Toastmasters is a great way to become a better speaker (provided you choose the right club). But the vast majority of the people who join Toastmasters only speak at their own club. Yes, you can become a better speaker just by giving talks to your club – but you’re also missing out on some great opportunities.
When I first joined Toastmasters in 2002, I immediately took every opportunity I could to speak. Within three months I became my club’s Vice President of Education and then six months after that, I was club President. These roles gave me the opportunity to speak at every meeting – and as you know, “officer stuff” (a.k.a. club business) is like a cross between a prepared talk and table topics (just like Toastmaster). So it didn’t take me long to feel completely comfortable speaking to my club – was in my comfort zone.
It wasn’t until halfway through my term as club president that I began to visit other clubs. A friend invited me to visit his club to watch him speak. The room set up was different and the club was more formal than my club – so I immediately noticed a different feel to the meeting when I walked in the door. But it wasn’t until I got up to participate in table topics that I had my epiphany – I found myself to be a little nervous.
When I sat back down after my short impromptu talk, I started asking myself why I was nervous. I realized that I became used to my club, so it became much less challenging. I thought back to my first Toastmasters meeting with my club and how I felt a bit nervous doing table topics there, despite completing the Dale Carnegie Course just a month prior. It was dÃ©jÃ vu. I was petrified just introducing myself at my first session of Dale Carnegie, but I felt like a pro after session 12.
This was when I consciously made the connection that public speaking is not like riding a bike – it’s more like exercising. With a bike, you can learn to ride and go decades without riding without losing the ability to ride a bike. Public speaking doesn’t work that way. Anyone that tells you otherwise either does not know what they’re talking about or is being disingenuous. With public speaking, you have to keep at it and constantly challenge yourself. Just like exercising, if you don’t use it, you lose it. But you also have to change things up or you get atrophy.
So what does this mean for people in Toastmasters? There’s so much you can do to challenge yourself as a speaker. Take the Toastmaster role, be an officer, participate in a speech contest, visit other clubs, join an advanced club or speak outside of Toastmasters.
I have the honor of giving a presentation on this exact topic at the Toastmasters District 31 Spring Conference next month. I’ll post a note about the talk as well as any media (handouts, photos, videos, etc….) afterwards. If you live in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, or even nearby, and are planning on attending the conference, I hope I have the chance to meet you.