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Tracy Shawn: How Toastmasters Can Turn Fear Into Empowerment

If you suffer from the common — but debilitating — fear of public speaking, struggle with social anxiety and/or want to sharpen your communication and leadership skills, a visit to one of your local Toastmasters clubs can be an effective start toward a rewarding journey from fear to empowerment.

A nonprofit (and very affordable organization to join), Toastmasters International, which was established in Bloomington, Ill., and started in Santa Ana more than 100 years ago, is built on group encouragement.

Their club mission statement summarizes the supportive atmosphere that Toastmasters clubs all around the world (according to the Toastmasters International website, there are 14,650 clubs in 126 countries) embrace: “We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.”

The benefits members experience are both expected and surprising.

Pat Costello, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker who is an active Toastmasters member and is currently serving as president at her local club, says that besides the increasingly effective communication skills that she’s seen herself and others acquire, Toastmasters also has become a place where she’s been able to better hone her listening skills. She feels, too, that even though every member has most likely felt some level of discomfort, the supportive environment that a Toastmasters club provides helps people grow out of their fears, which then increases personal confidence.

Barc Holmes, the president and CEO of Deliverse Consulting, is a three-year member of Toastmasters. An engaging speaker, Holmes states that Toastmasters has not only improved his speech writing, but also has helped him learn how to connect in front of a crowd. He’s surprised with how the power of humor helps this connection, even in speeches with a serious message.

Holmes originally joined to overcome his fear of public speaking, and continues on with the organization in order to “learn how to write better in a way that moves people.”

A dedicated member for more than 16 years and past president of her local Toastmasters club, website and marketing consultant wiz Jacky Lopez says that Toastmasters is “the greatest organization I’ve joined since I came to this country.” Lopez states that beyond the empowering gift of learning that it’s OK to speak her mind, as well as giving her the opportunity to shed her fear of public speaking, Toastmasters has also proved to be a positive group experience in which she’s able to meet people from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities.

An active member (who has also served in the past as a president) with Woodland Toastmasters, Albert Mercado has been involved with the organization for 20 years. Mercado, a retired engineer and extraordinary storyteller, first joined because he wanted to improve his public speaking skills and feel comfortable in front of an audience. With time, he found that his presentation skills improved so tremendously that he was continuously selected to speak in front of customers and fellow employees. He was also pleasantly surprised to find that it became very enjoyable to appear in front of the public and speak.

A mentor and inspiration to members at his local club, Mercado says, “The hardest part is to make the decision to attend meetings, but once you go over that hurdle, you’ll enjoy the friendly atmosphere, the support you receive, and in a short time you’ll see the progress that you will be making. During my years at Toastmasters I have seen many very successful stories.”

When Holmes was asked what advice he’d offer someone contemplating on joining a Toastmasters club, he shared this: “Jump in, get nervous, screw up, laugh it off and keep going.”

This is the spirit of Toastmasters, where members know it’s OK to make mistakes because everyone is there to learn. In the supportive atmosphere that a Toastmasters club provides, fear can often blossom into empowerment through the simple but powerful act of practicing in a safe and friendly environment.

— Tracy Shawn, M.A., lives and writes on the Central Coast of California. Her award-winning debut novel, The Grace of Crows, is about how an anxiety-ridden woman finds happiness through the most unexpected of ways — and characters. Dubbed a “stunning debut novel” by top 50 Hall of Fame reviewer Grady Harp, The Grace of Crows has also been hailed as an accurate portrayal of generalized anxiety disorder and a healing opportunity to the readers. Click here for more information about Shawn, or click here to visit her author page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter: @TracyShawn. The opinions expressed are her own.

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