I was a Toastmasters member between 2015 and 2019. Before Toastmasters, I did a certain amount of public speaking at networking groups, the local chamber of commerce and I also ran some training workshops. I was often complimented on my public speaking delivery but I didn’t enjoy it; on the inside, I felt anxious for days before speaking and I always questioned my delivery for weeks afterwards. I had met Meg, the founder of Worthing Speakers Club, on a number of occasions since 2005 at networking events and she invited me along to Toastmasters, but the phrase ‘public speaking’ scared me senseless, so I politely declined.
You may be wondering how I eventually became a member. Well, in 2015, I accompanied the then Mayor of Worthing, Cllr Bob Smytherman, to a few Mayoral events and one day, he invited me along to Toastmasters – he assured me I wouldn’t have to speak – what a cunning plan! Bob had rehearsed a talk which was excellent as always (he is now Worthing’s town crier). I sat and observed the evening’s agenda and was taken aback by how supportive and friendly the club was. Anyway, after just one club meeting I was hooked and joined immediately.
What I really enjoyed about my time at Toastmasters was that it was also focused on the delivery of feedback. Coincidentally, I write this blog while I’m halfway through reading ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you’ by Cal Newport. In it, Cal suggests that to become good at anything, it’s important to keep pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, and then receive immediate feedback. In the past, it had been suggested to me that I was defensive when receiving feedback and I definitely wanted to change this. Practising public speaking definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone and to receive immediate feedback from supportive club members made it the perfect environment to keep getting better. Toastmasters taught me to embrace feedback with open arms and to this day I always invite feedback.
While I was a member, the previous system was in place which was the Competent Communicator manual – it focused on different aspects of public speaking, for example, content, tone and vocabulary. It took me several years to complete the manual because I became Mayoress of Worthing in 2016-17, while also studying for a Post Graduate Diploma and running a business and a charity. Despite the length of time it took, I felt an amazing sense of achievement once I completed the manual; my whole ‘public speaking’ mindset had been positively transformed.
Shortly after leaving Toastmasters, I became a part-time lecturer for the Chartered Institute of Marketing and received commendations for outstanding student results. I also delivered a series of workshops to boost self-esteem in teenagers. I am sure Toastmasters leadership skills helped me with these important roles.
Reflecting on my Toastmasters journey brings me to the friends I made at Toastmasters. I am still in touch with several members and I know we will be friends for many years. One of them in particular was integral to the success of some teenage workshops I ran and enabled us to boost member happiness by an average of 35% within each three-hour session. I never joined Toastmasters with the expectation of networking or making new friends and this was an unexpected bonus.
I loved Toastmasters because you learn so many interesting things about people. Members speak from the heart and the talks are so inspiring. It’s like being part of a fortnightly Ted Talks event with trusted friends.
One day when I’m not juggling so many projects and initiatives, I will return. I definitely recommend the club for so many reasons which I hope my blog has captured. Thank you for asking me to write this. Reflecting over my time with Toastmasters has been most enjoyable and I wish your club continued success.