When I first joined Toastmasters I did so because I thought it would be the foundation of future career ambitions. At the time I was just a newly graduated software engineer busy perfecting the craft of writing great code and seemingly far from being in a position that would require polished public speaking skills.
Or so I thought.
It didn't take long after joining Toastmasters that I began to realize the communications practice I was engaged in wasn't just about building skills for some future job but that it was starting to improve my performance in the job I already had. Not only was I getting better giving a speech in front of an audience of 10, 15 or 20 people but my communication was improving for any size of audience.
Take a large group meeting for example; you gather in a room, a presentation is given after which an informal group discussion commences. When I first started working I noticed that a small number of folks would be responsible for roughly 80% of the discussion each and every time. I found myself being self-conscious about contributing, fearing that I would not be able to properly express myself.
This isn't what most people would consider public speaking but it is the type of speaking the typical knowledge worker does most often and to my surprise Toastmasters had helped me improve in this area through Table Topics, a fun question-and-answer session we do every meeting. This consistent, off the cuff speaking practice has helped me find the confidence to speak up in meetings with both large and small audiences. Not only was I more confident in speaking up but I was also able to clearly articulate my thoughts.
Most surprising though was that even in the least public of speaking opportunities, a 1:1 conversation, I noticed a marked improvement in my ability to communicate. The practice of writing speeches which requires you to convey thoughts, facts and even emotions to an audience built skills that I could confidently deploy in, sometimes high-stakes, 1:1 conversations. Through Toastmasters I had been able to practice in a supportive, low-stakes environment where I could try out many different communication techniques which prepared me for the high-stakes situations that arise in my professional and personal life.
Through my own journey I've learned that there's never a time when improved communication skills can't make you a more effective person and that it's never to soon to strive for improvement in this area. I've also learned that "public speaking" isn't just about those times when we're on a stage in front of an audience. Public speaking happens any time we're not just talking to ourselves.