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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014

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Lisa has noticed herself getting better at public speaking and communicating since she's joined Toastmasters.
Lisa has noticed herself getting better at public speaking and communicating since she's joined Toastmasters.

A toast to Toastmasters

Glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. I’m admittedly not overly familiar with all the "phobias" of the world, but thanks to a recent commercial for the Nexus 7, I know that one.

I wouldn’t say that I have glossophobia, but public speaking has never much appealed to me. I’ve always considered myself more of the "man behind the curtain." When I began my current job last April, however, I was approached by two co-workers about joining a local Toastmasters club. I ended up attending a meeting, and I was hooked.

Toastmasters – a nonprofit educational organization created in 1924 to help people improve their communication abilities – starts you off with the option of completing two tracks: a communications track and a leadership track. You can complete both tracks simultaneously or focus on one.

The competent communicator track walks you through ten speeches, each speech focusing on a different aspect of public speaking, helping you to improve and build upon your skills. I recently completed my fifth speech, and the progress is noticeable.

As I filled out my Part 1 evaluation, I realized just how much I had improved. I’ve cut down on filler words, become better at impromptu speaking and even boosted my confidence in front of an audience. By actually evaluating myself, I was able to see how far I’ve come.

After every speech, you are provided feedback from the club, but for me, it was hard to believe it was anything more than supportive and encouraging words. Now I can say I think I’m on my way to becoming a better speaker, a speaker like some of my club members that I admire.

On the leadership track, there are also ten projects required for completion. Each project involves fulfilling some sort of role within the club while focusing on leadership traits, like listening, giving feedback, facilitation and team building. I’m currently a bit over halfway finished with the leadership track. I’ve also noticed an improvement in my ability to take more leadership roles. Following along with these projects has helped me to come out of my shell and voice my own opinions, in addition to being a more active listener.

I strongly encourage everyone to check out a local Toastmasters club. Whether you’d like to be a better public speaker or not, the club has so many benefits beyond helping a person articulate.

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