Public speaking requires more than just a toast

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Public speaking is, to many people, as dreadful as a root canal. But there are a special few that thrive in front of an audience. And there are others who like to test their limits through public speaking, which, they believe, raises their level of confidence and enhances their communication and presentation abilities. One organization that promotes and encourages its members to step outside of their comfort zone is Toastmasters International. Gavin Blakey is the president of Toastmasters International, and he says the organization is much more than a joke telling, roast and toast kind of club. Blakey’s motto: “Toastmasters is a people’s organization, and we are in the business of helping people be the best that they can be.”

No matter what one is seeking – to follow in the footsteps of great speakers, like Zig Ziglar, or to lose the butterflies and ums and ahs when presenting in front of clients, colleagues, and bosses – Toastmaster meetings pave the way to higher levels of human interaction. Toastmasters mission: to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn fosters self-confidence and personal growth.

What type of person attends weekly meetings that necessitate preparing and giving speeches and speaking off the cuff when it’s time for impromptu table topics?

When Jon Walsh started his architectural landscape business, he decided to join Toastmasters to gain better listening and speaking skills to enhance his client/customer relationships. That was three years ago. Walsh recently competed in the Toastmasters southern division humorous speech contest (after winning the area contest) in Colorado Springs and left competitors swirling in their wake when he claimed first place for his comical speech about the trials and tribulations of the endangered species, the jackalope. Walsh will now compete at the district humorous speech contest, which takes place in Denver on November 16. “Winning is a mixed blessing,” said Walsh.

Karlyn Thayer was so shy that she couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. She joined Toastmasters years ago, and she too competed in the southern division humorous speech contest and the division’s evaluation contest. Thayer believes that Toastmasters is a catalyst to help introverts become more extroverted. But there’s a place for extroverts too.

Linda Rinehart loved public speaking from the time she was a child. She was one who thrived on an audience, and she entered numerous speech contests in elementary school, high school, and college. There was nothing shy about Rinehart. Rinehart’s career catapulted her to attain greater heights as a communicator and public speaker. She worked for Caterpillar Inc. (based in Peoria, Ill.), where she trained with the company’s cross-functional management program. During her 15 years with the company, she transferred from coast to coast (wherever she was needed) and trained staff and developed programs in various departments including marketing, purchasing, and human resources. Rinehart was mandated to take a medical leave at age 35, so she moved to Colorado Springs and joined Toastmasters in July 2001. Currently, Rinehart travels throughout the country as a pro bono public speaker and relies on Toastmasters to keep her skills honed. “I benefit from all of the opportunities that Toastmasters provides, but I especially enjoy improving my extemporaneous speaking abilities,” said Rinehart. Each Toastmasters meeting, members are asked to participate in what is referred to as table topics. One person is designated prior to the meeting to present a question to group members, and members are randomly chosen to answer the question. And members are timed for all speeches. Aside from on-the-spot speaking, Rinehart also profits from evaluating other speakers – a process that fosters better listening skills.

Tim Allen, Peter Coors, and Sam Nunn are just three of a dozen or so famous toastmasters.

Larry King and Clarence Thomas were two out of five people chosen by Toastmasters International as outstanding speakers of 2001.

Best selling author Tom Peters touted Toastmasters International in this statement: “Join Toastmasters. Oral communication skills count. Height and hair may be in the genes, but public speaking isn’t. They do a fabulous job of helping people shape up their communication skills.”

A new toastmaster, after shaping up his or her communication skills, can be certified as a competent toastmaster (CTM) by completing ten speeches from the Communication and Leadership Program manual. The toastmaster, if he or she desires, can then move on to the advanced manual and become certified as a bronze, silver or gold advanced toastmaster (ATM). The distinguished toastmaster (DTM) earns the DTM title through two tracks: the communication track or the leadership track – both tracks involve the completion of two public speaking manuals. There is no pressure; each member is supported to move along at his or her own pace. Toastmasters clubs offer area, district, state and national contests, officer training sessions, training brochures, workshops, conferences, mentoring programs, and a monthly magazine, The Toastmaster.

From stay at home moms to sales representatives, Toastmasters boasts a club for everyone. And there are plenty available in the Springs. If you want to learn more about Toastmasters and find a club nearest you, visit the Toastmaster website at www.toastmasters.org.