Have you ever wondered how some Toastmasters are naturally good at public speaking and being a leader while others are not? Why is that? What's their secret? Well . . .
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” —Colin Powell
That's it. If you want to be a great Toastmaster (i.e. public speaker and leader), then you have to prepare, work hard, learn from your mistakes, and be patient. Additionally, although there are no secrets to success in Toastmasters, there are several things you can do to accomplish your goals and get the most out of your Toastmasters journey. Let's dive into it.
Look Around Before Committing
Before joining a club, attend at least two of its meetings to see if it's the right fit for you. By "right fit" I mean you feel welcomed by its members, the environment is very positive and supportive (as it should be), and the time and day of their meetings works with your schedule. Similarly, you should also visit several clubs in your area before choosing which one you want to join.
Share Your Goals with Your Club Members
Your club members want you to succeed and they want to help you succeed. Before they can do that, though, they need to know what your goals are—i.e. why you joined Toastmasters and what you're hoping to get out of it. Do you want to become better at giving presentations? Do you want to learn how to be an effective leader? Do you want to network with people in your industry? Would you like to give a TED talk or TEDx talk one day? Whatever they are, share your goals with your club members.
Attend Meetings on a Consistent Basis
While you don't have to have perfect attendance, you should attend most of the club meetings. Meaning, if your club has 24 meetings per year (i.e. two meetings per month), then you should strive to attend at least 20 of those meetings. After all, showing up is the first step to success.
Get a Mentor
The Vice President of Education is responsible for assigning a mentor to every new member. If you were not assigned a mentor, though, then ask them to pair you with someone. Mentors are an invaluable asset to your Toastmasters journey, because they have a lot of knowledge and experience in regards to the Toastmasters program. Therefore, be sure to contact them regularly for help with projects, filling club roles, navigating through Pathways, etc.
Volunteer to be a Table Topics Speaker
During Table Topics, the speaker is asked a random question by the Table Topics Master, and they are given 1-2 minutes to answer that question in the format of a speech. Because this is an impromptu speech, it will help you improve your ability to think on your feet, excel in last-minute presentations, stand out in meetings, and improve your confidence of speaking in front of others. This is also great practice for an interview (e.g. job, radio, TV), contest, networking events, and special occasions.
Utilize the Resources in Base Camp
There are multiple PDFs, videos, and online classes in Base Camp on how to access your path, complete each of your projects, evaluate speakers, be a mentor, plan for an event, etc. Be sure to browse through the “Tutorials and Resources” section to find & access the most relevant resources.
Participate in Every Meeting
Participation is the second step to success, so be sure to participate in every meeting you attend. How? Sign up for a speech. Volunteer to be a Table Topics speaker. Offer to be the ballot counter when there are club elections or speech contests. Volunteer to fill any of the leadership roles (e.g. timer, grammarian). Be bold and give an extemporaneous speech when there is an unfilled speaking slot. All in all, make sure you are participating (and speaking!) at every meeting in one way or another.
Sign Up for Your Ice Breaker Speech
Every Toastmaster's first speech project is the Ice Breaker. Why? Because the purpose of this speech is to introduce yourself to your audience. It's a chance for you to tell your story in your own words and express who you are as an individual. So sign up for this speech as soon as possible (aka before the next meeting) so your club members can get to know you better (and be sure to have fun with it!).
Commit to Completing One Path
One of the beautiful things about the Toastmasters program is that it's self paced. Meaning, there is no standard deadline for completing a project or a path, so you get to decide how long it will take you to complete one level or all levels in a path. At the same time, it's best to take advantage of this feature by going at a reasonable pace. For example, if you are enrolled in the Innovative Planning path, then you could strive to complete levels 1 and 2 in the fall, levels 3 and 4 in the spring, and level 5 in the summer. Regardless of the timeline you choose, you should work on your chosen path every month.
Plan, Prepare, and Practice for Every Speech
Time is one of the most significant and limited resources we have, so be sure to plan, prepare, and practice for every speech so you can make the most of your time (and your audience's time) during your presentation. For example . . .
- Brainstorm and research possible speech topics
- Tell your VP of Education you would like to sign up for a speech
- Pick a date you would like to present your speech on
- Create an outline for your presentation
- Use notecards or an app to create notes for your speech
- Think of what could go wrong and make a backup plan
- Rehearse by yourself
- Rehearse with your tech team
- Rehearse until you feel comfortable presenting without your notes
Be Open to Constructive Feedback
Evaluations are an essential feature of the Toastmasters program, because they inform us of our strengths and areas we can improve in. Therefore, it's important to be open-minded when you're receiving feedback by actively listening to what the evaluator is saying and using their feedback to improve and prepare for your next presentation or project.
