City of residence: Warner Robins
Occupation: Retired Air Force, civil service; Toastmaster officer
Q: What is Toastmasters’ basic purpose?
A: It’s an international, non-profit organization -- Toastmasters International -- with local clubs that meet to help members improve communication skills. That includes listening, thinking and speaking skills. You notice I put speaking last. That’s because people usually think of public speaking, but we cover more ground than that. There are leadership training aspects as well.
Q: How many local clubs are there?
A: Two in Warner Robins, two at Robins Air Force Base, two in Macon and one at Fort Valley State University. There are 250 in Georgia.
Q: How often do they meet?
A: It varies. Some meet every week and some twice a month. In Warner Robins, the two clubs meet in the evening and on base they meet at lunch. The best way to find out particulars is to go to toastmasters.org and click on Find a Club, then put in your zip code. It gives times and contact information. You can call me at 478-953-0759.
Q: How does Toastmasters work? What do you actually do?
A: You can visit and see how we operate. To join, there’s a one-time fee of $20 to Toastmasters International then local dues. They’re only a dollar a month. Some may charge $1.50, but it’s always minimal. Initial training is based on a manual of 10 speeches that focus on things like voice variation and projection, gestures, getting rid of “uhs,” “umms,”and “you knows,” that sort of thing. Completion of the first manual gets you the competent speak award, then there are 14 advanced manuals covering areas like management, holding a meeting and entertainment.
Q: What are the topics like in the first manual?
A: Topics are up to the individual. They can be about hobbies, interests or something you have to give a speech or briefing (about) elsewhere in the community. What the manual does is outline tips and criteria for making a good speech, focusing on certain skills or type of speck. A good thing about Toastmasters is you’re given immediate verbal feedback and evaluation from one person. Others at the meeting can give written comments you look at later. I consider our meetings a laboratory. What you say is your business, how you say it is what you work on.
Q: Dealing with nerves is probably always an issue.
A: It is. Everybody’s nervous; it’s a matter of managing them. People talk about having butterflies in their stomach but getting them to fly in formation.
Q: What’s an actual meeting like?
A: There are usually 18 or 20 people in a club. One point of interest is meetings should last 60 minutes and start and end on time. We’re dedicated to that. A designated Toastmaster leads the meeting, sets it up and assigns speakers and evaluators. That’s just one of the opportunities to learn leadership. There are typically three formal speakers per meeting and there are also table talk questions that four or five people in the meeting respond to with only a couple of minutes to think about it. Formal speeches are from four to seven minutes and table talk responses are two minutes. Table talk helps you learn to respond off the cuff. Toastmasters has been recognized by the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management as the best program of its kind.
Q: How long have you been involved?
A: Since 1975. I’m area governor for the Macon area now, not the Warner Robins area, but I’m vice president of education for the Procurement Toastmasters Club 3344 which meets on base. I’ve served as club president in the past.
Q: Revisit what you consider the benefits of Toastmasters are.
A: All the things we’ve mentioned with the bottom line being you’ll become a better communicator. But there’s also camaraderie and the opportunity to develop leadership skills at many different levels. You learn to speak effectively formally and informally with confidence and how to prepare for it. Most people say Toastmasters is just what they were looking for to build and hone skills that really help them in their careers and in life in general.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.