Looking for a new role? There’s no doubt that this is an exceedingly strange time to be job hunting, with the world having been in turmoil for almost a year. Anything that a candidate can do to make themselves stand out and sell their experience better has never been more vital.
As a member of Toastmasters International for over a year, I’ve found it instrumental in influencing many facets of my daily life. For anyone who isn’t familiar, Toastmasters is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide to practice and improve public speaking, communication and leadership skills. It’s extremely low cost — just $90 for the whole year, plus a small amount to your local club ($10 at mine) — and the clubs organize weekly meetings.
In this post, I’ll reflect on how regular public speaking practice can help you land a new job.
A quick disclaimer: I don’t work for Toastmasters, nor am I sponsored by them in any capacity, I simply love the experience I’ve had so far and want to share it!
In “normal” times, Toastmasters meetings typically take place in a room setup like a classroom. All speakers stand at the front of the room when speaking, sometimes in front of a small podium, but moving around is encouraged. As with so many other activities since the pandemic hit, Toastmasters shifted sharply to virtual meetings on Zoom.
This helps candidates prepare better for their interview process — which is now overwhelmingly done virtually by companies. There’s no sign of this process changing for a while, either. Getting more accustomed to and confident at speaking on a video call, which can be disconcerting at times, is incredibly helpful.
One of the first parts of speaking at Toastmasters that strikes you is that you are always standing. This is just as vital when on a video call — standing helps you project better and more confidently, enables you to animate more freely with your hands, and frankly, gives you a little boost of energy.
Make sure you are standing up for every single interview you take. It also has the added bonus of minimizing nervous body language you might cling to otherwise, such as leaning on a table, crossing your arms, fiddling with your hair, or biting your nails subconsciously, all of which will make you appear less confident, or worse, disinterested.
Table Topics is a segment at a regular Toastmasters meeting, where a Table Topics host comes up with impromptu questions that are fired at random to members. The speaker needs to answer the question completely on the spot. This is frequently the most hilarious part of a Toastmasters meeting as people get extremely creative with their responses.
Yet, even seasoned public speakers can have their nerves shredded to pieces with these, as you have zero time to prepare or arrange thoughts.
Now, what situation does this remind you of? A tough job interview, of course!
No matter how prepared you are for an interview, there will always be curveball questions. Moreover, depending on the style of your interviewer/s, they may take the Socratic method with lots of rapid fire questions in quick succession, and “why” follow ups to each.
Even if you can’t think of the “perfect” answer there and then, Table Topics practice will help you respond more confidently, make the most of well timed pauses to gather your thoughts, and most importantly, ensure you didn’t get tongue tied.
Adhering to common best practices in speaking, all of which are reinforced in every single Toastmasters meeting, will overall put you in a stronger position as a candidate, and help you articulate your experience and skills in the most effective way. Here are just a few:
Being hyper aware of filler language — i.e. not using words like “uh”, “um”, “so”, “like”, or repeating words. There is a dedicated role in every Toastmasters meeting called an “Ah Counter”, who specifically tracks the use of filler words and reports back on it at the end. This is a huge game changer — so many people have no idea how much filler language they use every time they speak, and it’s to their detriment, as it detracts from a person’s confidence and credibility. Simply being so conscious of vocal disfluencies make you much more adept at keeping it to a minimum.
Varying tone and pitch — this is one I’ve struggled with a lot, personally. It can be easy to lapse into sounding monotonous and losing the interest of the listener if you do not proactively try to vary your tone and pitch. My top tip is to be actively aware of smiling when speaking — it might feel silly and over the top when you’re doing it, but it really helps you come across as more relaxed, engaging and likeable.
Taking advantage of pauses — people are terrified of pauses. Why do you think there’s so much filler language abound? All because people want to fill that “awkward” gap. However, pauses are incredibly powerful. They give you time to gather your thoughts, especially if you’re being asked a challenging question. It’s also not natural to be constantly blurting out a whirlwind of words, and this will probably overwhelm the interviewer. Simply getting used to speaking at a slower pace with regular pauses does wonders for adding an air of assurance and confidence.
In summary, I strongly believe an investment in Toastmasters can be integral to any candidate’s success in landing a new job. Being able to project confidence in your skills, speak authoritatively about your experience, and respond on the spot and under high stress, are all invaluable.
The beauty of Toastmasters is also that anyone can join to observe as a guest, it’s completely low stakes. You can also try out several clubs in your area until you find one that fits you.
Toastmasters operates over 16,600 in 143 countries — it’s a global organization! Find a local club to learn more and start your journey.