Explore Toastmasters – Innovation, Enhanced Confidence and Fun


“According to many studies, the number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Could that be possible? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld

Sushma Kommareddy and Beth Kennedy

Innovation is a strategy of my Benatti Resiliency Model® and often when I teach my Career ReCharge training at organizations, individuals will give the example of joining Toastmasters as an Innovation goal. (Joining Toastmasters actually fits two strategies of the Benatti Resiliency Model®–Connection and Innovation.) My clients have attended various public speaking programs, but I have seen the greatest impact in their skills by attending Toastmasters.

I had an opportunity to interview Sushma Kommareddy who is the Club Founder and President of Toastmasters at Takeda Pharmaceuticals International in Cambridge, MA.  Sushma is also an Associate Director of Drug Product Development in Takeda Vaccines. Sushma was involved in Toastmasters at her last company for four years and when she joined Takeda, she decided to start a Toastmasters group at Takeda, which meets weekly. Today she has 48 members in her club. Bravo to Sushma being an inspiring leader! Talk about being proactive and innovative in your career!

What Is Toastmasters?

Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds conquer their fear of public speaking, become more confident in front of an audience, and enhance their leadership skills. The organization is global, with more than 280,000 memberships in 13,500 clubs in 116 countries. Through its member clubs, Toastmasters International helps people learn the arts of speaking, listening, and thinking—vital skills that promote self-actualization, enhance leadership potential, foster human understanding, and contribute to the betterment of mankind.

What are Toastmasters meetings like?

Some clubs meet on a weekly basis, some meet biweekly and a few others meet once a month. Some meetings end in an hour while others go for a couple of hours or even longer, depending on the preference of the club members.

A Toastmasters club essentially consists of a very supportive and encouraging group of people who get together to help one another improve in the areas of public speaking and leadership. Generally, the meetings have the following activities:

  1. There is a host for each meeting who is called the Toastmaster of the week. The host runs the show for the entire duration of the meeting.
  2. At the beginning of the meeting, clubs usually have two or three speakers scheduled to give a five-to-seven minute prepared speech. When they complete their speech, they receive constructive feedback from the members on their performance.
  3. After the prepared speech portion of the meeting, there is an impromptu speaking session. Usually this section is called, “Table Topics.” In this session, random questions are asked to those who volunteer to speak, and they need to answer the question in one to three minutes.
  4. At the end, there is a networking opportunity.
Who can join Toastmasters?

Toastmasters at Takeda Pharmaceuticals is open to all employees so individuals get to connect with colleagues from departments all over the organization. I think more organizations should think about bringing Toastmasters to their company. The benefits Takeda employees have shared from their experience at Toastmasters:

The greatest impact I received from being a member of Toastmasters is it helps to boost my confidence while decreasing my anxiety when speaking in front of people. I also look forward to meeting and networking with other Takeda employees every week. Since becoming a member of Toastmasters, I have seen improvement in my personal and professional development.
~ Bev Walters, Sr. Administrative Professional, Oncology Clinical Research

The greatest impact Toastmasters has had on me is building confidence in improvisation. Prior to getting involved with the club, I was comfortable speaking in public only after sufficient rehearsals. The table topics portion has been a safe environment for me to practice articulating a coherent response after having just minutes or even seconds to think. Members’ attention and positive response have been encouraging, allowing me to focus on improving without the baggage of doubt or judgement.
~ Godwin Yung, PhD, Senior Statistician

Professionally, Toastmasters has broadened my horizons at Takeda allowing me to interact with a much broader and deeper collection of colleagues. Personally, although I am very comfortable with public speaking, Toastmasters made me aware that my spontaneous interactions were often filled with stammers and hesitations. Toastmasters is helping me improve my presentation skills to sound more professional and knowledgeable.
~ Kristi Allen, Director, Global Program Management, Neuroscience TAU

I have been involved with Toastmasters for years, at three different employers. I believe that it has enhanced my communication skills and even improved my career prospects. It has also given me a great creative outlet within the work environment.” 
Jon Norton, Scientific Fellow, Global Statistics 

“Knowing who you are as a person, what values are important, views and positions on various topics are important for a leader. This self-unfoldment happens as we crystallize our thoughts as we present on different topics. However, listening to a wider group of people with very different backgrounds who share a lot of personal stories really shapes you as a leader as it offers a window to the outside world.
~ Chandrika Govardhan, Regulatory CMC, Takeda Vaccines 

Toastmasters has improved my project management skills. It has been an opportunity for me to use my public speaking and administrative skills to elevate myself into a potential project management career path.
~ Monique N. Hughes, MBA | Sr. Administrative Assistant, Human Resources

How can people join Toastmasters?

You may have a club in your area. You just need to look for it. From the Toastmasters International’s website, find a club near you and pay them a visit. You don’t have to join any club to attend the meetings. So, I will recommend you visit a few club meetings, get to know the members, ask questions until you feel comfortable before you plan to join.

Does this sound like something new and innovative that you would like to add to your life? Spring is a great time to renew and refresh!  If you’re looking to enhance your public speaking, try a Toastmaster club and let me know about your experience at bbk@bethkennedy.com. Cheers to you and your innovation!

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