The Art of Speaking  

Club creates champions

Former premier Bill Bennett was president. So was his brother, R.J. And well-know businessman Tom Capozzi.

They are among the prominent and less-than-prominent members of the Kelowna Club, the city's first Toastmasters Club, which is marking its 60th anniversary this year.

There will be a celebration during the Toastmasters District 21 spring conference banquet April 20-22 at the Coast Capri Hotel, and June 4 at the Rotary Centre of the Arts.

The Kelowna Club — and the seven others in the Central Okanagan — is part of an international organization with 352,000 members in 141 countries.

Toastmasters was started in 1924 by Ralph Smedley in Santa Ana, Calif. It became international when First Canadian Toastmasters formed in Victoria in 1935.

Although Erin Trifunov and Vera Ito are from different generations and have never met, they have much in common.

Trifunov joined the Kelowna Club two years ago, and Ito retired from it two years earlier after 27 years giving speeches, listening to others and evaluating how they did with suggestions how they could improve.

They have something else in common — they are both champions.

Trifunov just won the club and area championships in speech evaluation and the International — a five to seven minute speech — while Ito is a former B.C. impromptu speaking champion.

And they both joined the Kelowna Club in pursuit of excellence.

"I originally was taken to a meeting by a friend that I'd met in the Pursuit of Excellence courses," Ito said. "Toastmasters seemed to be an organization that would help me gain confidence in my abilities, and indeed it did."

In addition to speaking, listening and leadership skills, Toastmasters also teaches how to adapt and flow with circumstances, a skill in high demand during the impromptu speaking part (called table topics) of every Toastmaster meeting.

And those skills are transferable to life, something Ito learned in 1989, just after she joined the Kelowna Club.

"A group of us went to the fall conference in Vancouver, but there was a major slide on the Coq and we got stuck about a mile from the toll booth. It turned out to be a 12-hour trip; we amused ourselves by playing table topics.

"Next day, the person who was supposed to be representing Division C in the TT contest had not arrived. Our division chairman, Ken Richardson, was trying to convince someone else to do it, who refused, and I found myself saying 'well if you're really desperate, I guess I could give it a go.'"To my great surprise, I won."

Trifunov, project manager of a highperformance computing organization, joined after the birth of her third child.

"I was just returning to work and was feeling a bit rusty and nervous when speaking at meetings and giving presentations.

"Also, working from home and still spending a lot of time around young children meant I didn't have many opportunities to practise key meeting skills such as responding to impromptu questions, basic and formal introductions, running a meeting, or even having adult conversations.

"Toastmasters provided all these opportunities and more."

The Kelowna Club has been teaching excellence and providing opportunities since in1959 when it was started by Don McGillvary, its first president.

Since a president can, normally, only serve a one-year term at a time, there have been many in addition to the two Bennetts and Capozzi.

Ito was president for 1.5 years in 1991-93 and again from July 1998 to June 1999.

Melody Bailey, the current president, joined because Monday was the only night she had free. Three years later, after numerous speech and competitions, she still enjoys every moment of the Toastmasters experience.

"I joined to keep up, and improve, my public-speaking skills and I've stayed because there is a always something more to learn and room to grow."

Former president Lorne Barker is still a member after eight years for the same reason. The former stand-up comic on cruise ships wasn't afraid of public speaking, but he wanted to be better.

"No matter what you do in life, even if you are good at it, you can always improve."

Pat Nelson, a Toastmaster for 31 years, was a charter member of the Fabulous Facilitators in Edmonton, but joined the Kelowna Club five years ago.

"I was terrified to speak in public," said the retired librarian. "I went from being unable to introduce myself in a club meeting to being a trainer, and speaking at conferences in Canada and the U.S.

"Toastmasters will make you confident and a skilled communicator and you will have fun doing it."

Those are sentiments that hundreds, if not thousands, of members and former members would echo.

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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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