Learning to love public speaking: Cheers to Toastmasters

When your boss or professor comes to you with a new assignment, do you silently hope that it’s anything but giving a presentation in front of a group? If you would do practically anything to avoid public speaking, then Toastmasters might be a good fit for you.

“The nature of the club is a friendly environment so that everyone can feel comfortable making mistakes,” says Diane Nino, project manager, pediatrics-tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, “That way, when you have to present in your office or at a community event or anywhere, you’ll be ready.”

The fear of public speaking is common - and Toastmasters works to help others with the problem.
The fear of public speaking is common – and Toastmasters works to help others with the problem.

Nino was one of the original members of the Medically Speaking Toastmasters chapter at Baylor College of Medicine when it started in 2000, and remains involved today.

Originally, she started attending meetings because she had just become a lab supervisor and thought that improving communications skills and overcoming nervousness when talking in front of a crowd would be helpful.

Piece of PIE

Toastmasters is an international organization and there are hundreds of clubs all over the world. The Baylor chapter typically includes about 20 members; individuals often come and go over time. Each club may have its own focus – like Baylor’s emphasis on serving the Texas Medical Center – but weekly chapter meetings, no matter the location or focus, are all run consistently the same way. The format follows the acronym “PIE.”

P – The first aspect is P for preparation. Each member is given materials from the international offices, which contain projects that include objectives and descriptions about what needs to be accomplished.

I – The I stands for impromptu speaking, which Toastmasters has dubbed “table topics,” – the ability for individuals to think on their feet. This aspect of the meetings help members become more prepared for situations in which they’re asked questions, like during job interviews.

Nino says that graduate students have given feedback that this aspect is great practice for oral statements and oral defense of their thesis, and that students sometimes come to Toastmasters specifically for this purpose. Chapter members come from all over the medical center, though, and for all different reasons.

E – The last portion of the meeting is evaluation, in which another chapter member provides feedback to the member who presented. This provides the opportunity for the individual to receive immediate feedback. Also, the evaluator has the opportunity to give an impromptu speech in the sense that this member has to get up and speak for 2-3 minutes.

Welcoming environment

The idea of each Toastmasters meeting is to create and maintain a friendly environment, which helps members feel more comfortable presenting and receiving critiques from fellow members, says Nino. A classic evaluation includes the person talking about what they liked during the presentation, one or two things that could’ve been done better, and then they finish with describing what they liked best about the presentation.

“It’s nice to know that when you’re giving a speech during a meeting, people will clap for you even before you go up there,” Nino says, “Even if you think you did terribly, they’ll still clap, you’re still breathing, and that’s a success!”

Benefits of Toastmasters

Nino says the skills gained from these meetings can be translated into anything, both personal and professional, and that she would recommend Toastmasters for anyone, even for those who already have effective speaking skills.

“It’s a great avenue to pursue because it develops communication and listening skills in each of the members,” she says, “In the process, you end up building a lot of self-confidence and improve upon your skills.”

The outcome of Toastmasters isn’t just about overcoming anxiousness when it comes to public speaking, though – Nino says the experience and training helps members become a more effective leader in general.

Nino says, “Effective leadership requires excellent communication, and no matter what level you’re at in Toastmasters, you’ll build your leadership skills.”

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