Public speaking and leadership

By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Contributor

Communication and leadership skills affect much of our lives. Whether we shovel snow from rooftops, sell real estate, or raise children, strengthening these skills helps us build stronger relationships and makes us more effective leaders. If you’d like a fast, direct and affordable program to increase your skills, I encourage you to join a Toastmasters group.

Toastmasters International is an organization that fosters communication and leadership development. There are 15,400 clubs in 135 countries, and Bozeman currently hosts eight clubs. They each meet weekly on different days and at different times so most likely one that will fit your schedule.

And I have great news for Big Sky residents: We’re starting a club in the Meadow Village this October, meeting weekly on Mondays beginning Oct. 19 from 12:10-1 p.m., downstairs at the Big Sky Chapel.

Three years ago, when I began health-coaching school at New York City’s Institute for Integrative Nutrition, instructors urged us to spread the word about healthy living. In order to reach as many people as possible, they suggested we hone our public-speaking skills through Toastmasters. To me, this seemed daunting, if not horrifying.

A Bozeman Gold Toastmasters meeting at downtown Bozeman’s First Security Bank in September.

A Bozeman Gold Toastmasters meeting at downtown Bozeman’s First Security Bank in September.

However, within months of joining Bozeman Gold Toastmasters – which meets downtown every Friday at First Security Bank – I went from having sweaty palms, losing my train of thought, and habitually saying “um” while speaking, to approaching the podium with enthusiasm and confidence. After four months, I even gained the courage to do a Pecha Kucha presentation – where you speak about 20 images for 20 seconds each – at Bozeman’s Ellen Theatre in front of a crowd of 500 people. And I loved it.

What makes Toastmasters so transformative is the real-time feedback and encouragement that you get at each gathering.

Meetings follow a simple, straightforward timeline, and specific roles are assigned to participants. You might be a speaker one week and the “Toastmaster” – or the master of ceremonies – the next. This is how speaking and leadership skills are developed simultaneously.

Other roles include the “timer” to keep the speaker on track, the “grammarian” who counts “filler” words like “um,” “ah” and “so” and, perhaps most importantly, the “evaluator,” who offers the speaker constructive feedback and helps him or her grow.

One usually speaks about what’s relevant to one’s life. When you join, Toastmasters sends you two manuals. One is the Competent Communicator manual that offers guidelines for your first 10 speeches.

The first speech is a three to five minute “ice breaker” where you simply tell the audience about yourself. The subsequent speeches are five to seven minutes that can be personalized by incorporating a presentation idea you’re working on, a product you’re pitching, or a concept you want to share with others. The second is the Competent Leadership manual where you keep track of the roles you perform outside of speaking.

Several people asked me recently why I’m creating a Toastmasters group in Big Sky. Primarily, it’s because I call Big Sky home and I want to share this experience with the community. But on a larger scale, it’s because the world needs leaders.

As the Toastmasters website puts it, “Leaders head families, coach teams, run businesses and mentor others. These leaders must not only accomplish, they must communicate. By regularly giving speeches, gaining feedback, leading teams and guiding others to achieve their goals in a supportive atmosphere, leaders emerge from the Toastmasters program.”

A Toastmasters experience begins with a single speech and in a very short period of time members learn to become better listeners, planners and advisors. Through this process, they become more empowered leaders.

Guests are always welcome. We look forward to learning, laughing, speaking and leading with you.

Join us for our first Big Sky meeting on Oct. 19, and to find a club in Bozeman or anywhere around the world, visit toastmasters.org.