My Toastmasters Experience So Far Posted April 12, 2018 by LeAundra Richardson Did you know surveys say that in general, people fear public speaking more than death? Crazy, isn’t it? I can believe it because I have always been afraid of public speaking. Before and during a speech, I’ve been known to have shaky hands, a quivering voice, the feeling of butterflies in my stomach and other signs of nervousness. After years of avoiding any presentation opportunities that came my way, I decided earlier this year that I wanted to stop letting fear hold me back. I wanted to grow and advance in my work at CPAC and strive to reach my full potential. I decided to visit a Toastmasters International club.I would define Toastmasters as a speech club that gives members the chance to practice communication skills and speech delivery in an encouraging environment. The first few times I attended, I was a guest. A person can attend as many meetings as they would like for free as a guest. Speeches are reserved for Toastmaster members, but as a meeting guest, I still got the chance to practice public speaking. At the beginning of the meeting, Toastmaster guests introduce themselves and share their reason for attending and then at the end say what they thought of the meeting. Guests can also participate in a portion called Table Topics.Table Topics are probably the scariest part of Toastmaster meetings for me. I like to think things through before giving an answer. With these, you have about 5-10 seconds to think about how you’ll answer a question you were just asked (basically however long it takes you to walk up to the front of the room) then give a 1-2 minute speech on these impromptu topics. Though these short speeches can be nerve-wracking, they are probably the part of Toastmasters that will stretch me the most through helping me improve in thinking on the spot.On the other hand, what surprised me most as a guest was the habit of clapping after each person speaks, even if that person spoke for just 15 seconds. Everyone claps for the guest who just introduced herself and for the member who gave a seven-minute speech. Everyone is encouraged to speak and applauded for when they do. It helped me realize that what you have to say, even if it’s short, is important. The positive environment is one of the reasons I love being a part of Toastmasters.There is so much more to being a member than just giving speeches. For each meeting, various roles are filled. A different member is set to fill each role, and at the beginning of the meetings, we stand and describe which role we will be filling. There is a person who presents a ‘word of the day,’ and meeting attendees are encouraged to use the word throughout the meeting. The joke master tells a long joke or a few short jokes. There is a Toastmaster who leads the meeting for the day, introducing everyone who speaks. The Ah-counter keeps track of filler words used throughout the meeting, and the timer keeps track of speech times. There are typically two formal presentations in a meeting, and each has a speech evaluator. Lastly, there is a person who evaluates the entire meeting and a Table Topics master who gives out the impromptu speech topics to members and guests. At the end, those of us with a role share what we noticed and recorded.Talking in front of people every week at Toastmasters has helped me get more comfortable with and less fearful of talking in front of people. Though I am not over my fear of public speaking yet, I know that being part of Toastmasters over time will help lessen my fear of public speaking. Being involved in a club where members work to encourage each other through words and actions makes Toastmasters an excellent place to work on improving communication and speech skills. I am so happy Toastmasters exists and that there are groups all over the world working in this same way. I hope you might try it yourself some day.