Toastmasters – learn to speak in public

I’ll be perfectly honest, I never ever thought I would join a Toastmasters group. Like most people, I don’t enjoy public speaking and the idea of actually volunteering to speak to an audience seemed well outside my comfort zone. But I am also starting a business this year and I know that I needed to develop my communication skills.

Thankfully, someone I knew was a member of the local Toastmasters Zug club (for english speakers). I contacted Jack Vincent and asked if I could attend a meeting as his guest. What I found at that first meeting made me reevaluate what I knew about Toastmasters and completely won me over. I joined soon after and my experiences and impression of the club have only grown over the year.

But what is Toastmasters?

Let me give you the official spiel: Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organization has more than 313,000 members in more than 14,650 clubs in 126 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience.

I went into that first meeting only focused on the public speaking part. But I quickly learned that there is so much more to it. In each meeting there are several roles you can play: emcee for the meeting, speaker, evaluator, table talk master (more about this in a second), and also logistical roles like timer, grammarian, and even someone assigned to count the ah’s and um’s in everyone’s speeches! All the roles work together to create a very productive meeting. It may sound very structured, but it feels more like a team effort toward a goal of having a good time while we are together.

Table talk is probably my favorite part of the meeting because of the energy it creates. The moderator chooses a theme for the evening and randomly calls on members to give 90 second extemporaneous speech based on the assignment. It really teaches you to think on your feet! I’ll give you an example. In one of my first meetings our table table master had a bag of random items. She would give an assignment to a person and they had to reach into the bag, grab a random object, and stand up and speak. One person was told she was going to a desert island and could take only one object. She had to explain to her family why she had picked that object. She reached into the bag and brought out a fasnacht mask! A few minutes later it was my turn.  I was told I was going on a first date and had brought a gift. I had to explain what the gift signified. I reached into the bag and pulled out a rolled elastic bandage. I was so nervous I’m not sure exactly everything I said in that 90 seconds but I was voted Best Table Talk for the evening 😉

Now, so far these are just facts and details. They are important but not what makes Toastmasters Zug such a great club. What makes it great is the members; people of many different nationalities, men and women, in different industries with different occupations. And we are all there to get better. Imagine giving a short speech where you know everyone in the audience is so invested in you doing well, and wants to give you constructive feedback so your next speech is even better. It’s a very warm and safe environment to confront your fear of public speaking and develop the communication and leadership skills that everyone can apply to their lives. When I look back on 2014 I’ll remember joining Toastmasters as one of the best decisions I’ve made this year.

A few logistical details

A few logistical details. Toastmasters Zug meets every other Monday night promptly at 19.00 at the Hotel Guggital in Zug. Meetings last about 2 hour and there is a break in the middle to socialize or even have a quick bite at the hotel. Membership is CHF135 a year. When you become a member you get a few communication manuals which help guide you in our development. You can read more from the club’s website.

If anyone in the Living in Luzern community would like to attend a meeting as my guest feel free to contact me by email. What do you have to lose?

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