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How Toastmasters Can Advance Your Career February 27, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.

Sometimes it is difficult to find the next boost for your career. For a manager or project manager, Toastmasters is a great option. It provides opportunities to enhance oral communication, quick thinking, leadership, and evaluation skills. Skills which prove critical in every leadership profession.

Thanks to Kyle Nishioka @http://www.flickr.com/photos/madmarv/

Thanks to Kyle Nishioka @http://www.flickr.com/photos/madmarv/

The Toastmaster program is not well understood by the general public. Some see it as an elite group of speakers. Some see it as a place to learn to speak. While both of these statements are true, it misses the part of what Toastmasters is.

Toastmasters started as an organization dedicated to helping young men learn to speak publicly. Over time it also grew to develop general professional and leadership skills. The program is well structured to help an individual gradually become comfortable and proficient in at least 4 priceless skill sets:

  • Oral Communication

Communication is ultimately the key in most jobs. Poor communication results in increased costs, lost customers, and perhaps even on the job accidents. With the advent of the electronic revolution, more and more, we are relying on written communication. But written communication has many disadvantages. It is relatively slow. It hides para-verbal queues that humans have developed to help understand intent and meaning. It is difficult to achieve the emotional impact to drive change or get people excited.

Where written communication fails, oral communication excels. It’s rapid. When oral communication is occurring, upwards of 90% of what is being communicated is in para-verbal or non-verbal tones and actions. Emotion can be heard and easily absorbed by the listener.

Despite the advantages, most people have a dire fear of speaking publicly. When people do speak, they are often under trained and provide weak or less effective presentations. In the finance and software worlds, with a few notable exceptions (i.e. Steve Jobs) we often see presentation at its worst.

Toastmasters is a chance to gradually improve your speaking. Initially, they ask you to speak about yourself. Then they incrementally teach you about speech organization, speech writing, using the right words, physical motions, voice, research, visual aids, persuasion techniques, and inspirational speaking. Each skill builds on the previous skills. All the while you will learn to be succinct. Unlike many of the rambling presentations you may hear today, time is critical in Toastmasters. This is just in the first level of speaking, the Competent Communicator. Most people take about a year to two years to complete this program. The 10 speeches step you through each critical concept.

Once you’ve mastered the competent communicator, Toastmasters has numerous advanced programs to help you hone your craft such as technical presentations, speeches by management, or public relations.

  • Quick Thinking

Most Toastmasters meetings will have a “Table Topics” section. Table Topics is impromptu… preparing you for those occasional but unavoidable conversations where your opinion is sought on a moments notice. What will you say? Will you say it well and with conviction? Your opinion counts and you should be able to communicate it in a way that makes a difference.

The key here is practice. By occasionally getting up and talking for 1 to 2 minutes on a topic presented to you without preperation, you develop the skill of verbal agility, an understanding of how to speak “off the cuff” with conviction. Perhaps more important, you develop confidence. Verbal agility is a key skill in interviews, “elevator speeches”, and social banter.

  • Leadership

The second “track” in Toastmasters was a surprise to me. I believe it is also a surprise to many first timers. This program is known as the Competent Leader. It is designed to help people develop leadership skills including organization, mentoring, delegation, running a meeting, keeping meetings on time, and process improvement.

The Competent Leader (or CL) track is focused around the meetings themselves which are difficult to describe unless you’ve been to one. In each meeting, members take on a role such as the “Toastmaster” who acts both as meeting organizer and MC. These roles teach the members important skills, requiring them to be cognizant of time, or prepare certain parts of the meeting.

One of the stops on the CL track requires you to help organize a special event. Another item, as you gain more experience, allows you to mentor a new member. As with the Competent Communicator, each goal is described in detail to help you specifically focus on what you are trying to develop.

Finally, once you complete your CL, there are advanced leadership programs which focus on developing your skills in broader environments and helping the club succeed. Becoming a club, or higher level officer is encouraged. I once read that the best way to develop leadership skills is to lead a volunteer organization. I think this is true, but mostly because it strips away the lie that work isn’t a volunteer organization. Ultimately, all organizations are volunteer organizations, it is just sometimes people at work leave mentally or spiritually instead of physically.

  • Evaluation

Toastmasters is about improving yourself, so we evaluate everything. How did a speech go? How did the meeting go? How is the club doing? This might sound intimidating, but Toastmasters has developed the art of gentle evaluation to a science. Concepts like the “Toastmaster Sandwich” (wrapping areas of improvement with positives on either side) help keep things light. Ultimately all this evaluation results in 2 things: 1. You become a better speaker and leader. 2. You become an excellent evaluator.

In corporate America, I would personally say that evaluations range between mediocre and poor. Developing evaluation skills and providing helpful evaluation can enhance your relationship with your employees and your boss. Perhaps equally important, evaluation done right can make change happen.

If you want to enhance your career, toastmasters is an excellent option. If nothing else, stop in and watch a meeting, it’s entertaining, and will surprise you. Toastmasters love visitors.

Let me know what you think about toastmasters.

Comment Here



1. thefieldgeneral - February 27, 2013

Please let me know what you think!

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