Enhancing Public Speaking: Adopting the Toastmasters Approach in College-Level ESL Classrooms

Associate Professor
English Studies

The major benefits of enhancing public speaking skills include not only academic benefits but also personal and career benefits. Toastmasters is a social club for adults that was first founded in the U.S. to help members overcome their fear of public speaking by taking small steps to speak in front of other members using a club-meeting-style approach. Toastmasters Clubs has since spread internationally and can be found in 126 countries today.

The Toastmasters approach was adapted to courses as a 4-5 week unit in numerous college-level English oral communications courses in two colleges in Japan. In the unit, each student gives three different speeches (prepared speech, impromptu speech, and an evaluation speech) and are voted on those speeches by classmates. The strength of the Toastmasters approach is that all students are assigned a role in the club meeting (such as moderator, time-keeper, ah-counter, grammarian, joke of the day, ballot counter, etc.) and thus everyone is given a chance to speak every day. Department faculty members were invited to attend as guests which increases the formality of the club meeting.

A 29-item Likert-scale survey with open-ended questions revealed that using this approach for English oral-communications class improved students’public speaking skills, listening skills, and self-confidence. Students wrote, “When I spoke in English before, I did not get feedback. But in Toastmasters each evaluator gave an evaluation speech and also the instructor and guests gave us specific feedback. Those were very helpful for me because I could know what was good about my speech and also how to make a better one.” In addition, students reported stronger class unity (“Toastmasters creates a more friendly and cooperative atmosphere in the class. I feel we have ‘unity’ which we lacked before”) and enhanced understanding of leadership (“Looking at my classmates doing the roles of President, toastmasters, etc. I came to know that as a leader, we need to not only keep strict with time and organization but also be the entertainer so this experience has taught me the importance of being a cheerful entertaining person as well as being a wise, good time keeper. This skill will be needed when we become adults.”) Different adaptation of the Toastmasters approach for various levels as well as rubrics of expected outcomes for evaluating student performance were discussed.

Presented at the 13th Asia TEFL International Conference, Nanjing, China, November 6-8, 2015, with Takami Nieda (Sophia University), & Margaret Kim (Kobe College)

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