The perfect toast
If you are looking to develop your value as a professional and as a leader, mastering the art of public speaking and effective communication may be the single most powerful place to start.
This was billionaire Warren Buffet’s suggestion at a recent gathering of Harvard business students. “Developing this ability is critical. It is an asset that will last you all your life and it is a liability if you don’t like doing it,” Buffet suggested. RISKSA takes a look at the nearly 100- yearold Toastmasters programme and how it can transform your communication and leadership abilities – not just for the big speeches, but the daily interactions that make all the difference. Founded in 1924, the non- profit organisation has grown to more than 250 000 members in 106 countries, with 12 500 clubs worldwide. Most Toastmasters clubs meet weekly for one to two hours and follow a fairly set agenda. Working through the Toastmasters Competent Communication manual, members are given opportunities to prepare, rehearse, and then deliver presentations on a diverse range of topics in front of their fellow members. After each speech, members receive peer feedback on what they did right, what they could have done better and tips and suggestions on how to improve. Awareness of weaknesses and tendencies helps people make adjustments and improve rapidly. Members also practice speaking off the cuff for one or two minutes, by responding to general topics of interest, and are given time to interact, network and build a supportive rapport. While public speaking may be the most immediately apparent benefit, the additional benefits are diverse:
It’s perhaps a given that working through a Toastmasters programme will improve your public speaking. What many people don’t consider is that the skills learnt in mastering public speaking are core skills needed for dealing with other people. These are the communication skills you use many times every day,” says Duncan Ngandu, co- vice president education ( VPE) for the Ernst and Young Toastmasters club in Cape Town.
By watching other members’ speeches and evaluating their performance, you yourself become a better listener. Evaluating fellow club members forces participants to pay attention and listen carefully, creating the habit of listening, absorbing and analysing. Most Toastmaster meetings also have a grammarian report where word usage is scrutinised and ‘ ah’s’ and ‘ um’s’ are counted. This helps members become aware of their use of these distracting filler words. “As you become more conscious of these words, you’ll be less likely to use them yourself, though this can be one of the hardest habits to overcome,” warns Ngandu.
Toastmasters clubs offers various opportunities for taking on leadership roles and developing leadership skills through fulfilling different roles in club meetings. As members become more comfortable as a speaker and more experienced in their club, they can serve as a mentor to new members, or can become actively involved in the running of the club.
Job interview skills
The process of practising your speech and making sure it’s clear and concise will help you in your interviews. “I know that this has helped me walk into interviews feeling more confident in my ability to talk about my background and tell quick stories of my accomplishments,” says Fatima Arendse, who has been a member for nearly three years.
Each Toastmasters club has a part of the meeting known as ‘ table topics’ where members respond to a statement or answer a question without preparation. Questions might be as simple as: What is your favourite holiday memory? or something as complex as: what should South Africa do to boost economic growth and employment? The key is to listen carefully and be ready to be called in case you are asked to share. This impromptu and improvisational speaking opportunity is excellent preparation for on- thespot requests and moments of uncertainty in other parts of life.
Toastmasters is an excellent way to meet new, interesting and successful people in a diverse range of industries.