3 Steps to Confidence: A Community Laboratory
Observe, learn from, and interact with the world’s best. It is absolutely fascinating to me that such a diverse community of people, whose goals for public speaking, leading, and communication may vary widely, could be met and exceeded by a local chapter of Toastmasters.
What do a high school student, CTO, attorney, school teacher, author, technologist, oil and gas consultant, marketing director, and geologist have in common? Each professional will be more successful if they can communicate and influence others in their field. Their goals may include motivating a team, time management, holding effective meetings, or becoming a keynote conference speaker. Each person has a life outside of work that requires a “no dress rehearsal” style of active listening and communicating that can make a major difference in a marriage, parenting situation, or other key relationships.
I joined my chapter, Plus Two Toastmasters, in January of 2018. We call the chapter experience a “community laboratory” because we are local and because laboratories are places where you can research and develop your skills and ideas.
We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.
- Build Confidence in a Safe and Supportive Environment
How do you find the best community for you? Visit as many Toastmasters clubs as they will fit your location and schedule at first. Talk to the members and officers. Explain why you want to join a chapter and prepare questions to help both parties assess if that chapter is the right one for you. You’ll notice that each toastmasters club will have different styles of leadership, energy, and community involvement. Limit your discovery timeframe so that you can quickly join a chapter.
Your employer may offer membership for a Toastmasters group within the company. One of the downsides of joining a company Toastmasters chapters is the organizational limitations that surrounds that type of club. In addition, the group may not be open to the public. Not all chapters are open to guests.
The reason why you’ll want to commit to one “home” chapter is so that the officers, especially the VP Education and the Toastmaster of the week can work with you to get all of your goals scheduled out for the agenda. Each meeting every member is assigned a specific role to prepare for which is recognized to earn specific credits toward a goal: speaker, evaluator, topics master, and many more. The best part is that while you work with one main chapter, you can visit any chapter in your city, state, country, or the world. Toastmasters is also conducted in major world languages in addition to English.
2. Build on What You Know: Confidence in Your Subject Matter
Anyone at any level of experience can join Toastmasters. Even though my particular chapter consists of executives, sales professionals, and those who are comfortable with public speaking, Toastmasters was designed to allow anyone to speak on any topic at any skill level (within reason and within guidelines). For example, the way that you chose a topic and serve the club must follow these principles:
You may be comfortable speaking to people in your field or industry. One of the most valuable aspects of joining a local chapter is getting to know your audience and for your audience to get to know you, which in turn, makes you a better speaker. In addition, knowing your audience better also means that you may be speaking about a topic from work, but having to explain it to people outside of your industry challenges you to do so in a way that is easy for anyone to understand. This skill makes you a better communicator overall. Being able to explain what you do for a living and to answer questions about it in a group setting also tests how well you educate others who may not be experts in your field.
You can also talk about non-work related topics. Some of the projects and contests have themes with different rhetorical effects such as humor, tall tales, and talks that have international appeal. Many people share inspiring stories delivered in ways where details such as vocal variety, hand gestures, visual aids, and use of words or phrases are riveting enough to stay with you for months to come. These stories have personally helped change my perceptions of the world we live in — learning from my colleagues’ collective wisdom and experience. In the age of digital interactions that keep us behind screens and devices, Toastmasters International is a very human way to connect again in meaningful and professional ways.
3. Solid Confidence is Built on the Ability to Give and Receive Constructive Evaluation
Notice how carefully this step is worded. Toastmasters is designed to encourage you to develop a lifelong attitude of learning. Instead of constructive criticism, we use evaluation methods that lift up other members, guests, and are considered both proven, but also subjective. This style means that the person speaking has freedom to deliver feedback in a way that builds confidence while also providing specific evidence of mastery and ways to improve.
Whether you are preparing for a promotion at your job, whether you are a published author promoting your book at an event, or whether you want to be a better example of active listening to your children or spouse at home, Toastmasters is a place where you can start exactly where you are at today to build confidence in a community laboratory.
In the community laboratory, your mentor, the leaders, and fellow members are always available to answer questions, provide guidance, and Toastmasters has an organized body of materials. In addition, you have the chance to lead the group and mentor others.
In the age of digital interactions, Toastmasters is a very human way to connect again in meaningful and professional ways.
A major thank you to the members and officers of Plus Two Toastmasters for feedback that greatly improved this article.