For people who have trouble speaking in front of large crowds, a safe haven exists in Burke where one can overcome the fear of the spotlight.
It’s a welcoming atmosphere, where people encourage and support each other to pass over hurdles in the speech-giving world. Some members have been coming for years, and some just for weeks. The point of the Burke Toastmasters, a local chapter of Toastmasters International, is to become a good communicator, said Michael Bishton, the Toastmaster of the Evening at the club’s Thursday, May 18, meeting.
“Toastmasters develops our speaking, communication and leadership skills,” said Bishton. “There are some who come to Toastmasters who are nervous, which is why we have the icebreaker speech.”
Toastmasters is a place where people come to learn public speaking skills, or polish the skills they already possess. It’s a place to overcome the anxiety involved with speaking in public. Some members said they joined to jump ahead in the working world, and others just wanted everyday confidence that comes with feeling comfortable in front of others.
“I wanted to improve my skills,” said Paul Squire, a four-year member. “I thought here, if I make a mistake, at least it’s not in front of my bosses.”
EACH MEETING includes three main activities. The first is called “table topics,” and it prompts members to think on their feet. A surprise topic, on any subject, is given by the pre-selected table topic leader of the evening, and members either volunteer or are called upon to present a short speech. Sarah Ferguson, the May 18 table topic coordinator, presented members with three very different topics at the meeting. One dealt with spring cleaning, another with the Fox television show “American Idol,” and the last asked about feelings of springtime allergies. Three members spontaneously answered each topic, and each demonstrated how Toastmasters can provide key public speaking skills.
“I watch a total of three minutes of television a day,” said Bruce Griffin, the member called upon to present a speech on the "American Idol" topic. “I know people who have a life and they care about 'American Idol,' but I sure don’t know why.”
The next agenda item was the icebreaker speech, given by Noah Nathan. He gave his first speech ever as a member of the club, and focused it on his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa. The speech, “Yous Guys, Ya’ll, and Younz,” was comfortable subject matter for Nathan, so he felt it made for an easy icebreaker speech. Nathan said he chose to join Toastmasters to gain experience for his job and to increase his speaking confidence.
“I want more experience doing it,” said Nathan. “I want to feel more comfortable.”
Nathan said his five-minute initiation speech went by quickly, and he hopes each of his future speeches only become easier.
After the icebreaker speech came four more member speeches. Each speech, lasting an average of six minutes, gave different examples of public speaking. John Yi gave a detailed, organized speech about the steps in buying a car. Elvira Beracochea spoke to the group about finding one’s voice, a topic pertinent to the Toastmasters' mission.
“When you share your voice, you reach out to others,” said Beracochea. “I believe Toastmasters should be mandatory in every elementary school, here and abroad.”
In the end, each member received evaluations of their performances, based on guidelines for effective speeches presented in the Toastmasters manual. The evaluations provide feedback, but the club itself provides an immeasurable amount of skill for something Toastmasters International claims is the number one fear of most people.
“Toastmasters teaches you to organize your thoughts; have a beginning, a middle and an end,” said Bishton.