Can you get addicted to public speaking?
I joined Toastmasters for the usual reasons, but ended up with much more than presentation skills. Toastmasters is an international organization that helps its members improve their public speaking and leadership skills. I wrote about my initial Toastmasters experience (“Public Speaking: Mastering the Fear“, The Voice Magazine Nov 13, 2015) when I had attended only a few meetings. Since becoming a Toastmasters member over a year ago, I’ve found the benefits of membership extend far beyond the borders of speaking with confidence.
Public speaking practice. Delivering a prepared speech in front of a group of people represents more than overcoming nervousness. It’s also about learning how to incorporate body movement and gestures, minimize the use of filler words (such as “uh”), and modulate your voice. I find I learn almost as much when I watch other members speak; I learn from their mistakes and get inspired from their successes. I used no notes for my second speech after being inspired by a more experienced speaker.
Guaranteed approval. Any time I speak at a Toastmasters meeting, whether It’s a prepared or impromptu speech, or in a meeting role, I get instant feel-good approval. Fellow Toastmasters are there to encourage and support. Every speech is met with resounding applause. The applause is never perfunctory or forced?they are genuinely pleased that each speaker made the effort to get up and give of themselves. You simply cannot have a bad day at Toastmasters when everything you say is met with delighted applause.
Writing practice. Each prepared speech I make at Toastmasters starts with the written word. Composing a speech is good writing practice, which improves my writing skills for other formats. A speech has structure: an introduction, a body containing several points, and a conclusion—similar to an essay. A speech also contains creative writing elements such as vivid language, rhetorical devices, and sensory descriptions. Some speeches may utilize humour or emotion, or be designed to instruct or impart knowledge. All this writing practice helps me become a better writer overall.
Networking. Toastmasters members represent varied occupational backgrounds and interests. Since I’m a recent arrival to the area, I’m still building a social and professional network and Toastmasters helps me meet people I wouldn’t otherwise come across. Because members tend to speak about topics of personal interest, listening to their speeches exposes me to new information and ideas. And, because I work and study from home, Toastmasters meetings represent welcome social time.
Although many people dread public speaking, It’s surprising how quickly the nervousness melts away. By speaking in a supportive environment like Toastmasters, many people find they look forward to giving their next speech. I felt nervous delivering my initial speech but after the first one was out of the way I felt eager to deliver the next, and the next.
Public speaking can become surprisingly addictive. Many Toastmasters members participate in speaking contests and look for other opportunities to practice their skills. There’s a sort of “speaker’s high” that comes with each successive speech. It’s not just the approving applause?although That’s gratifying. The high comes from crafting and delivering a speech that shares your interests with others, measuring your improvement with each presentation, and advancing toward a goal.
For more information on Toastmasters, including speaking tips, go to http://www.toastmasters.org/.
Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario.