By: Kelly George, CAE, DTM, Wilderness Medical Society
I was early in my career when my boss at the time signed me up for Toastmasters. Although I was terrified of public speaking, I assured myself that I could do anything for a short amount of time. Afterall, sure it was probably a 6 -month program, at the most, and then I could check it off my list, right? Boy, was I wrong! Turns out Toastmasters is a self-paced program with more than 16,000 clubs in 143 countries, and many people are members for 10, 20, 30, or more, years. Eleven years after that “dreaded” assignment, I’m still a proud member and just earned the highest honor, the Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) recognition.
A fellow club member once told me that if there was a poster child for Toastmasters, then I would be it. Not because I’m an expert now, but because of the improvement I’ve made over the years. It might have been an insult considering how terrible I was at the beginning, but I’ll choose to take it as a compliment. Initially, I spoke entirely too fast and was so nervous that I’d physically be sick to my stomach. Over time, I have learned to view public speaking as an enjoyable challenge, an adrenaline rush. I’ve been given feedback that I look very comfortable and natural, which is honestly always surprising to hear; however, the number one thing you can do to overcome a fear of public speaking, is practice, and I have gotten a lot of practice over the years by investing in myself and my club.
In addition to the progress I’ve made in the area of communications, Toastmasters has enhanced my leadership skills. After serving two terms as the club president (which refined my time management, delegation, listening and meeting-running skills, among others), I was recognized in my industry with a young professional award. Long story short, this recognition eventually paved the way for a promotion and corresponding raise, and even recruitment for my subsequent job. The meetings were not only a fun way to form deeper connections with my peers, but they turned out to be one of the best professional development steps I could have taken.
I recommend Toastmasters to everyone I know. Take the first step and join a meeting as a guest. You’ll get as much out of it as you will put into it, so go all in, and I promise you won’t regret it. The benefits are multifaceted and have the power to be life-changing.
If you are interested in learning more, visit the Toastmasters website, where you can learn about the programs, find local clubs and more. And because I have to give a shoutout to my local club, TSAE Toastmasters.