My Turn: Why I Stay

Awards or not, this member is a winner in Toastmasters.

By Tracy Keller, ACB

Since joining Toastmasters in 2002, I have given more than 30 prepared speeches and entered numerous speech contests. I can’t win a title or a “Best Speaker” ribbon if my life depends on it. I still keep speaking.

I have read stories in the Toastmaster magazine about how improved speaking skills enable members to land better jobs and realize their dreams. My income has gone down by 10 percent and I don’t know what my dreams are. I still keep coming.

I have given speeches and Table Topics presentations peppered with plenty of ums, ahs and you knows. Many times my cheeks burn red and cold sweat beads pop out on my forehead. I still keep at it.

Why? Because since joining Toastmasters, I have gone from being unable to speak in front of a group without a script to being able to (mostly) give five- to 15-minute speeches without so much as an index card to guide me. My sonic-speed vocal cadence has slowed to a rate accessible to the human ear.

There was a time when I wanted to quit. Then I remembered that at my first three club meetings, I could not utter a word. Now I regularly stand up and speak off the cuff as a participant in Table Topics. Making announcements at the lectern as a club officer poses no problem.

While my professional situation is currently in tatters, the practice of speaking and thinking on my feet allows me to better articulate my thoughts. I may be between jobs at the moment, but I sound and act like a professional.

With Toastmasters helping me take the fear out of talking, my self-esteem improved. Now I can stand up for myself – firmly but gently – in personal and work situations. When I felt wronged or criticized in the past, I wouldn’t say anything – not because I felt I deserved such treatment, but because I couldn’t think of an appropriate response fast enough. Now I can, thanks to Toastmasters.

By taking on leadership activities within my club, my confidence has grown. I can even facilitate communication among people with opposing viewpoints. I am not afraid to gently push people to do what they need to do. Through the process of delivering evaluations, I can now express my thoughts diplomatically as opposed to too bluntly.

Every time I give a speech, I am pushing myself toward my goals, whether it is another degree of certification or becoming a better speaker.

My creativity has blossomed through brainstorming sessions for speech topics. My brain power has expanded by doing research for my speeches. My comfort level has increased as I have shared my own thoughts, interests and experiences in the gentle, supportive atmosphere of my club.

I joined Toastmasters not to become a professional speaker, as many of my fellow club members have. I have no desire to become a life coach or a corporate trainer. My reason for joining was simple: I wanted to become a better public speaker for those life events that require it. Should I have to give a eulogy, speak out about a community issue or give a toast at a birthday party, I wanted to be prepared.

If called on, I now readily get up to speak in front of a large group. I’m still far from perfect, but I’ve improved enough so that a non-Toastmaster cannot see my flaws. That is one of the hidden benefits of Toastmasters: Even if you can’t join the best in the world at the International Speech Contest, you’ll seem like a great orator to the average person. To everyone who tells me, “You sounded great up there,” I tell my secret: “Join Toastmasters.”

I have just completed my Advanced Communicator Bronze award and will now become the president of my club and join my area’s advanced club. I realize I’m in Toastmasters for the long haul.

Competing at the International Speech Contest is not what I hoped to get out of my Toastmasters experience – but you never know. 2011 might be my year!

Tracy Keller, ACB, is a member of the Back Talk Toastmasters in Peabody, Massachusetts.