Should I join Toastmasters?
Yes. Maybe. No.
OK, let me break that down a little. I should say that I have been a member of Toastmasters for almost two years now. I’m a member of three clubs, an officer in two. I am a big believer in Toastmasters if your goal is to improve your public speaking skills. Something like public speaking can only really be learned one way, and that is to – get out and speak! Toastmasters provides the best environment I know of for that purpose.
Toastmasters is also valuable if you want to experiment with new material. It’s well known that stand-up comics go out and try new material in small comedy clubs. If they bomb on stage, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as if they’re in front of millions of people on TV. Think of Toastmasters as your own private comedy club. If you bomb on stage – what does it matter? Darren Lacroix talks about people who are worried about bombing in Toastmasters. “Toastmasters is the greatest place to screw up,” says Darren. What’s the worst that will happen? You’ll get a 2-3 minute evaluation that sandwiches a suggestion for improvement between positive commendations. I can handle that!
Toastmasters also has some people who are really great speakers and willing to share their knowledge. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some wonderful speakers who are also giving of their time and expertise. My mentors even coach me when I’ll be competing against them in contests! This attitude of sharing and openness really make me want to give back to people. In turn, I mentor a number of people (three at the moment) and share as much as I can of my knowledge and skill with them.
Finally, contests. At first I didn’t want to take part in contests, because I didn’t join Toastmasters to compete. I’ve heard it said that you will learn more competing in one contest than in three months of regular speaking. If anything, that might be an underestimate. When I am in a contest, I want to win, but more importantly I don’t want to embarrass myself on the “bigger stage” of a contest. So I really put the work in to do the best I can. What’s more, people tend to be give you more serious feedback when you say you’re doing a contest speech. It may be hard to take, but it is invaluable. Contests are a great tool to improve yourself.
With all these positives, why the other answers? Well, it is unfortunately true that people can be petty or cliquish, and Toastmasters are people, too. Occasionally you will find a few such bad apples. My advice is to ignore them. At worst, move on to another club. I once got annoyed at a person who was a bit pushy and meddling. In retrospect, I probably should have just ignored them. Who cares if somebody else is pushy and meddling? That doesn’t affect me. As long as I’m getting what I want to get out of Toastmasters, I should be able to handle somebody else’s minor character faults. Heaven knows I have enough of my own that other people put up with!
What about the “no”? Let me digress for a moment into the world of online courses. I love online courses. I spend most of my spare time watching online courses. Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of courses on Udemy and am planning several courses of my own. If you go to “my courses” on Udemy, you’ll see the screenshot at right. Note the “Not Started” pulldown at the top. All of these courses are ones I signed up for – paying for them, no less – yet have not started them. There are others I’m not even showing you that I’ve only made my way partway through. I buy these courses, then somehow expect to master the material when I don’t even watch them.
Some of us are the same way with Toastmasters. We join Toastmasters, and then expect that somehow, magically, we will become better speakers without putting in any work. There are tons of resources available on the Internet for free or very reasonable cost. Craig Valentine, for example, has many free resources available and even his paid resources are quite reasonable given what you get from them.
If you think just being in Toastmasters is going to improve you, you might be disappointed. Now, the stage time and evaluations you get will help you, no doubt. But to really get the benefits, you need to really work the system. Maybe even get a speech coach to work with you one-on-one for extended periods of time. There’s lots of us in Toastmasters.
Public speaking expert TJ Walker also has a video posting about Toastmasters that’s worthwhile watching.
So, do it. Join Toastmasters. Just don’t expect Toastmasters to do it on its own.