By Michelle Valerio • September 03, 2010•Writers in Residence
One of my mentors recommended that I join Toastmasters when I first graduated law school. At first I was skeptical, I was on moot court and I do not get nervous when speaking in public so I wasn’t sure how I could benefit from the organization. However, I decided to try it out, if nothing else, for the opportunity to network with other professionals in my community.
What is Toastmasters? For those of you who are unfamiliar with Toastmasters, it is an international non-profit organization where individuals develop their public speaking skills. Toastmasters meetings are usually held on a weekly basis and are conducted in essentially the same format worldwide. Basically, the meetings consist of two prepared speeches, table topics where members practice giving off-the-cuff answers to random questions, and finally an evaluation section where the speeches are evaluated by members.
My Toastmasters Experience: I decided to join the Toastmasters group closest to my work so that I could attend the meetings during my lunchtime. When I originally joined I thought that I would be a member for one year which would allow me to network and improve my speaking skills. I was particularly excited about the Table Topics section of the meeting because being able to speak articulately, without the use of filler words such as ums and ahs, is always important, especially when answering questions from clients and/or your boss at work.
How I have benefited from Toastmasters: I have now been a member of Toastmasters for 1.5 years and I have no intention of leaving the group. I have truly benefited from Toastmasters in the following ways:
- Client presentations: I am more confident when giving presentations at conferences. The skills required for Moot Court are very different from the skills needed when presenting at a large conference with over 100 attendees. Speaking in front of a group of peers on a weekly basis has allowed me to hone in on my presentation skills
- Setting up a Meeting: Toastmasters also prepares you for running a meeting and creating a workable agenda because when you are selected as the “Toastmaster” for the week it is your responsibility to make sure everyone with roles attends, that you have their bios ready, and that you make an agenda. Once the meeting starts it is your responsibility to make sure everything goes smoothly and is timely. Before being the “Toastmaster” I had never run a meeting and it was a great experience.
- Evaluations: The purpose of Toastmasters is to be evaluated by your peers in order to improve both your speaking and listening skills. Giving peer evaluations helps me to provide effective constructive feedback to the people that I work with.
- Toastmasters Magazine: As a member of Toastmasters you receive a monthly magazine. The Toastmasters Magazine always has helpful articles on public speaking, networking and career development.
- Networking/friends: I have made many new friends and connections outside of the legal world at Toastmasters. Since it is not a formal networking event, it is easier to meet people on a personal level where no one is trying to sell you a product or service and you can develop true relationships. I was recently told by one of the financial advisors in my group that he has brought in a million dollars in business from the people he has met at Toastmasters.
- New Challenges: This month the club asked me to compete in the humorous speech competition. I don’t consider myself to be very funny but they did so I accepted the challenge. I was really nervous beforehand that no one would laugh, but people laughed and were very supportive. Actually, I not only ended up having a lot of fun but I won too!
In sum, I highly recommend Toastmasters as a way to grow both professionally and personally. You can find a local Toastmasters group at www.toastmasters.com.