Can We Talk: Help in Hard Times

Can We Talk: Help in Hard Times

How Toastmasters training can see you through.

By Beth Black, CC

There’s no doubt that many Toastmasters are facing challenging times. With corporate cutbacks, Wall Street woes and other worldwide financial difficulties, we’re all feeling the stress of the day. If you find yourself squeezed by some belt-tightening tactics, it’s tempting to retreat from long-term goals and instead focus on short-term survival strategies.

That may be a mistake.

Maintaining your progress toward a goal by setting a course that includes daily, weekly and monthly objectives can help you navigate your way through the troubled waters of today and prepare you for better times ahead. What better place to do this than at your regular Toastmasters meetings?

He Got Through It
Consider the example of Tom Oh, of Rancho Santa Margarita, California. Oh works for an interactive marketing media company in the nearby town of Irvine. Before he landed this job, he spent what he describes as “seven long months” unemployed and job hunting. It was the longest period of time Oh had ever been out of work, and rather than panic, he chose a path that set him in the direction of reconnecting with his career and his future. He decided to use part of the time constructively by joining a Toastmasters club and improving his job skills.

Oh says two things became apparent when he was out of work: First, he needed to hone his public speaking skills. Second, he had no excuse to delay it any longer. This was a job skill he knew he would eventually need again, and now his time was finally free to work on it. “No excuses!” says Oh with a laugh.

Encouraged by a Toastmasters friend, Oh attended a meeting last July and was hooked. He attended only five meetings before finding a new job – but in that time he pushed himself to give two speeches.

Oh especially wanted to improve his skills in speechwriting and preparation. So he made the most of the Competent Communication manual’s features allowing members to focus on certain aspects. For him, it meant working through the Ice Breaker and then the project on organization. He enjoyed putting together a speech, following instructions on how to improve its organization. Re-evaluating his work and writing a more-focused speech – even before presenting it to the club – gave Oh extra confidence in his skills.

The meetings offered Oh emotional benefits as well. During a stressful time in his life, his club activities allowed him to escape to a place of camaraderie and support. Getting to know his fellow Toastmasters through their speeches made networking fun and easy. He relished the opportunity to network with all kinds of people. Oh says, “I met people working in different industries and enjoyed the opportunity to meet a diversified group.”

And the speeches – even those that were not work-related – really affected him. “People shared about their personal lives,” he says, “with wonderful quality and content to their speeches.” He learned that these personal perspectives make speeches more compelling and engaging. “They were passionate about their subject matter. It worked for the speakers and us, the audience.” He soon discovered the lessons learned in the club improved his job-related speaking as well.

To his own amazement, Oh had fun and learned a lot during his seven-month break from a job. And while he admits it was uncomfortable to be job hunting in a difficult economy, he looks back at his experiences in Toastmasters with fondness. His new job doesn’t allow the time to attend the morning meetings of his old club. But he wonders about finishing those other eight projects in the Competent Communication manual. Who knows? Maybe he’ll start a corporate club in his new company.

She’s Getting Through It
Another example is Paula Harris, a “local market sales manager” with Avis Budget Group before she was laid off along with a thousand other employees in a cost-cutting measure last September. Paula joined Toastmasters a few weeks later with a plan to become a more confident and effective speaker. “I did have to do some public speaking at my last job and want to feel more comfortable and confident when I am speaking in front of others,” she says.

Harris hopes to soon land another job in marketing or account management and is preparing herself for the position by attending club meetings. “I want to increase my self-confidence and leadership skills and feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience,” she says.

Indeed Harris does appear positive and confident when speaking in her new club. When she gave her Ice Breaker speech, she stood in front of the lectern, presenting her story without the use of notes. She performed well and received a round of well-deserved applause. Beaming, she returned to her seat and was all smiles for the rest of the meeting. Although Harris hasn’t yet taken advantage of any networking opportunities, she does see the benefit of being in the group. She says, “Everyone is so friendly and supportive that I believe this is a group I can learn from.”

With that kind of attitude, Harris will no doubt make it through this trying time and move up to the next step in her career. And with the support of her friends in Toastmasters, she will definitely be smiling when she gets there.

Beth Black, CC, is an associate editor of the Toastmaster magazine and a member of Unimasters club in Lake Forest, California. Reach her at