Please raise your hand if any of this sounds familiar. Running my own business, I’ve learned the hard way the importance of being able to communicate effectively. I’ve learned I need to know exactly what my customers want so that I can make them happy. Furthermore, I’ve learned that what they want isn’t necessarily the same thing as what they say they want.
I’ve learned that I need to be clear with vendors so I don’t have to wait (and sometimes pay) for the job to be redone, or (if there isn’t time or budget) settle for something that doesn’t really make me happy. I’ve learned I need to be able to communicate successfully in-person, through email, and on social media. I’ve learned that while sometimes I have the luxury of spending hours crafting my message, sometimes I have to respond on the fly. If you raised your hand, you can put it down now. If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re either better at this than I was, or you’re in for a rude awakening. I hope for your sake it’s the former. After learning what I needed to learn, the next step was finding ways to learn it. While I signed up for workshops and classes on improving communication, I soon grew disillusioned with the process. Yes, I was gaining theoretical knowledge, but what I needed was practical experience. That’s when, coincidentally, I wandered into my local library and noticed a sign. “South Coast Toastmasters – Meeting today – Noon to 1 p.m.” That’s when I decided to check it out.
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 364,000 members spread throughout more than 16,200 clubs in 145 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people from diverse backgrounds become more confident speakers, communicators, and leaders. Even though the Toastmasters experience revolves around club meetings, the online Pathways education program allows you to tailor your path through over 300 practical workplace skills, including: • Interview preparation • Online meeting management • Leadership development • Project management • Conflict resolution What I found was a group of people committed to improving their communication skills, committed to supporting others on the same journey, committed to giving feedback that helped everybody improve. Even though I brought a check to the next meeting, it was still months before I worked up the courage to give my first speech, and I think my fingers have retained the muscle memory of gripping that lectern for dear life. That was OK, though, as the program is self-paced and tailored to the individual.
I was assigned a mentor who encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone, and I did so. Slowly. It was five and a half years ago that I joined Toastmasters, and since then I’ve since given over a hundred prepared speeches. I’ve entered (and won) speech contests. I’ve organized events, run for club officer positions, and volunteered at the district level. At every meeting, I become better at communication. At every meeting, I make a new friend. Stephen D. Rogers is club president of South Coast Toastmasters. South Coast Toastmasters meets the second and fourth Thursday of every month from noon to 1 p. m. Visit southcoast.toastmastersclubs. org for more information.
On Cape Cod, check out these Toastmasters groups: https://outermosttoast.toastmastersclubs.org/, https://uppercape.toastmastersclubs. org/