As a small-business owner, you’re the public face of your company. That means you’ll probably need to participate in promotional activities, such as presentations, seminars, or lectures, in order to keep your business on the top of potential customers’ minds. But what if you’re not a natural when it comes to public speaking? Consider seeking guidance from a few pros.
Toastmasters International, a global nonprofit group focused on public speaking and leadership skills, has helped business executives, individuals, and entrepreneurs alike to improve their communication skills since 1924. CEOs of large companies, such as Peter Coors of Molson Coors Brewing Co. and Debbi Fields Rose of Mrs. Fields Cookies have participated in the program. So have many politicians, including U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and the late House Speaker Carl Albert.
Small-business owners often find the program useful, too: “Toastmasters has been a critical part of my small business for more than 20 years,” says Susan Lannis, a professional organizer in Clackamas, Ore. “The training I have received has helped me do everything including talk to clients, handle media interviews for valuable publicity, generate revenue by speaking for a fee, and develop products by improving my written communication as much as my verbal communication.”
So, how does the Toastmasters program work? Regional groups, consisting of 20 to 40 people, hold biweekly workshops, where members give presentations and are evaluated on their speaking skills. Members also work on assignments in the organization’s program manuals and gradually progress to higher-level projects after completing the assignments in the initial manuals.
For individuals who are unaccustomed to making speeches, the presentations — which are often impromptu — can be nerve-racking. However, many members benefit greatly from the frequent public speaking opportunities and constructive feedback.
“It helps you figure out how to get your message across in a matter of a few minutes, which is valuable to small-business owners when it comes to marketing and advertising,” says Julie Austin, a Toastmasters member and owner of the Los Angeles-based consulting firm Creative Innovation.
The organization isn’t geared specifically to business owners, so if you’re seeking a program focused on more effective business management, look elsewhere. However, if you’d like to brush up on your communication skills, Toastmasters can help you improve your confidence and become a more effective public speaker, which can lead to more promotional opportunities for your business.
Whether or not Toastmasters is a fit for you, it’s tough to beat the price: It costs just $6 a month (plus a $20 initiation fee) to attend meetings and gain access to the group’s educational materials. If you’re interested in finding out whether the organization can help your public speaking skills, visit the Toastmasters website to find a local meeting.