Toastmasters International is a worldwide organisation devoted to public speaking. The first club was started by Ralph Smedley in California in 1924 at a local YMCA to meet the need for speech and leadership training for young men. His initial “Ten Lessons in Public Speaking” still forms the core of the Toastmasters educational program as the 10 projects of the Competent Communicator manual.
Today Toastmasters has grown to over 345,000 members in 15,900 clubs in over 140 countries. It provides a structured and enjoyable way for people to practice and improve their communication and leadership skills. Clubs meet up on a regular basis (typically two or three times a month) to give members an opportunity to put these skills into practice. In addition to regular meetings there are special workshops, competitions, and other events organised throughout the year.
I first joined Toastmasters in 2014 having discovered the organisation through my involvement with Engineers Ireland. Toastmasters had organised a three week ‘Speech Craft’ series for young engineers and I signed up to attend the course.
The structure of ‘Speech Craft’ was highly interactive which ensured that participants were on their feet from day one. As I later learned, this is one of the hallmarks of a Toastmasters club. Having enjoyed the workshop I was encouraged to head along to a regular meeting at Engineers Toastmasters.
I was nervous and a little unsure of what to expect. What I discovered was a group of friendly, supportive peers, all of whom were eager to share their feedback to help each other grow as speakers in their fields. A few weeks later I had signed up as a regular member and I haven’t looked back. Since then I have gone on to deliver over 20 speeches at my local Toastmasters club.
Anyone over the age of 18 can join. Beyond that, Toastmasters members are a diverse group, spanning countries and cultures, and all walks of life. The official statistics are published annually. They tell us that:
- 53% of members are female and 47% are male
- 25% of members are between the ages of 18 and 35
- 30% of members earn > per year
- 28% of members speak more than one language
- 96% have attended college
*as at November 2013
Benefits for You
Toastmasters is very much focused on “learning by doing” and each meeting provides a safe environment for members to develop skills from two core competencies:
- Communication skills: by completing a series of self-paced speaking assignments designed to build a solid foundation in public speaking
- Leadership skills: by taking on various meeting roles (such as evaluator, timekeeper or indeed toastmaster)
Everyone has their own reasons for joining the organisation, but here are a few of the most common benefits:
- Increased self confidence: well founded, developed confidence in your own ability
- Advanced listening skills: developed by listening to and evaluating fellow members
- Ability to think on your feet: quickly and with clarity
- Better public speaking: to any group, large or small – customers, peers, or superiors
- Enhanced leadership skills: better public speaking = better leadership
- New friendships: with ambitious, agreeable, supportive members
On that last point, Toastmasters is definitely a great place to make friends and meet new people. Organisations in general are great places to meet people, but I would say that the Toastmasters atmosphere facilitates it even more. I have personally found Toastmasters to be a place that tries its best to make people feel welcome. Perhaps it’s because there is a strong emphasis on being supportive of those around you. By giving and receiving feedback I think rapport is established very quickly.
Over to You
I’ve touched only briefly on the benefits of Toastmasters, the format of a meeting and the general structure of the organisation. Now it’s time for you to give it a go. Find your local club here.
Still not sold? Listen back to my interview with a previous Toastmasters World Champion here