How To Maximize Your Toastmasters Membership
So you’ve taken the first step towards becoming a better public speaker, and joined a Toastmasters club. Congratulations! Now the real work begins, and this is where most people check out. Joining a club may be the first step, but getting the results you were hoping for when you first joined means having to engage, work hard, and work smart. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your membership:
I know what you’re thinking, duh, of course I have to show up! Who would join a club, pay their dues, and then not come? Well, lots of people. We get busy with work, families, a million other distractions, and sometimes just getting to the meeting can be a challenge. Most clubs meet for an hour once a week (though times and frequency of meetings can vary between clubs), which is less than 1% of your entire week! Commit to getting to at least 3 meetings a month if you want to see actual results.
Take on as many roles as possible
Many people think the only role that will help improve speaking skills is that of being a speaker. I’ve met numerous Toastmasters who treat other roles (like timer, grammarian, etc.) as just chore roles necessary to maintain the club. But look deeper and you will see that each role provides the opportunity to speak in front of the group, as well as the opportunity to learn more about the foundations of public speaking.
Consider the humble timer, which is widely regarded the as the least-popular Toastmasters role because you have to keep track of how long everyone is speaking, and work the stoplights to keep the meeting on schedule. On the surface it’s an undesirable chore, but being the timer gives you the chance to really think about how the speakers are using their time, and how it impacts audience engagement. Using time effectively is one of the most challenging aspects of presenting, and working as the timer helps you learn more about how to do it well.
Practice delivering the same speech more than once
I can’t tell you how often I see Toastmasters deliver speeches I could tell they put together right before the meeting (or they are clearly winging it), and even though they receive valuable feedback, they never do the same speech again. Which means the whole experience happened in a vacuum and the speaker squandered a chance to learn, grow, and change. Did you join Toastmasters to become a better speaker, or to check off boxes on a task list? When we do something, then receive feedback about it, the only way we get better is by applying the feedback and doing it again. And again. And again.
Learn to receive and apply feedback
It’s one thing to politely listen when your evaluator is detailing some ways you can improve your speech. It’s quite another to listen to process what they’re saying, and work to incorporate it into your presentation skills. Let’s be real: getting feedback (especially in a public forum like a Toastmasters meeting) can be painful. No one likes hearing what they could have done better. But it’s also the only way we get better! Accredited speaker and veteran Toastmaster Ron Chapman put it best when he said, “Most of us are afraid to hear feedback, and few of us seek it out. And many are afraid to provide it. Yet without feedback we cannot grow. At worst, we are stunted and our potential goes unrealized.”
Get out of your comfort zone
I frequently participate in Toastmasters contests for one simple reason: I hate doing it.That’s right, I actively seek out an optional experience I loathe.
Competing makes me extremely nervous, and there’s not much I’ve been able to do to calm the nerves when it comes to competing. But I do it because I recognize how valuable it is to hurl myself out of my comfort zone (i.e. my couch), and because preparing for a contest makes me think differently about how I’m presenting my content. The comfort zone of Toastmasters may not be limited to avoiding contents; it’s often a specific topic area you love to speak about, or certain roles you avoid (see above), or types of speeches you’d prefer to give over others.
Identify where your comfort zone is, and make yourself give presentations outside of that zone. If you hate Table Topics, do them as often as possible. If you struggle as grammarian, take that role whenever you can. As has been often said (because it’s true), the best learning and growing happens outside of your comfort zone.
The vast majority of my public speaking experience has been outside of Toastmasters. I didn’t join my first club until almost 3 years ago, and it was after having taught public speaking at the university level, amongst other experiences. But my club has pushed me further than I thought possible, by showing me how to sharpen skills I thought I’d mastered. If you don’t feel like you’re getting what you need from your current club, consider two things: 1) Are you doing everything possible to maximize your membership? If so, then 2) Is there another club that may be a better fit because of it’s culture/time/etc.? I promise that there's a great club for you, and if you work hard at it, you can be the speaker you want to be.
After all, like everything else, Toastmasters is only as good as what you put into it. Good luck!