Lately, I’ve heard of two professional public speaking trainers, one of them a renowned speaker as well, who belittle my beloved Toastmasters organization. For me, there are only three options: arrogance or ignorance or both.
Needless to say: I’m biased in this particular subject. Since October 2005 I have been a faithful follower of this kindhearted “cult” of public speaking fans. My club is called Prestigious Speakers Barcelona. We are 40+ members from 20+ countries. A good number of us have been with the club for more than a decade. Like our pun planting Peter from the UK or our rhetoric reaping Rose from Malaysia. For many years, we’ve been helping each other to grow as speakers, as professionals, as people. In 2009, I turned my passion into a profession. I love my organization, hence, yes: I am biased.
Since there is evident criticism out there, I will try and tackle two of the most common arguments used against us.
Argument 1: Toastmasters are non-authentic speakers
Many of our members enter the club without any or limited public speaking experience. Soon, they figure out that in order to become a great public speaker they need to acquire skills (aptitude) and their own way to apply them (attitude).
Thanks to practice and positive and constructive feedback they usually improve in four stages.
1) At the beginning of their rhetorical journey, non-experienced speakers lack both aptitude and attitude. Typical indicators are: They use notes; they use lots of filler words and sounds, and eye contact is not existent.
2) Then, they acquire their first skills. For example, they speak in a more structured way; they get to the point; they look you into your eyes to connect. Their attitude though still stumbles. At times, their speaking style comes across as artificial.
3) In a third phase, their skills reach expert level. They command the stage; they speak in dialog, not in narrative; they evoke emotional reactions by showing their vulnerability. In parallel, their attitude becomes more and more natural.
4) Finally, in a fourth stage both their aptitude and attitude are excellent. Performance and personality finally match. They have turned into an authentic performer.
Yes, I have seen Toastmasters who cross the line of authenticity. But, my dear critic, think about your own beginnings. All I can say is: Give them time!
Argument 2: What you learn in Toastmasters is not applicable in the business world
Public speaking = Content + Delivery. The before mentioned criticism of non-authenticity refers to the delivery dimension. And yes, in a logic and suit-based business environment (e.g. banks, insurance companies, consultancies), an overdose of enthusiasm can be perceived as “too much”. The solution? Time. (See above.)
But – what about content?
Is it not applicable in the business world to present a message and its supporting arguments with a logical structure?
Is it not applicable in the business world to have a clear objective in a presentation?
Is it not applicable in the business world to use rhetorical devices like metaphors to make a point stick?
Is it not applicable in the business world to use arguments based on logic, credibility and emotion to persuade clients and stakeholders with power?
Is it not applicable in the business world to tell business anecdotes to anchor the message in the minds of the clients?
In the end, what you learn in Toastmasters is nothing else but a modern version of the teachings of Aristotle & Co. And those teachings are applicable in any business environment. Period.
Thanks to Toastmasters I have turned into an authentic performer myself. Thanks to Toastmasters I could engage my former colleagues and clients at KPMG much more. So why do established professional speakers criticize Toastmasters?
I have no idea.
But I do know that it would be wise for them to join our meetings. For me, those meetings are my R&D department. Every time I learn something new. It’s fantastic!
And if you think, you know everything already, you are either arrogant or ignorant or both.