I first became aware of the organization through Harvey Mackay, author of the NYT-bestselling book Swim With the Sharks (Without Being Eaten Alive). In the book (a treasure trove of business wisdom condensed into three to five-page chapters written for short-attention-span business owners), he made a standing offer to his readers - join Toastmasters for a year and if you feel you didn't get your money's worth by year's end, mail a copy of your canceled check of membership dues and he will refund you the entire amount.
Toastmasters, for those unfamiliar, is a peer-mentoring international club focused on one goal: members helping each other become better public speakers through a series of time-proven exercises and live practice in front of fellow club members. With dozens of chapters in nearly every zip code, it's one of the best and most effective ways to build up one of the most essential and underdeveloped skills in your professional life.
The fundamental truth is, everybody has conversational quirks and verbal tics that interfere with our ability to get our point across - some unknowingly pepper our sentences with 'um,' 'like' or 'you know,' - some of us may speak too fast or too loud; while your friends and co-workers are familiar with and have adjusted to these bad habits; they compromise our ability to express our best ideas and thoughts to the people we want to communicate them to.
As mentioned in Consigliere, Mi Consigliere!:
somewhere during the transition to adulthood, we cross the invisible boundary labeled 'You Ought To Know Better By Now,' and that flow of feedback slows to a trickle, and then stops. And as goes feedback, so goes your evolution as a human being.
Think of all the self-defeating and objectionable behavior you witness among your friends and acquaintances; unfortunately, given the choice between bringing up potentially uncomfortable topics or turning a blind eye, nearly all of us opt for the latter. And so we go along, blissfully unaware, making the same mistakes over and over again ... before an audience of knowing peers too polite to point out your flaws to your face.
This goes double for our communication skills.
While nearly everyone acknowledges that we can stand to improve our ability to get our point across, few take the initiative to do anything about it. To be sure, hiring a professional speech coach at $75/hour is a formidable expense and a very real barrier, but many people are simply unaware of the extremely cost-effective options that are open to them for showing up to a local Toastmasters group and joining.
As an enthusiastic advocate of Toastmasters to friends, co-workers and clients, I felt it was time to renew my own participation in this fantastic organization; after visiting a number of chapters in the area, I will joining and delivering my first talk to the Lee Emerson Bassett Club at the Stanford Graduate School of Business this Weds evening.
For those of you in the Bay Area who wish to come along watch me in front of a live audience, please feel free to respond in this RSVP and come on by. Typically, this club meets for dinner afterward as a group at a local Palo Alto restaurant.