"Understanding comes through communication, and through communication we find the way to peace." Ralph C. Smedley, founder of Toastmasters
Can knowing how to speak confidently and to communicate effectively and respectfully really change the world? I believe so. As a student of history, I know that while wars are fought on the battlefield, ending them--or better yet, avoiding them in the first place--is something that happens when people sit down and talk eye-to-eye. Peace comes when the yelling stops. It arrives when people start to understand the motivations and the fears, the hopes and the needs, of others. Peace comes from compromise, from listening, from empathy and from personal connection--peace takes place when people really communicate.
Ralph Smedley knew this in 1924 when he founded Toastmasters. He had been witness to the brutality, stupidity, and futility and World War I. He had seen men struggle to find their place in society in the aftermath of it. And so he started what would become Toastmasters International in a YMCA basement in Santa Ana, California. There he and other men helped each other overcome their fears of public speaking and polish their social and communication skills. Smedley knew that the impression we make on others is immediate and long lasting, and that to find fulfilling careers and lifelong friends, a man--and a woman--need to be adept at connecting with everyone they meet. I can imagine the fun and the challenge that the people in that basement room felt almost 90 year ago as they practiced smiling, shaking hands, listening, using their body language, their eyes, and their open minds to connect with each other.
Today Toastmasters remains an ideal place to hone your communication skills. Meetings are supportive and friendly places where people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels help each other work toward a common goal: becoming the best communicator--speaker, leader, listener, peace maker--that they can be.