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Toastmasters - Where leaders are made

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By Joe Peters

Does the thought of delivering a speech in front of a crowd, or even a small group, set your knees knockin’ and your heart aflutter? Do you um and ah your way through every presentation or litter your sentences with “you know” or “like?”

Is stage presence something you’ve read about, but never really understood what it means?

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. As much as 75% of the population suffers from this phobia. While some people may only experience the relatively mild discomfort of nervousness others may fear public speaking so much that they literally experience full-blown panic or anxiety. Presenters have even been know to become ill and cancel their appearance due to glossophobia. The fear of embarrassment or rejection is more than their psyches can bear. 

If any of the above strike a chord, then Toastmasters is definitely for you.

Toastmasters was started in 1905 as a curriculum of classes to improve the communication and leadership skills of young men. The founder, Ralph Smedley, was the director of education for the Bloomington, Illinois YMCA. In this capacity he saw the need for men in the community to learn how to become better speakers and leaders. He made it his goal to help them achieve these skills. Smedley named it the Toastmasters Club. 

Two decades later Smedley had moved to California where he continued to work for the YMCA. In October 1924, Toastmasters Club No. 1 was founded. It remained a men’s organization until 1973 when women were officially allowed to join. “Officially” because in 1970 Helen Blanchard joined under the name of Homer Blanchard and remained as Homer until 1973. She later became Toastmasters’ first female president.

Today, there are close to 17,000 clubs around the world, in 143 countries, and over 360,000 members. Gender equality is much better and is about equal numbers for male and female members. 

From a humble start of two clubs 64 years ago, Japan now has 207 clubs with meetings held in Japanese, English, Mandarin and French. More than 4,000 people, of various nationalities, enjoy becoming better speakers and leaders through these clubs.

One method of overcoming speaking fear is to be well organized ahead of your presentation. With Toastmasters’ programs, members learn to work through a series of speech projects in an orderly fashion starting with what is called an Ice Breaker Speech. This is usually the easiest speech for a new member to give as the speech is about a subject every speaker knows well – themselves. Their objective in this speech is to just introduce themselves to the audience by talking about any aspect of their life that they are willing to share. Generally, the speech is about 400-500 words, which is fewer than the words in this article. Members giving this speech may even read from their notes. 

Clubs will assign a mentor to new members to help them get started on their learning path through coaching, assisting with speeches, and giving the new member tips on presenting their first few speeches. Toastmasters is a friendly, supportive group of people. No one sets out to intimidate anyone else and one would be hard pressed to find a more supportive group of people.

Joining Toastmasters also can bring a host of personal benefits that can impact both your personal life and your career. As a Toastmaster you’ll gain confidence, enhance your communication skills, and become a better leader. It is truly amazing to watch the growth of new Toastmasters as they progress through their chosen programs. I’ve seen people go from bumbling, mumbling, um-ah laden speeches to become some of the most polished speakers I’ve ever heard. And, this usually happens within their first year of becoming a Toastmaster! Others have gone on to become Ted-X speakers and those at the highest levels have become very well-paid professional speakers. I remember one professional speaker I heard in Tokyo a few years ago, who started his speaking career in a local club, and now commands US$30,000 per presentation. 

Becoming a Toastmaster member is not difficult. It’s as easy as finding a club that is open to the public (some are corporate clubs and can only allow corporate employees to join), contacting the club through their website, and attending as a guest to see what it’s all about. As an example, I belong to two clubs: Toastmasters at the Foreign Correspondents Club, which is open to anybody, and Tokyo American Club Toastmasters, in which membership is restricted to members of the American Club, but meetings are open to any registered dues paying Toastmaster.

The cost is not expensive and includes bi-annual membership dues to Toastmasters International and the local club may add a bit to that to cover meeting and materials costs. 

The easiest way to find a club near you is to check the list of Japan Toastmaster Clubs at http://district76.org/en/

© Japan Today

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