Toastmasters helps make better speakers

Published 9:15 pm Saturday, October 4, 2008

Does the thought of making a presentation at work make you break into a cold sweat?

How about reading at church, or toasting your brother at his wedding?

There’s a solution. You can join the Suffolk Toastmasters, a local chapter of an international organization that helps people become more competent and comfortable speaking in front of an audience.

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“The real idea is to give people a chance to learn to speak in public without being chastised,” said Doug Lindsay, a longtime member of the Suffolk Toastmasters.

Toastmasters groups like the Suffolk one meet weekly or biweekly to hone their speaking and leadership skills in a friendly atmosphere. A typical group has 20 to 40 members, and a typical meeting lasts one to two hours.

Members learn communication skills by working in the Competent Communication manual, a series of 10 self-paced speaking assignments designed to instill a basic foundation in public speaking. When finished with that manual, members can then choose from 15 advanced manuals to learn skills related to specific interests.

Toastmasters members learn by doing. They give prepared speeches at meetings, and also do “table topics,” short speeches on impromptu topics.

“The whole idea is to prepare you to speak when, say, your boss calls on you,” Lindsay said.

There is no leader at Toastmasters meetings, but rather everyone evaluates one another’s presentations in a positive manner. In this way, members learn to listen as well as speak, Lindsay said.

For those who get more confident in their speaking abilities, there are contests with various other chapters and regions to reward progress.

“I originally joined in 1976 when I moved to Missouri,” said Frank Brown, a member of the Suffolk chapter. “I just really joined to get to know people,” said Brown, who was already an accomplished public speaker when he joined. The club also helped him keep his skills up, he said.

The Suffolk club meets every second and fourth Friday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Paul D. Camp Community College Suffolk Campus on Kenyon Road, near Lakeland High School, in room 124 next to the library. Its members come from all walks of life, Lindsay said. Although some Toastmasters clubs are sponsored by a particular employer or organization, the Suffolk club is freestanding, he said.

Newcomers to the organization never have to speak if they don’t want to, Lindsay said, and they can try it for as long as they like before joining. The club currently is having a membership drive to encourage new membership.

“The doors are open to anyone to come to visit,” Brown said. “Each person joins, I think, for various reasons. Some just want to build their confidence, some just want to overcome their fear.”

Fear of public speaking, also known as glossophobia, often is rated as the No. 1 phobia, above even death, flying and other common fears. Toastmasters tries to help people overcome that fear, as well as helps people who simply want to build their confidence or increase their skills.

“It helps develop better listening, better thinking, better speaking,” Brown said.

“Everybody who says, ‘I hate to get up and give a speech,’ should be a good candidate for Toastmasters,” Lindsay said.

For more information on Toastmasters International, visit For more information on Suffolk Toastmasters, visit