December 5, 2010


Do you look like this when asked to speak in public?
Albert Einstein said that communication puts your education at your disposal. If you can't express yourself, what use is your knowledge? Communication skills are essential for confidence and leadership.

If you're terrified to speak in front of a group, join Toastmasters. The End ... or rather, The Beginning. 

If you think you're already good, join to get better and help others.

About Toastmasters

Toastmasters is an international nonprofit organization that started in 1924 to help people speak better. You're not alone. There are 260,000+ members in 12,500+ clubs around the world. If you live in a city, you'll probably find several meetings nearby.

Famous Toastmasters include Tim Allen, Debbie Fields, Napoleon Hill, Leonard Nimoy and the terrified Squawkfox.  After 10 speeches, you'll become a Competent Communicator.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think Toastmasters was super valuable to their career. — Harvey Mackay
Here's the big surprise: as a guest, you attend free as long as you like. You can participate in portions of the meeting but are not forced. You're invited to join but not cajoled.

Why Me?

Since speaking skills are essential for success, I took an evening course at Humber College in 1994 after completing my actuarial exams. Within months, I addressed an audience of several hundred … and survived. I've since spoken coast-to-coast and internationally. I mainly deliver prepared presentations accompanied by PowerPoint. There's room to improve. For instance, I'm reluctant to ask questions when in the audience.

In October, my friend Flavian DeLima suggested Toastmasters to hone my skills. I knew of the organization but had never attended a meeting. Since there was no downside, I decided to explore.

The Right Location

Since each club has a different feeling, you'll probably want to try several before deciding.  I started with the most convenient location and time: Goodyear Toastmasters  on Thursdays at 6:45 PM. (The website looks dated but don't judge a volunteer-run club by its homepage.)

I instantly felt at home. That's not because this was the Halloween meeting and members wore costumes. I loved the warm, friendly atmosphere.  Members were diverse and their skills varied. I didn't bother checking out other clubs.

Three Big Advantages

While each club differs, you'll find the following elements in common
  1. nonjudgmental: you're welcome regardless of your level of skills and you aren't compared with others
  2. no pressure: you're not forced to speak until you're ready. Sometimes guests remain silent or speakers back out.
  3. many opportunities: members have roles which change each week. They range from running the meeting to sharing trivia to timing speakers to counting fillers like "um", "ah" and "er"
Besides communicating better, you also build leadership skills. What you get out depends on what you put in.

The Silly Part

There's a weekly Table Topic. You talk for 60 seconds about a randomly selected topic (e.g., "What mystery do you most want to solve and why?"). If that's not enough, everyone is required to use a specified word or phrase (e.g., "Thriller Night", an homage to Michael Jackson's Thriller). I thought this was silly. In real life, when do you talk off-the-cuff about something you know nothing about with no time to prepare? Unless you're a politician or celebrity.

I now see the value. Speaking coherently without preparation sharpens your skills. The Table Topic gives you practice.

There's no harm in trying Toastmasters.


Podcast Episode 95 (5:02)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS If you're in Etobicoke, feel free to visit Goodyear Toastmasters.

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