Toastmasters International offers you a chance to become a better public speaker, listener and leader in a fun, no-pressure atmosphere, writes Jaideep Deo Bhanj

Have you ever envied that person in school or college or at your workplace who could stand up and hold an audience captive? The speaker who could make you laugh, motivate you, and even move you in such a way that you began to believe in him? Many of the world’s greatest leaders have been powerful orators. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy, to name a few, have all at different times delivered speeches that have inspired people and given them something to believe in.

If you want to become a good public speaker and are looking for the right platform to develop your skills, Toastmasters is the perfect place to start.

Toastmasters International is active in 116 countries with over 13,500 clubs that conduct learn-by-doing workshops in which participants hone their speaking, listening and leadership skills in a no-pressure atmosphere.

There is no instructor in a Toastmasters meeting. Instead, members evaluate each other’s work and provide feedback. Participants give prepared speeches as well as impromptu talks on topics that are drawn by lots, conduct meetings and develop skills related to timekeeping, grammar and parliamentary procedure. It creates a friendly atmosphere in which members shed their fear of speaking in public and enter a zone that they are comfortable in.

A group, ideally consisting of 20-25 persons, is a balanced mix of beginners and seasoned speakers. Meetings are made fun and humorous so that even a first-timer feels very much at home. Vizag has two active Toastmaster clubs that meet every week. One is a corporate club formed by employees of Kenexa and the other is a community club called the Visakhapatnam Toastmaster Club. The clubs have been active for the past six months and conduct meetings every week.

Toastmasters International has a set of ten self-paced speaking assignments that provide the basic guidelines for members to follow. There are other interesting roles that members take up by rotation. The grammarian of the day keeps track of mispronounced words and errors in grammar. The grammarian also introduces to the members a word of the day to help improve their vocabulary. Members are encouraged to use this word as many times as possible in their speech. A timekeeper times every speech and submits a report at the end of the day. This helps people to keep to their time limit, an essential tool in public speaking. One member is assigned to be an ‘Ah counter’, keeping track of filler words that people tend to use when they speak. There is also a quizmaster to conduct a quiz at the end of the session to make sure people are paying attention. This helps develop their listening skills. A ‘sergeant at arms’ makes sure that members maintain decorum and make no comments on sex, religion and politics.

Sushil Bhaskar from Kenexa says, “The club helps me meet likeminded people who share my passion for public speaking. It is also an excellent place for networking as Toastmaster clubs all over the world are extremely welcoming and warm to fellow toastmasters. You can continue being involved even if you leave a particular city.” Anil Kumar says the experience Toastmasters has given him allows him to conduct meetings better in office and communicate effectively with his teams. Some of the new members were college students looking to ace campus interviews and group discussions. Whatever be your aim, the group offers a place for you to express yourself without being judged.

Kiran Korivi, the president of the Visakhapatnam Toastmasters Club, says on a recent visit to Thailand he contacted the Toastmasters community in Bangkok and attended a meeting there. “You feel at home wherever you travel as you know that there the country will have a community of Toastmasters that are always willing to help out.” Kiran says that over the past few months he has seen an immense improvement in members, some of whom have even been placed in top IT companies because of their association with Toastmasters International. “The beauty of the club is the way in which we evaluate. Our evaluation is done in such a way that it motivates people and does not discourage them,” he adds.

Toastmasters also have a number of competitions to encourage members. Toastmaster clubs from across the country battle it out every year in inter-club competitions.

Those who want to know more about Toastmasters can visit www.vtmc.toastmastersclubs.org/ and join a fun group of people who are helping each other better themselves.