By Cathy Cook
When I started my management career at the Front Desk, I had no problems working side by side with my associates on the front lines taking care of our guests and putting on a show for my audience every day! But when it came to be standing up in front of my department and presenting an agenda or leading a meeting, I felt panicked and I would perspire and forget what I had to say. I knew I needed help in my presentation skills.
Thankfully it was around that time that I found a non-profit organization called Toastmasters International, which I have been a member of for almost 18 years. Just recently, I achieved status as a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM), which is the greatest honor that can be earned by a member. The following are how Toastmasters helped me in each step of my career:
- Right away I found a new source of confidence. When speaking at department meetings I felt at ease presenting in front of my peers and my staff. I learned that by knowing and/or becoming familiar with the content prior to presenting helps one be a better presenter. It’s also not a bad thing to have index cards to help you remember key points.
- Soon after I became a trainer for my Human Resources Department. I was a sought-after associate who taught cluster property orientation, peer review, and customer service training classes. I also facilitated property confidential Associate Opinion Survey Feedback sessions.
- I became a Corporate Trainer for my company using the communication skills that I refined. As my management career progressed to the corporate level, I found myself leading training workshops, opening large hotel properties and facilitating to audiences over weeks at a time. I taught intensive classes for the Property Management Systems, which ran 3 days and 10 hours per day which was not an easy subject, but the skills I learned allowed me to interject humor, personal stories, and present with energy.
- I learned how to use communication skills during webinars. Presenting via webinar is also a skill that is taught in Toastmasters. What is important during a webinar is how you are seen or NOT seen by your participants. So, how you are heard is important. Using the chatbox and audio webinar tools that are available to you is very important.
- I learned that presentation skills at conferences will set you apart in your industry. Toastmasters helped me communicate when speaking through an interpreter when I presented in Milan, Italy last year to a group of 140 who only spoke conversational English.
- My skills help me in my presentation skills for my current position. Now for the last two years as the Executive Director of Training KTN, I get to travel the world to places like Italy, Jamaica, Hawaii, and throughout the mainland USA. Speaking at international and regional conferences, and delivering instructor-led training for a premier training company, requires me to be at the top of my game as a presenter and Toastmasters keeps me focused on the essentials.
Certainly, Toastmasters has helped my career and I am confident that joining would be good for all hotel leaders. Toastmasters once again is a non-profit organization that has local clubs in most major cities. You can access information about Toastmasters clubs that are likely right in your area by going to https://www.toastmasters.org
Some clubs meet weekly or biweekly, just check out the club schedule and location for their meeting times. You may attend as a guest before becoming a member. Once a member, you can volunteer or be assigned to serve as helper roles for each meeting. I will explain a few briefly:
- Toastmaster – Every meeting is led by the Toastmaster of the Day. (As a hotelier this role will help you lead your Department, Executive, and/or “Town Hall” style meetings.)
- Timer – Keeps the time of the Speeches, Table Topics Speeches, and the Evaluators. (As a hotelier this role will help you keep meetings running on time. We all know how annoying it can be when meetings run overtime due to ineffective leadership, and skills you will learn as a timer can help you alleviate this problem.)
- Grammarian – Keeps records of any exceptional and incorrect use of grammar as well as the use of the “word of the day” (As hoteliers we can always use reminders not to use acronyms when clients are present and to avoid the misuse of words, which can sound unprofessional.)
- Ah-counter – Keeps a record of the Ums, Ahs, Sos, You Knows, Tsks, and any fillers by using a clicker.
- Vote Counter – Counts the votes for the Best Speaker, Best Table Topic Speaker, and Best Evaluator.
- Table Topics Master – Provides a list of Questions or Topics for Impromptu Table Topic Speaking
- General Evaluator – Evaluates the meeting. (As a hotelier this may help you provide feedback such as in employee evaluations or when you are asked to do so at leadership or staff meetings.)
Specific meeting details vary somewhat according to the local club’s preferences, however generally speaking Toastmaster meetings run between 1 and 2 hours. There are usually 2 – 3 speakers scheduled for each meeting, each running 5 to 7 minutes. Each participant is working through a series of speeches to achieve specific goals in Toastmasters.
The members can also learn leadership skills by serving as an officer. (As a hotelier serving as an officer helped me gain experience when serving on task forces, special project teams, and numerous committees.)
In looking back, I am so very grateful for the experiences that I have had over the past 18 years. I coached a club last year that went from 5 members to 15 members (a Bilingual Spanish/English group) and they recently became a Select Distinguished Club. Meantime, I also remained a member of my existing club, where I have served as the V.P. of Membership for the past 7 years. I have held every officer role in our club from President, V.P. of Education, Treasurer, V.P. of Public Relations, Sergeant at Arms, to Secretary. I am now proud to have advanced through all levels of certification from Advanced Communicator Gold- ACG and Advanced Leader Silver – ALS levels in the program and to have recently achieved the highest level, DTM.
Yet now, even though my core job involves regularly facilitating workshops, webinars and presenting at conferences and I have that DTM behind me, I still plan on continuing my membership. This is not only to help those who are just starting out, like so many others helped me back then, but also because I am still inspired, learning, and benefiting at every Toastmasters meeting I attend!