schedule allows, you may want to consider joining multiple clubs. But in any case, Toastmasters is a great place to learn more about public speaking.
James Feudo owns the Boston Web Design Agency JVF Solutions and loves blogging about personal development and communication in his spare time.