Everyone who enjoys public speaking, raise your hands. If you are like most people, the thought of facing a crowd or just a meeting room full of colleagues makes you feel like Porky Pig at the end of those old Warner Brothers cartoons— “Be-dee, be-dee, oh, that’s all folks.” It may be common enough to feel tongue-tied and anxious speaking in front of people, but that doesn’t lessen the embarrassment. So what do you do if you want or need to improve your public speaking skills? One word— Toastmasters.
According to Marie Baker, director of the Blue Ridge Toastmasters club, “Toastmasters is valuable for all different types of people. It is excellent for young people who are working, as well as for interested retirees. We invite companies to send employees to improve their speaking skills in relation to their jobs. Toastmasters offers a friendly environment that helps to allay the anxiety many feel when speaking publicly.”
Toastmasters is an international club that was founded in 1924 in California. Since then, Toastmasters has expanded across the country and the world as executives and other citizens have recognized the importance of projecting confidence in public speaking. Toastmasters has been in the Charlottesville area for some time now; the Blue Ridge club was chartered in 1962, and four additional clubs have popped up since then: Crutchfield, Piney Mountain, ToastBurners, and Vinegar Hill.
Toastmasters meet weekly, most often in the evenings, with a structured schedule of speeches and activities designed to develop public speaking and leadership skills. Each new Toastmaster receives a New Member Kit with a copy of the basic Communication and Leadership manual, general orientation materials, and a list of the 10 required speeches that each member must complete to become an accomplished Toastmaster.
As a new member gives speeches, he or she receives feedback from other members designed to improve the public speaking skills. Simultaneously, more experienced members who accept responsibilities such as tutoring other Toastmasters develop their leadership skills.
Being a Toastmaster can also involve participation in an annual speech-giving contest, which adds an element of competitiveness to the process. Not all Toastmasters clubs are open to the general public, although three of the five local clubs are: Blue Ridge, Piney Mountain, and Vinegar Hill. All Toastmasters clubs are devoted to making their members better public speakers and leaders and accomplishing these goals in supportive environments.
If your knees go weak at the very idea of speaking before a crowd, the Toastmasters program may be just what you need. And then that won’t be all, folks; you’ll be on your way to being a confident and persuasive speaker.
Local Toastmasters groups meet at various times and places. New members pay a $16 fee upon joining and $18 dues every six months, as well as fees associated with local chapter expenditures. For more information or to join, call 296-8120.