Good communicators tend to be good leaders, and Anne Bet is determined to develop both by founding the first Toastmasters International club at UAB.
Bet had a fear of public speaking growing up near Allentown, Pa., but she knew she needed to overcome that apprehension to become the type of leader she wanted to be.
As a working professional in Washington, D.C., she joined the National Institutes of Health Evening Speakers Club, a Toast-masters International (TMI) organization. TMI is a non-profit organization recognized as a world leader in helping people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience.
Now this graduate assistant in microbiology has launched the UAB Toastmasters Club in an effort to give faculty, staff and students struggling with fears of communication an opportunity to overcome their trepidations — and enhance their life.
“Being a part of Toastmasters has done so much for me personally, and I wanted to try and bring my whole experience to UAB,” says Bet, founder and president of the new club. “Because of Toastmasters I found my mentor, which led to a recommendation to graduate school. It also has been a key part of my professional life because the tools I’ve been given have helped me on job interviews and in my work. Being a part of Toastmasters has provided me with many benefits.”
Bet launched the new club with support from the UAB Graduate Student Association. The organization held its first meeting in May and already has 15 members and a mailing list of more than 90. Meetings will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of each month in Spain Wallace Tower Auditorium. The next meeting is scheduled for June 22. All UAB students, faculty and staff are welcome to join.
Most Toastmasters meetings comprise approximately 20 people who meet weekly or biweekly for an hour or two. Participants practice and learn skills by filling a meeting role, ranging from giving a prepared speech or an impromptu one to serving as timer, evaluator or grammarian.
There is no instructor; instead, each speech and meeting is critiqued by a member in a positive manner, focusing on what was done right and what could be improved.
“One of the focuses is on making sure people are comfortable and relaxed,” Bet says. “It’s a very constructive environment. You can work with people one to one through a mentoring program to ensure that you get the right level of feedback. With help and guidance from other Toastmasters, you can lose the fear of public speaking and learn skills that will help you be more successful in your chosen path. You’ll learn skills that help you become a better listener, be able to lead teams and conduct meetings and comfortably give and receive constructive evaluation.”
Bet says Toastmasters is an especially attractive opportunity for physicians and scientists who often have to present, explain and defend their work in settings ranging from conferences to their peers and the media.
“As scientists we often have to speak at a conference and answer questions and defend our work, something that is extremely important to our success,” Bet says. “I think that happens in almost any professional situation in which you have to defend your work to your manager or co-workers.”
Bet’s passion for improving public speaking began with the NIH Evening Speakers Club, a group for which she is a past president.
Bet says she started to overcome her fears while a part of that group, but was looking to stretch herself further. That led her achieving the Toastmasters International Competent Communicator Award after her first year in the organization. In most cases it takes two years for someone to attain that recognition.
But Toastmasters has done more than hone her public-speaking skills. She also sharpened her interpersonal communications skills, a fact that was evident during her job interview with the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C.
“They actually mentioned to me that they saw on my resume that I was in Toastmasters and that there was a club in the building,” she says. “I already was in Toastmasters mode for the job interview because I was so used to practicing and answering questions. By the end of the interview they said, ‘I think you’re going to fit in here just great.’ Just the networking opportunities Toastmasters affords will pay you back tenfold.”
As an officer of the organization, Bet also has had hands-on training in time management and mentoring.
“I knew I had a public-speaking problem, but I found out there is so much more to Toastmasters than public speaking,” Bet says. “You learn management, mentoring and networking skills among many others. The bottom line is that it builds confidence.”
Toastmasters International has nearly 250,000 members in 106 countries. Those interested in learning or sharpening their communications and leadership skills are encouraged to join, Bet says. Students who join Toastmasters will have their new member kit fee of $20 waived. Dues are $54 per year and are paid in $27 installments bi-annually. Dues cover education manuals, a monthly subscription to Toastmasters magazine and access to the international website www.toastmasters.org, which has numerous resources.
“We will work with anyone who has a financial hardship,” Bet says of the dues.