Record Your Presentations
When I took Speech 1101, our instructor would record our prepared speeches and download the recordings onto our USB flash drives so we could watch them later and complete a self-evaluation for each. Although I disliked watching and listening to myself speak, those recordings helped me to understand my mannerisms, what I do well, and how I can do better next time. Yes, it can be painful at times especially when you think you didn't do a good job, but those recordings will help you improve your communication and presentations skills and show you that you're not as bad as you think you are.
Join Your Club and District's Email List
If you're not already on your club's (e)mailing list or your district's (e)mailing list, then I recommend signing up for both as soon as possible. You'll receive information on upcoming events, training, volunteer opportunities, member achievements, etc. If you're not sure how to join their (e)mailing list, then ask your Vice President of Public Relations for help.
Communicate with Your Team on a Regular Basis
Let your club members know when you will not be able to attend a meeting or event—in advance. Also, let them know when you're going to be late to a meeting or event—in advance. Aim to check your email at least once every day to make sure you stay up to date on what's going on in your club. Also, strive to respond to emails in a timely manner—i.e. within the same week or early in the following week if an email is sent during the weekend. Even if an email doesn't require a response per se, respond to it nonetheless to acknowledge that you received it and read it.
Volunteer to Help with Club Events
There are various club events you can volunteer to help with such as an Open House meeting, membership drives, and speech contests. These are great opportunities to build or improve your leadership skills (e.g. teamwork, critical thinking) and show others that you are a reliable team player.
Become a Club Officer
This is another great opportunity to work on your leadership skills and serve your community. If you feel a little intimidated to run for office, then I suggest starting with the Sergeant-At-Arms position. This important role will help you break out of your shell and become comfortable with taking on more responsibilities. If you don't feel intimidated about running for office, then I suggest picking a role that will allow you to hone in on your skills (e.g. VPPR if you're good at graphic design and social media) or one that will allow you to develop a new skill set (e.g. Treasurer if you're not good at budgeting and financial reporting).
Help Club Officers with their Duties
If you're still hesitant about becoming a club officer or if all the officer positions are already filled, then you can offer to help your club officers with their responsibilities. This will give you the chance to see what each position entails and help you decide which position will be the best fit for you.
Attend a Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI)
Similarly to a club officer training (COT), these sessions equip newly installed officers with the knowledge and tools needed to be effective leaders. Best of all, although these trainings are geared towards officers, you do not have to be a club officer to attend them! So, if you're interested in learning more about Toastmasters and a specific officer position, then you should attend at least one of these trainings. They are held at various times throughout the year (e.g. June-August and December-February), and they usually cost $15 to attend (lunch is included). Prices may vary.
Here's an example of an agenda for a TLI:
9:30-10:00 — Registration
10:00-10:20 — Welcome and Opening Remarks (Division Director)
- District 14 Vision/Tagline
- Message from District Trio
- Announcements: Annual Spring Conference and Pathways Training Webinars
10:20-11:00 — Educational Session
- Membership Growth and Retention
11:00-12:00 — Educational Session
- Pathways Basecamp
- Pathways Q & A
12:00-12:25 — General Session
- Officer Presentations (3 minutes each)
12:25-1:00 — Lunch + Networking
1:00-1:40 — Officer Breakout Sessions
1:40-1:50 — General Session
- Officer Reports / Recap from Breakout Sessions
1:50-2:00 — Awarding of Certificates of Appreciation (Division Director)
- Presented to all Presenters and Volunteers
Participate in Speech Contests
Take your communication skills to the next level by participating in speech contests at the club, area, division, and district levels! Here is a list of the different contests you can participate in:
- Tall Tales
- Table Topics
- Video Speech
For more information, go here: toastmasters.org/leadership-central/speech-contests.
Utilize the Resources on Toastmasters.org
The Toastmasters International website has a multitude of free resources on various things such as public speaking tips, speech contests, how to use visual aids, using humor in speeches, membership contests, Pathways learning experience, etc., so be sure to take advantage of them!
Be a Mentor
Ask your Vice President of Education to assign you as a mentor to a new member. Be generous with sharing your knowledge and experiences with them. Encourage them to participate in meetings and provide constructive feedback on a regular basis. Answer their questions and get the answers to the questions you're not sure about. Be there for them like your mentor was there for you (or even better).
