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October 16, 2002   
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A winner works through a problem. A loser tries to
sneak around the difficulty, but never gets past it.

Issue Date:

Communication Skills
Are you less than confident in yours? Join the club.

by Craig Harrison

Surveys tell us Americans fear public speaking more than death. As Jerry Seinfeld puts it, "that means at a funeral you'd rather be in the ground than standing over it eulogizing!" Yet both jobseekers and employees have found a way to turn their fear of speaking into fun. Their secret: Toastmasters.

Toastmasters International is an educational nonprofit with clubs worldwide where men and women develop communication and leadership skills in a supportive environment. During regular club meetings, members learn to give speeches, evaluate each other's communications, speak off-the-cuff and conduct productive meetings. By rotating roles, each member becomes proficient in these areas and more.

Success in most jobs requires communication skills. Toastmaster clubs excel at helping members sharpen their communication skills through better speaking, better listening and better thinking on their feet. Regular applause and performance evaluations alternately stroke and stretch members as they strive to improve on a weekly basis.

Members join for different reasons. Some want to prepare for an upcoming speech. Others are tired of being shy and nervous in social situations. Still others are anticipating interview situations where some impromptu speaking may be required. Non-native English speakers seek to expand their vocabularies, learn idioms and improve their accents. All benefit from the Toastmasters experience.

Success Stories

Consider the story of Bill Smith of Impressively Speaking Toastmasters in Oakland. Smith, now an employment specialist for the Private Industry Council, has been a member for three years. "Interviewers throw trick questions at you. Table Topics - the impromptu training - helps you think on your feet. I was warmed up from a Toastmasters contest the night before. My interviewer told me 'My, you are eloquent.' I got the job. That's the Toastmasters edge." Soon Bill will further hone his leadership skills as he becomes an Area Governor of Toastmasters for Northern California's District 57.

Patricia Fong used to be intimidated by assertive people and fancy titles. She was also afraid of speaking to strangers. According to Patty "I was worse than a wallflower . . . I was wallpaper!" Since joining Sacramento's Golden State Capitol Toastmasters a decade ago, Patty has developed the ability to approach anyone. Now she's the one with the fancy title. Patty, who just completed a term as an International Director for Toastmasters, is now recognized worldwide for her speaking and leadership prowess. As a mother of three girls, she is a role model for her daughters and encourages them to hold their own and speak their minds.

For Heike Baars the Toastmasters program has made a world of difference in her workplace. Born in Germany, Heike is currently a systems engineer in San Francisco. She recently coordinated a big project with groups in Germany, Australia and the United States. Her confidence at approaching strangers, ability to make a great first impression, give good eye contact and recognize participants for their efforts were all skills Heike learned in her Marina Village Toastmasters club in Alameda. A member for eight years, now she's adept at articulating her ideas. She credits Toastmasters for her success and newfound confidence.

Invest In Yourself

Catherine Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong. As a computer consultant she learned that technical competence is only half the equation. "You must be able to communicate with clients." Three years ago she joined Alameda Toastmasters. Now she's a database developer who is no longer worried about expressing her ideas publicly. When people ask her why they should join, she answers "Why wouldn't you? Aren't you worth investing an hour a week in?"

Among the benefits Catherine cites: career and personal development and improved critical thinking skills. People ask her, "Isn't it scary speaking before strangers?" She reminds them that it's even scarier speaking before clients, peers and customers. The practice and confidence she receives from speaking in clubs is directly transferable to the workplace. Club members are there to train each other to succeed.

Just the Right Words

Before joining Toastmasters in Sacramento, Franklin Souza's father passed away. When he was asked to eulogize his father, Frank had difficulty conveying his feelings. Four years ago when his stepfather died, Frank's Toastmasters training allowed him to successfully express his feelings. Toastmasters gave him that confidence. Now he uses that confidence at work too, as an insurance agent with Powers & Company, of Rocklin.

Every member has a story about what she or he gets from Toastmasters. Remarkably, most members accomplish their initial goal yet stay as they identify new challenges. Yours truly joined a Toastmasters club in 1992 to overcome a fear of public speaking. After embracing their leadership track, I soon landed a job as a manager. A few years later, my Toastmasters experience gave me the confidence to embark on my own career as a professional speaker. Now my goals have changed, but I continue to attend several clubs to sharpen my communication and leadership skills. For a dollar a meeting, I find it the best buy in town.

Visit a club in your area to see the magic in action. As a guest, there is no fee, nor any pressure to speak. Find a club whose time, environment and members feel right for you. In just a few short weeks you'll see a difference in your own confidence when speaking in public. Success is just a word away: Toastmasters.

For more information on Toastmaster International:

Craig Harrison is a career coach who helps people communicate with clarity and confidence. Visit his website,, call him at (510) 547-0664 or send e-mail to for more information on his speaking, training, coaching and consulting services.