Tongue-Tied? Try Toastmasters

Allow me to introduce this week's guest blogger: Keli Gwyn

Scared of Speaking?

Knocking Knees. Hammering Heart. Perspiring Palms. What do they have in common?

All three are symptoms of the #1 fear

And what is that?

Public speaking tops the list of things that terrify us. According to numerous sources, not even the fear of death surpasses it. The mere thought of standing behind a podium with people peering at us can turn even the most outgoing person into a stammering, cotton-mouthed scaredy-cat.

Writers and Speaking
Why do we, as novelists, need concern ourselves with public speaking? Especially those of us, like me, who freely admit we’re shy writers? After all, don’t we spend most of our time alone in front of our computers with only our characters (and perhaps a pet or two) for company? Aren’t non-fiction writers the ones who have to build a platform and speak to promote their books?

I’ll answer those questions with one word: readers.
We want our books to be read and enjoyed by many, right? One way for that to happen is for us to interact with our readers, potential readers, and writer friends who serve as reviewers and influencers.

And how do we reach them? Sure, we use email. But we also speak—in our writer groups, at meetings, at conferences, in the classroom, in those all important pitch sessions. Sometimes we’re even given (or can actually be brave and seek) opportunities to speak, which enable us to reach a number of people at one time.

Speak? Shudder. Who is she kidding? I’m no speaker. The thought terrifies me.

If thoughts like those run through your head at the idea of addressing an audience, you’re not alone. But help is available.

A Proven Solution
One of the best programs for improving as a speaker is Toastmasters. Founded in 1924, Toastmasters International (TMI) has over 250,000 members in 106 countries and has helped countless people improve their speaking skills and develop in other ways too. How do I know? I’ve been a member for two years and have benefited personally. If you’ve considering joining Toastmasters but don’t know what it’s about, I’ll give you an inside look.

How do I find a club?
Many communities have a Toastmasters club—often more than one. To locate a club near you, check your local phone book or newspaper’s club section. You can also visit the TWI website,, and click the “find” link on the home page. Club locations and meeting day/times are listed.

Can I check out a TM club before I join?
Most clubs are open to the public and are eager to have you visit—more than once if you’d like. If more than one club in your area meets at a time that would fit into your schedule, I suggest visiting both. Although clubs follow the same format, each has its own style or atmosphere.

What is the format?
Most club meetings, which are generally an hour long and take place once a week, follow a similar format with five major components.

1) Business meeting – After the Sergeant at Arms calls the meeting to order, s/he will introduce the Toastmaster (TM) for the week. This position, along with the others, is filled by a different member each week. The TM introduces the members who are serving in various roles and invites them to explain their duties. Some of these roles are Timer, Joke Master, and Grammarian, who will announce the Word of the Day.

2) Prepared Speeches – The TM introduces the members scheduled to speak that day. These members prepare their speeches in advance, using guidelines outlined in a manual. New members work through the first manual, the Competent Communicator, which contains ten speeches aimed at teaching the basics, such as organizing a speech, using vocal variety, and incorporating body language. Once a member has completed the ten speeches in this first manual, he or she has a choice of many manuals from which to choose, such as The Entertaining Speaker, Storytelling, and Humorously Speaking. Each speaker must stay within the time constraints of his/her speech to qualify for the awards given at the conclusion of the meeting.

3) Table Topics – The Table Topicsmaster leads the extemporaneous speeches portion of the meeting. S/he chooses a topic for the week, which is often related to the theme for that week’s meeting. The members who volunteer or are chosen to speak address the given topic in a one-two minute impromptu speech. To qualify for the awards, the speakers have to meet the minimum time requirement and incorporate the Word of the Day into their speeches. This portion of the meeting tends to be a great deal of fun. Visitors are welcome to participate.

