How Toastmasters Transformed my Career and Can Do the Same for Your Engineering Career

If you are like most engineers, you either hate or fear the act of speaking in front of people. I did in a big way until I decided to transition from being an engineer to being a professional speaker; then I had no choice but to improve. Because of the nature of the engineering profession, odds are that there will be times in your career where you must present ideas and/or solutions to interested parties. Those parties might include supervisors, clients, and local citizens, among others.

Because I knew I had to get better at speaking in public, I sought out the best ways to do so, and every avenue I investigated led to Toastmasters. Toastmasters, best defined by Wikipedia, is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. In this post, I will explain how Toastmasters (TM) accomplishes this and how TM can help you improve these skills in your engineering career.

Repeatedly Facing Your Fear

During my engineering career, I was not comfortable speaking in front of people at all. Whenever I was “on stage,” I would either freeze up and forget what I wanted to say, or speak so fast that people weren’t able to understand me. TM helped me overcome this fear by ensuring that I was up at the front of the room speaking in front of people at every meeting. Whether it was a two-minute table-topics speech—an exercise where you speak off the cuff on a randomly selected topic—or a prepared speech, I was constantly presenting for others. Every time I presented, it became easier to do, like anything else, and I got better. My nerves calmed down and I was better able to control my pace. Today, I can speak as fast or slow as I want throughout my presentations.

Taking the Time to Learn How to Present the Right Way

Engineers I have coached tell me all the time that they can develop their presentation skills better by themselves, practicing in front of a mirror. That might work if you have to give a one-time speech, but if you want to make serious, permanent improvements to your speaking skills, you must learn how to speak the right way. TM not only pushes you to overcome your fear by facing it, but provides manuals and mentors to help you learn how to present information correctly. For example, for one speech you will focus solely on the layout, which includes the speech’s introduction, body, and summary/conclusion. During another speech, you will focus on controlling and best utilizing the tone of your voice. These are things you won’t learn standing in front of your mirror in your bedroom by yourself.

Consistency in Your Pursuit

Like any skill you are trying to master, you must practice speaking repeatedly, on a consistent basis. This is another benefit of joining TM, as it provides a structured atmosphere (they usually meet twice per month) where you can constantly improve your skills over time. Some people remain members for years and years, continually improving their speaking skills and subsequently their communication skills and leadership abilities. I was a member of my local TM group for a few years before I started traveling too much for speaking engagements, then I had to stop. I always joke with members of my group, though, telling them that I guess the best reason to miss a TM meeting is a speaking engagement—because that means TM worked!

Building Relationships in Your Community

As an added benefit to improving your speaking skills, TM can also help you build positive relationships within your community. Remember, most people in TM are trying to overcome the same fear of public speaking, so when you work together on personal development with other people, you can become very close with them. In my case, I built some very strong relationships through TM which have really improved my life in my local community. Also, TM has helped me to be able to speak professionally in the engineering world and to transform many careers and make many new friends there as well.

So if you are an engineer who is not a good speaker for any reason, whether it is fear or just lack of practice, you no longer have an excuse not to improve. Find a local TM group or other speaking organization and start to improve your presentation skills today, and take your engineering career to the next level.

This is a guest post by Anthony Fasano, PE, author of Engineer Your Own Success. Anthony found success as an engineer at a very early age and now writes and podcasts to help other engineers do the same. Visit Anthony’s website and subscribe to the top 3 resources Anthony has used to become a partner in a firm at the age of 27.