Toastmasters, not so nerve wracking.
Perhaps you are one of those rare persons who, when requested to make a speech at a conference or event, or when asked to be the best-man at a wedding, jump at the chance at standing in front of others and waxing lyrical. Or, perhaps you are, like the majority, not that enamoured at being called upon to stammer over a few words and will dread the whole thing from the time of being asked, to the post-speech regrets of asking yourself 'why did I talk such rubbish'.
Good orators have been admired in society from time immemorial, as philosophers and poets who could put into words the thoughts and feelings of lesser mortals; or who where responsible for holding the community together, as leaders or 'wise-persons'. Though good verbal skills, as history reminds us, are no guarantee of moral good or true talent.
As a society, we still admire those with the skill to formulate, in coherent sentences, the disparate thoughts that run through our heads. Or, those who articulate our opinions better than we can and so help us become clearer in what we really think; be they politicians, business leaders, religious leaders, singer songwriters or even scientists. Good examples easily spring to mind, Churchill, Mandela, Anan, or Obama, as do poor ones, George W Bush. Reasoned communicative skills have great ‘utility’, as economists would phrase it, in fact the ‘pen truly is mightier than the sword’, as evidenced by the suppression of writers, bloggers and outspoken dissidents by regimes both public and private.
Toastmasters is a club dedicated to addressing these fears, lacks, and the attainment of these sort after talents. A club for those who wish they could make themselves better understood, persuade others of their ideas; motivate people to perform, or even make them laugh.
It was these very ideas that prompted Ralph C Smedley to create Toastmasters. In 1924 Smedley worked for the YMCA in Santa Ana, CA. and realised that for his young patrons to succeed in their lives they needed some primary skills of leadership, i.e. “training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings”. Thus, he established the first Toastmasters club to achieve these skills in a convivial social atmosphere of self-help. These principles continued with the club’s expansion to what is now Toastmasters International with its 11,700 clubs and 235,000 members in 92 countries. The name Toastmasters was borrowed from the title of the person responsible for the running and order of large banquets and the introduction of speakers, guests etc and of course proposing the toasts.
Modern-day Toastmasters meetings are still social affairs; nowadays though, members not only have the backup of their fellow members but also of Toastmasters International's education system which has a formalised awards programme taking members from an opening 'icebreaker' speech through to ‘Distinguished Toastmaster’, covering a broad spectrum of speaking aims along the way.
A typical meeting follows a simple format started after the business of the day by Table-topics, an opportunity to think and speak in near parallel. A Table-topics Master presents a theme requesting that members speak unprepared for no more than 2.5 minutes on a prescribed variation of that theme. After dinner up to 3 prepared speeches are given of between 5 to 10mins each. Without feedback, 'practice makes permanent'; and so selected members offer observations on each speaker; others comment on grammatical usage, time keeping and all those 'errs and umms' that litter our speech as we struggle for sensible formulations. A fundamental aim is to give as many persons as possible the chance to speak, as such, other ‘master of ceremony’ type roles are also available to help guide the meeting along.
The meetings are non-competitive and are based on co-operative assistance towards improvement. Though, for those who like to pit their wits against others, Toastmasters International has a competition programme also.
So, next time you break out into a sweat after being asked to ‘say just a few words’, remember you can overcome all those inhibitions; the friendly Toastmasters club in Zug is here to help.
Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
At TM Zug our club motto is “Enjoy Speaking”. Guests are always welcome and we hope you will join us soon.