When I was in sixth grade, my fellow students and I practiced public speaking and talking about our favorite topics by giving speeches in front of the class. The term “Toastmasters” was used but no one explained what that meant.
Eighteen years later, I was reintroduced to Toastmasters when a friend of mine told me she wanted to start a Toastmasters club of her own. She owned a small school and wanted a place where people could practice marketing presentations, sharpen their leadership skills and have fun in the process!
It turns out that Toastmasters International is a not-for-profit organization that has been around for over 90 years. It has hundreds of thousands of members in dozens of countries around the world! The purpose of Toastmasters is to help people gain more self-confidence and personal development through giving speeches, whether prepared or improvised.
I helped my friend start the club, which we named “The Outliers” since we were far away from other Toastmasters clubs. Since people knew about my accounting background, my first role in the club was serving as the treasurer for five months. The first speech I gave, “The Ice Breaker,” was about my interest in becoming a motivational speaker in the autism community. My fellow club members were very surprised to learn that I have autism. They told me that I earned their respect when I explained how I wanted to help others.
Once we had 20 members, we were able to charter our club and become officially recognized by Toastmasters International. At the meeting announcing this milestone, I had just completed a speech about how Batman changed my life. While I was still in my Batman mask and cape, my fellow Outliers suggested that I become the president of the club. I was hesitant to accept the position, but knowing that I would have a team of officers to help me out, I accepted the presidency. This was one of the best decisions I could have made!
The Outliers have been chartered for nearly a year, and the club has nearly 30 members. Our group now feels more like a team. We listen actively and learn from one another. Members are building skills and confidence as well as meeting their personal communication and leadership goals. In fact, I recently earned the titles “Competent Communicator” and “Competent Leader.”
You Are Welcome to Join
As I searched for guests to bring to meetings in hopes of having them become members, I noticed that there were many socially awkward individuals (some with autism) that attended meetings. Knowing where they were coming from, I made them feel comfortable at all times reminding them that they can see others give speeches first. I assured them that our club meetings were the perfect place to share their areas of interest or expertise. In addition, members would not think less of them if they messed up while giving a speech. This is also a great place to meet new people and bring out undiscovered leadership qualities. Two such individuals even went on to become club officers!
It makes me very happy as the leader of our club to see members building their skills and confidence, both as active listeners and effective speakers. Our members are meeting their goals and, as a result, our club is on the path to becoming a President’s Distinguished Club, one of the highest honors a club can receive!
Toastmasters has helped me come out of my shell and hopefully it can do the same for you. Visit a club in your area as an honored guest and see what you think. I hope that it will be a place where you can fit in, make friends, have fun and find your voice. For more information on how to find a club or to join Toastmasters, please visit www.toastmasters.org, click ‘Find a Club,’ and enter a city near you to find clubs in your area.
I would love to hear from you! Learn more about my professional presentations and trainings at www.ThomasIland.com. Please like Thomas Iland on my social channels for more messages of inspiration.
Self-Advocate and professional speaker with ASD
Tom Iland has worked hard to overcome challenges presented by his Autism Spectrum Disorder. His achievements include graduating from Cal State University Northridge, becoming a Certified Public Accountant, and working in corporate America. Tom is now pursuing a professional career as a speaker and trainer sharing insights and practical advice with the Autism community. Read more.
Thanks to Emily Iland and Kyle Duffy for helping me tell my story.