This article is recommend by Rita, one of long term toastmasters, and our big helpers to Silicon valley Toasmasters
When I went home for Christmas last December, the first thing my parents said when I got off the plane was “It looks like you’ve grown, did you get taller?”
I hadn’t grown at all, not one inch. So why was this their first reaction after not seeing me for sixth months? One word: I had become more confident.
Confidence is a funny thing in human beings. When you’re feeling confident you tend to stand taller, hold your head up, and walk differently. It affects all areas of your body (eye contact, breath, stride, voice tone, etc).
What my parents were picking up on was not a change in my height, it was a change in confidence, and I believe Toastmasters was one important contributor to that improvement.
For those who don’t know, Toastmasters is an international non-profit organization that helps people improve their public speaking. It is fairly inexpensive (less than $100 per year), and puts you in a supportive environment with other people who are learning to speak in public, become better leaders, an improve their social interactions.
Toastmasters is really only about giving speeches on the surface, and it can affect many other areas of your life.
It all starts with the fact that speaking in public is one of biggest causes of anxiety for most people. In fact, many people rate public speaking as being more frightening than death!
But one thing I discovered about overcoming anxiety and growing as a person is that every time you feel anxiety and STILL take action, you will build confidence. In fact, I believe that’s the only way to build confidence: doing the things that you fear the most.
This happens to be one of the most important lessons you can learn as an entrepreneur in my opinion, because you will be faced with scary moments frequently in business.
Here are a few ways that Toastmasters can help you become a better entrepreneur and get a similar boost in confidence.
1. You Speak In Public More Often Than You Know
You probably speak in public more often than you realize, and will be required to do so even more in the future. Each time you pitch an idea, rally you team to accomplish something, inspire others to join you, do an interview with the media, or meet a new person, you are speaking in public.
We all know how important it is the build relationships in business, and if you can be the person who fearlessly networks with big shots at a conference, wows the media with your eloquence, or inspires employees to gladly work overtime for the good of the company, then you will rise to the top faster than your peers.
One interesting part of every Toastmasters meeting is called Table Topics. The presenter will call out a short question and then randomly pick on someone from the audience to come give an impromptu two minute speech about it. It can be quite nerve-racking to give a two minute speech with zero preparation! I can’t tell you how valuable this skill is in learning how to interact with others, hold a group’s attention, and just become a more interesting person!
If you can’t effortlessly talk with anyone (man or woman) at a party for 10-15 minutes and have them remember you in a positive light afterwards, then you are missing out on valuable opportunities. Toastmasters can help you become more comfortable in those social interactions.
2. A Sense of Humor Is A Valuable Tool
At every Toastmaster meeting there is also a member selected to tell a joke. This is used as an icebreaker to bring the meeting participants together.
Guess what? The first few times I held this job, I got nothing more than a few courtesy laughs. I realized that I didn’t know how to tell a joke!
I decided to work on this area in Toastmasters (there is also a manual you can work through to practice giving humorous speeches) and eventually started to learn the structure of humor.
I even went to the “open mic” night at the local comedy club a few times (talk about anxiety!) after going through the Toastmasters manual. I certainly wasn’t the funniest person there, but I learned a lot in the process and once again built my confidence.
Humor is a powerful tool in your arsenal that can be used to defuse embarrassing situations and make others like you (and want to work for you).
3. Entrepreneurs Must Be Leaders
The third thing that Toastmasters will teach you is leadership. There are numerous positions in the club that need to be filled from time to time. They don’t require a huge commitment, but they do help you practice working with a team.
However, the most important lesson that Toastmasters can teach you about leadership is how to evaluate others.
After every speech in Toastmasters, you will be given an opportunity to evaluate the speaker and give them instant feedback (sometimes in the form of, you guessed it, giving another speech). One of the most important lessons I learned here was how to mix criticism with praise. Helping someone improve without crushing their spirits is a lesson every leader should know, and it’s better to practice it in a safe environment before you need it in the “real world”.
Providing constructive feedback and commanding an audience’s attention are indispensable skills that every leader must posses. If are serious about becoming successful, and don’t yet consider yourself a powerful leader, this is one way to make progress.
4. You Must Spend Time With Right Type of People
Finally, Toastmasters does a remarkable job of putting you around the right type of people.
One of the most important keys to success is life is to surround yourself with people who are more successful than you are. Toastmasters is the kind of group that attracts people who are interested in improving their life and becoming successful.
In my group, for example, I’ve made friends who’ve taught me about real estate investing, web server technology, and sales. When you get around the right type of people, they will start to invite you to other events around town, introduce you to other clubs, and share inspiring books they’ve read.
5. Your Body Language Could Use Improvement
No matter who you are, your body language needs improvement. Many people are totally unaware of what message they are communicating with their bodies, and how fast people are making assumptions about them.
Some recent studies have shown that people form an opinion about you in as little as two seconds after meeting you. In one such study, evaluations of professors at a particular university were compared with evaluations of people who had only seen two-second video clips of the professors with the sound turned off. Remarkably, 78% of people who only saw the two-second video clips rated the professors the same as the class who had spent an entire semester observing them!
Your dress, your eyes, your hands, your stride, your expressions, your voice tone, and your posture are broadcasting out a strong message to everyone you meet (whether consciously or subconsciously). Do you know what it’s saying?
If not, you may want to get in a supportive environment where people can give you specific feedback.
Toastmasters is a brilliant concept that has provided quite a bit of value to me in the past year and half, and I’d encourage anyone (especially entrepreneurs) to join.
Many other seminars exist out there which cost thousands of dollars and provide similar classes to executives. Toastmasters can offer you many of the same advantages in a non-profit organization.
Remember that the way to overcome anxiety and grow as a person is right THROUGH that fear. Feel the fear, and take action in spite of it.
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