In this week's podcast, I make a pitch for students to consider Toastmasters.
If you've never heard of Toastmasters, you definitely need to listen to the episode.
If you have heard of Toastmasters, but don't know how it might be relevant for your child, please listen to the episode.
Hello, friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell podcast. In today's episode, I want to talk about a not often discussed extracurricular activity that may be of interest to many prep welders out there called Toastmasters. For those not familiar, Toastmasters is an organization that helps people with their public speaking. There are hundreds of local chapters nationally, internationally, and you can most certainly find one in your neighborhood or your surrounding area. I spent about a year doing Toastmasters maybe 25 years ago when I was toying with the idea of becoming a motivational speaker. It's a terrific program. It's a great resource. It's a great opportunity. And I would highly, highly recommend it. Here's how it works. Every week, a small group of Toastmasters get together in a small conference room, maybe to start a library, a local college, and you sit around a big table. There may be 8 to 10 of you and you practice speaking in front of one another. And the people in the group will have different levels of experience as Toastmasters. Some might be veterans. Some might be on their sixth meeting. Others on their 20th meeting. And there might be a few first timers, maybe like yourself. And of course, the group always loves it when a new person shows up because that makes it more fun and more exciting. You can drop in on a meeting at any time and just ask to sit and observe to see what it's like. And basically, over the course of an hour, the participants will practice short bits of speaking in front of this small, friendly, welcoming group of people who may be just like you in certain ways. They may be a bit nervous to talk in front of a crowd, or they may be preparing for a big presentation at work and they want an audience to test it out on, or they just want to improve their communication skills.
There are infinite reasons why people join Toastmasters. If you showed up as a teenager and ask to be part of a group, this is what would happen. You would observe the meetings for a few weeks for as long as you like. You would see how things go down. Get to know the people. No pressure to do anything but listen and learn until such time as you feel like you might be ready to present something of your own to the group. And once you're ready, whoever is leading the group will give you your first assignment, which is normally something like prepare a one minute speech about who you are, what you're up to in life, and what you hope to get out of Toastmasters. Something very simple like that. Super easy, low risk, low intimidation factor. And you would go home and you'd outline some notes about what you might say in that one minute speech. You'd practice it a few times in front of a mirror, and at the next meeting, when it's your turn, you would stand up in front of the group and give your one minute bio speech. And of course, the group would be super supportive. They'd cheer you on, they'd pump you up, they'd tell you how great you did. They learned a little bit more about you and also provide some constructive feedback. And the feedback is where you find the gold. Maybe you said a lot or so. A lot or like or maybe you never looked up from your note card or you had a nervous tic or your body swayed back and forth too much. Nobody's going to deliver a perfect presentation right out of the gate. That's why you're there to improve. So you take notes on the feedback, and the next time around you chip away at those issues and you get better. Once you're done with your first speech and you decide that you're ready to go back into the fire again and again, no one's going to pressure you to do anything. You let the organizer know that you're ready for the next challenge.
The next challenge might be a two minute presentation on your favorite kitchen appliance. So you go home that week. You think about what you might want to say about the air fryer in your kitchen. Maybe you're talking about its functionality or how it's changed what you eat, or maybe you want to inject some humor into it. Whatever you want to do and at the next meeting you deliver your speech on the air fryer and the group will once again support you, clap you up, give you props and of course provide feedback. Hey, this time, better job with the arms. You were still a little bit twitchy, but you're improving. Much better posture, less swaying, whatever it is. They give you tips to work on for the next presentation. And of course, you're not the only one who does presentations at the meeting. The other participants are experimenting with their own assignments at whatever level they're at. One person might want to focus on a comedy bit. Another person might be working on a eulogy. They have to deliver in a week. Someone else might be practicing for their best man speech at an upcoming wedding. Everyone's on their own journey. Everybody has their own issues, and they're challenging themselves at their own pace. And over time, the members of the group get to know each other very well, and the vibe in the room gets even more supportive, more familiar, more safe. And this is the perfect setting to test out your public speaking skills. And if you like what you're seeing and hearing and you're getting to know the group better, you should consider asking for yet another assignment if you want to push yourself. The assignments get more and more challenging. You might be asked to give a one minute speech with no notes or a three minute speech without a podium in front of you to hide behind, or a funny speech or a sad speech or a motivational speech or an improv speech where you stand up.
They pull a topic out of the hat and your job is to talk about it for 4 minutes with zero preparation. So the ideas get very fun and very creative. Again, there's no obligation to stay or go to challenge yourself or not. You are there only because you want to get better and you're the one that dictates the pace. And here's what normally happens. After delivering a few speeches, you really start to improve your eye. Contact improves, your inflection, gets better, your tone is appropriate, your body language is confident, you're at ease with Q&A sessions and you really start cooking with gas. Some of my private prep students whom I've recommended Toastmasters to have completely transformed themselves. I can tell on our Zoom calls it's like night and day. Many of these students were exceedingly bright, especially in the STEM field, but they were either shy or super shy or not particularly skilled or confident. When it came to standing up in front of people and speaking. Whether it's a book report or a group project or a campaign speech for a class president or an address to the robotics team about their next build, the applications run the gamut, and I have helped students with all of these issues and more. And of course, for those interested in the military. Interview skills are a huge component in the admissions process. Military officers, military leaders must demonstrate that they can address groups of people, often large groups of people, and communicate their needs and influence them and motivate them and stir them to action. If you're not good at interviewing or if you're particularly bad, this can really hold you back during the selection process. The same goes for college interviews. One on one interviews with college alumni may be a bit less intimidating than speaking to a classroom full of students or a crowd, but not that much for some students. And maybe it goes without saying. But down the road, professionally, being a confident public speaker, communicator leader is a very big deal no matter the industry.
The ability to communicate ideas is the lifeblood of so many jobs and businesses and relationship tips and Toastmasters can be a game changer here. And once you nail this skill and gain that confidence, it will stay with you for the rest of your life. It's like riding a bike. You never lose it. In my opinion, Toastmasters represents one of the best returns on investment out there, especially for students who are not very strong in this area. And by the way, from a college admissions optics perspective, I consider this a very unique extracurricular activity. First off, it's uncommon. They don't see it very often. It shows that you have a desire to improve yourself, that you're taking the initiative. And it shows some vulnerability and some courage. It's great all across the board. So if Toastmasters sounds like something you'd like to get into. Great. Give it a try. Just search for Toastmasters online. Type in your zip code and see how many chapters pop up in your local area. If you or your child end up going to a Toastmasters meeting to check it out, please let me know how it goes. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in PrepWell Academy, which is great.
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PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.
Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.