Last updated on June 2nd, 2023 at 07:43 am
Ring is to boxing as boxing is to sports. Gym is to exercise as exercise is to healthy living.
Toastmasters is to communication and leadership as communication and leadership is to public speaking.
If boxers box and swimmers swim, what do Toastmasters toast? If you answered bread, you are wrong. Toastmasters do not toast bread. We toast with words.
Toastmasters do not toast bread
My Toastmaster’s Experience has been a marvellous and fulfilling one. I joined Toastmasters International to improve upon my communication skills and be a great public speaker. In 2019 I sat among a group of Toastmasters who seemed to know what they were about. I was more than convinced that I was in the right place, when this lady mounted the podium, in her beautiful African print, maintained eye contact with us her audience, then pointing to me said “Improving your communication skills depend on you.”
The meeting flowed in an orderly manner and any speaker who came on stage received constructive feedback on their performance during the evaluation session of the meeting. Most impressive, was how every speaker could deliver their message in a 5–7-minute speech. And oh! There is a session in the meeting called the Table Topics where volunteers a presented with a topic, statement or question. The volunteer has to respond to the task by delivering a 1–2-minute speech!
Long story short, I signed up that very day and four years down the line I am still a Toastmaster.
The multi-million-dollar question is how does Toastmasters improve your communication and leadership skills?
Since any form of learning is achieved when behaviour is modified, Toastmasters focuses on modifying behaviour. It is no surprise that Toastmasters International lists integrity, respect, service and excellence as its core values. The trademark of Toastmasters is giving members a practical platform to hone their communication and leadership skills. It focuses more on practice than theory. As such in a typical Toastmasters meeting instead of finding Toastmasters reading books about leadership and communication, you find Toastmasters speaking, listening, providing feedback and leading.
Here is how Toastmasters works
One joins Toastmasters at a fee, usually called the renewal fee (of $45 every six months). Executives of the club you are joining submits your membership fee and personal details to Toastmasters International, after which you receive an email confirmation of your new membership. The email comes with a unique member ID and a link to the Toastmasters Portal (website) where you access all your educational materials and other resources.
Just like any educational institution, Toastmasters International offers educational courses in a Program called Pathways. Pathways is an educational tool designed to equip members with a specific skill set which are learned by completing projects in specific courses called Paths.
These paths (courses) contain projects that equip members with several competencies. Currently there are eleven different paths in Pathways.
If you are the kind who is interested in honing your leadership skills, you can enrol in the Dynamic Leadership path or the Leadership Development path.
Let’s say you are interested in motivating others, then the Motivational Strategies path has been designed for you.
Others may be concerned about maximising their presentation skills. If you fall under this category, enrol in the Presentation Mastery Path.
The other seven paths are: Effective Coaching, Innovative Planning, Persuasive Influence, Strategic Relationships, Team Collaboration and Visionary Communication.
Now in each path, there are five levels. In these levels there are a number of projects the Toastmaster has to complete. All projects are crowned with a speech delivery in front of fellow club members. Each project spells out a specific assignment that the Toastmaster has to complete. Majority of the projects involve putting up a speech but not always. Some projects will have you maintain readership on a blog just as I am doing now with Peter’s Box. Other projects will have you create podcasts. There exists great variety with the projects.
This blogging website you are currently on is in fulfilment of my elective project in Level 4 of my current path Persuasive Influence – my third path in Pathways. I completed the Dynamic Leadership Path in 2020, the Visionary Communication Path in 2021 and will hopefully complete my current path Persuasive Influence in a few months from now.
Here is a video demonstrating how a typical Toastmasters meeting looks like should you ever visit one.
Visit a Toastmasters Club
To understand better how Toastmasters operates, visit any Toastmasters club near you.
Aside honing your communication skills, you can also hone your leadership skills in Toastmasters.
In 2019 I served as the Sergeant-at-arms for my club Busy Speakers Toastmasters Club. In 2020 I served as the secretary and in 2021 I served as the club President. Currently I serve as the Area 33 Director with oversight of four clubs, Busy Speakers Toastmasters Club, Airport Toastmasters Club, East Legon Toastmasters Club and Orators Court Toastmasters Club. These are but a few of the many clubs in Ghana. Ghana boasts over 25 active clubs under its two branches Division G and Division M. Guests (non-Toastmasters) are freely welcome to visit any Toastmasters club meeting anywhere in the world. Visiting a Toastmasters Club will give you a first-hand experience of a typical Toastmasters Meeting.
The Toastmaster's Experience
Let me draw the curtains here by sharing with you some skills and competencies I have gained as a Toastmaster.
1. Website developer and blogger: This website, Peter’s Box, is actually a Toastmasters project. I can now create a website and maintain readership. This should tell you Toastmasters is not only about communication and leadership. Well, if you are looking for a website developer, you have already found one.
2. Graphic Designer: When I was president of Busy Speakers Toastmasters Club, I assisted my Vice President Public Relations in designing flyers to publicize club meetings and other Toastmasters related issues. Wait, let me clarify; Toastmasters doesn’t teach graphic designing. It only gave me the opportunity to learn and use various tools once you take up a specific leadership role. If you are the treasurer of a Toastmasters Club, chances are that you will improve your bookkeeping skills. If you are the Sergeant-at-arms of a Toastmasters Club, you learn how to organize a meeting, safeguard club logistics and better your time management. I know you will be asking for proof of my graphic designing skills. Take a look at my journey designing flyers in Toastmasters till date and you will see the improvement.
3. Discipline: It takes discipline to be a Toastmaster and it takes more discipline to become a Distinguished Toastmaster. All Toastmasters at some point come to terms with improving their time management, planning and project management skills. This discipline stems from taking personal responsibility on completing your projects, as Toastmasters International operates on a self-paced programme thereby allowing the Toastmaster determine how far he/she progresses in their Toastmasters Journey.
4. Taking initiatives and co-ordinating meetings: After presiding and helping coordinate over sixty-six (66) meetings in my stay in Toastmasters, managing physical meetings, online meetings and hybrid meetings, it is no surprise that my boss at my workplace, who calls me Mr. Toastmaster, is confident entrusting me with the task of moderating online meetings whenever he is unavailable.
The Toastmaster's Experience
The benefits of being a Toastmaster are endless. There is always something new to learn. It’s time to join Toastmasters. Oh! Are you already a Toastmaster? If you are, I have one message for you: Don’t just pass through Toastmasters, let Toastmasters pass through you.