Looking to grow your soft skills? Join a Toastmasters Club to grow soft skills and more! by Gina Gotz

gina_kotz_gray_ge_hr_friendlyHave you ever wondered how great (or even good) public speakers and leaders got that way? Have you ever wondered if they were always that way? I used to wonder that, too—as I often had great ideas at work, both in meetings and in writing.

However, when I would speak in front of small groups of people (less than 10), I would invariably get butterflies taking flight and doing somersaults in my stomach. I was sure that everyone in the room could hear my heart pounding wildly in my chest, and I would feel the growing warmth of nervousness around my collar. Does this sound like something you’ve felt, too? If so, read on. And even if not, read on anyways! I love sharing with others my experiences in Toastmasters.

By 1997, I felt that my nervousness when speaking was holding me back from reaching my full potential at work (and elsewhere). So I joined a Toastmasters club. Back then, my employer, W.W. Grainger, had a onsite corporate club. Within a couple of months after joining, I gave my first speech, called an “Icebreaker”, which is a 4 to 6 minute talk about any aspect of yourself. I noticed, very soon after joining, that Toastmasters is all about “learning by doing”. With the guidance and tips in the Toastmasters manuals, Toastmasters meetings function as 60 to 90minute mini-workshops where members deliver prepared speeches and do short “off the cuff” speaking, too.

Members give each other with helpful written and verbal speech evaluations. These evaluations are invaluable feedback given in a safe and supportive environment. This aspect of “safe and supportive” was one of the main reasons I stayed with the club for a while. I enjoyed supporting others through their icebreaker speeches with valuable feedback in the same way that I had received support from my fellow club-mates.

The following year, after leaving W.W. Grainger, for some reason or another I didn’t give Toastmasters a second thought—that is, until one day, a whopping 12 years later, in the fall of 2009. I was working at GE Healthcare by this time. The same day that I spontaneously recalled how helpful the W.W. Grainger Toastmasters Club experience was, I received an email from the GE Healthcare Toastmasters club right in my building. The club was having a first anniversary party! I knew this was a sign and I joined the club at work the following week.

I learned a lot more about Toastmasters my second time around. I learned that Toastmasters is no “flash in the pan” group. Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization founded in 1924. Toastmasters clubs meet in hundreds of countries worldwide. In the Chicagoland alone, there are over 200 clubs. Local area and division trainings as well as and district conferences provide affordable, often free, trainings for its membership. Also, Toastmasters also holds an annual international conference for its members. In addition to learning about the Toastmasters organization, I also became more involved in the GE Healthcare Toastmasters Club, first becoming a club officer and later the club president. Serving the club and its members was a great experience. I also got smart—I learned more about the educational programs Toastmasters had to offer. I vowed to myself that this time I wasn’t going to just be “passing through.” I wanted to stay with Toastmasters to see how much I could accomplish and how much I could learn.

During my time with Toastmasters, my managers at work were also taking note, too. One manager who knew me both before and after I joined the club at GE actually told me, “Gina, I’m not sure what you’ve been doing in that Toastmasters club, but it really shows in how you speak!”

Being able to communicate well can sometimes give you an extra edge when managers are selecting leaders for special projects at work, facilitator for panel discussions, and even business and professional events. When you work on communicating well, leaders and others take notice. New avenues of opportunity might open up to you. What you say can have more impact when you are effectively practicing good communication.

Four years and 11 months from the time I joined the GE Healthcare Club, in October 2014, I earned the highest educational level that a Toastmaster can achieve: Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM). But I didn’t get there alone. Through completing over 40 speeches, teaming with others on several leadership projects, and serving for one year in a District leadership role, among other Toastmasters projects, my fellow Toastmasters and my family supported my commitment to my journey of personal growth.

If you want to become a better communicator and leader, Toastmasters is a great place to do it. For around $100 per year in dues, your takeaways, confidence, competencies, and friendships will increase a hundredfold. I know mine did. I joined Toastmasters to overcome fear of speaking, and I stayed for the networking, friendship, servant-leadership opportunities, and the fun of getting together with my Toastmasters friends at meetings and elsewhere. The time commitment for Toastmasters is entirely up to you. It is a self-paced learn-by-doing program, and you definitely tailor your own experience based on what you want to get out of Toastmasters.

If you want to conquer your own “personal butterflies” and pounding heart (or name any other nervous ailment you get when speaking in front of others), visit several Toastmasters clubs to check them out. And then join one of the clubs that makes the best fit for you. Then stand back. Watch your attitude and your skills change. Embrace the experience, and work on your own personal transformation.

Don’t be like me and wait twelve years to find out what it’s all about. Imagine all you can learn now by finding the club nearest you today. To find a club that meets on a day/time and place suitable for you, go to toastmasters.org and click the “Find a Club” link. To learn more about Chicagoland District 30 Toastmasters, see d30toastmasters.org.

Who knows? Like me, you might wind up pleasantly surprised to gain even more than you expected.