Toastmasters Club’s lively banter leads to better public speakers, leadership skills

By Lee Wardlaw lee@claytodayonline.com
Posted 11/30/22

FLEMING ISLAND – Open the doors of the Create New Beginnings building on a Monday night, and you’ll likely find a spirited meeting ongoing inside.

The building, which is tucked behind Fleming …

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Toastmasters Club’s lively banter leads to better public speakers, leadership skills

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – Open the doors of the Create New Beginnings building on a Monday night, and you’ll likely find a spirited meeting ongoing inside.

The building, which is tucked behind Fleming Island High in the Village Square Parkway, hosts a Monday night meeting every week, starting at 7 p.m.

The Orange Park Toastmasters Club 1980 chapter was formed in 1972 and has approximately 20 full-time members to this date.

The group is part of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. With more than 280,000 members in 144 countries, the program has helped people from a diverse number of backgrounds become more confident speakers, communicators and leaders.

The weekly “show” is a fully-graded competition. There are plenty of sights to see: club president Ken Remsen flashes green, red, and yellow cards as speakers make their pitch to the audience, which signals time limits for speakers.

It’s a skill-building process, but there’s no pressure involved: members can hold as few or many positions as they feel comfortable with as they move forward with the program during each meeting.

“We have fun. We have a lot of laughter, and people learn how to speak in public confidently without being nervous or sweating and worrying about it. We aren’t critical, and we try to (evaluate speakers) in a positive way. It’s better than putting someone down. Then, they wouldn’t come back. And the people here are pretty good speakers, too” said Charlie Stillings, who has been a club member since 2015.

Regardless, there are plenty of roles to be filled to run a successfully-operating session of Toastmasters.

The joke master lightens the mood for members, while the grammarian teaches the word of the day, providing both comic relief and an interesting tidbit of education for members during the induction of a meeting. But that’s just the beginning when it comes to positions, with the crucial part each plays coming in especially “clutch” at the end of each meeting.

The recent lineup of speakers included three current members of the club.

First up was Charlie Stillings, a California native. A Fleming Island resident since 2020, Stillings formerly lived in several areas of the Golden State. In his speech, “California vs. Florida,” Stillings compared the similarities and differences between his new and old home. While Stillings still loves his home state, he said that cost of living, among other factors, was among the reasons that he and his fiancee will stay in Florida.

Second, Jack McClure, a military veteran that works in the field of information technology, spoke on an audiobook that had him so focused he drove for two hours past his intended destination before finally realizing that he needed to turn around, while highly stressing out his wife in the process, in his speech titled, “Workflow.”

New member Annette Cox paraphrased a story from driving down the highway to a work meeting titled “Traffic Light.” Cox utilizes props by equipping chairs with red, green and yellow posters, each of which displays a short message.

After her story, Cox has a coming-of-age moment as she learns to heed the practice of judging other people. After dealing with road rage from an unruly driver, she pulled over to meet the woman and discuss details. But after pulling over in the parking lot, Annette befriends her counterpart, who turns out to not only be bound to a wheelchair but also have little experience driving an automobile.

In only her second appearance at the lectern, Cox stole the show, earning the week’s prize for “best speech.”

Speeches are just the beginning of a fully-involved process during each meeting. After speeches, volunteers are invited to answer table topics, who must pose a one-minute answer to a question selected at random by the toastmaster leading this section of the meeting.

Then, pre-selected individual evaluators provide a public review of each one of the toastmasters’ speeches. Each of the toastmasters stands up and gives a thoughtful review.

If that’s not enough, votes are tallied for several categories, such as most improved speaker, best speaker, and more. There’s even an “Ah” counter, which writes down unwanted phrases coined by each speaker to reduce (or at least point out) the practice.

After each weekly one-and-a-half hour meeting is adjourned, club members and welcome guests may not realize how much they have done more to boost their confidence than previously thought possible in 90 minutes of exercises in a tight-knit, welcoming, and family-like Clay County community environment.

Prospective member Micheal Giummo traveled from Arlington, a neighborhood in Jacksonville, to attend the last meeting.

“With my career, I just really want to improve my public speaking and presentation skills, and I felt like I could possibly do it on my own. I failed miserably, so I figured I needed to look at other solutions, so here we are,” he said.

The Duval businessman came away impressed, and he plans on returning, seeking to become more involved.

“It was fantastic. Everyone was interacting, and they gave me a lot of information about what the process involves. Just seeing how everyone presented was encouraging. It made me feel like there’s a lot of work ahead for me, but there’s a lot of improvement coming as well,” Giummo said. To find out more about meeting times, directions, how to join the club, and more, please visit the following link at https://www.orangeparktoastmasters.org/.

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