Public Speaking and the Fear Of It
Jerry Seinfield once said, “I saw a thing, actually a study that said speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing. Number two, was death. Death is number two? This means, to the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
That was my mindset about public speaking a few years ago in college. I would have rather died than have to present in front of a group. It sounds dramatic, but it was true. I went two full years of college avoiding any class that had a presentation. When I decided to stay in school to pursue a degree in safety management I knew that a career in safety would mean speaking in front of groups often.
In my desperate search to find a means to get over the fear of public speaking I stumbled upon Toastmasters. Toastmasters International is the reason I can now speak comfortably in front of a group of over 40 individuals on a daily basis. In this article I want to explain what Toastmasters is and why you should check out your local club.
What is Toastmasters?
Toastmasters International, or Toastmasters for short, is “a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.” Toastmasters is a great way to build your confidence as a speaker and as a leader. There are many Toastmasters clubs all around the world, including more than a few in your local area. Use this link to find your local club. Each club has meetings either weekly or biweekly that gives members a chance to work on their speaking and leadership skills.
Benefits of Toastmasters
There are so many benefits for an individual who is an active part of a Toastmasters club. The main reason many people try out Toastmasters, including myself, is to become more comfortable speaking in front of a group. There are many chances to speak each meeting whether it is through a role, Table Topics, or a prepared speech. Having the chance to speak in front of a group and doing it often is the only way you are going to face your fear of public speaking.
Another reason to go is to work on your leadership skills. The roles at a meeting are a great way to direct and lead part of a meeting. There are also positions on the executive committee such as Club President or Vice President of Membership that you fulfill over the year to help the club continue to run smoothly. While many people go to Toastmasters to become better speakers, you will find that through fulfilling different roles you become a stronger leader.
The last reason that I will mention you should attend a Toastmasters meeting is the people that are a part of this great organization. Even though it can be stressful preparing a speech for a meeting, I am always so happy I attended the meeting and participated. I find the meetings very fun and fulfilling. The people I have met at the three or so clubs I have went to were all great. There are people from all walks of life in these meetings, but everyone there is supportive and wants to build up themselves as well as their fellow members.
Toastmasters is a great place to network and be exposed to other people who want to be successful in their career field. In my current group, there are members who have been a part of Toastmasters for over 15 years and are great speakers. They continue to come to continue to improve as well as having a passion for helping newer members succeed. I think that point alone speaks to the passion Toastmasters creates amongst its members.
What a Meeting Looks Like
The meeting follows an agenda that is set by Toastmasters International, but could vary from club to club. At my current club, the meeting opens up with remarks from the Club President. It is then turned over to the Toastmaster for the evening who directs the meeting. The Toastmaster will then introduce the various roles for the meeting starting with Word Master. The Word Master supplies the group with a Word of the Day to broaden their vocabulary as well as challenge everyone to use it while speaking during the meeting.
The meeting then moves to the Thought of the Day which is just a short inspirational message or story from a member of the club. After the Thought of the Day, someone provides a Joke of the Day. The Toastmaster will then go through some of the other roles listed below to explain what their job is for the meeting. After the other roles are explained we move into the prepared speeches.
The prepared speeches are the bulk of the meeting. There are usually three to four prepared speeches per meeting. Each member has to present a series of speeches from the Competent Communicator workbook, which is the first workbook. The first speech from the Competent Communicator workbook is called The Icebreaker Speech. This speech is four to six minutes long and it is about you. The purpose of this speech is to let the other members know a little bit about you and for you to get comfortable speaking in front of the group.
In total, there are ten speeches in the Competent Communicator manual that a member has to complete in order to get their Competent Communicator award. After the first workbook is completed, members can choose to begin advancing towards other higher speaker designations using the advanced workbooks. You can find a PDF version of the speech assignments for the Competent Communicator workbook here.
After the prepared speeches, our club moves into the Table Topics portion of the meeting. The purpose of Table Topics is to give the members a chance to work on their impromptu speaking skills. Table Topics is run by the Topics Master. The Topics Master will have a list of random questions and members volunteer to go up to the front and they pick a random number that corresponds to a question. The question is read once or twice and the speaker has to talk about their answer or thoughts to the question within a one to two minute time frame. A recent question I had for Table Topics was “If you could pick one book every high school student had to read what would it be and why?” Table Topics is my favorite part of the meetings.
When I first started in Toastmasters I would rarely volunteer to do Table Topics or if I did speak, I would have a hard time gathering my thoughts to reach a minute. Between speaking at Toastmasters and at work, I now look forward to volunteering every meeting and facing the challenge of speaking extemporaneously.
After Table Topics, there is usually a ten minute break which gives the speech evaluators time to prepare their two to three minute evaluations the prepared speeches. Each speaker who presented a prepared speech earlier in the night will be evaluated by one evaluator. This is an extremely important part of the meeting and the overall process of helping the speakers improve. The evaluator will give strong points of the speech and how the speaker did as well as how they can improve.
This process is always constructive and done in a positive manner. The whole point of Toastmasters is to provide a safe place for people to be built up. I have learned a lot about things I need to improve on as a speaker from the evaluation portion of the meeting.
After the evaluations the meeting is wrapped up by the General Evaluator, Toastmaster, and Club President. Our meetings last around two hours. Some clubs may be different. While I talked about the majority of the roles fulfilled in a meeting, there are some I did not discuss. Below is a list of the common roles you will see at a Toastmasters meeting.
Roles at the Meeting
These descriptions were pulled directly from the Toastmasters website.
Toastmaster– The Toastmaster is a meeting’s director and host.
Ah-Counter-The purpose of the Ah-Counter is to note any overused words or filler sounds. This is extremely helpful in the fact that when you speak, you do not notice the filler words you are using.
Grammarian-The Grammarian helps club members improve their grammar and vocabulary.
Timer– A Timer is responsible for monitoring the time of meeting segments and speakers. The Timer shows green, yellow, and red cards to show the speaker how they are doing on time.
Topics Master-The Topics Master delivers the Table Topics portion of the meeting.
Meeting Speaker-Every speaker is a role model and club members learn from one another’s speeches.
Table Topics Speaker-Table Topics helps members develop their impromptu speaking skills.
Evaluator-Evaluators provide verbal and written feedback to meeting speakers.
General Evaluator-The General Evaluator evaluates everything that takes place during the club meeting.
I found Toastmasters out of the realization I feared public speaking and needed to get better. This organization not only helped me overcome my fear of public speaking, but I know it will continue to be an integral part of my overall development in my career. Even if your current position or career field does not require you to speak in front of a group, I urge you to attend Toastmasters. You never know what position or career field you will be in five, ten, or twenty years.
If you want to progress and become a higher level of management, speaking in front of a group and being a leader will be important skills you will need to be successful. Start now and develop the skills before you need them. Developing any skill is a process and being reactive is not a good plan if you desire to grow.