A Publication of WTVP

Almost every employer is looking for employees with great leadership skills. But where can a person go to learn leadership skills if he doesn’t have them already? Toastmasters International may be most widely recognized as a leading public speaking organization, but it is also home to one of the most effective leadership-building programs available today. It is a program that is currently being used to help 235,000 people build character and advance in their careers through their participation in the 11,700 Toastmasters clubs located in 92 different countries.

It is important to emphasize that this program is used in clubs around the world. In Toastmasters, everyone learns by doing—there are no boring classrooms. Members are given the opportunity to perform a variety of unique roles at every meeting, such as Toastmaster, Topicmaster and Speech Evaluator. Each role allows members to practice a different set of leadership skills while taking an active part in running the meeting.

As members complete different roles, they have the option of having their performance evaluated by one of their peers. These evaluations are presented in a positive, constructive manner and include praise for those things that were done well, as well as suggestions for future improvement. It is this supportive, friendly atmosphere that makes Toastmasters a unique learning environment where participants can take the risk of trying something new without fear of embarrassment. In fact, many local Toastmasters find the experience so enjoyable that they forget that they are actually learning something too—a situation that has caused many to start referring to the meetings as “productive fun.”

There are no grades, tests or teachers to stress out about in Toastmasters either. Instead, everyone is able to track their progress using leadership manuals that are given to all new members. This manual contains a series of 10 projects that make up the first level in the Toastmasters leadership program. Many of the projects involve participating in the meeting roles described above, and members can choose to complete them at whatever pace is most comfortable for them.

Each member who successfully completes the 10 projects is eligible to earn the designation of Competent Leader. Once they have become Competent Leaders, all Toastmasters are given the opportunity to complete a variety of larger projects that will help them take leadership positions in higher levels of the organization, and perhaps even in the local community. As their success continues to grow, members earn further designations, such as Advanced Leader Bronze, Advanced Leader Silver and Distinguished Toastmaster.

While some of the projects initially seem easy to complete, each one is carefully designed to encourage members to take increasingly prominent roles in the club. Peoria Toastmaster Rhonda Larsen recently explained it by saying, “Each step they pull a little bit more out of you. You’re leading more and more, and you don’t even realize it.”

Earlier this summer, Ms. Larsen found out firsthand exactly how beneficial the Toastmasters leadership program can be when she interviewed for a new job with the University of Illinois College of Medicine. The position she sought, business administrative associate in the Department of Medicine, required leadership skills, but Ms. Larsen’s employment history didn’t include any managerial or supervisory roles that demonstrated how qualified she actually was for the job.

Yet over the last few years, Ms. Larsen had repeatedly proven herself to be an extremely effective and well-respected leader in the Toastmasters organization. She served for two years as the interim president of the Riverfront Toastmasters club in Peoria, and the club benefited tremendously from her hard work. Earlier this year, she was appointed to be the Governor of Area 21—a region made up of five Toastmasters clubs throughout Peoria. In this capacity, she is responsible for managing those five clubs, and has passionately advocated their needs to the higher levels of Toastmasters leadership.

During her interview at the Department of Medicine, Ms. Larsen took the initiative to come right out and ask if the lack of supervisory experience in her previous work-related responsibilities would be a disadvantage. The interviewer told her that he was aware of her performance in Toastmasters and that that experience—managing a club and now overseeing five clubs—definitely met the requirements he was looking for in this particular position. With that major hurdle out of the way, she went on to do well in the rest of the interview and earned the new job she wanted at a place where she loves to work.

It’s clear that Toastmasters has helped Ms. Larsen advance in her career, and she is quick to point out how much personal growth she has experienced as well. When asked about the biggest change she has seen in herself since joining Toastmasters, Ms. Larsen didn’t hesitate before saying, “I don’t fear office meetings anymore.” She explained that prior to Toastmasters, she would worry that something would come up during a meeting that she wasn’t expecting. Now that she has been a Toastmaster for a few years and performed every meeting role imaginable, she knows without a doubt that there is nothing that could come up that she wouldn’t be able to handle.

Of course, Rhonda Larsen’s story is just one of many examples of why Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization, has become so popular around the world. The countless benefits of Toastmasters are available to anyone who would like to join, and there are a variety of clubs throughout the Peoria area to accommodate every schedule. To learn how Toastmasters can help you improve your confidence, advance in your career and have a great time, contact any of the Peoria area clubs or visit iBi