Entrepreneurs are not traditionally the focus of Toastmasters groups, says Pitch Craft 4 Entrepreneurs Evelyn Holzeis, pictured right with Katy Dyzewska
Photo: Mike Zenari
We often take communication skills for granted. But the art of communication is more subtle and powerful than many realise. Toastmasters clubs help to unlock this magic skill.
Skilled communicators apparently earn more money, have better marriages and are highly employable. These are just some of the findings that have emerged from a handful of scientific studies on the subject. But they are not always the first reasons people join a Toastmasters club.
“I went there mostly for socialising because I found people which were like-minded and because of the recognition,” Oana Marangoci of the Green Heart Toastmasters Club says. “It changed me in a very profound way. I was a very shy person, but I came out of my shell.”
Part of Marangoci’s positive experience comes from the fact her club offered a “safe environment to practise”. “They were very encouraging and made me stay and evolve.” Marangoci began working through the Toastmasters training manual two years ago. She passed the first stage, becoming a “competent leader and communicator” within just 18 months.
The certification, however, is nothing in comparison to the valuable communication skills, which benefit her work and personal life. “What I found useful was presentation skills and time management. At the beginning it was a real struggle to fit a speech into 5-7 minutes. I also improved a lot my language and voice projection. This was mostly due to the workshops we had.”
Green Heart Toastmasters Club is one of six social clubs in the Luxembourg area, the oldest of which is the Bossuet Gaveliers. The Orateurs du Jeudi is the only French-speaking club, while Toastmasters op Lëtzebuergesch was launched in May as a club where people with minimum B1 level in spoken Luxembourgish can practise their language skills. Another social club, Pitch Craft 4 Entrepreneurs, was founded at the beginning of 2018 and has yet to gain the official Toastmasters charter.
There are also a further five corporate clubs, established by companies exclusively for their staff. All of the clubs follow the Toastmasters curriculum, Pathways, an updated version of the earlier, more general, manual-based training.
Now available online, Pathways enables members to focus more on the communication matters they want to improve rather. It involves giving speeches, and taking on other roles like organising meetings, or being an evaluator, feedback being integral to the Toastmasters programme.
It takes on average two to three years to finish a path in this programme, though learners work at their own pace. Participants can also take part in contests within the area, division and district. Clearly, the Toastmasters trend is growing, particularly among the business community.
Pitch Craft 4 Entrepreneurs, which began in February 2018 and meets twice a month at coworking space The Office, is evidence of this. The social club was founded by jeweller and coworking resident Evelyn Holzeis. “We’re targeting more freelancers, entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals.
Other clubs don’t really have that much of a focus on this type of demographic,” she says. “We basically want to create a safe environment for everyone to learn how to communicate with their clients, with their employees, if they have a team as an entrepreneur or a startup business. Even your body language, how you communicate. It expresses whether you’re confident and it also helps you sell your brand.”
A natural introvert, Holzeis says the idea of public speaking and creating a club around it really pushed her beyond her comfort zone. However, she has already noticed a change. “It’s about awareness. As you read and hear others speak you become more aware of the different tools your body and voice have when you speak,” she says.
The club follows the Toastmasters curriculum, but adapts it to the group, for instance, tackling questions specific to entrepreneurs in the “table topics” and speeches. “One of the skills that’s important for entrepreneurs is to be able to sell their own products in a storytelling way,” edutainer and group member Katy Dyzewska explains, adding: “Each of us has a different experience, different products. We can exchange experiences and feelings and maybe create some kind of collaboration.”
Within the five corporate Toastmasters clubs is BBH’s “To be discussed”, which was set up in 2009 with 20 founding members. An initiative from a member of the management team, who was already a Toastmasters convert, the idea was to help staff improve public speaking skills, BBH senior vice president Nils Cullen explained.
“As the club became more established, we realised there were many more benefits besides improving public speaking skills, including improving meeting organisation and effectiveness, building self-confidence and networking.”
Today, Toastmasters is part of the bank’s standard training curriculum and some 200 members and guests have participated in meetings, which are held every other Thursday at lunchtimes at the BBH offices in Luxembourg. While the skills learned are important at all levels, BBH sees that they also improve efficiency, a crucial element in a business where time is money and work pressures are constantly mounting.
Cullen said: “Everyone is busy these days so it’s important we make the most of our meeting time--efficient meetings or presentations with clear, concise messages help improve the quality of discussions and drive action.”