Excellent, even good, speaking skills give me confidence when I have to make a presentation to win a contract. I don’t stutter when I am asked a question and don’t have the answer; I know how to improvise if things are not going the way that I want, and I don’t use “ah,” “uhm,” “so,” or “you know” (known as fillers – you use them to fill a space when you don’t know what to say) during my presentation.
I have honed these skills as a member of Toastmasters (www.toastmasters.org) since 1996. For the last couple of years, I stopped going to Toastmasters and realized that the fillers were creeping back into my presentations. I still noticed fillers when a leader is speaking but I was unaware that my own speech was impacted until someone pointed it out. I’ve started attending meetings again on a regular basis and, lo and behold, the fillers are slowly leaving my conversation.
Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. The membership is 270,000 strong. These members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 13,000 clubs that make up the global network of meeting locations. Membership in Toastmasters is one of the greatest investments you can make in yourself. At $36 every six months, it is also one of the most cost-effective skill-building tools available anywhere.
Toastmasters is a way for me to practice pitches and get critiqued in a friendly environment. Some clubs meet monthly, while others meet bi-weekly. At these meetings, I have an opportunity to do the following:
- Table Topics – during this segment, newsworthy topics are selected and each member has two minutes to respond or give their feelings on that particular topic. It helps me to practice improvisational skills and speaking on topics on which I’m unfamiliar.
- Speeches – Each of ten speeches is designed to help me with a particular skill like humor, visual aids, breaking the ice with new people, or voice expressiveness.
- Grammar – At each meeting, a word is given, along with the meaning. I get to practice using the word throughout the meeting as well as the week.
- Learn to Use Visual Aids – Visual aids are an important part of many presentations. The most commonly used media are the flipchart and computer-based presentation programs. I get to practice using these tools during my presentations.
- Use Humor – I’m very unfunny and some of speeches force me to inject humor into my presentation and I’m critiqued on it by other members.
Because of the above, I am a small business owner with big company speech. I am comfortable in meetings with Fortune 500 executives and other small business owners alike. I hope to continue in Toastmasters for as long as I can. It has shown in my public speaking as well. The next time that I have to speak to you, hopefully your count of the number of “ahs” that I use will be markedly decreased.