Who are Toastmasters?
They are clubs, but not drinking clubs. Toastmasters are regular folks getting together to learn the art of public speaking, in a relatively informal setting. The cost is nominal. If you want an official introduction – visit the TMI website.
Why join Toastmasters?
Because there is no such thing as private speaking. When you talk to the property seller, potential hard money lender or just a fellow investor – the skills to explain yourself are the same skills that people use speaking from stage.
Just like with dancing and swimming (I happen to suck at both), you cannot learn public speaking from a book. You need to practice. Toastmasters allow you to do it efficiently, cheaply, and safely. Where else can you completely screw it up and not fear people making fun of you forever after?
Why am I talking about Toastmasters?
I spent several years being very active in Toastmasters. I owe this organization for my business success, as my early clientele was built from my public presentations. Toastmasters taught me to be comfortable while speaking and not be afraid of making a fool of myself. I’m pretty good at the latter. I also made a lot of great friends.
What is it like?
You come to a meeting, usually once a week, and you participate in various drills. Sometimes you make short (up to 7 minutes) speeches prepared in advance, sometimes you are asked to make an impromptu response to a random question (“table topics”), and you also get to evaluate other people’s presentations. There is more, once you master the basics.
The whole concept is to learn from each other, in a mutually supportive friendly setting. It is not a class, there are no teachers. Here is the official promo video, however every club looks and feels different.
How to join?
You need to find the right club. In Houston area, for example, there are almost 200 clubs to choose from. This is what you need to pay attention to:
- Time and location. There should be clubs close to your home or your office. Some meet in the early morning hours, others meet at lunch time, and some meet in the evenings or on the weekends. Frequency also varies, but once a week is the norm.
- Corporate vs public. Many clubs are sponsored by employers and are primarily for their own employees. They may or may not allow outsiders – you need to ask. I strongly prefer public clubs, as they tend to have more diversity and more fun. Of course, there’re exceptions to this rule.
- Experience level. This is crucial. Some clubs consist entirely of newbies, and while it may feel less intimidating, you will not learn much. I always wanted to belong to a club where I would be the worst. It was not that difficult to find. Yes, being surrounded by people who are way better than you can make you uneasy. But this is how you get better.
- Atmosphere. It varies greatly. I visited clubs for young professionals where they laughed, teased each other and flirted. I belonged to a club founded by intellectual property attorneys where laughter was apparently deemed illegal. Toastmasters have an official protocol for meetings. Some clubs follow it very strictly, other clubs have a relaxed attitude towards formalities. Choose a club that suits your personality. Or, for extra challenge, choose something different on purpose.
- The “leadership” trap. Once upon a time, Toastmasters were all about public speaking. Then they added the so-called “leadership track”, and lately the focus seems to be shifting towards leadership. Leadership is about management, protocol, formalities, etc. For corporate folks, it adds value. For entrepreneurs, this is bureaucracy and waste of time. Pay attention to whether the club seems to be more focused on developing speaking skills or management skills.
- People. You have a lot of choices if you care about age, gender or ethnic composition of a club. Whatever you prefer – there is probably a club that matches your profile. Warning: while the whole idea is friendliness and support, there are some jerks around who enjoy putting people down. One a-hole can ruin it for everyone and make the club a bad place.
- Size. Size matters. In a bigger club, you will see more variety, but your own opportunities to practice will be more rare.
How to choose a club?
- Find a website for your local Toastmasters, called a district. Here is the website for the Houston-area District 56. Usually, the local websites have a searchable list of clubs.
- Choose 3 to 5 clubs that are convenient for you, location-wise and time-wise.
- Call or email them in advance, to confirm the time and the place (website directories are not always current). Also verify that they welcome guests. You can almost always attend for free as a guest. Just keep in mind that clubs meeting at restaurants sometimes expect you to buy a meal.
- Bring a buddy if possible. It feels less intimidating.
- Whether your first impression is good or bad, do not make a decision until you visit at least 3 clubs. Five would be even better. Remember that no two clubs are alike. The process is similar to finding the right gym or the right church.
- If you could not find a good club during the first round, it may be worth it to visit a few more. There should be one for you out there.
- Once signed up, immediately volunteer to prepare a speech. The sooner you start messing up, the faster you get better.