Toastmasters builds speaking skills

Published 10:01 pm Friday, April 17, 2015

Western Branch Toastmasters members Charles Gates and Deanna Deloatch stage a mock talk show this week. Many members are from North Suffolk, Gates said.

Western Branch Toastmasters members Charles Gates and Deanna Deloatch stage a mock talk show this week. Many members are from North Suffolk, Gates said.

Sometime in 2007, North Suffolk’s Charles Gates was listening to a motivational audio book by “Rich Dad Poor Dad” author Robert Kiyosaki, when he heard something that would impact his life.

Kiyosaki was talking about how he felt he needed to become a better public speaker in order to become a successful entrepreneur, Gates recalled.

“He decided to join a Toastmasters club,” Gates said.

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Toastmasters? It was news to Gates. But he was inspired to look into it and soon discovered there were 60 such clubs in Hampton Roads alone.

Gates joined Western Branch Toastmasters, around since 1959, and found a lot of members live in North Suffolk.

They meet for an hour and a half every first and third Thursday evening at St. Andrews Lutheran Church on Portsmouth’s High Street West — a straight shot on Route 17.

According to Gates, the uninitiated — like he was — usually expect a stuffy atmosphere created by people behaving a little too seriously.

“That’s not only the reaction we get, it’s the reaction we expect,” he said.

But what makes Toastmasters different from “the other public speaking professional organizations” is its fun approach, he said. “It’s a safe place to fail.”

At the meeting last week, a dozen or so folks rapped the table whenever the word of the day — “derisive” — was uttered. They kept tabs on how many “filler” words, such as “um,” fellow members used, and definitely never strayed into serious territory.

After Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Parks called the meeting to order and President Rodney Spears welcomed guests, Toastmaster of the Day David Edmondson Jr., enunciating in a loud, clear voice, introduced the various speaking activities.

The first speaker up was Deanna Deloatch, who teaches English as a second language with Chesapeake Public Schools. Her skit was “The Charles Gates Show.”

“Today we are talking about people who have the luxury of working from home,” said Gates, reading from Deloatch’s script.

“Deanna Deloatch is going to share with us a very interesting job: Teaching English as a second language from home.”

Following that segment, Edmondson launched into Table Topics, calling volunteers to the stage to argue for a few minutes in favor of weird state laws that either still are or used to be on the books.

Janet Krenn, governor of the organization’s Area 42 and a special guest from Oyster Point Speakers Toastmasters Club in Newport News, argued in favor of a Missouri law outlawing the supply of beer or other intoxicants to elephants.

“When you have a massive animal that can’t control itself, with a large trunk that just flails around … it could destroy your beloved town,” she managed.

Gates, who hopes to become Toastmasters’ second in command in Virginia, said the organization also offers the chance to develop leadership skills by climbing the ladder.

Positions can be appointed or, like the one he’s aiming for, elected.

Toastmasters, he says, is open to anyone looking to improve as communicators. “We have housewives and we also have doctors and lawyers — and anything in between,” Gates said.

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