As an introvert, I have always had an issue speaking in front of a group of people. My level of confidence was low and I got nervous and anxious before and while delivering a talk.
No matter how hard and how long I would prepare before a presentation, I kept forgetting important key ideas or concepts I wanted to discuss.
In the beginning of my career, when I had to describe my thoughts process and explain into details my design directions to a room full of colleagues and stakeholders, the meetings went bad, really bad.
I would rely on the presented work on the projector to speak for itself, in fear of saying something wrong, or that I will forget something (which I did).
Since I didn’t have any formal background, I didn’t really know what I am doing.
Bad structure and very weak content were not the only issue. I’ve struggled to speak out what was in my mind.
Necessary competencies for design practitioners and leaders
The problem is that if you are not able to communicate or articulate some or all of your design decisions, you can’t expect your audience to follow and trust your suggestions. Moreover, there is a big chance that you will lose one argument after another and fail to convince or influence the people you are presenting to.
Being a talented designer and doing an excellent job is very important, no doubt. But if you fail to convince the decisions makers to follow your work, your work means nothing.
In developing my communication competencies and finding ways that will help me learn and practice these needed soft skills I’ve started looking for books, articles and professional presentations on Youtube.
All these are great and valuable resources to learn public speaking, however what I have realized quickly was that in order for me to really improve my communication skills, I must find a way and opportunities to practice the real thing.
Let’s face it, there are no shortcuts or magic formulas. Standing in front of the mirror and speaking to yourself do help to practice (believe me, I’ve tried that too). But there is nothing like standing in front of a real crowd. You wouldn’t learn to swim by lying still in your tab and pretend to swim, wouldn’t you? – I had to make the jump into the cold water. But where and how can one practice public speaking?
Meet the Toastmasters club
The first time I have heard about toastmasters was when I have attended a UX conference by NNG group at Singapore. 3 of the 5 days were instructed by Nancy Dickenson who shared an inspiring and mind opening lessons from her years of experience in the field of design strategy and design leadership. Throughout the lectures, Nancy was emphasizing the importance of how having good communications skills to help her succeed in her professional life.
She mentioned as a side note that one of the things that helped her practice delivering compelling and convincing presentations was attending regularly the Toastmasters club.
I was not familiar with Toastmasters at that time, and so I was intrigued by this.
When I went back that day after the workshop to my hotel, I did some research and found out that there are Toastmasters clubs all over the world, and that it is a big and well known organization.
The idea of the Toastmasters club is very simple and straightforward, usually once a week or a month, a bunch of diverse group of people from different backgrounds and professions gather together with one aim, to improve the way they speak in public.
The structure and organization of the club is well thought and organized, and each member can choose their path to improve specific skills related to communication and leadership.
With both novice and semi-professional speakers, the environment is supportive, inspiring and encouraging with evaluation sessions and mentorships to help each other achieve their objectives.
My experience with the Toastmasters club
I’ve made it a goal to myself to check out one of the clubs in Bangkok once I am back from the conference, and I sure did.
It’s been 6 months now since I have joined the Bangkok Toastmasters club and I can really feel the difference in both my confidence and the way I deliver a message in front of people.
The fact that I need to face my fear almost week after week excite and inspire me to improve and develop my communication skills. Not only this, but the confident I am gaining is cascading to my day to day life as well, and I feel that it is more easier for me to articulate the things that running in my mind to other people.
Beside the skills and confident, I get to meet interesting people almost in every meeting, as guests keep coming to check out the club.
Here is a list of my top 10 reasons to join a Toastmasters club:
- The opportunity to practice public speaking in a supporting environment
- The feedback and evaluation sessions
- The inspiring examples and stories of other members
- It’s fun and entertaining
- I get to learn and practice new skills, such as meaningfully using my body language
- I get to meet interesting and diverse group of people from different backgrounds and professions
- It’s affordable
- There is no 100% commitment, you can skip a meeting here and there if higher priorities are conflicted (but I would suggest trying to be more consistent and attend regularly)
- There are many clubs to choose from and you can try a few before committing to attend one. You can even be a member in a few clubs at the same time
- The meetings atmosphere is inspiring and motivating
Almost everything we do in design and business is about communication. Making sure these skills are strong is more than crucial. Public speaking is not a talent or unique power reserved for only gifted and natural born speakers. The good news is that it can be build and developed in the same way we build muscles in the gym. The not so good news for most introverts and shy people is that it must be practiced in front of a real crowd of people on regular basis with a clear intent and goal to becoming better.
There are no so many good opportunities and places to practice this except initiated meetups meetings in your workplace, or a pricey professional training. The Toastmasters club for me is a perfect choice for the reasons I’ve mentioned above, and it might not work out that great for you. The point is that it doesn’t matter how you go about practicing your communication skills, as long as you make sure to do that often enough until you build your muscles and gain the necessary confidence and skills.