Unless you already know, Toastmaster is a club you can join to practice your public speaking skills. It originated in the US and has thousands of chapters/clubs all around the world. Here in Brussels, Belgium (where I live) there are a couple of clubs as well and I attended several meetings as a guest.
Although I love to speak in public, I never got the motivation to “join the club”. On the surface, you could argue that Toastmasters is not for people like me: I don’t suffer anxiety when going on stage and, like most trainers, I really enjoy presenting. But, that argument holds no ground because even comfortable speakers benefit from further developing their “speaking muscles”.
Toastmasters is a unique place to practice your skills within a mid to large group setting. It is motivating to have a structured way to go about it as there are several levels of communication that you can achieve within their system. It has the “success mentality” built into its mission. When I started my training business back in 2011 I even sent people to Toastmasters. I have changed my mind since. Let me explain.
The problem with Toastmasters: public speaking vs. presenting
One reason I don’t like Toastmasters is that it mainly about public speaking, as opposed to presenting. I am a confessed nostalgic and lover of face to face communication. If I could push a button and go back to the era where people made speeches all the time, I would. But the world has changed considerably since the beginning of the Toastmaster era (founded back in 1930s).
In the current professional context, we deliver short presentations with relevant information and visuals. We don’t have a lot of preparation time. We don’t need to memorise our speeches and we certainly don’t need to make a performance out of it. Our way of speaking in public has changed partly because it is much more influenced by online conversations (the new public space). We must adapt.
Toastmasters is all about the delivery
When you look at most Toastmaster contest speeches, they seem out of tune with what we naturally do when we speak in public. In Europe at least, we don’t like to appear theatrical. We find it embarrassing to go to deep into emotions. And we don’t open easily about our personal struggles. The Toastmaster delivery style is fine at “Speech master” contests or even TED talks. What bothers me most is that the actual content is sadly put in second place. I always tell my clients: I don’t even care if you read your key points, if what you have on that paper is relevant and to the point, I will listen.Presentation skills today are more about content than they are about delivery.
Confident and charismatic speakers…no more
Thirdly, Toastmasters focuses very much on developing your confidence and charisma. It has this allure that you will one day be a star speaker. TED talks often seem to be infected with that the same virus. But you don’t need to be very confident and charismatic to be a good speaker. You just need to have something interesting and relevant to say and offer. And you know what? The world is full of shining stars, award-winning speakers, inspiring coaches and the like. You need to be you.
The wrong and right kind of feedback
Lastly, Toastmasters is about the wrong kind of feedback. There is a certain peer pressure to produce nicely packaged feedback that serves to pamper the speaker and lull him/her into a cozy state of speaking comfort. Or counting your filler words, as a way to make you aware of them and possibly remove them from your speech. Working with your own Presentations Trainer is a much better way to improve your speaking and presenting skills. Not only will you get honest feedback but you can work with someone to tailor your own unique content so that its relevant to what the audience needs.