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PR Stage Fright? How About a Toast to Toastmasters
By: Jeannine Wheeler
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What is the most terrifying thing you do as a PR professional? If it’s public speaking, take your cue from one PR executive who nipped her fear in the bud at a very young age. And it was all down to Toastmasters.

“When I was almost 12,” said Megan Matthews Carnahan, Chief Communications Officer of The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, “my mother put me into Toastmasters. And while it was terrifying at the time, it has been a blessing to my career,” she told a group hosted by The University of Texas at Austin and Pierpont Communications on February 24.

Joining Toastmasters, she said — or a group like it — can go a long way to overcoming what she sees as a missing skill set among many PR professionals. “Speech and communication skills are sorely lacking in our industry today,” she said.

Toastmasters is one answer. Celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. With a membership of more than 300,000, Toastmasters helps its members improve speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 14,650 clubs in 126 countries that make up its global network of meeting locations.

Members improve their skills (and courage) by regularly giving speeches, gaining feedback, leading teams, and guiding others in a supportive atmosphere. They learn to effectively tell stories, which aligns beautifully with that of a PR professional, whose job it is to tell stories across all channels; occasionally as a speaker in front of groups large and small.

And while the group’s membership is not quite as young as Megan was when she gave her first speech, its members are well represented in nearly all age groups*:
18–24              5.6%
25–34              19.9%
35–44              20.3%
45–54              24.7%
55–64              19.6%
65+                 9.9%

If public speaking is out of your comfort zone, consider joining Toastmasters International.

Adds Megan, “Pick things that are out of your comfort zone to keep pace with this ever-changing industry.”

*According to Toastmasters International November 2013 Member Survey Results.

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About the Author
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.
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