Toastmasters: Expanding Your Development Horizons

By: Judy Anderson, Project Director

My early career in fundraising was as a grant writer – I was comfortable there using my skills to clearly communicate the mission, goals, programs and needs of my organization.  Then one day, my executive director was double-booked for a meeting with a board member and a presentation to the local Rotary Club:  “Judy, you need to cover the Rotary for me.”  Ok, how hard could it be, right?  I know the organization inside and out and about everything we do and hope to do in the future.  So I trotted over to the golf club for the meeting armed with my slide carousel (it really was the dark ages) and thought, “this will be great; I’ll show them the slides, talk about what we do, answer questions and that will be it.”

Classic public speaking rookie mistake!  Everything that could go wrong in a presentation setting happened that morning.  The host didn’t realize I was bringing slides so there was a scramble to find a projector – no screen in the room because the group met for breakfast in a room off the main dining room. I thought I could ‘wing it’ and use the slides as the set up for the flow of my talk, but the room wasn’t really dark enough to see the slides clearly, and I had not thought of a back-up plan.  I managed to get back on track by reciting statistics and paraphrasing the grant information that was always in the back of my head. The gentlemen were gracious and politely attentive, but obviously glad when I wrapped up my speech quickly.

This was a missed opportunity to share in-depth information about my organization with a high powered group of civic leaders. I learned well then that speaking and presenting to Board members, donors, community organizations and school groups is very much a part of being a good development officer.  While most of us have the gift of gab and are very comfortable in one-on-one settings, the jitters take over when we are called upon to speak in front of a group.

How can one overcome the shakes, stutters, ums, ahs, and rambling content? I recommend Toastmasters.  For 90 years, this international organization has been training people to become exceptional communicators and leaders.  I have been a member for almost 9 years, and it is the best professional development experience.

At my home club (the President’s Club), I practice my speeches and presentations, and receive thoughtful feedback about every aspect of my work: eye contact, vocal quality, body stance and gestures, content and intent. In Toastmasters, I have learned valuable skills in how to develop and deliver compelling messages, how to manage speaking time, the importance of practice, and how to listen and adjust based on audience reaction. I think I have gained the most confidence in being able to speak off the cuff through the ongoing practice of the Table Topics exercise that is conducted at every meeting (a great skill for those moments when you see a major donor at the grocery store).

Now every time I make a speech or a presentation, I think back to that awful Rotary experience as a reminder that improvement is always possible and doing the work leads to success.  I encourage you to join a Toastmasters club – Expand your development horizons and become the best advocate for your organization in any situation.

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About Toastmasters International:

Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Our membership is 313,000 strong. Members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 14,650 clubs in 126 countries that make up our global network of meeting locations.