4) Evaluation – The General Evaluator (GE) leads this portion of the meeting. S/he introduces the members serving as Evaluators, who provide two-three minute oral evaluations of the prepared speakers. The GE then asks for the Grammarian’s report. The member serving in that position reports on good use of language. In some clubs, s/he will also mention the use of crutch/filler words used by members, such as “um,” “ah,” or “you know.” The GE concludes this portion of the meeting with an overall evaluation of the meeting.

5) Conclusion – The awards/ribbons for Best Prepared Speaker, Best Table Topics, and Best Evaluator are presented. The TM turns the meeting over to the presiding officer, who deals with any club business and concludes the meeting.

How much does it cost to join?
A new member pays a one-time $20 membership fee, which covers the cost of the first two manuals: Competent Communicator and Competent Leader. A monthly fee, currently $4.50, is paid to TMI. Collected every six months, this fee entitles a member to receive the monthly Toastmaster magazine. In addition, each club assesses a monthly fee to offset operating expenses. Mine charges just one dollar a month.

What are the benefits of Toastmasters?
1. Improved Presentation Skills -- A member learns to prepare an organized, engaging speech. In addition, s/he practices the skills needed to present a polished performance and maintain the audience’s interest. Among these are good use of voice, body language, timing, props, and humor.

 2. Thinking on Your Feet -- TM members get practice speaking without a script as they fill the various roles and participate in Table Topics. Learning to be more comfortable speaking extemporaneously would help a writer in many ways: interacting with readers, other writers, friends, and family members. Table Topics practice could help when we’re put on the spot, such as when we get that unexpected opportunity to pitch our projects in an “elevator speech.”

3. Listening Skills -- When serving as an Evaluator, one learns to listen better, which would help a writer in communications with his/her agent and editor(s).

4. Business Skills -- A member learns leadership and time management skills, both of which would benefit a writer in handling the business side of writing.

5. Dealing with Criticism -- Learning from the Evaluations of one’s speeches helps a member improve his/her speaking skills. In addition, this experience could help a writer learn how to accept constructive criticism such as s/he receives from agents, editors, mentors, and writing partners.

6. Increased Confidence -- One of the greatest benefits of TM, especially for shy writers, is the growth in self-confidence. Facing a fear takes courage. Doing something to minimize that fear is empowering.

7. Fun and Friendships -- TM meetings can be a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing my TM buddies every Wednesday at noon, knowing we’ll have a great time together. We learn in a mutually supportive environment. And we laugh—a lot. Facing a fear with friends who become allies in the battle builds special relationships.

8. Financial Rewards -- Once you’ve joined TM and have grown more comfortable as a speaker, you may find it easier to interest groups in having you as their guest. The fact that you are a trained TM will add credibility, and you may find that you can charge a fee and get paid to speak. Plus, once you’ve sold a book, speaking endears you to an audience, and you’re apt to gain new readers from those who listened to your presentation.

From Cotton-mouthed to Confident
After two-years in TM, I no longer get quite as nervous before a speech as I used to. That doesn’t mean I’ve overcome my inherent shyness. I still deal with dry-mouth during a speech on occasion, but most of the time, my audience doesn’t know I’m scared, which I count as progress.

Fear of public speaking is real, but we can do something about it. If you want to face yours, I encourage you to explore TM as an option. I have a hunch you’ll be glad you did.

If you have questions about Toastmasters that I haven’t covered, please leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Keli writes inspirational historical romance and was a double Golden Heart® finalist in 2008. Her Christmas present this past year was an offer of representation from Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Keli and her extremely supportive hubby, who serves as her plotting partner, live in the heart of California’s Gold Country. In addition to writing and participating in her local Toastmasters club, Keli enjoys taking walks down the narrow streets of her small town while admiring the Victorian homes gracing them. She has a fondness for Coach handbags and is a long-time Taco Bell addict.

To learn more about Keli, visit her website or her popular blog, Romance Writers on the Journey


  1. I had to post this a day early because Blogger wouldn't let me save without posting. Grr. I apologize if there is wonky formatting--don't know if it's Blogger or my computer.


