One of the questions I get asked all the time is, \u201cWhat about Toastmasters?\u201d\u00a0 Students and managers that I work with want to know if I think they should join Toastmasters.\nToastmasters International offers anyone who joins one of their local affiliates the opportunity to \u201cpractice public speaking, improve your communication and build leadership skills.\u201d They invite prospective members to \u201cbreak barriers, not your budget.\u201d\nBoth of these assertions might cause me a moment\u2019s hesitation. First, is the implied slight that other methods of learning \u2013 mine included \u2013 are prohibitively expensive. And I could easily counter, \u201cIn life, you tend to get what you pay for.\u201d\u00a0 My method is a bargain. Toastmasters also seems to suggest that improving public speaking, communication and leadership are three discrete benefits of membership. In my view, when it comes to a business presentation, they are inseparable. Public speaking is a communication skill that requires leadership. Sustained leadership requires effective communication and public speaking skills. Etc.\nBut when asked, I generally do not hesitate to answer, \u201cSure.\u201d\nToastmasters can be a good thing\nI think any opportunity to practice speaking in front of an audience can be good; so long as you always remember to:\n\nTake a deep breath\nOpen your mouth when you speak\nSpeak directly to individual members of the audience\n\nIf Toastmasters provides you with a space and ready audience for the regular practice of these three basic things, then great. If it encourages you to practice, that\u2019s good.\nIf nothing else, you\u2019ll quickly realize that as long as you remember to breath nothing catastrophic is going to happen and you can begin to overcome presentation panic. You\u2019re not going to die. Mastery begins with the ability to separate and understand the relationship between nerves and the physical energy required to sustain every good presentation\/story\/toast. That only comes with experience.\nToastmasters can also provide you with a supportive audience and sometimes helpful feedback. (The reason I say \u201csometimes\u201d will become clear in a minute.)\u00a0 It\u2019s also important to appreciate the role audiences can play in providing feedback when they are active participants in the creation of a presentation.\nThis is all good.\nBut remember\u2026\nI always caution any student or client that asks about Toastmasters not to confuse what they offer generally with business presentation skills specifically. When I work with executives and companies, we are exclusively and relentlessly focused on the business presentation. A business presentation is not Public Speaking as Toastmasters and others might have you understand it. So, my dictum, \u201ctake what you can use and disregard the rest,\u201d should be rigorously applied when you attempt to apply what you experience at a Toastmasters\u2019 meeting to a business presentation. The feedback you get at Toastmasters will \u201csometimes\u201d be helpful. But it can also be harmful if you are not careful.\nThe challenge begins with the application of the term Public Speaking. I avoid using this term entirely when referring to a business presentation. At the highest level, a business presentation may be seen as a form of public speaking but that can be misleading. Public Speaking implies that what you are saying is suitable for general audiences. The business presentation is not intended for any and all audiences. Business presentations address specific audiences for specific purposes. What we do is less public speaking and more speaking to business audiences about business. We are never shooting for the lowest common denominator.\nThings to watch out for\u2026\nThere will always be exceptions to the following, but here are a few things to look out for when turning to a local Toastmasters\u2019 club for guidance with business presentations. Be careful not to:\n\nPlace a premium on entertaining the audience. That is not our objective. In business, (during regular business hours,) we\u2019re not there to entertain audiences. Business presentations have serious purpose and intent.\nFocus on how engaging you are as a presenter. The real question for business presenters is, how effectively are you engaging the audience?\nPlace too much emphasis on performing. In business, it\u2019s not about you, the presenter, and your skills as a performer. It\u2019s about your content. And your content is not your story. It\u2019s about insight, ideas and objectives pertaining to business stewardship, challenges and opportunities.\nGet too cute. Toastmaster stories are often injected with a little Aesop\u2019s Fables-type moralizing. In business, our primary mission is to profoundly change the way audiences think about a challenge related to their work, and then move them to take responsive action. That is a much bigger task than simply dropping well-worn epigrams.\nThink of the ultimate goal as winning a competition. Winning a Toastmasters\u2019 competition does not mean you will be able to deliver a successful business presentation. It may mean you will be able to engage, entertain and hold the attention of most audience members for a minute or two. Nothing more.\n\nAn undue emphasis on performance can encourage \u201cperforming.\u201d\u00a0 In business, there are fundamental principles of performance at work, but we are not interested in performing for performing\u2019s sake.\nTelling personal (and purposefully humorous) stories can easily end up looking and sounding a lot like open mic night at the local comedy club. Good comics spend years crafting their routines, mining and refining original content. They are all about entertainment and performing. But when the presenter is not a skilled professional comic, the jokes tend to be obvious and clich\u00e9d. The ensuing laughs are cheap. You risk looking and sounding less like professional executive and more like an amateur actor.\nDon\u2019t overact\nPerforming is a trap. Executives are sometimes encouraged to take an acting class. Early in my career, I spent literally years in the best acting classes available and I don\u2019t recommend this for executives. Acting is about inhabiting alternative realities. In business, we are concerned with present realities. An Improv class can be useful, but more for content ideation, development and meeting management than presentation performance.\nSo, go to Toastmasters. But remember why you are there. And I hope you will quickly begin to want more than they can offer specific to the development of business presentation skills. Toastmasters is something else. You will realize that this is not the complete answer to delivering a killer business presentation \u2013 that ultimately you get what you pay for.\nGo. And take what you can use, but then disregard the rest.