I first deep-dived into the world of personal development about 2 years ago, and I wouldn’t like to admit how much money I have spent on books, courses, seminars and coaches, and I can say with all confidence that Toastmasters is, by far, the best value personal development programme I have come across.

Improving my skills in public speaking had always been on my agenda, and as a qualified trainer and presenter, I wasn’t shy about standing in front of people, but I did recognise that speaking was a craft, and there was always room for improvement.

I attended some free seminars that were basically a stepping stone for an upsell to various speaking coaches and academies. As yet I have never signed up for any of these. I am sure they are all amazing, however they are also very costly – running into thousands. The great thing about these free seminars is the networking opportunity. Mixing with like-minded people who are looking to improve themselves and their lives is very inspiring and energising.

I had heard the name ‘Toastmasters’ branded around at some of these events, but I had not investigated further. Over the course of about a year, I had heard about Toastmasters from various different sources.

One of my mentors had once told me that for someone to take on a brand new idea, they need to hear about it 9 times from different sources. This resonated with me and I think could well be true. So I guess, I had heard about Toastmasters about 9 times from different people over about a year.

Eventually I checked the internet to find out more and really liked what I read! It described a place where personal growth is nurtured, built on supporting each other through developmental feedback. Right up my street!

I asked my boyfriend if he had heard Toastmasters, and it turned out that he had been actively involved some years before and knew immediately that I would love it. I think that must have been the 9th time I had heard about it – I was totally inspired to action!

I checked out my local clubs on the Toastmasters International website and went for the nearest geographically – Coventry – Godiva Speakers. I had a couple of texts with their Vice President of PR, Mohammed, before arriving, slightly nervously on a cold, dark evening in October 2018 outside a slightly shabby but friendly social club, called The Cheery Tree.

I was welcomed by a friendly Canadian, John, who was a veteran Toastmaster of about 30 years! As it turned out, it was quite a small meeting and I was the only girl, but everyone was very welcoming, making a point of introducing themselves and shaking my hand. I listened to three enthralling speeches, some detailed evaluations, clapped a lot and had a go at my first Table Topic – which was a format to practice impromptu speaking – attempting to talk for two minutes on a subject you have literally just been given. As the theme of the meeting was Halloween, my table topic was on ghosts. Shakily, I babbled on for just over a minute about that subject, was heartily applauded. I was hooked!

I joined up straight away, and within a month I had delivered my first ‘Ice-breaker’ speech and become the Vice President of Membership. I came second in my first Club competition in February 2019 and then, challenged myself to do 5 speeches in two weeks in order to get qualified for the next stage of the competition. I managed three in a week at three different clubs, even after totalling my car on the way home from the Club competition. Only to discover, that as I wasn’t qualified at the Club competition when I entered, I could not continue further anyway. I was however, fast-tracking through my first Pathway (TM training programme), and interestingly it meant that I was then qualified to judge in the District competition, which led to me to having the opportunity to be a judge in the Rotary National Youth Speaks Competition a few weeks later.

I’m here now, in June 2019, as President of Godiva Speakers and this blog-writing is part of a Level 4 Challenge – Write a Compelling Blog – 8 blogs in one month and a 3-minute reflective speech on my experience! How can I condense everything that I have learnt about blog-writing into 3 minutes? I know I will.

One of my Toast Masters mentors, Tanya Barad, once told me that she never missed an opportunity to speak, and I have taken that concept from her.  I now have confidence to be able to pull a speech together in a few minutes, and am constantly working on my delivery. Now everything I experience in life is a potential speech or blog!

Another great thing about Toastmasters is that you can work through in your own time. It is not necessary to go at my pace!

If you are interested in some experiential, mind-opening learning while expanding your network, as well as your comfort zone and opening doors to opportunities you never even knew existed, then I would suggest giving Toastmasters a go. Each meeting has been diverse, fun and inspiring and I always expand knowledge and connections from all walks of life and all over the world.

If you have read anything in this blog that has pricked your curiosity, then visit https://www.toastmasters.org/ to discover your nearest club – there will be one close by – there are over 15,900 clubs in 142 countries.  You can try out as many different clubs as you like, free of charge.

There is no pressure to participate initially, but that is definitely where the fun is at. It is such a nurturing, loving place of growth, you will come away feeling like you have expanded your comfort zone and any barriers holding you back will be lowered.