Visit and Participate in Other Clubs
Over time, you will start to get comfortable with your club's members and environment. Sure, you may see a few new faces and you may meet somewhere different every once in a while, but the location and people in your audience will be the same in general. So you get used to everything. You no longer feel nervous. You know your audience to a T. Presenting is a breeze. The stage is your runway. You're the best of the best. Until you visit another club. Then, you're taken out of your comfort zone.
New faces. New environment. Different club culture. Suddenly, you have to think for a few seconds before answering the Table Topics question. You're more conscious of saying “um” and “ah” and using the word of the day correctly. You're analyzing your audience to respond in a way that is befitting.
A fire has been lit inside of you. You're no longer complacent. Welcome back, Toastmaster.
There are two Toastmasters conferences that occur every year: the Spring Conference and the International Convention. The Spring Conference is sponsored by your district while the International Convention is sponsored by Toastmasters International. You can learn more about each by visiting your district's website and the “Events” page on Toastmasters.org.
Revisit and Redefine Your Goals
You completed all five levels of your path. You achieved the Triple Crown award. You're a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM). You overcame your fear of public speaking. You no longer stutter. You served in each officer position. Now what? What's your next goal? What do you hope to get out of Toastmasters?
Become a Member of a Second Club
It's not uncommon for Toastmasters to join multiple clubs. In fact, it may be a great idea for you depending on your means, goals, and schedule. How? Becoming a member of a second club will give you the opportunity to work on your communication skills more often, achieve your education awards faster, help clubs who are struggling to increase their membership and instill enthusiasm, adequately prepare for professional presentations, and build relationships with professionals in your field.
Volunteer at the Spring Conference
Districts are constantly looking for volunteers to join their team, so if you would like to work on your leadership skills (e.g. teamwork) and networking skills, then you should get involved in this event.
Here are 20 volunteer opportunities for the Spring Conference:
- Advertising/Sponsorship: sell ads and seek donations to raise funds for the conference
- Audio/Visual: provide IT support to ensure the event runs smoothly
- Bookstore: sell Toastmaster branded items and education materials
- Credentials: ensure clubs have the proper credentials to participate in voting
- Decorations: help create decorations for the tables and event areas
- Door Prizes: gather merchandise for the door prizes and gift baskets
- DTM Recognition: help coordinate a ceremony and reception for DTMs
- Education Sessions: set up the rooms, promotional materials, and schedule
- Entertainment: help plan a memorable party that will be held after the contests
- Facilities: ensure rooms are set up, equipment is functioning, items are placed properly
- First Aid: be available to provide first aid in emergencies
- First Timers: assist those who have not attended a conference before
- Hospitality: help set up and break down the hospitality room
- Information: answer questions about the area and navigation of the conference
- Lineup of Parades: help with the lineup of the banner parade and dignitaries
- Publicity: work with individual events and promote the conference throughout the district
- Registration: put together goodie bags and coordinate conference tickets, meals sold, etc.
- Speech Contest: work with the contestants and technical team to deliver a great show
- Vendor: find businesses to rent space to show their products and services
- Volunteer: assist others as needed throughout the conference
Check your district's website to see what other volunteer opportunities are available.
Join an Advanced Club
Whether you've outgrown your current club or want to become a member of a second club, joining an advanced club is a great option to consider. Through an advanced club, you can plan for longer and various types of presentations (e.g. panel discussion), receive strong and effective evaluations that will help you improve your public speaking skills and take it to the next level, meet and engage with a diverse group of people, and be held to higher standards that will help transform you as a speaker.
Take the Time to Get to Know Your Members
You see and spend time with your club members on a regular basis, so why not take the time to get to know them outside of Toastmasters? You can speak to them one-on-one via phone or in person, go out to eat as a group after a meeting, attend an event that one of your members is a part of (e.g. a play at the theater), etc. Doing so will help to strengthen your trust and bond with one another and your club's performance overall (win + win + win 😄).
Ask for Help
Whether it's with a club role, project, event, or officer role, ask for help when you need it. You don't have to do everything by yourself nor do you want to burn out from trying to do everything by yourself, which is unnecessary at times. Your club members as well as other Toastmasters are there to help you and support you in your journey, so be sure to ask them for help as often as you need it.
Membership is a Privilege Not a Right
Remember that membership is a privilege not a right. This is an excellent organization to be a part of, so we should be grateful that we get to be a member of it and not take our membership for granted. How? By keeping and fulfilling the promises listed here: A Toastmaster's Promise.
Over to You
All in all, the best way to accomplish your goals, gain success, and get the most out of your Toastmasters journey is to put in the work. There are no short cuts. There are no secrets. Just old-fashioned hard work and patience. You can do this—I'm rooting for you.
What's your main takeaway? Do you have any additional advice? Share your answers in the comments section below!