Improve communication skills

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Sonia Alamina, Optimal Speakers Toastmaster

Have you heard about Toastmasters? Toastmasters is a nonprofit organization that was founded decades ago to give members the opportunity to improve upon their communication and leadership skills in a safe and supportive environment. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping people from all walks of life, it is not just for people wanting to be paid to speak. Many people attend Toastmasters to help their everyday life – stay at home mothers, business owners, Realtors, employees, business owners, medical professionals and anyone else who communicates with other people on a regular basis. Which describes everyone.

Let’s talk about how Toastmasters can help those who are in the workforce. It’s no secret that it can boost their career.

Successful people in business often advise others to join Toastmasters. Why? Because Toastmasters is a great place to improve communication skills and leadership skills. Communication and leadership skills are the key to improving performance at home and at work. Let’s face it, if a boss or employee can’t communicate their ideas properly, they won’t be well received.

A big misconception that people have about Toastmasters is that it is a place where speakers give perfect, beautiful speeches and that only great speakers can join Toastmasters. Often people feel that if they are nervous speaking in public, Toastmasters is not the place for them. Quite the contrary, Toastmasters is a training platform for anyone who speaks to anyone else in the real world. It is a place for overcoming a fear of public speaking and improving overall communication skills no matter what their skill level, from those who sweat and visibly shake when called upon to speak publicly to those who are comfortable speaking and want to become even better speakers.

Members learn valuable skills.

Toastmasters members learn the process of preparing and presenting speeches. The skills involved in creating a powerful speech are taught in a step by step manner. Toastmasters has an innovative online program called Pathways that guides members in learning. They are taught how to develop a structured approach for a topic, from figuring out what they want to say and why they want to say it and how to say it – both verbally and physically. The speech is structured with a beginning, middle and end. This organization can be used for giving a toast at a wedding or a one-hour speech at work – the uses for proper speech preparation and presentation are endless. These are invaluable skills in any speaking situation.

Appropriate language is important, choosing the right words for each audience. It may be appropriate to use specific words or acronyms for a speech given in a particular field and to peers. If speaking to customers or to a diverse audience is best to use simple language and avoid industry jargon. The Toastmasters program teaches members this invaluable skill.

Remember that words are powerful; they can entertain and inspire people. Think of Abraham Lincoln’s classic description of democracy: “The government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Or Mahatma Gandhi’s famous words about violence: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” These words were spoken perfectly to convey the message that the speaker intended. That is powerful communication.

Members practice their speaking skills in a safe and supportive environment.

The co-founder of the Optimal Speakers Club, John Grant, gives this message to all new members: “Toastmasters provides a safe place to practice speeches. It is a great environment for learning new skills. Think of it as an adult sandbox where everyone is free to experiment and learn from each other. You are safe to make mistakes and learn as you go without the fear of ruining something. What happens in the club stays in the club. You can try new things and if it doesn’t work you can start over with no repercussions.”

Where else in life are people allowed a place to feel free to practice, stumble and learn without judgment?

I joined Toastmasters years ago to help me in my career, and you would think that after I achieved some level of career success that I would quit Toastmasters. Not true, I returned to Toastmasters and stay in it because of the continued benefits and support. If language is the measure of our lives, there is always more to learn about communicating. We learn by doing, and we learn by teaching others. In Toastmasters we also learn more about leadership and inspiring others through mentoring other members.

I sum up the value of Toastmasters several ways.

First, the learning experience is an incredible deal at about $70 every six months. The Pathways online learning experience is customizable and is easily available on a computer or cellphone. The process of learning how to write and deliver a speech allows members to share their ideas in an effective manner. They can learn at their own pace and apply what they learn from day one. Everyone learns whether they choose to speak to a larger audience later, need to speak more effectively one-on-one or they choose to grow from the experience of competing.

Secondly, members are surrounded by people who want to improve and help others to improve. The club meetings allow members to listen and learn from others, many who are successful entrepreneurs. The evaluation portion of the meeting gives speakers positive, constructive feedback and offers opportunities for improvement from the speaking level that they are at. The meetings offer many opportunities for practicing speaking, not just giving speeches and this exercise helps all members to gain confidence. Participating in the different roles within the meeting helps those who are more nervous gain speaking skills at a comfortable pace and gives all members that chance to participate in the meeting even if they are not giving a speech that day.

Last, the value of the friendships I have made over the years is priceless. Toastmasters is the place where exceptional people meet, people who are committed to excellence. Although there is no requirement to attend each week, members desire attending each week for the fellowship, as well as the personal growth in communication. Toastmasters offer opportunities to meet interesting people and make new friendships. After each meting I leave informed, hopeful and in high spirits.

Within each meeting I find the courage to take risks, to commit to both an organization and the people who serve it. These reasons are why I stay and don’t want to miss a meeting. I stay because the journey is exciting and far from over. The possibilities are endless and need exploring, the process for growth and learning at every meeting and the friendships that remain to be made.

For those who wish to improve their communication and leadership skills, I encourage you to visit a Toastmasters meeting. It is free to visit, and I promise that we don’t bite. We welcome all guests with open arms and a member will sit with them and guide them through the meeting.

Toastmasters meets every Tuesday from 12:10-1:20 p.m. in the conference room at 29995 Technology Drive, Suite 203, in Murrieta. For more information, contact John Grant at 951-319-7819, ext. 2435. Currently, the meetings are held on Zoom, but the group will soon meet in person again.

More Toastmaster clubs can be found at http://www.Toastmasters.org.

Sonia Alamina is a member of Optimal Speakers Toastmasters in Murrieta.