Talking your way to the top
Toastmasters provides key leadership and communications training

When a human relations officer told Danielle Goulet that boosting her communications skills might help advance her career prospects Goulet didn't hesitate. She decided to join the local chapter of Toastmasters, an international organization that helps people develop public speaking and leadership abilities.

"My job in client services involves contact with many people and departments. So communications are an important part," Goulet said. "Toastmasters training has really improved my ability to talk and listen to people."

The chapter Goulet decided to join is called the Moderators Club. Members include engineers, finance, insurance and communications professionals. They meet most Tuesdays after work in one of the boardrooms of the Standard Life building and take turns performing various public speaking roles.

Meetings are held according to a strictly pre-determined agenda, which simulates that of a board of directors or political organization. The idea is that all participants speak at least once during the evening, either by delivering a toast at the beginning, telling a joke, giving a two to three minute impromptu answer to a "table topic," question, or by delivering a five to seven minute prepared speech.

All speakers are publicly evaluated, with evaluations designed to be helpful not to scare off participants.

Goulet recently finished her MBA while working full time, so she has never been shy about putting extra hours into professional development. As a result she fit in well into the Toastmasters format. In just six months she completed seven full-length speeches each of which helped develop a specific skill such as overcoming fear, and using hand gestures and voice variation to highlight a point.

Goulet expects to complete her tenth speech this spring which will make her eligible to receive a "Competent Toastmaster," (CTM) certification. After the CTM training, recipients can follow advanced courses, which focus on specific skills such as persuasion, entertainment and providing informative content.

According to Goulet, the Toastmasters training provided almost immediate benefits. "I feel much more confident in my communications, especially with senior managers and vice-presidents," Goulet said. "I also have learned to listen better to people by identifying both the text and sometimes the subtext of what they are saying."

One immediate positive effect of the Toastmasters training is that Goulet is being considered for a job in project management, which would be a big step up for her.

Goulet's story is typical. You could argue that good communications skills are the most important attribute an effective manager needs. Managers are by definition not doers themselves. They delegate.

Managers accomplish things by finding out what needs to be done, often by contacting senior mangers or customers, and then getting employees or contractors to do the work. The entire process is characterized by a series of communications.

According to Nick Waldteufel, governor of Toastmaster's District 61, which comprises 125 clubs and close to 2,500 members, including all of those in the Montreal area, the link between effective communication and leadership is undeniable.

"Self-expression is the beginning of leadership," Waldteufel said. "The person who can address an audience with confidence and intelligence becomes that group's natural leader."

According to Waldteufel one of the reasons that Toastmasters, a non-profit organization, has expanded into 70 different countries, is because the organization's public speaking and leadership building programs bring exceptional value to the business community.

"We get all kinds of members ranging from students to academics to government officials, Waldteufel said. "But most of the members of Moderators and other Toastmasters clubs are those looking to use their skills to further their business careers."

According to Waldteufel one of the most difficult public speaking challenges people need to overcome is fear. The key Waldteufel said, is preparation. "If you sit down beforehand, and decide what you want to say, and then practice your speech, you've won half the battle.

In fact there is an old Toastmasters saying that "those who don't prepare, have a right to be nervous."

Beyond public speaking, Toastmasters also build leadership abilities by encouraging each member to get actively involved in the organization by taking a small role in club and meeting administration. Among the roles filled are club president, secretary, sergeant at arms and so on.

Splitting the workload into small tasks gives members the opportunity to get involved with a minimum of time commitment. At the same time they earn how formal meetings and organizations are set up.

For a list of Toastmasters clubs in the Montreal area, including the Moderators Club check out their Web-site at: http://www.toastmastersdistrict61.org/eng/clubs/clb-mtl-s.htm, or call 1-877-918-6278

 

Photo caption: Toastmasters structured learning program enables members like Danielle Goulet develop their communication and leaderships skills.

 

Sidebar: Five quick communication tips

o Overcome nervousness by preparing and practicing your speech in advance.
o Show up early and check out the meeting room that you will be speaking at before hand.
o Familiarize yourself with the audience
o Start your presentation with a joke or a light anecdote to loosen up the crowd.
o Drink warm water to loosen the vocal chords.

 

peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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