As a little girl I loved being the center of attention. Whenever my father got out his camera, I would dance happily around him begging, “Daddy, daddy, take a picture of me!”
In my teen years, my piano performances put me on stage often—a place I enjoyed immensely. Speaking in front of people didn’t scare me either. In fact, the few times I spoke publicly I felt energized. I knew the stage was for me. Fast forward to 2004 when I met Lori Hartwell, the founder of the Renal Support Network. She proudly attributed her speaking abilities to her long-time involvement in a Toastmasters club, and encouraged me—and everyone she knew—to try it.
In case you’re wondering, Toastmasters is not where you learn the fine art of making toast for breakfast (though a lot of clubs meet at that early hour). Rather, it’s a training ground for learning the fine art of public speaking.
After visiting a few Toastmasters clubs in my local area, I decided this would be a beneficial investment of my time. I chose a club and became a member. For three years now, I’ve regularly attended weekly club meetings. Many people tell me they’ve seen a big improvement in my speaking ability. My involvement in Toastmasters has also enhanced my ability to listen—an asset in all aspects of life!
Toastmasters keeps me sharp because I have the opportunity to practice, practice, practice. “Stage time” is the best way to get more comfortable in front of an audience, and Toastmasters guarantees that club members get lots of it! Opportunities to practice both speaking and listening skills abound at every club meeting in the form of various speaking and evaluating roles. Members are challenged to lead the meeting, give a short speech, tell a joke, speak without preparation, listen for filler words (um, uh), and evaluate others.
Instructional manuals guide members in preparing a speech. In the first speech manual, ten speech projects focus on practicing skills such as gestures, visual aids, or vocal variety. After completing the ten projects, a member can continue with more advanced speech manuals. Leadership manuals help members learn and practice leadership skills.
My favorite part of the meeting is the evaluation portion, which I find both inspiring and helpful. Evaluators highlight positive aspects of each speech along with constructive suggestions for improvement. I always look forward to the feedback I receive—it’s been instrumental in my growth as a speaker.
I have a story—a story that encompasses the experiences, victories, heartaches, hope, and determination of living with kidney disease for over 30 years. As a result of Toastmasters training, I’ve learned to share my story with greater clarity, emotion, skill, and confidence. Toastmasters made the difference!
Toastmasters clubs are located in almost every city and in small towns as well. Clubs are visitor-friendly and welcoming. To find a club near you or to learn more about Toastmasters International, go to www.toastmasters.org.
About the Author
Shari Gilford has lived with kidney disease for over 30 years and received her third transplant in March of 2006. She was the managing editor of the Renal Support Network’s Live & Give newsletter for almost three years. As a PEPP speaker, she has spoken to patient and professional audiences of over 200 people.
Article uploaded 12-31-2008
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