Overcome Public Speaking Anxiety By Making a Great Toastmasters Club
Club Atmosphere is Every Bit as Important as Education
Giving presentations in public is often listed among people’s highest fears. It’s not always easy to get practice to overcome this, however. Enter Toastmasters - one of the best and most cost effective ways to practice presentations. No guide to public speaking can match the hands on experience that you get with Toastmasters. TM clubs are made by individual members worldwide, while still following the program and guidelines set by Toastmasters International. Besides learning the ins and outs of presentations, one important part of clubs is making a welcoming atmosphere. If you’re an experienced member looking to improve your club, or a newbie wanting to bring Toastmasters to your company or neighborhood, here are some tips to help improve the experience for members and guests alike.
Keep it Simple
While Toastmasters can be a great way to learn public speaking, one of the downsides is that there is so much information to absorb in the program. Meetings consist not only of prepared speeches, but also evaluations, impromptu speaking, and minor roles - such as Grammarian and Ah Counter. On top of that, there are other ways to get involved, such as leadership roles. The terminology can be absolutely overwhelming for a first timer, and if not handled properly, many guests will leave before even giving their first speech.
Obviously that’s not a result anyone wants, so there’s a few things to keep in mind while creating a club. First, do your best to make the information easy to understand. Many clubs will pair up guests with more experienced members, who can explain the terms and guide them through the process of becoming a member. You can also accomplish this through club materials - many clubs I’ve been to include informative pamphlets, business cards, and newsletters, all of which are invaluable for explaining club guidelines and rules to guests.
Make it Welcoming
Equally important is making your new guests feel welcome, and making sure that regular members are recognized for their efforts. Much like any social group, it’s all too easy for a Toastmasters club to fall into the traps of cliqueness, exclusion, and popularity contests. Doing your best to make sure guests feel welcome socially is one of the most important parts of building a new club. It’s also very important to recognize members for their efforts. If someone completes their Competent Communication manual, then a short announcement during the meeting or in your newsletter will make them feel appreciated. I have been a member of clubs that eventually fell victim to these problems, where guests weren’t made to feel welcome and long term members - some of whom served in several officers roles and planned events for the club - didn’t receive any recognition. Needless to say this soured many on the club. On the other hand, it’s a true joy to be in a friendly club where everyone strives to make members and guests feel welcome. Not only is it more enjoyable, being in a more relaxed atmosphere makes it easier to learn.
Strive for Excellence
Not only can individual Toastmasters members earn awards - such as the Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership awards - but so too can clubs. Clubs are rewarded for reaching certain milestones. If the Toastmasters club gets a certain amount of new members, or if enough members earn their CC or CL Awards, the club gets certain levels of recognition each term (a term lasting six months). The highest recognition being the President’s Distinguished Club which is a very difficult award for a club to earn in any given term. It might not be easy, but striving for these goals is a clear way to raise the standards for your club. Inspiring members to do their best for the club - by giving speeches, evaluations, and taking officer’s roles- will also improve club morale and pay off in terms of recognition from Toastmasters International.
Toastmasters is not only a great way to learn public speaking - it’s also one of the best ways to make professional and personal connections out there. With the tips above, anyone interested in making a Toastmasters club can make a welcoming atmosphere that inspires members and strives for excellence.
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