story by Jamie Smith
Life in the Northwest Arkansas corporate world is filled with the need for leadership and excellent presentation skills, which are skills an international organization helps members develop, all while having fun within some friendly competition.
Toastmasters is an international organization that offers club members the opportunity to learn from each other how to hone their speaking and leadership skills.
The meetings are entirely led by club members who take turns in leadership roles. Club members also evaluate each other’s public speeches to help each person improve their skills. There are more than 280,000 members in 13,500 clubs that are located throughout 116 countries worldwide.
Nine of 13,500 clubs are in Northwest Arkansas and four of the nine were chartered in 2012 alone. Two of the clubs are for Wal-Mart associates, a third is for Tyson Foods employees only and the fourth is at DaySpring in Siloam Springs. While most of the club members are DaySpring employees, that club is open to the community.
Of the nine Northwest Arkansas clubs, four are exclusively for Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart employees. There are several open groups including the Pinnacle (Rogers), Deihl (Bella Vista), Razorback (Fayetteville) and Siloam Springs clubs. Each of those have members from all walks of life, including many from the Wal-Mart supplier community.
Kishore Sasthiri is lieutenant governor for District 43, which encompasses all of Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi and Tennessee. There are 88 clubs in District 43. Sasthiri started Toastmasters in 2005 and continued his love for the organization when he moved from New Hampshire to Northwest Arkansas to work for Wal-Mart. He helped start two clubs within Wal-Mart and plans to start several more in the near future because he has seen so much personal success in the program and sees its value for others. One such club will be for contractors working with Wal-Mart ISD.
“I have gotten many benefits in Toastmasters since joining,” he said recently. “It helps with communication and confidence.”
Sasthiri gives the personal example of how, before joining Toastmasters, he often would speak very rapidly and not always use the right body language when trying to get his point across. Combined with his accent, that sometimes made it difficult to understand him, Sasthiri said. Someone suggested he join Toastmasters and through evaluations from his fellow club members, Sasthiri said he has been able to become an effective communicator. He’s also risen in the leadership ranks from the club to district level.
His experience is far from unique; in fact it’s a common experience among those who participate in Toastmasters, he said.
“I’ve seen people who were nervous to speak grow in their communication skills and confidence,” he said. “I’ve seen a transformation in the workplace.”
The skills learned in Toastmasters translates to the workplace in several ways, he said.
“As a member, you learn various aspects of communication,” he said. “If you don’t know how to communicate, you can’t lead. Communication and leadership go hand-in-hand.”
Club members are given the opportunity to compete with various forms of public speaking and they evaluate each other using a set criteria that is established for each type of speech.
“They evaluate if the person met their objective with the speech, not the specific content,” Sasthiri explained.
That skills translate well to being able to perform objective and well-planned job performance evaluations, he said.
Club members are able to establish goals for their speaking and leadership skills through using the club’s tracks for communication and leadership. Each track has specific tasks that must be achieved to advance to the next level within the track. They also are able to compete with their speeches at the club, division and district level.
District winners can compete at the international conference. The 2013 international conference is in Cincinnati and the 2014 conference is slated for Malaysia—the first time the conference has been outside the United States.
Besides learning evaluation and communication skills, those in leadership roles learn how to handle difficult situations such as conflict and rules enforcement.
Katie Matzenbacher is president of the Siloam Springs Toastmasters, which meets at DaySpring, where she is employed. Herself and several coworkers had been active in the Razorback club but found it was difficult to travel back and forth to Fayetteville from Siloam Springs every other week for meetings. They have 22 members and are in a membership campaign to grow the club.
“We don’t just want to be a corporate club,” she said. “We want to be more involved in the community.”
It was her boss that initially suggested the idea of joining Toastmasters because she was seeking help in her presentation skills, Matzenbacher said.
“Toastmasters has helped me by getting good feedback during evaluations but also from watching others (speak),” she said. “It’s helped me learn to communicate ideas with more clarity.”
Strong communication skills, from a large group to between two people, is vital to workplace success.
“A great idea not communicated well falls apart,” she said.
Toastmasters can be helpful for employees of all backgrounds and management levels, she agreed. From the person who struggles with basic communication to seasoned presenters, all can learn something and grow.
“Toastmasters meets you where you are,” she said.
Link here to find a local Toastmasters Club.