Fun Toastmasters public speaking groups help people across Portsmouth, Fareham and Havant gain confidence and leadership skills
SPEAKING in front of a room or Zoom full of people can be daunting even to the most experienced speakers.
There aren’t many ways to practise the skill of public speaking without biting the bullet and hosting a presentation, and this can be a terrifying prospect for many.
However, groups across the area are supporting people to gain confidence in skills like public speaking, leadership and more.
Non-profit organisation Toastmasters aims to provide a supportive and positive space for people to network and practice these skills without fear of judgement.
Locally, there are three very active branches of Toastmasters: Solent Speakers, Spinnaker Speakers and Shilling Speakers.
Gosport resident Claire Jewell had never heard of Toastmasters until it was mentioned by an acquaintance at a party, which piqued her interest.
A self-confessed introvert, Claire thought it didn’t sound like something she would be able to do, but went along to a meeting of Solent Speakers to try it out.
The 40-year-old, who has now been a member for four years, said: ‘After seeing one of their sessions, I knew this was what I needed.
‘I was a team leader, but even speaking with my team, my hands would go sweaty and I tripped over my words.
‘My confidence has really grown and I put it down to Toastmasters. I would still say I’m an introvert, but now I don’t have that hang up.
‘I wish I’d learned about it as a teenager leaving school. I just think it’s something everybody should do. It’s like a family, I couldn’t recommend it enough.’
Since joining the club, Claire has gone from strength to strength by winning competitions at club and area level, before going on to gain a bronze medal at regional level.
Her confidence has skyrocketed, which has led to a new job, promotions and Claire even mentors a woman in London.
These are all things Claire would never have expected four years ago when she almost didn’t make it through the door at her first meeting due to nerves.
Virtual meetings helped the group to continue developing their skills
Since the physical meetings were moved online from the Lysses Hotel in Fareham due to the pandemic, members have had even more opportunities to meet new people and experience meetings of groups across the world.
Claire said she has virtually visited Toastmasters groups in Tokyo, Melbourne and the USA throughout lockdown.
Toastmasters was started in 1924, and it has more than 364,000 in 16,200 clubs across 145 countries.
People of all ages and from all backgrounds and careers have joined the groups across the area, and Solent Speakers member Louise Nelson said she loves the diverse range of people taking part.
Louise, from Locks Heath, joined in August 2020 so she has only experienced the virtual groups, but has found her skills have increased since being part of the community.
The 46-year-old said: ‘Immediately it was such a fun and diverse group of people and they were so welcoming.
‘It’s such a great thing for your mental health and wellbeing. People are connecting, there’s a real sense of friendship and a good network.
‘It’s just such a good thing that I think so many more people in the community can benefit from.
‘I think in this day and age, we’re all becoming slightly insular and talking less and less. It’s just refreshing that the whole point is to be seen and to talk.
‘It’s the perfect environment to come and practice because there’s no judgement on you.’
Variety of opportunities to take on leadership roles and add to your CV
After joining the group, you get the opportunity to complete a portfolio of different speeches, and each meeting provides a variety of opportunities to present planned talks as well as getting involved with impromptu speaking on unknown topics.
There are also various ways to take on some responsibility as part of the group’s committee, and Louise has enjoyed her time so much she is now vice president of public relations.
There are a range of roles which members can take on, including treasurer and vice president of membership, and these all provide opportunities to learn new skills and develop leadership qualities.
Keen to bring in new members to the group is vice president of membership Vanda Varga.
Fareham resident Vanda joined Solent Speakers in January 2020 after moving from Southsea to Fareham and wanting to network with new people.
Vanda, a master practitioner of NLP and hypnotherapy, heard about Toastmasters and wasn’t sure what it was all about.
Despite some self doubt, Vanda went along to a meeting and immediately signed up for a membership.
The 36-year-old said: ‘It really is magical. I fell in love with Solent Speakers because of the friendship and support.
‘It’s absolutely wonderful, it’s not just the public speaking part and the interaction that comes with it. It’s also the community we have there.
‘It’s a lovely group of people, we all share a common mission and we have all been in each other’s shoes.
‘I think it’s a no brainer if you want to improve your skills, whether it’s speaking or leadership. You get the best education ever in a nice, friendly environment.’
Before the pandemic, Vanda hated the idea of doing a Facetime call or speaking on Zoom or Skype, but since meetings have moved online she has developed her confidence in speaking online.
Vanda said: ‘It will be good to go back, but being online is giving us a whole new set of skills which we will need in our everyday lives.
‘We have people that are absolutely shy and have nothing to do with public speaking or we have public speakers who want to become better. With what I do, language is very important.
‘We have young people, we have older people, we have the whole range. It’s all about finding those opportunities to improve yourself.’
Most groups allow guests to visit a few times for free before signing up for a membership, so prospective members can get a feel for what the group is like and how it all works.
Visit toastmasters.org for more information about the organisation and how to get involved.
How the meetings work at a Toastmasters group
According to regular members, each meeting follows a similar structure but no two events are ever the same.
This is because speeches can be on any topic, some of the presentations are done off the cuff, and varying themes help keep it interesting for those taking part.
Members take on roles to keep the meeting moving, for example timekeeper or being in charge of the warm up.
The warm up is where each participant speaks for a short period of time on a set topic, for example discussing what comedy means to them.
There will also usually be two or three speakers who have prepared speeches to present to the group, as well as a series of ‘table topics’.
These are prepared by one of the members, who will pose an unknown question to another participant and this person will speak on this topic for a minute or two.
The main theme throughout is evaluation: people are given real-time feedback on their speeches, their responses to table topics, and even the evaluation is evaluated.
This means the group can learn from their peers and continuously improve their skills thanks to the constructive feedback of the audience.
The atmosphere is relaxed, and no one is forced to speak if they would rather just observe, so the group moves at a pace comfortable for all involved.
Where to join a Toastmasters club in our area
There are three Toastmasters clubs around the Portsmouth area, although they are all operating virtually until restrictions ease enough to meet in person again.
Portsmouth: Spinnaker Speakers
Meet on the second and fourth Monday of each month
Fareham: Solent Speakers
Meet on the first and third Tuesday of each month
Havant: Shilling Speakers
Meet on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month