I have been a Toastmaster now for over two years and I'm proud to belong to this non-profit educational institution that has over 16,600 clubs in 143 countries. More impressively I am a member of Malvern Speakers, my local Toastmasters club, which consistently ranks in the top ten clubs in the UK despite being a small town of a population of less than 30,000 people.
The name 'Toastmasters' sometimes creates a false image of town criers or master of ceremonies. In fact, Toastmasters are simply speakers. But to say we are 'simply speakers' is almost an injustice, for the organisation offers training not only in public speaking but in leadership and management.
Two years ago I was turning down prestigious speaking opportunities due to a crushing fear of speaking in public. Whereas I was confident presenting in a boardroom or chairing a meeting around a table, I could not stand up and speak in front of even a small crowd. I realised that opportunities were being lost to promote my companies and I needed to take action.
I still recall meeting the President of my local club, which at the time was Steve Birch and explaining to him that the programme probably wouldn't work for me, such was my fear. He was confident, overly so I thought at the time, that it would. He was right. After following the carefully structured programme which offers mentor support, training manuals and lots and lots of peer encouragement, I am now a confident speaker, happy to stride onto stage and talk on a range of subjects.
But, Toastmasters is more than that. I have challenged myself to enhance my leadership and management skills, undertaking tasks that I wouldn't previously have considered; evaluating others effectively, without negativity or bias. Then, there is the social impact. I have spoken to many Toastmasters who joined because they had to and stayed because it's, quite frankly, very entertaining. Plus, in Malvern, if not elsewhere, there is always cake at every meeting.
As Toastmasters is not-for-profit the joining fee is small and the membership payable works out at less than the cost of a stiff drink, or pint of beer, per meeting. Given that the programme churns out confident, capable, public speakers alongside providing leadership and management training this is incredible value. I am continually surprised that more employers haven't cottoned on to the fact that this can provide a fabulous route for staff training and at a fraction of the cost that private organisations would charge, perhaps with less effect.
To prove that anything is possible, here is a photo of me with a winner's shield following my speech entitled 'Bean Counting' a talk on the fun side of accountancy. I'm proud every time I receive an award from my club, of what I've achieved and the people that helped me get here. Why not pop along to your local club, us Toastmasters are never far away and see what you think of the programme. You will find many many things, but definitely no toast.