Thursday, June 08, 2006

Toastmasters or Bust

How many of you are involved in Toastmasters to improve your communication skills?

Many of us have joined Toastmasters to improve our communication skills. We can have a tremendous impact on others if we are armed with effective communication skills.

Do you remember your first public speech as an adult?

My first public speech as an adult went like this: About 22 years ago, I had just finished leading a test of a major electronic system. Because I was analyzing the test information, my boss told me I was going to present the results to our sponsor. A few days later I was standing in front of a room of about 200 people. I was nervous, sweating and my voice was shaking as I gave the results. I had no formal training or constructive feedback. Although my speaking has improved since that day, I still have not received any formal training and very little feedback until I joined Toastmasters. Since then, I have learned a tremendous amount. Has that ever happened to you? Can you relate to my experience? Many of you probably have similar experiences you could share.

Before Toastmasters, I believed the longer the speech the greater the impact. This would have made our 5 to 10 minute Toastmaster speeches we practice of limited value. I was wrong! Consider speeches that had a major impact on our nation:

* Abraham Lincoln’s "Gettysburg Address" speech was less than 3 minutes long.
* Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" speech was just over 9 minutes long.
* President Kennedy’s challenge to go to the moon was under 8 minutes long.

Even our short Toastmaster speeches have the potential to make a significant impact. Our communication skills need to be at their best in order for us to have this level of impact. Toastmasters provides us with the opportunity to improve our communication skills through learning effective techniques, practicing those techniques, and receiving constructive feedback.

We don’t have to rely solely on family and friends. Consider this feedback that I learned from "Speaking Secrets of the Masters." A new minister had just spoken his first sermon and asked his grandmother for a critique. She said she only saw 3 things wrong with it. "First, you read your sermon. Second, you didn’t read it well. And third, it wasn’t worth reading!"

Receiving only negative feedback is not constructive. It is just as bad not to receive any feedback at all.

Several months ago I was asked to lead our church in a prayer during one of the services. My wife and son were both ill that morning so I put on some new clothing I had purchased the night before and headed to my church. After talking with several friends and introducing myself to some people I didn’t know, the service started. When the appropriate time came, I walked up to the platform and looked over the crowd. I was looking out at about 800 people. I actually used a couple of techniques I learned in Toastmasters and said the prayer. Everything went well. When I got home later that day, my son met me in the kitchen. He looked down at my pants and pulled off one of those long plastic strips from my pant leg. You know, the ones that have size 40x32 printed 10 times on it in large print. How embarrassing! No one said anything to me at the church. I have no doubt the minister, the choir, and several people that were seated up front saw it. Sometimes feedback before a speech can be useful.

Fortunately in Toastmasters we are able to receive constructive and supportive feedback. Our communication skills will improve as we practice and apply that constructive feedback we receive.

As if improving our communication skills was not enough, we also get additional value from being Toastmasters. Some of this value comes from developing leadership skills, meeting new friends, being uplifted twice a month by other speeches, and gaining new knowledge. I have been thinking about and searching out additional information on globalization following Dean’s recent speech on the topic.

The only way we will not improve is to not participate. We need to take advantage of the opportunity we have in Toastmasters. Your participation will not only provide you with new communication and leadership skills, knowledge and friends, it also will help provide the same to others.

A new Toastmasters year is going to start soon. How are you going to participate? Are you going to give more speeches and work toward your next award? Are you going to be an officer? Maybe you are going to be a mentor to someone else. Your participation will make you a better and more effective person. You will also be helping all of us in the club to be better and more effective. Determine what your goals need to be and then make them a reality.

1 comment:

—Avis said...

Thank you! You've helped me to make a decision I've postponed due to sheer fright. I've been a member of Toastmasters for 2 months and I've yet to give my first speech. I will be at our meeting this weekend and ask to be put on the agenda for the first meeting in next month to gain the knowledge, training, support and every other reason you gave in your article.