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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
For many people, a public speaking club is just above an underground fight club on a list of groups they’d never want to find themselves a member of. But because even in our digital world, verbal communication is still such an integral part of our work and social lives, Toastmasters International exists to help anyone willing to work on, and help others work on, their public speaking.
Founded in 1924 by Ralph Smedley to help people who didn’t go to college (where most public speaking classes were held) learn how to address the public, the organization still operates for the same purpose.
“What was needed was the ability for people to get up in front of a group, and that’s what Toastmasters provides,” explained Toastmasters Boston West Branch President Stanley Gibson. “Not only do you get to speak in front of a group, but you get evaluated by the group; everyone gives feedback to the speaker, and there are specific criteria for the evaluations that are important. First of all, you have to stay to the point, eliminate filler words like ‘ah’ or ‘um.’ You have to meet a certain time. All these things are not always easy to do, and people neglect them. If you go to Toastmasters for a little while, pretty soon, you start noticing all the ‘ahs,’ ‘ums’ and ‘you knows’ in people’s speech, and you become an educated critic, if you will.”
Who joins Toastmasters? While you’d think there would be a certain profession or personality type that made up the bulk of members, Gibson hasn’t found that for his branch. He’s found people from many different backgrounds have joined, with many different reasons for joining.
“Knowing how to get in front of a group of people and tell a story is something not everyone learns to do or can do, and people in Toastmasters do get that experience. A lot of people use Toastmasters as a means to get ahead in their job, because not too many companies have training programs in public speaking - although many companies do have Toastmasters clubs. You get people from all different backgrounds, you get people with PhD’s in scientific fields who want to improve their skills. We had a doctor visit us last week that works at Boston Medical Center who told us he wanted to be able to communicate better. We have people from all levels of management, from entry level to the highest level, who are all looking to get better at communicating. Joining Toastmasters is not an end in itself. You want to take the skills you develop here and take them into the real world, to use them for fun and profit if you will, use them in your job, use them in community activities, and use them to run for office, if you’d like.”
If improving your public speaking is something that interests you, the branch meets inside of Needham’s Christ Episcopal Church. On Monday, the group met, and four speakers gave speeches ranging from the history of The Czech Republic, to a handful of stories from ancient Rome and Sumeria to illustrate that “actions speak louder than words,” to an elevator pitch about a consulting company.
It should also be noted that the organization, which has led many members to standup comedy, has recently altered its syllabus. It now allows more flexibility in terms of the types of speeches members are able to work on.
“Toastmasters International has realized the tools we have in place - the Competent Communication manual and Competent Leadership manuals - while great, need to be modernized to keep up with the current-day requirements. So, Toastmasters has rolled out something called the Pathways learning experience,” explained Jay Karthik. “This basically has eleven tracks, and Toastmasters has allowed the option to pick one of these tracks. Each track has about five levels, and each level is comprised of three or four projects that a member has to complete. When they complete those, they get a certificate. This is the new way of learning. I’ve embraced Pathways; most of our members have and I particularly like this,”
If you’re looking to improve your public speaking, in two weeks, the group is holding an open house. If you’d like to just go and watch, feel free - there’s no pressure to give a speech.
Just be aware, there’s no Champagne, either.
For further information, visit www.bwtoastmasters.com.