Toastmasters is good for you !

Have you ever been in front of an audience, looking desperately for your words, stuttering and sweating, trying to limit the damages and disappearing from the stage as quickly as possible after you were done ?

If this already happened to you, you should try Toastmasters !

Toastmasters International, founded in 1924, is a worldwide non-profit organization dedicated to help people improving their public speaking and leadership skills. I am a member of the Stuttgart International Toastmasters Club for 10 months now and I surely do not regret it. A colleague of mine during my internship at HP  invited me to a first session. I instantaneously became enthusiastic about the Toastmasters’ principles:

Mission
Toastmasters International is […] devoted to making effective oral communication a worldwide reality.

Through its member clubs, Toastmasters International helps men and women learn the arts of speaking, listening, and thinking – vital skills that promote self-actualization, enhance leadership potential, foster human understanding, and contribute to the betterment of mankind. […]

Vision
Toastmasters International empowers people to achieve their full potential and realize their dreams. Through our member clubs, people throughout the world can improve their communication and leadership skills, and find the courage to change.

Values
Toastmasters International’s core values are integrity, dedication to excellence, service to the member, and respect for the individual. […]

We meet every two weeks at the IBM Klub in Böblingen. Meetings usually begin with the so-called Table Topics: Members present one-to two-minute impromptu speeches on topics assigned to them immediately prior to the speech. To make a great Table Topic is a real art, you need to be:

– creative: you need to tell a story that is actually going to interest the audience
– organized: a good speech has an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The introduction must be powerful to catch the attention and the conclusion must be clear and precise to close your speech in an elegant way
– focused: some speakers speak a lot in order to fill up the two minutes, however the goal of a Table Topic is to answer a question. Hence the speaker needs to focus on answering this question.

After this come prepared speeches, when up to three members present speeches based on projects from the Toastmasters Program manuals. Projects cover such topics as speech organization, voice, language, gestures, and persuasion.Their are ten projects in the Toastmasters “Competent Communicator” manual. So far, I have finished six of them and will finish the manual at the end of the Toastmasters year (June of 2010).

Every prepared speaker is assigned an evaluator who points out the speaker’s strengths and weaknesses and offers suggestions for improvement; the evaluations follow the prepared speeches. Here again, the evaluator needs to be precise, focused and friendly. The evaluation is an art: you have to make suggestions to the speaker so that he can get better, without hurting him.

What I love about this organization is that everything is planned to make the members better persons:
– better speakers, through the table topics and prepared speeches
– better listeners, through the evaluations, which require a lot of attention
– better leaders. Why ? Because Toastmasters is a worldwide organization, and like any organization, it has goals and need people to reach them. There are different levels within the organization: worldwide, regional, local and club. I am currently officer in the club as a Vice President Public Relations and I really like the job. I think that I can help  our club grow and fulfil its objectives. This is undoubtedly an extremely valuable opportunity to gain some leadership experience outside of the job.

If you need some more information, please visit the site of the international organization, or my club’s !

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