I was painfully shy in my younger days. The only child of older parents, I wandered the hills of our farm anddeveloped a lively imagination but felt inhibited in communicating with adults or in a large group.
In high school we had to give speeches once a year. I was good at researching and preparing a speech, but when it came time to deliver it to my classmates I would put my head down, read as fast as I could, and feel immensely relieved when it was over.
That began to change during the second half of my life. I found myself in circumstances where I had to get up in front of a group of people and talk, at church and at work, and I gradually began to relax and really try to communicate with my listeners. For a few years I was a missionary in the province of Québec and had to preach in a language that I was still learning.
This year I decided to go a step further and joined a Toastmasters club. This particular club is called the Christian Communicators Club and the core members are people I already knew. That made it easier to take the first step and as I see how Toastmasters works I wish I had taken this step sooner.
A friend of my wife joined at the same time as I did. She tends to get nervous and flustered in front of a group of people, but the talk she gave at last night’s meeting showed that she has come a long way in a short time. This is the beauty of Toastmasters, it provides a supportive setting to practice speaking and to receive advice on how to improve.
The talks are short, they are timed, there is a grammarian to count the number of hesitations and crutch words used, there is an evaluation. But we all take turns at these roles so that we are being evaluated by our peers, who know that we will also have a turn at evaluating them at another meeting. Weaknesses are pointed out, but with the aim of helping us do better. The whole format of a Toastmasters meeting is designed to give us the confidence to learn to communicate effectively.
When I think back to my school days, I suspect that my teachers didn’t really know how to help us become effective speakers. It was just part of what we had to do each year, with not much guidance on how to do it. I wonder if it’s still not that way in most schools. As a result, boys and girls are becoming men and women and still don’t have the skills to speak effectively and to the point when they are called upon to do so.
None of wider aspects of Toastmasters interest me, the local, regional and international competitions. It is not my goal to become a professional speaker. But if I can learn how to say the things I want to say more clearly, leaving out thoughts that ramble off the topic and avoiding distracting mannerisms, then I will feel the time spent at Toastmasters has been worthwhile.
I believe that many Christians would benefit from such a program, and it would be entirely possible to set up a group within a congregation. All that would be needed would be enough people willing to make the effort to learn how to share their thoughts more effectively.