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Employee blog: Would you say a few words … ?


Public speaking was always something American Family employee Kelli Littlejohn dreaded. But she joined Toastmasters, an international public-speaking group, anyway, and is now learning and growing in ways she never imagined.

As someone who has spent nearly a quarter of a century truly dreading any form of public speaking, it came to – even to my surprise – that I joined Toastmasters International in early 2016.

At that time, I was approached by the previous president of American Family’s St. Joseph, Missouri club, Bryson Mace. He asked if I would be interested in joining. Initially, I had planned on giving his inquiry a brief consideration before delivering my polite, “No, thanks.”

Upon further deliberation, it occurred to me that the reason I have such a distaste for public speaking might indicate something larger – the fact that I am not any good at it. The harsh reality is that we do not grow and develop by doing things we know we excel at or by doing things that we are already comfortable with.

We only grow through the friction and the failures, the uneasiness of the struggle, and the perseverance we find in our depths when we realize we still have untapped potential. However, this potential will only be reached by branching out and deliberately putting ourselves in new roles and positions.

As a newer member, I have only given a few speeches since joining in 2016. The Toastmasters Club in St. Joseph meets once a week on Thursdays at noon. Each meeting does not always have a planned speech; however, that certainly doesn’t mean you don’t have opportunities to improve your own public speaking at each short meeting.

As a club, we participate in Table Topics, events aimed at helping members organize their thoughts quickly to respond to impromptu questions or topics. During of our meetings there are also opportunities to focus on other professional skills. As a club we assign roles such as “grammarian,” “timer,” and “general evaluator” to keep the meetings running smoothly and offer feedback and improvement ideas to our club guests and members.

After a year of membership, I still struggle with nerves that stem from public speaking. I still struggle with deliberately placing myself front and center. Despite the vast room left for improvement, I have gotten better and more comfortable.

I even participated in a humorous speech contest. This is something I could not have fathomed doing just one short year ago. After taking a brief hiatus from the club meetings to train for a new position I am able, once again, to attend meetings more regularly and have taken on a leadership role as the treasurer of our club.

I would encourage anyone with an interest in improving themselves personally and/or professionally to stop by a meeting and see what it’s all about. Without this club, I do not believe I would have been able to speak as confidently and as concisely during my past interview that led to my new position in the company.

I also have been able to form friendships and network with people because of this club. Club members are second to none. You will be critiqued, but it will be constructive and light-hearted. After a year in the club, there has yet to be a meeting I have attended in which I haven’t laughed and enjoyed myself. (Believe me, I never thought those words would come out of my mouth.)

American Family hosts three Toastmasters clubs. But there are Toastmaster clubs all over the world. Use this locating tool to find one near you. (Pictured below is the Toastmasters club from St. Joseph, Missouri, including Kelli, third from left.)