The mere thought of it makes some break into a cold sweat. Others find their knees start buckling. Some despise it. Some fear it more than death.
Yet abilities like effectively communicating your ideas, holding a crowd's attention or leading group discussion, are essential to success – both personally and professionally.
Behold Toastmasters, an organisation of 280,000 members from 13,500 clubs in 116 countries, founded on the premise: to provide a supportive environment for people to develop communication and leadership skills through public speaking.
Speak with confidence
I first heard of Toastmasters a few years ago, when my dad started attending meetings at our local club, Peninsula Toastmasters. But though I have seen my dad's progression and have watched his confidence grow, I only realised the full appeal of Toastmasters the other week, when I attended a meeting myself.
I had come as a guest to support my dad; he was making a speech that evening.
I left beaming, having made a bunch of new friends and network connections, and a quite entertaining impromptu speech.
Toastmaster meetings are member-run and give the impression of a conference-room scenario: members have established roles like President and Secretary. The meeting agenda and time limits keep it all feeling orderly and professional.
It is a learn-by-doing concept, in a fun, no-pressure atmosphere. Throughout the meeting, members evaluate one another's presentations and get evaluated on their evaluations. This process is key to ensuring members not only hone their public speaking skills, but also learn to give effective feedback by developing perhaps the most vital communication skill - listening.
Peninsula Toastmasters Club representatives
My favourite part of the meeting was Table Topics, an improvised speaking exercise where one person prepares several topics and picks fellow Toastmasters at random to give a 1-2 minute impromptu response.
During the meeting, I learned Table Topics is one of the categories at Toastmaster competitions. In a recent completion, Peninsula Toastmasters Club Treasurer Monica O'Rourke impressed judges with her crafty response to the table topic: your finest hour.
"I like the challenge of Toastmasters and love topics you can have fun and experiment with," she told me.
"It's all about finding a way to twist the end or tell a tale."
Monica's response to "my finest hour" was … 10am. She continued by explaining why 10am was such a fine hour, and that her second finest hour was 10pm.
Other categories at Toastmaster competitions include Humorous, International and Evaluation. District level is the final round for evaluation, humorous and Table Topics contestants, while each District's international speech winner is flown to the Toastmasters World Conference to compete for the grand title of Toastmaster World Champion.
This year's World Conference will be held in August in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Toastmasters is all about communication and leadership development. Whether you are seeking international fame or to simply improve your personal and professional communication, you will definitely find confidence and empowerment, at your local Toastmasters club.