I’ve known about toastmasters forever but had never attended a meetup.  Honestly, no idea why.  I had heard nothing but great things.  I guess my best excuse was the volume of assistance I was getting from the Agile community when it came to my speaking skills. 

Fast forward to this year:  I’ve been speaking for 14ish years.  I’ve been a keynote several times.  I just delivered my first international keynote.  I am wanting to continue speaking and expanding my network.  Why not try toastmasters?

This is my reflection upon being a guest at three different toastmasters clubs in person over a span of a few weeks:

Top three things I appreciated:

  • The welcoming nature and openness for guests to attend, observe and even participate
  • Two main things happened each meeting:  Two speakers & Table Topics.  Think lightening talk for the two speakers.  Think 1-2 minute improv q/a for the table topics.  I enjoyed the content and participated in the table topics portion a couple of times. 
  • Word of the day (a word to improv including in your speech – a nice level up challenge) & ToastPoint section (only some clubs did this – but a small key tip for speaking – a nice education reminder)

Top three things I didn’t appreciate or value as much:

  • Generally, a speaker would do 4-7 minute speech.  Then everyone would provide that person feedback, including guests.  I didn’t participate.  I’ve received feedback that wasn’t good.  I’ve received feedback that was overwhelming for where I was at that moment.  I’ve received feedback that was opposite of what I had previously been given.  I’ve received feedback that didn’t help.  I get the concept in theory – give feedback to help, give feedback to learn, etc.  But personally, I would prefer if they stuck with the evaluator providing that feedback only.  That person should have an understanding of the speaker’s journey and goals to give the best appropriate feedback.
  • I didn’t expect the rigidness of the agenda.  I’m talking down to 2 minutes, etc.  There seemed to be a ton of formalities that did give a number of people a small ability to practice speaking (introducing a topic, giving results) without a ton of pressure.  I get that value but all the clapping, switching, formalities…felt a bit forced and took a significant amount of time in the end.  I was really hoping for more networking time.  Personally, some of that would get old for me really quickly.
  • There was a slight cult and traditional feel to the whole thing.  From pledges to gavels to lectern rules to clapping volume…etc… well, personally, I was a bit uncomfortable at times.  Not by speaking, not by the content but the discussions of pathways, pledges, etc.  I get it on one hand but I find you can build community without that stuff.  

A few differences among the clubs that really had an impact:

  • One club didn’t do voting for best “speaker”, “table talk”, “evaluator”… thank you!  When there are only typically two, why make it a contest?  What’s the value in this?  It takes time.  It serves no constructive benefit.  Ugh…get rid of this.  
  • The club that didn’t do the voting, instead spent time on what they called a quiz.  Someone would create a quiz based on the speeches from that meeting.  The goal was to improve listening and see how many people could get right at the end.  Now this is a collaborative competition that I can get behind with a value on building listening skills.  Nicely done!
  • One club did a 90 min meeting vs the other two that were 60 mins.  Maybe it was the extra 30 mins, maybe it was the bullet before, maybe it was the people, maybe it was that and more but this one felt more relaxed, engaging and gave space for more interaction.  I laughed and enjoyed that one the most.  

I wish I had attended Toastmasters early in my career.  At the last event, I found out there are advanced toastmasters clubs.  However, there locations and times and pre-reqs don’t align as well for me.  I see the enormous value for the standard clubs especially for new speakers.  In fact, I will likely push my teenagers to begin attending.  Of course, I can always learn but most of the value at this stage would be helping others.  Always important but I do have to prioritize the areas where I’m helping.  But as I sit here, I wonder if this is something I might do with my son over the summer…hmmm.  I just might 🙂

What did you gain from toastmasters?

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick is a leadership and organizational advisor. Her transformational leadership at all levels of an organization, ignites growth of leaders and high performing teams to deliver quality outcomes. Tricia has more than twenty years of experience in the software development industry. She is a highly-rated trainer, coach, facilitator and motivational keynote speaker. Beyond her extensive knowledge and skills, her biggest offering is inspiring people to believe anything is possible.

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