Professional Development on a Shoestring Budget

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The very best professional development program in existence began in California in 1924.  Currently, 270,000 people in 116 countries avail themselves of this training at a cost of roughly $100/year per person.  What’s more, the sponsoring organization is a nonprofit!  Can you guess what it is?

Here are a few more clues:  The organization was born at a YMCA and, since back then only boys and men were members, this training wasn’t available to women until 1977 – after the founder’s death!  However, once women realized the value of this program, their ranks grew to where, today, they represent 52% of the total membership.

In the Greater Houston area alone, there are over 170 locations where this professional development program is offered, and each one is unique.  Some cater to the employees of one company only; some are centered around a meal; still others have a sidebar such as providing dance lessons or bringing singles together.  However, each one follows a set format that includes: speech-giving, evaluation of speeches, opportunities to give impromptu “off-the-cuff” speeches, and many avenues for developing strong leadership skills.

So why haven’t you heard of this incredibly successful program before?  You have.  It’s Toastmasters International, which on August 17, 2011 launched its “New Look”.  If you have never been to a Toastmasters meeting, think about visiting one this week.  All clubs, whether corporate clubs or “open” clubs, welcome visitors at any time.  With so many in Houston to choose from, you are sure to find a meeting that’s not only convenient to you, but fits your schedule requirements as well.

Dr. Ralph C. Smedley, Founder, Toastmasters International

Dr. Ralph C. Smedley, Founder, Toastmasters International

How can Toastmasters benefit your organization?  Try offering a club membership to your employees, and watch how they flourish at work.  Are your clients looking for jobs? One, six-month membership will advance their interviewing skills tenfold!  Offer this opportunity to your volunteers, and create a speakers bureau that will give prepared speeches about your nonprofit to civic groups.  Suggest the program to your board members – not only will they improve their own job skills (which can’t hurt your organization!), but your board meetings will also go more smoothly.

Lastly, consider joining a club yourself.  However competent you are now at speaking in public and leading others, you will find many ways to improve; you’ll also find that these invaluable tools can be employed not only on the job, but in all aspects of your life.

Richard Beeman