Cultivating Better Communication Skills

My son recently graduated from college with a degree in Computer Science. Last month, while he was applying for his first full-time job, he needed to put together a 12-minute introductory video. In the video, he was required to discuss his educational background and professional experience, as well as “say a few words” about himself. While this task wouldn’t be easy for most people, it was even harder for him because he’s an introvert. Yet despite the difficulty, my son put together a really good video. Even better, he did it so well that he landed the job. Hurray! Later, he confided that he could not have done it without the help of Toastmasters.

For those of you unfamiliar with Toastmasters, it’s an international organization dedicated to helping people cultivate better communication skills. When my son first started college, he quickly discovered how uncomfortable he felt giving class presentations. While he had no problem putting his thoughts down on paper, speaking them out loud felt awkward. One night my son decided to come and check out my Toastmasters club. After just one meeting, he could see the members of my club would make excellent mentors. Several years later, everyone in the club has helped my son gain more confidence in his speaking ability. While my son is still an introvert, he is now totally comfortable whenever he’s asked to “say a few words.”

While Toastmasters is a wonderful organization for introverts, it’s also great for extroverts. At Toastmasters, members learn that becoming a better speaker requires evaluations that identify your strengths and weaknesses. In order to be a good evaluator, you need to become an active listener. Being a better listener can help every business professional better serve their clients.

Toastmasters has been around for a long time. The organization was founded in the United States in 1922. Today, Toastmasters is now an international organization, comprised of 352,000 members in over 141 countries. Most Toastmasters clubs meet weekly, or every other week, for 1-2 hours. Using a system that helps individuals learn-by-doing, club members help one another advance their public speaking and leadership skills.

Here are the reasons I think every business professional should consider joining Toastmasters:

1. Overcome Public Speaking Fears
The most positive and supportive audience in the world is a Toastmasters club audience. Speaking regularly in front of a group will help calm your nerves and communicate more effectively.

2. Become a Better Public Speaker
Club members progress through a series of speech projects.  Each project is specifically designed to help improve the ability to write and deliver speeches.

3. Become a Better Listener
By watching other members give speeches and evaluating their performance, you’ll become a better listener. Evaluating speeches forces you to pay attention and listen carefully. In addition, meetings include a grammarian report where word usage is scrutinized and everyone’s “ahs” and “ums” are counted. The reports help you become aware of using distracting filler words.

4. Gain Leadership Skills
Leadership and communication skills are related. As you gain more confidence in your ability to communicate effectively, your ability to lead will also improve. In addition to improving their speaking skills, Toastmaster club members can elect to take on leadership roles within the club. These opportunities help strengthen and grow the club.

5. Think Fast on Your Feet
During each Toastmasters meeting, there is a portion known as “Table Topics.” During this part of the meeting, club members respond to questions on a general topic. This impromptu speaking opportunity helps prepare you for the times in your life where you need to “speak off the cuff”.

6. Expand Your Network
Toastmasters is an excellent way to meet new, interesting, and successful people. Each club has a diverse range of members, ranging from young adults to retiree, from students, to working professionals, to business owners, and retirees.

If this sounds interesting, I urge you to visit a club near you by searching the Toastmasters club database online. If you live in an urban area, you may find you have several clubs to choose from. Instead of signing up with the first club you visit, be sure to shop around and choose the club that best fits your schedule and/or personality. Every club is unique and different. I like to visit new clubs when I’m traveling. It’s a great way to meet new people – anywhere in the world.

Once you find a club you like, signup and become a member. You will find that the membership dues are very reasonable (less than $100 a year). There really is no other public speaking program out there that will provide you with such an incredible return on your investment.  Best of all, Toastmaster meetings are fun to attend, which may be the greatest reward of all.

By Gillian Whitney

Communications Consultant

Launch4Life

gillian@launch4life.com

Summer Fun, While Making a Difference!

Summer is officially here.  Hurray.  During the long hot summer months, many of us like to go away on vacation, or stay home and have a little down time.  Right now I am in Las Vegas, Nevada, on vacation.  Since it’s really hot here, I find that I’m staying inside more than I’m going out.  To keep myself amused, I sometimes kick back and play a game on my computer.  It’s one of my guilty pleasures.  However, I have found a computer game that is not only entertaining, but is also making a difference in the world.  Let me introduce you to FreeRice.com.

At FreeRice.com you are given a series of trivia-like questions to answer.  Quiz topics range from: Vocabulary, Grammar, Literature, Famous Paintings, Flags of the World, Countries on a Map, World Capitals, Math, Chemistry, and Language Learning (German, Spanish, Italian, or French).  For each question you get right, the UN World Food Program will donate 10 grains of rice to help end hunger worldwide.  Ever since the game launched in October 2007, thousands of FreeRice players are responsible for feeding millions of people.  FreeRice.com is a non-profit website that is generously backed by a number of different sponsors who pay for the free rice.

While playing the game, you can set the level of difficulty of questions, which allows people of all ages to play.  So, if you have children, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren, this is great computer activity to do together.  I especially love the “WARNING” on the website:

WARNING: This game may make you smarter.  It may improve your speaking, writing, thinking, grades, job performance, etc. 

Freerice.com reminds me of a wonderful children’s picture book, One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale.  This was a book I loved reading to my boys when they were little – many years ago.  This book not only was a really good story but was a great illustration of exponential growth – think compound interest!

So, you might want to check this book out as a gift for a child you know… or even for yourself.  After all, smart entrepreneurs need to fully understand how everything around us can grow beyond belief – one grain of rice at a time.

By Gillian Whitney

Communications Consultant

Launch4Life

gillian@launch4life.com