Toastmasters International Offers Personal and Professional Growth

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By Erin Pittman

Do you temporarily forget how to speak when asked to give a toast at a wedding? Are you physically uncomfortable leading meetings at work? If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, you are far from alone. In fact, glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, affects about 73% of the population, according to The National Institute of Mental Health. That’s far more people who are afraid of public speaking than spiders, heights and even death!

If you’re looking to overcome your public-speaking fear or simply improve how articulate and comfortable you are in front of an audience, explore Toastmasters International.

What is Toastmasters International?

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit, educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. They achieve this through a worldwide network of clubs — more than 16,800 clubs to be exact. Within those clubs, you’ll find more than 358,000 members located in 143 countries.

Why Join Toastmasters?

Each member joins Toastmasters with individual goals in mind. However, there are some overarching themes among those goals. Many join to reduce their fear, as mentioned above. Other members wish to become more proficient in public speaking and reduce their rate of “ahs” and “ums.” While still others are
looking for personal and professional growth and networking opportunities.

At Toastmasters, club members learn by doing. At least two members give speeches at each meeting, and these speeches are designed to meet certain criteria. Toastmasters also provides a list of meeting roles to be filled at each meeting, and club members rotate through the positions. Positions include:

  • Toastmaster of the Day
  • Ah-Counter
  • Grammarian
  • Timer
  • Evaluator
  • Table Topics Master
  • General Evaluator

The Toastmaster of the Day serves as the host or hostess for the day. This position allows members to practice leading meetings and hone these types of skills. The Ah-Counter counts the number of filler words each speaker uses and helps members develop self-awareness. Grammarians are there to help expand
members’ vocabularies with a word of the day and word usage. Timers keep official time, and evaluators provide evaluations to the speakers. The Table Topics Master provides topics for impromptu speaking practice to help members gain confidence in speaking on the fly.

In addition to the speaking opportunities, Toastmasters offers the Pathways online learning program, which features more than 300 practical workplace skills, including interview preparation, leadership development, conflict resolution and more.

Local Toastmasters Clubs

If Toastmasters sounds like something you’d like to try, your first step is visiting a local club or two. There are several in the area including Speak Up Manassas Toastmasters and Woodbridge Toastmasters Club.

Each club has its own unique feel and culture, so members advise visiting a few to find the spot where you feel the most comfortable.

Speak Up Manassas Toastmasters

The Speak Up Manassas group was founded to allow members to attend meetings during the day.

“A lot of the local clubs are in the evenings, and for some people that isn’t practical when doing family, youth sports and all,” said president C.C. Bartholomew. “Another member and I created this club so that people could attend during their lunch hour. Our meetings start at 12 and end promptly at 1.”

Speak Up Manassas, made up of about 25 members, meets at an accessible, central location — the Prince William Chamber of Commerce — on the first and third Monday of each month. Bartholomew has been a member for more than 15 years, and notes that participation in the club has helped her in all parts of her life.

“It’s not just something people use for work. It’s helped me in my business and personal life as well, just by being able to communicate and listen to others,” said Bartholomew.

When speaking of the club culture, Bartholmew said, “It’s very supportive, noncritical, nonjudgmental and everyone is there to support one another and help them grow their speaking skills. People feel very welcomed when they come.”

Woodbridge Toastmasters Club

The Woodbridge Toastmasters Club meets at the Ebenezer Baptist Church Family Life Center, 13020 Telegraph Road in Woodbridge on the first, third and fifth Thursdays of the month from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m.

Members describe their club as a “learning lab, where members are free to speak and get feedback to help them grow. The feedback is always positive, encouraging and nurturing to support their growth as public speakers and leaders.”

This multigenerational club creates an environment where members are encouraged to take risks and explore new public speaking techniques, all while gaining confidence as public speakers. Members feel the club embodies the Toastmasters’ tagline “where leaders are made,” as members are leaders at a variety of different levels and in different organizations. And even within, seasoned members mentor newer members, offering additional opportunities for connection and growth.

How to Join

Explore these clubs and more by visiting the Toastmasters International website at toastmasters.org. Find a local club or two and schedule a visit. When you find the club that’s right for you, fill out an application, pay your semiannual dues of $45 and get ready to perfect those speaking skills.

Erin Pittman has been a writer for 10 years, but a lover of words her entire life. Her work is published in local magazines and on local and national blogs. Contact Erin at [email protected].

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