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.

RISKSA Magazine - - CONTENTS - Sarah Bas­sett

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.

Lis­ten­ing skills

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.

Think quick

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.

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