As I am closing in on accomplishing the Toastmasters International Competent Communicator award towards the final quarter of 2015, I thought now was a good time to reflect on what a great organization I have found Toastmasters to be in the past year that I have been a member. The Competent Communicator award is earned after giving and being evaluated on 10 speeches that requires the speaker to apply different speaking techniques to pretty much the topic of their choice.

If you are unaware, Toastmasters International is an organization that provides a supportive, safe, and positive environment to help hone public speaking and leadership skills. Simply put, if you would like to become comfortable speaking in front of people and leading and coordinating people, meetings, and discussions, Toastmasters is the perfect organization to start with. Members of Toastmasters arrive from various backgrounds, professions, and skill level and have various reasons for joining and contributing to their growth as communicators and leaders. Some Toastmasters arrive very shy and nervous to speak in front people; Others arrive not being overly comfortable with the primary language of their local Toastmasters club or workplace (ie. English is a second language); others have tried to learn public speaking and leadership skills by trial-and-error; others realize that it is required to be comfortable speaking to and leading groups of people to enhance their career potential. If you fall into any of these categories, I would highly recommend that you consider visiting local Toastmasters clubs in your area. There is no obligation to join Toastmasters or give a speech or talk spontaneously in front of the group as soon as you walk in the door. You can, if you prefer, just sit in the last row of the room and be a fly-on-the-wall to observe those improving their communication and leadership skills until you are ready to commit to improving yourself. It takes some time to begin feeling comfortable at a Toastmasters meeting, but once you find that this is where you can grow with a safety net you will be well on your way to improving your communication and leadership skills.

I came to Toastmasters because I knew there had to be an easier way to become a better public speaker rather than learning the hard(er) way. Although I have given many presentations in my professional career, in 2012 I forced myself to begin taking roles outside of my comfort zone that required me to perform in public, such as giving presentations to a local legal technology group, teaching, being a guest speaker on various podcasts and webcasts, and actually accepting a guest speaker role at health information summit. I knew that in order to take the next step in my career, be regarded as a subject matter expert or thought leader, and just to become a great communicator I had to “get out there”, engage, and contribute. This was the hard way to learn and not very conducive to improvement. After my multitude of public speaking engagements I never got any constructive feedback or criticism to help me improve and I really have a hard time believing that I was perfect each and every time I spoke. I had heard of Toastmasters in passing, but never really paid attention to them until one day I did, for whatever reason. I went to the Toastmasters International website, found a local club, and E-mailed the club representative to find out more. Shortly after that I attended my first couple of meetings as a guest to observe and eventually began contributing and finally became a member…a Toastmaster. I gave speeches, participated in Table Topics, introduced a Word of the Day, and told humorous stories to help me improve. I received wonderful feedback from those in the Toastmasters club I belong, which has helped me greatly in my communication and leadership skills.  I feel like I have improved as a communicator and have learned various techniques to make future speaking engagements and presentations I give less stressful and much more appealing to an audience compared to what I was doing before joining Toastmasters.

Toastmasters is probably one of the most accessible ways to improve yourself, whether you are required to be a speaker and leader at work, at social gatherings, at community gatherings, or want to pursue a profession as a public speaker.

Take some time to explore Toastmasters. Take a couple of hours out of your schedule over the next couple of weeks and visit a local Toastmasters club or two in your area. Here’s how to get started…

  1. You can find a list of clubs that are local to you on the Toastmasters website at: and inquire and/or show-up at the designated time at the meeting venue.
  2. Find a co-worker or friend that is involved in Toastmasters and be their guest at the next meeting they attend.

Each club culture may be a little different depending on the member make-up of the club or time of day when the club meetings are held, so give a few different clubs a try and find one that is the best fit for you. Some clubs are located in downtown areas whereas others are located in the suburbs. Some club meetings are held before the workday, some during the lunch hour, and others in the evenings. For example, the Federal Building Club in Pittsburgh conducts its meetings on Odd-Numbered Thursdays at noon. Since I work in the city and the meeting time is during the lunch hour this club is very convenient for me to attend during the workday. (If you work in downtown Pittsburgh and are interested in learning more, please feel free to reach out to me ( or any other Federal Building Club members to show you the club and how Toastmasters works.)

If you are looking for a way to drastically improve your communication skills in a supportive, safe, and positive environment, Toastmasters is where to get started. Take a peek into Toastmasters and see if there is something there that can help you become a better you.

For more information on Toastmasters International, please visit: