By Terry Beard, Rotary Club of Portland, Oregon, USA
You may have heard that most people would rather die than give a speech. Public speaking is the number one fear for many people.
For 49 years, I too had a fear of public speaking. It was so bad, I would break out in a sweat. I’d leave the room. I’d find excuses, or ask other people to stand up and speak for me. Anything to avoid having to speak in public. A couple of bad experiences early in my life built up this fear, but I made it my goal to overcome it. Fifteen years ago at the age of 50, I was introduced to Toastmasters by a good friend, and I’ve been a member since.
As a Rotary member, I’ve been committed to Service Above Self for more than 20 years. I now believe one of the best acts of service we can do is to help people find their voice.
Four years ago, a group of Rotary members and I started a Toastmasters club to do just that. We wanted to create a “safe harbor” where people could improve their speaking skills, in the spirit of friendship and fellowship. As a charter member, I was privileged to give the first speech, which established this shared value as the cornerstone of our club.
Our Rotary club has over 250 members and our Toastmasters club has around 40. While most of the Toastmasters members are also members of our Rotary club, we are also open to non-Rotarians. Those who are in both clubs find added value in Toastmasters.
In Toastmasters, we learn how to feel comfortable in front of an audience, sharing knowledge, experiences, and values. This is not only fun for the audience, but it’s healing and even cleansing for us to share our stories. While it can initially be hard to open up and be vulnerable in front of peers, as we do so, it helps us understand and relate to each other.
When we are members of the audience listening to others speak, we also benefit. We sometimes identify with the way the speaker feels, or the thoughts they have shared, producing empathy, trust, and a sense of community. These all lead to peace.
As we learn and develop different speaking techniques, this benefits all areas of life, helping restore an art that is being lost in this day and age of communicating online.
Toastmasters can benefit a Rotary club in a number of ways.
- It can improve the quality of your weekly programs by creating a pool of people who can deliver a better talk. Often clubs invite someone to give a program because of their topic, regardless of their skills as a speaker. Imagine having a built in means of training people to deliver better programs.
- It can enhance your leadership training. One of our members joined when he was selected as president-elect of his alumni advisory council. He knew he would have several speaking engagements and joined Toastmasters to practice. Toastmasters members also learn skills in running meetings.
- It can teach your members how to better share their Rotary story with the public. We have developed some great storytellers, and Rotarians have amazing stories to tell.
- It can introduce people to Rotary and show them why they should join. Often, when non-Rotarians join our Toastmasters club, they inevitably hear about Rotary and end up joining.
We started our Toastmasters club to help members develop their voice and grow in their leadership skills. But we got so much more than we anticipated. A huge benefit is getting to know people on a deeper level. The experiences people have shared in our Toastmasters meetings have built deeper, longer-lasting relationships. There is a sense of community and connection that goes beyond anything you can get just by sitting at a table and having lunch.
It brings tears to my eyes to be a part of this great community. The combination of Rotary and Toastmasters allows for big dreams to come true. As we build our communication and leadership skills, we become better equipped to tackle the world’s problems.
If you have questions about Toastmasters and Rotary, reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org