  2. Keli--Thanks so much for a fabulous post. I learned a lot, and plan to check out my local Toastmasters. I can certainly see how this organization could benefit a shy writer like me.

  3. Keli, thank you for this post. I am supposed to visit the Toast Masters chapter that is housed at work next week. I am really looking forward to it now!


  4. Becky, thanks so much for having me as your guest at Shy Writers and giving me an opportunity to talk about Toastmasters. Since so many writers are expected to speak these days, gaining skills in a program that has such a great reputation and record of success can be a real asset.

    I'm sorry you encountered problems formatting your post. The same thing happens to me on my Blogger blog all the time and is frustrating.

  5. Caren, I hope you have a great time at the Toastmasters meeting. We're always glad to have guests visit and do our best to make them feel welcome and answer their questions. How nice that you have a club that is so convenient.

    One of the many things that enticed me to join TM after attending a couple of meetings was the camaraderie and the level of support and encouragement between the members. Everyone is there for the same reason and understands how tough it can be to speak publicly. Another reason I joined is that the meetings are fun. We enjoy being together, and we laugh a lot.

  6. Very interesting Keli. I never even heard of Toastmasters until you. I'm working my way up to giving a power point presentation this fall at my RWA chapter meeting.

  7. Beth, I hope your presentation goes well. Talking about a subject one knows a great deal about can help calm the nerves. And you certainly know a great deal about writing. :)

  8. That's fascinating, Keli. I'm not particularly shy, but this tends to lull me into a false sense of secrutity. I ramble, I blabber on and on about all sorts of things! Sounds like Toastmasters would be a wonderful place not just for shy writers, but for blabbermouths like me to learn some useful skills! You've sold me. I'm going to the website to look for a chapter in my area right now.

    Good luck with all your Toastmastering and with those manuscripts!

  9. A friend of mine (familiar with my white-knuckled reluctance to speak in public) said I should join Toastmasters. It sounded like a kitchen appliance to me, so I promptly forgot about it. Being the most introverted writer on the planet will eventually drive you to find a solution. I'm so glad I found your post, Keli. You've answered my questions and removed the mystery. I'll be checking out Toastmasters ASAP. Thank you.

  10. PS, Rebecca, I'm glad I found your blog, too. Nice to know I'm not alone.

  11. Thanks, Keli. I've heard so much about Toastmasters but having the details is fabulous. Now to make myself go....

  12. Keli, thanks for the insight into Toastmasters. It sounds like a great, supportive organization. Kudos to you for literally stepping up to the podium! :)

    And hi, Becky! :)

  13. Susan, Toastmasters isn't just for shy speakers. Everyone can benefit. Those who are comfortable speaking will be able to focus on their presentation skills.

    Marcia, I'm so glad you found the post since I know you had questions about Toastmasters. I did my best to remove some of the mystery. And, no, Toastmasters has nothing to do with toasters or the ability to make toast. The name comes from making toasts--those brief speeches such as the father-of-the-bride makes at his daughter's weddings.

    bevp, I hope I've given you enough information to put some of your fears to rest. I encourage you to give TM a try. It doesn't cost anything, and the members will do their best to put you at ease.

    Anne, my faithful CP, thanks for stopping by. You know how much fun I have at my weekly TM meetings since you hear about them so often. :)

  14. Great post, Keli! I used to be a member and had a blast. I'm not a bit surprised that public speaking is listed as a greater fear than death for most people, as I agree with that one personally. LOL.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  15. Kristina, it's nice to learn that TM contributed to your success in some small way. I wish you lived nearby. I'd invite you to visit our club as a guest speaker and talk about the many wonderful experiences you've had and how you were part of TM "way back when."

  16. You know, I actually don't mind public speaking, as long as I'm not talking about myself (like I would at a booksigning). But if the spotlight is on ME, I'm a mess.

    Marcia, I'm glad you found this place, too. I hope the topics we share help you out. :)

    Hi to my fellow Pixies!