How Public Speaking Training Can Help Advance Your Career

 I still remember the day vividly in 1989 when it happened. I was standing with four others in a large lecture hall, staring at my expectant audience. We were delivering our capstone project presentation for our master’s degree program at Santa Clara University.  My turn to present arrived. Suddenly my hands were clammy, my chest tightened up and I could not put together a coherent sentence.  An uneasy silence permeated the room as I stood, unable to speak.

Eventually, I was able to blurt out some of the information I prepared but passed the baton to the next speaker with less than half of my talk delivered.

This was not my first time struggling to speak in public.  I had other times where I froze in front of a group. Fortunately, I worked at a plant where the plant manager was interested in the success of all the people under him – including me. He gently suggested to several of my young colleagues and me that we join a Toastmasters Club to help grow our public speaking and leadership skills.  As a young professional wanting a career, I warmed to the message.

My first speech for Toastmasters was called “an icebreaker,” and it was about an easy topic – me.   I moved on to other speech topics where I focused on various aspects of public speaking: proper use of gestures, body language, vocal variety, speaking to diverse audiences, etc.  I also had the chance to give one to two-minute impromptu speeches in a section of the meeting they called “Table Topics.” 

It was not always comfortable, but the great thing about Toastmasters was that I knew I was in a supportive environment where people wanted me to succeed.  I gradually gained the confidence to get through  my impromptu and prepared talks without awkward silences.

Some of the skills I developed by participating in Toastmasters are:

Short Speech Organization:

    • Start with a strong introduction. Engage your audience by asking them a question or asking them to imagine themselves in a situation. Tell the audience what you are going to tell them!
    • Tell your story: Fill in the body with three key points and support each point with no more than three supporting points.
    • Give a memorable close: sum up your argument by repeating your strongest points or call your audience to action. What do you want them to remember?

Grammar Improvement:

Body Language:

  • Move around the front of the room with a purpose and direct your body and eye contact to one segment of the room, then move to focus on another area and another so that all the audience gets a connection with you during your talk.
  • Use gestures to drive home key points but avoid nervous tics like playing with your hair or tapping your foot. For some additional tips, watch this video on 4 Essential Body Language Tips From a Champion Public Speaker, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi.

Vocal Variety:

  • Be heard: Speak to the people in the back of the room if you are working without a microphone.
  • Use pauses for effect and in place of filler words many while collecting their thoughts. A short pause can be effective after driving home a key point.

 Giving Constructive Feedback:

  • Tell the speaker how their speech made you feel rather than giving advice.
  • For constructive criticism, deliver your feedback by advising how you feel a suggested change would impact you. Here is a good article from TeachThought on 20 Ways to Provide Effective Feedback for Learning.

Specialty Speeches:

  • Public speaking for family events & occasions: My son and future daughter-in-law asked me to give a toast at their wedding. Toastmasters helped me organize and present a meaningful toast for my son, his wife and 150 guests!
  • If you have children, the day may come where you need to stick up for them in front of teachers, school administrators or even at a Parent-Teacher Association meeting. Will you be able to speak up for your children, lead a group at your place of worship or honor a loved one at a funeral?


How can an organization such as this one help you hone your leadership skills?

At every Toastmasters meeting, club members must fill a specific role (and responsibilities change each meeting:)

  • A member counts filler words such as “so,” “um,” and “ah” used by each speaker to help with their awareness of potentially distracting speaking habits.
  • A timer helps speakers stay within time limits and warns when a speech is at the time or at risk of going overtime using a green, yellow, red signaling device.
  • Another member listens for grammar mistakes or a particularly good use of grammar.
  • The “Toastmaster” runs the meeting, introduces the speakers and other meeting participants.
  • By filling the meeting roles, members learn how to run productive meetings, deliver constructive evaluations, gain confidence with their public speaking and develop leadership skills.

Some members progress to club leadership positions where they get experience running a club as a small business.  Club leadership members participate in goal planning, marketing, operations and finance roles and collectively set the course for the club.

Public Speaking training helped me and it can help you too!

Over the years, I have been required to speak in front of groups of people.  The skills I developed in Toastmasters helped me to successfully present to over 200 finance executives at Emerson’s headquarters, present a financial plan to Emerson’s chief executive officer and to successfully make presentations at trade conferences. Not to mention the confidence it gives me when leading department meetings and company board meetings.

Are you prepared for the day you ride up an elevator with a top executive in your building who asks you for a quick update on the project you have been working?

For me, Toastmasters provided a safe place where I could learn to control my nerves when speaking.  Over time I realized that I have a story to tell – many stories!  They are my stories, and while others may be more knowledgeable on a topic, they don’t have my perspective.

This is true for you too. Your stories are unique! The world will be richer, having heard them! Whether you are a timid speaker, learning the language or looking to identify blind spots in your public speaking, a group such as Toastmasters can help.  If Toastmaters isn't your style of learning Google a public speaking course at your local university, find a meet-up group or take a local improv class. 

Are you a member of a professional group that has helped you develop skills such as public speaking, leadership or other valuable workplace and life skills?

Contributing Editor Credits: Chelsea McGovern

  • Thanks for sharing your experiences. There have been a few times when I also have been nervous and did some goofy things while presenting. I have learned from those situations. As I have realized how much I enjoy passing on pertinent information to others, I discovered that presenting can be fun!