The Art of Speaking  

You can learn to talk

By Ross Freake

For many people, death is not the No. 1 fear (it’s No. 5), public speaking is.

Something as simple as standing in front of a group and opening our mouth can turn even the bravest into a quivering mass where the stomach knots, the sphincter tightens, and the sweat glands imitate Niagara. Falls. 

And then things get worse.

Maya Webb, president of Okanagan College Toastmasters, knows that feeling.

Well, she did, but she joined Toastmasters and is now a distinguished Toastmaster, the highest level in the international organization of 344,000 members.

"I joined Toastmasters because I was petrified of speaking in public, but had been asked to give a keynote speech. Toastmasters helped me through that and, since then, my confidence has grown and grown.

"Along the way, I have gained more than I bargained for: developing stronger listening skills and becoming better able to give feedback in a constructive, motivating way that’s important for my job."

There are eight Toastmaster clubs in Kelowna, meeting on different days of the week and different times of day. What they all have in common is providing a safe, supportive environment in which to challenge yourself and have fun.

Guests are always welcome at any club. Toastmasterskelowna.ca has more details of when and where to find them.

Wade Paterson, social media/communications co-ordinator with Re/Max of Western Canada, came as a guest to the Kelowna AM Toastmasters club almost two years ago and never left.

"I decided to become a Toastmaster because my job requires me to give presentations to 60-70 people. Although I was somewhat confident in my abilities as a speaker, I'd get incredibly nervous before every speaking opportunity, and I wanted to reduce that stress," said Paterson.

Sandy Magee wasn't confident at all about speaking in front of groups, so the Kelowna graphic artist who owns  Redsand Creative also joined AM Toastmasters.

Magee overcame his fear, or at least taught the butterflies in his stomach to fly in formation, and later won the Okanagan Toastmasters humorous speech contest. 

"I guess it speaks to my comfort level public speaking to be able to deliver it in a ballroom in front of 200 people."

It's been quite a journey for Magee, who described his fear of public speaking over three years ago as between horrible and debilitating.

Now his comfort level is eight out of 10. And he credits Toastmasters with it all.

"My fear of public speaking was something I had to address. It was something I first needed to do so I'd have confidence meeting and pitching to clients.

"Now, I just enjoy the process of developing my communication skills."

Geoff Johnson, a retired superintendent of schools, wrote in an article on public speaking:

“Great orators from Pericles and Demosthenes to Lincoln, Churchill and Gandhi have demonstrated that the spoken word, or at least words spoken well, have the power to change the course of history."

Not many of us want to be great orators, an Obama, but the ability to speak coherently is a great asset, one that can be learned.

If you’re interviewing for a job, giving a business presentation, leading a seminar, or just need confidence, Toastmasters can help.

Toastmasters will help you:

  • Speak and present compellingly
  • Think quickly and clearly
  • Become a strong leader 
  • Listen effectively 

You will learn these skills and more in a supportive, self-paced, fun atmosphere.

How does it work? 

Everyone in a Toastmasters meeting was once at the level you are now.

The environment is friendly and supportive, and the self-paced program allows you to build confidence with each speaking assignment. And you’ll love the applause.

Constructive evaluation is the heart of the Toastmasters program. Each time you give a prepared speech, an evaluator will point out strengths and suggest improvements.

At first you’ll be applauded for your effort; later you’ll be applauded for your skill. 

Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped millions of men and women become more confident in front of an audience.

"Our network of clubs and their learn-by-doing program are sure to help you become a better speaker and leader," it's written in a Toastmasters brochure.

"Why pay thousands of dollars for a seminar when you can join Toastmasters for a fraction of the cost and have fun in the process?"

For a list of meeting locations in your area, simply visit Toastmasterskelowna.ca. Each group has its own personality, so check out a few to find one that best matches yours.

Ross Freake is president of Kelowna AM Toastmasters. Email [email protected].

More The Art of Speaking articles

About the Author

The mission of a Toastmaster Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment that offers every member the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.

There are eight Toastmasters clubs in the Central Okanagan.

For more information and/or to find a club near you, check http://www.toastmasters.org.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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