I went to my first Toastmasters meeting this week. No question – it was well invested time.
When I did my preliminary research on this organization, I read that Toastmasters International is “a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication public speaking and leadership skills.” I was intrigued with the information online and because I have a fascination with the English language and an ongoing desire to improve my communication skills, I decided to check things out.
A Toastmasters meeting is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a no-pressure atmosphere. There is no instructor – instead, members learn the skill of evaluating one another’s presentation. Meeting participants also give impromptu talks on assigned topics, conduct meetings and develop skills related to timekeeping, grammar and parliamentary procedure.
I thought I might had been given the opportunity to sit quietly in the back and observe but this particular summer evening, many people were missing and the venue had changed so the Chair was looking for people to spontaneously fill some responsibilities. There is no better way to really “get the feel” of a meeting than to jump right into it so I threw my hand up and volunteered to be the Quizmaster – I had to make up about ten good questions regarding information that had been shared throughout the evening. I love making up creative questions, so this wasn’t too much of a push for me.
However, I was quite surprised when I was asked (no pressure) if I wanted to take part in a segment called “Table Topics.” It’s a time when people are invited to do an impromptu speech about a particular question. For the next couple of minutes, I had to mentally construe a short piece on “who is my favourite fiction author and why? When it was my turn, I stood up, turned around and started talking. I didn’t have any time to get nervous! I’m sure I violated all sorts of public speaking “don’ts” but there was such a positive environment and I felt no judgment at all.
There were so many different dynamics to this two hour meeting and I was captivated by the quality of the speeches, the sincerity of the members and the amount of new information that I acquired about a variety of subjects. I loved every minute of it and I’m going to start attending Toastmasters meetings once/week.
Maybe it’s my age…(maybe it’s because I have so much practice in this area) but I don’t worry about being wrong any more. I just want to put myself out there, learn and grow.
Joseph Chilton Pearce said it best: