Every first and third Thursday of the month, I walk or drive over to a Baptist church on the West Side of Chicago for a Toastmasters meeting.
No, we don’t raise tankards of ale and drink to the Holy Ghost. Toastmasters International is a secular nonprofit that cultivates speaking and leadership skills. I joined to sharpen my presence when I give college lectures and fiction readings.
We meet in Sunday school classrooms where posters of Bible stories and of African-American historical figures hang on the walls. Our roles rotate. A grammarian nitpicks about usage, speech evaluators offer critiques, a timer keeps an eye on a stopwatch and holds up a red card when you reach your limit.
Initially, I just wanted to get rid of the shaky voice and nervous gulp I experienced in front of crowds. But I have come to realize that even a professional writer or communicator can learn a great deal about his or her craft from public speaking.
As a Ragan exclusive—and to save our readers the Toastmaster membership fees—here are a few takeaway lessons I gathered with the help of Toastmaster/communicators who responded to a HARO request.
1. Read your work aloud.