Often, people ask me why I still am a Toastmaster after 13 years.They tell me I don’t appear to need it. However, I know I need it and I am actually surprised that more people don’t belong to access one of the best practice spaces around. After all, effective communication is something we all can do better in the information era. Here are 3 things I notice when I don’t get my regular practice in:
- Eye contact. This is one of the most important elements of communicating to others, whether that be one-on-one or with a group. However, I find that if I am not on my game, too much of my brain space is occupied by other aspects and I don’t have enough in-the-moment memory to maintain diversified, lingered, & naturally looking eye contact. During these times, I more readily give people rapid glances and look above people’s heads or toward gaps in my audience. They may not notice it, but I certainly do because I know I can do better, especially knowing how important eye contact is in drawing people in to what I am trying to say.
- Pronunciation: Lately, I’ve had trouble making consecutive weeks at my friendly neighborhood Toastmaster Club and they way words roll off my tongue has been noticeably sloppy. I have a confession to make, I know many more words than I can speak correctly and my range shrinks dramatically when I don’t enunciate those words often. And, speaking tricky words to a mirror or your steering wheel is good, but what helps the most is practicing them, under pressure, in a live studio audience.
- Confidence: Perhaps this item is most fortified with regular practice. When well seasoned, I am more creative, more spontaneous, I take more calculated risks, and I feel that I’m perceived as being more enthusiastic and fun. My ability to improvise increases and I am able to maintain longer eye contact and use the full range of my vocabulary, not my conservative short bench. Confidence is the necessary fuel needed to achieve peak performance and the best way to boost confidence is practice.
The environment in which you practice is also important. I often run across people that give frequent presentations or do a lot of networking and tell me that they don’t need Toastmasters or a similar practice environment because they get enough of it while doing. While the work we do “live” is important, it doesn’t replace an environment where you are giving and receiving feedback from other people also honing their craft. That third party perspective is what makes good – great. It’s easy to make the same mistakes over and over in in regular performance if people don’t clue you in to what you are doing wrong. You also can’t elevate your strengths if you don’t invest the time in a practice environment where you can stretch yourself above what you typically do.
For these reasons, as long as I am an active facilitator and presenter, I can’t see me forgoing the practice I get from Toastmasters. To me, performing without practice would be a disservice to myself and those that I am striving to serve.