My Turn: Where's the Proof?
Finding the true value of Toastmasters.
By Ann Maxfield, ATMB
When joining Toastmasters, we were told we would learn communication and leadership skills that would enrich our lives. Now we tell new members the same thing. But what proof do we have? What can we hold up as evidence that Toastmasters is actually of true value?
Recently, I hit a home run in my career, and Toastmasters played a huge role in that success. My experience with Table Topics, speech manuals, contests and other Toastmasters activities all helped me qualify for a new job.
But before I fill you in, let me tell you a bit about my journey with Toastmasters. Eight years ago a co-worker invited me to join her at a Toastmasters meeting. My response? No! She invited me again. No! And again...until I realized she recognized the fear in me and would not let me succumb to it. So, reluctantly, I went to a meeting of our local club, Tuesdays with Toastmasters in Austin, Minnesota. The members were so welcoming, I decided to join.
For my first six speeches, I struggled mightily. I could not eat the day before a speech. I could not stay within time limits. I was red-faced, sweating and trembling. Yup, I was a perfect mess.
Then the seventh speech came. I trembled less. I was not red-faced. My evaluator was elated at my progress. Maybe there was something to be said for this Toastmasters thing.
Soon after, I entered a speech contest and stood in front of my largest audience yet, speaking about hunting and putting on layers of duck-hunting clothing. I had officially lost my mind...and my terror!
My story is not unique. Like all of you, I had speeches that were successes and others that flopped. But like you, I kept trying. And my confidence grew. As did my leadership and communication skills.
Hunting for a New Job
Then, recently, Toastmasters ran smack dab into the rest of my life. I have worked for Hormel Foods Corporation for more than 10 years. One day, I saw a posting on the company job board for a brand-new position: e-Learning Coordinator. One of the requirements was being able to speak in front of large groups.
After reviewing my job application, Human Resources scheduled me for four interviews, each with a different person. This was like going into a Table Topics contest circuit – club to area to division to district. I would need to answer questions for a variety of audiences. I prepared for the interviews by devising practice questions and then developing answers based on Toastmasters’ basic speech plan of creating an opening, body and conclusion: I would set up a situation, tell the interviewers how I dealt with it, and then explain what the outcome was.
Practicing my answers, I incorporated lessons I learned both from Table Topics and the Storytelling manual.
When I interviewed with the job supervisor, she was extremely interested in Toastmasters and noted that I had listed it twice on my resumé: once under “skills” and once under “organizations.” Her astute questions showed me that people in management know about Toastmasters and look to it as valuable training for the skills and experiences they require in employees.
My final interview was with the person leaving the position I was applying for. She was clearly unconvinced about Toastmasters. She noted that I would need to speak to much larger groups than 10 to 20 people. Happily and confidently, I told her my story about a speech evaluation contest that took me as far as the district level, where I spoke to more than 200 people.
I left this interview with the impression that without my experiences in Toastmasters’ speech contests, I may have been eliminated from the job.
Instead, I waited nervously for a call...and then learned I was awarded the position. My Toastmasters experiences had paid off!
I recently received my job review. In it, my boss wrote the following: “Ability to present in front of a large audience – Ann’s experience in Toastmasters is invaluable. As we develop this new job role, it is very apparent that the ability to speak in front of a large group is an integral part of the position…”
So now, in my hand, in my life and even in my job review, is the proof that the skills learned in Toastmasters truly do enrich life.
Ann Maxfield, ATMB, is president of Tuesdays with Toastmasters in Austin, Minnesota. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.