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Toastmasters – A life changing experience - Damienle page

Toastmasters – A life changing experience

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I’ve been pretty bad at blogging in 2011, with no post in the last 6 months, ouch! … I will try writing a bit more in 2012.

My first post of 2011 was called Reformatting my brain with Clojure, it set the tone for my desire to learn in 2011. Looking back, January 2011 was really a great month where I started 2 major experiences which helped me grow as a programmer and as a human being. Learning Clojure was one. The other one was joining a Toastmasters club.

I wanted to improve my public speaking skills to be able to deliver effective technical presentations. My manager pointed me towards the corporate Toastmasters club in my company. I had never heard about this organization before.

Toastmasters is a non-profit organization, providing public speaking and leadership training to thousands of people around the world. It is quite popular in the United States, Canada and a few other countries (mostly in the Commonwealth) where you can easily find a club close to you. The curriculum at Toastmasters is simple and well summarized in the graph below. Both tracks can be worked on in parallel.

The Competent Communicator training is about public speaking and requires to present 10 speeches in front of an audience (the club members), focusing gradually on various techniques like vocal variety, body language and visual aids.

The Competent Leader training relies on 10 project to complete within the club environment: providing feedback to other members, chairing a meeting or filling another of the various roles which allow a Toastmasters meeting to run smoothly.

You can check the international web site or wikipedia for more information.

Before I started, I read a bit about the organization online and was rapidly convinced that it was a great program. Practicing public speaking all year long could only be better than any formal 3-day course.

I attended my first meeting at Destiny Toastmasters on January 12th 2011. I immediately knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed with the training experience. How could I with so many great speakers sharing their precious knowledge and experience? I remember being impressed by the advanced skills of the speakers. One of them was giving her 10th speech of the Competent Communicator manual and I remember thinking “I’d like to be able to convey a message with this kind of intensity”. Another one made an excellent humorous speech and I remember thinking “I’d like to be able to make an audience laugh like that”. I also enjoyed the ingenuity of the “table topics”, a short contest where anyone can deliver an impromptu speech on a given topic. Finally the insightful evaluations achieved to convert me. Overall, I found it was a lot of fun and I joined the club right away.

What I didn’t expect beforehand was to find much more than a training experience. It took me only a few meetings to realize that it would be nothing less but a life changing experience. Not only Toastmasters is making me a better speaker, it’s also making me a better man. I met amazing people. Members come to give their best and inspire others. They share amazing stories, profound messages, thoughtful guidance and comforting laughter. It just feels so good to receive this mental boost every week.

To finish teasing you, here is a video featuring some of the best speakers at Toastmasters, winners of the International Speech Contest organized every year by the organization.

For anyone wishing to improve his/her self-confidence, communication and leadership skills, I strongly recommend to give a chance to Toastmasters. On my side, I don’t know yet what 2012 will bring, but it will definitely start with more Clojure and more Toastmasters.