So. you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to brush up on your public speaking skills, but you have no idea what to expect? Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place.
I’ve been a member of the Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club for the past six years. The weekly club meetings have helped me improve my confidence and technical skills as a public speaker.
There are many different purposes and motivations for attending Toastmasters. Prior to joining, I would experience anxiety days — or sometimes even weeks — before giving a speech in front of a group of people. My main purpose for joining Toastmasters was to reduce that level of anxiety. Other people join Toastmasters because they say words such as “ahh” or “umm” constantly between sentences, and they want to polish their skills and reduce the use of those filler words.
Regardless of what your reason is for attending a Toastmasters meeting, it’s the right reason.
When you arrive
Currently, many Toastmasters clubs are featuring hybrid meetings with a mixture of in-person and online attendees. Assuming you are attending a meeting in-person, the first thing you can expect when you walk through the door is to be greeted by Toastmasters members who are excited to see you.
Some clubs may ask you to fill out basic information, such as your name and e-mail address, so the VP of education can follow-up after the meeting and find out what you thought and whether you’re interested in becoming a regular member.
Be prepared to introduce yourself
While you won’t be asked to take on any major role in the meeting, you may be asked if you’re comfortable standing up and introducing yourself to the club and explaining what motivated you to attend. I’d encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity as it will help other club members learn a bit about you and give you a taste of what it’s like speaking at a Toastmasters meeting.
Expect a lot of clapping
Toastmasters is a very encouraging environment, and part of that encouragement comes in the form of clapping.
Every time a speaker is introduced, every time a speaker finishes, every time someone is congratulated, clapping ensues. There is also — at least at the Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club — a lot of knocking.
Each meeting comes with a word of the day, and when any speaker uses said word in his/her speech, club members knock on the table to acknowledge it. The constant clapping and knocking surprised me during my first meeting, but it didn’t take long to get used to the format.
Structure of the meeting
Each Toastmasters club is slightly different in terms of how they organize their agenda, but most meetings will begin with a welcome/toast, followed by an introduction of several roles (such as humorist, grammarian, speakers, evaluators, etc.).
Within the agenda is a section called “Table Topics,” which is all about impromptu speaking. A “Table Topics Master” will come up with questions and then call on various Toastmasters to answer a random question on the spot with no time for preparation.
This is typically one of the scariest parts of the meeting for new Toastmaster members as there’s no opportunity to prepare for the question you’ll receive. As a brand new guest, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get a Table Topics question, but if you’re feeling brave you can always volunteer to try one out.
The second half of a Toastmasters meeting is typically focused on evaluating the members who spoke in the first half of the meeting. Evaluators will point out what speakers did well and offer up “gifts,” which are pieces of constructive criticism for speakers to work on in the future.
Become a member and sign up for future roles
When I attended my first Toastmasters meeting six years ago, I received amazing advice from a gentleman named Tim. As the meeting agenda for the following week was being passed around for members to sign up for roles, Tim placed the clipboard in front of me and said, “Write your name down beside one of those roles and sign up to be a member.”
Tim explained too often guests and new members are worried to sign up for roles because they fear they might not do them properly. He said the best way to learn and get the most out of Toastmasters is to dive in the deep end and get involved in each meeting.
I followed Tim’s advice and, six years later, I’m still a member of Toastmasters.
There are four local Toastmasters clubs that meet at different times throughout the week (most of which have an option of online attendance). You can find more information on those clubs here.
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This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.