Public speaking is perhaps one of the few soft skills with universal utility. Every individual needs to have a firm grasp of public speaking skills regardless of their stage of life and area of work. According to research, three out of every four individuals have some degree of aversion or fear of public speaking. One of the easiest yet most effective ways to improve public speaking capability is through peer to peer learning in a safe environment. This is where Toastmasters International comes into play.
Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. Headquartered in the USA, the organisation’s membership exceeds 3,58,000 in more than 16,800 clubs across 143 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people from diverse backgrounds become more confident as speakers, communicators, and leaders. In Bangladesh, the Toastmasters movement started in 2014 in Dhaka with just one club. Fast forward 5 years, there are 16 clubs across 3 different cities and close to 350 members, or Toastmasters as they prefer to be called, in the Bangladesh Toastmasters community.
Toastmasters International uses a local club-based structure, each having around 20–40 members. Members play different roles during the regular club meetings in order to help each other become better versions of themselves. For example, while someone is giving a prepared speech, other people are working as their speech evaluator, timer, grammarian and ah-counter (a role designed to keep our habit of using filler words in check). All these different roles combine to teach the members how to improve themselves and be better speakers and leaders. All the Toastmasters members follow an educational program called Pathways. Pathways helps members learn communication and leadership skills that are needed to succeed in personal and professional spheres. There are 11 specialised learning paths to choose from. Some of the paths are dynamic leadership, engaging humor, motivational strategies, presentation mastery, team collaboration, etc. All the learning materials are available online so that members can learn anytime, anywhere. Toastmasters believes in learning by doing and so each stage in the path assigns a certain task to the member. Sometimes it is giving a speech in a specified format or on a specific topic; sometimes it is to organise an event or manage a project within the club. The online contents work as a guideline on how to complete the task successfully but eventually it is upon the individual members to apply the learning into action. There is also an excellent system of mentorship within the Toastmasters community. Every new member can select a mentor who can guide them through the journey of Toastmasters. This collaborative and friendly culture helps members feel relaxed and learn at their own pace. The core mantra of Toastmasters is to encourage everyone to speak and provide constructive feedbacks on every speech. This helps the members feel safe within the club environment and get over their fear of public speaking.
Besides this, every year Toastmasters International holds a World Championship of Public Speaking contest. Contestants come from all around the world after winning their respective club, area, division, and district level contests. This is the most prestigious title of public speaking in the world and many of today’s famous motivational speakers/coaches are former champions of this contest. Bangladesh, currently a division, has been taking part in the district level contest for the past few years and working towards the dream of one day having a Bangladeshi as the World Champion of Public Speaking. With so many new clubs opening up in Bangladesh, it is the best time for students as well as professionals to become a part of this educational movement and make a valuable investment in self-development.
The writer is an Assistant Area Director (L2) of Toastmasters and founding Vice President Education of Dhaka North Toastmasters Club. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.