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Making the Leap

How to take your talk outside of Toastmasters.

By Lynne Strang, DTM


Woman in yellow sweater holding microphone speaking to audience

Toastmasters clubs provide a supportive, safe environment to learn and practice public speaking skills. At some point, you may feel the pull of a bigger challenge: speaking to audiences in your community.

Consider making the leap and drawing on your Toastmasters training to speak outside your club. You can speak on topics in which you are considered a subject matter expert or topics you are passionate about, such as hobbies or special causes. In these situations, you are sharing expertise and insight as an individual, not as a member of Toastmasters. Yet you are using all your Toastmasters skills to inform, entertain, and influence your listeners.

In addition to your active club participation, the more stage time you log speaking outside the club setting, the more of a skillful and engaging speaker you will become. “Every time I deliver a speech, I learn at least one thing,” says Travis Combest, a member of Winners Circle Toastmasters in Ashburn, Virginia, and an exercise physiologist who uses his Toastmasters skills to speak outside the club to groups about diabetes prevention and weight loss.

And by speaking about issues that affect those in your community, you can positively impact people.

“I believe that Toastmasters has a bigger purpose,” says Sajeev Kumar Menon, DTM, a member of Bishan Toastmasters Club in Singapore. “Becoming better communicators and leaders may be a primary benefit, but I think we can do much more.

“We can use our skills to become or create change makers and leaders, to inspire people to take up and stand up for small social causes, and to effect change in the world,” adds Menon, who has led workshops for schools in Singapore and India. “We can be the voice for those who cannot be heard.”


Crafting Your Talk

Like Toastmasters, many businesses and community groups are meeting virtually these days, due to COVID-19. However, the good news is, they are meeting and offer potential opportunities for guest speakers. If your club or workplace has been meeting online for the past 11 months, you know speaking in a virtual setting has some unique requirements, technically and in the presentation itself. Keep these tips in mind if you’ve accepted a virtual speaking engagement.

Now, here’s the first step to prepare for speaking outside your club. Come up with three to five “signature speeches” that relate to your expertise. As you put together your talks, consider these tips:


Tease with your title. Intrigue meeting planners with a title that has a list (“3 Easy Ways to Improve Your Lifestyle”); a question (“Does Reading Make You Younger?”); or a startling statement (“The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race”). Titles that begin with “How to” and “Why” also grab attention. Aim for a title that is memorable and simple, and hints at the content of your speech.


Tell compelling stories. Include your own if you can tell it in a way that shares useful knowledge, teaches a relevant lesson, or inspires your audience, says Cindy Cannon, DTM, a member of Georgia’s North Gwinnett Advanced Toastmasters and PB&J Toastmasters. “I tell stories with the STAR approach—by discussing the situation, task, action, and result that occurred.”


Make it interactive. Incorporate group exercises to add some fun. For example, a talk on “6 Easy Ways to Introduce Yourself” could include a brief exercise allowing audience members to pair up in virtual meeting rooms and practice techniques they’ve just learned.


Encourage questions. Use the Q&A session to explain key concepts and obtain audience feedback that can help you refine your talk.


Where to Find Speaking Opportunities

Plenty of organizations need interesting, enthusiastic speakers with a good message. (See Caren Neile’s article to learn about Toastmasters speakers bureaus.) In presenting yourself as a qualified speaker on topics you specialize in, check these places for outside speaking engagements:


Service clubs—Many cities have Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, or other community service clubs. These groups have an ongoing need for speakers to address their weekly or monthly meetings. Rotary, in particular, would be a good organization to try, given the alliance between Toastmasters International and Rotary International. (To learn more about the alliance, read this article in the November issue.)


Chambers of commerce—These business networks typically hold monthly luncheons, workshops, and other networking events that feature a speaker.


Conferences—Conal Conference Alerts maintains an online calendar of academic and professional conferences worldwide.


Universities and colleges—Check nearby campuses to see if any are hosting forums or symposiums related to your expertise.


Public libraries—Visit your local branch’s website to learn about online workshops, lectures, and other programs with guest speakers.


Special interest clubs—A talk for a sports, photography, or other hobby club makes sense if you have a message geared toward these interests.


Trade and professional associations—Conventions and conferences are mainstays for the thousands of trade groups around the world. Use directories to research associations that might be a good fit for your topic.


Social media—A profile on LinkedIn that highlights your Toastmasters experience, past presentations, and interest in speaking opportunities may help meeting planners find you.

Finally, don’t forget to:

  • Put your best foot forward. Arrange for a professional headshot. Generate interest with a concise, well-written biography and short summaries about each signature speech.
  • Record your presentations. Find out if the event host will record your speech, or if you should tape it yourself. This is an easy step if you’re using Zoom, the video platform used by most groups these days.
  • Request a written testimonial after your speech. Share a copy with your Toastmasters speakers bureau (see article below) if you belong to one.
  • Repurpose your talk. Why not turn your presentation into an article for a publication? Or post two or three key ideas on your blog?

It takes time to develop a polished, well-crafted talk and land your first outside speaking engagement. Keep at it. Once you become known in your community, you may find yourself with a good problem: more speaking invitations than you can handle.


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