Face your fears with Toastmasters International

Face your fears with Toastmasters International

Ben Glick

According to many studies, public speaking ranks as the number one fear many people face.
Toastmasters International is an organization created to help its members confront this fear by
learning better ways to communicate in front of groups of people.

“The club tries to create a stress-free environment where students or members of the community
feel they can express themselves verbally without feeling like they’re being ridiculed,” said Eric
Baumgartner, a member of GVSU Toastmasters Club #4380. “There are many professionals who are
present (at meetings) to give constructive, supportive and immediate feedback.”

Founded in 1924, Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization with more than 280,000
members hailing from places such as Bombay, Shanghai and Vienna. Much of club members’ time
is spent giving presentations, listening to speakers and critiquing each other’s speaking ability in
order to better convey whatever message the speaker is communicating to the audience. There are
currently 25 members in the GVSU Toastmasters Club #4380, which meets on Allendale’s Campus.
Another chapter of the organization also meets at the Pew Campus in downtown Grand Rapids.

“There’s absolutely no intimidation,” said Tricia McDonald, president of Toastmasters Club #4380
and a member since 2008. “Our whole goal is to help you become a better speaker by guiding you.
We’ll help you get there.”

The philosophy of the club is not merely to criticize and identify which aspects of a person’s speech
needs work, but to build a base in which speakers feel comfortable and confident.

“Some people find it strange (that) when after people get done talking, there is applause,”
McDonald said. “But we do that in order to build speakers’ confidence in order for them to feel
comfortable, to make progress and use what skills they gain in the real world assuredly.”

Ranging from novice to advanced speakers, the club practices giving prepared speeches and
participating in impromptu presentations called Table Topics, which allows members to progress at
their own speed.

“One of the things (that is) interesting is that you can do this at your own pace,” member Sue
Merrell said.

While participating in Table Topics, members are given ten modules that emphasize a certain topic,
such as working with visual aids, time management, pacing and leadership. Listeners gauge how
well a speaker did and measure it by a system of ‘grows’ and ‘glows.’ ‘Glows’ are positive feedback
which identify a speaker’s strengths. Conversely, ‘grows’ are areas on which a speaker can improve.

“It’s a universal skill,” Merrell said. “Being able to project yourself clearly can come in handy at
work, in school, or even in social interactions.”

But this experience isn’t free. To formerly join Toastmasters, students pay a $38 membership fee
every six months.

“But, students are more than welcome to come and test-drive without being a member—just kind
of sit down and see what (Toastmasters is) all about before joining,” Baumgartner said.

For students interested in joining or sitting in on a meeting, GVSU Toastmasters Club #4380 meets
every Wednesday in the Kirkhof Center in Room 2259 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. GVSU Downtown
Toastmasters Club #8177 meets every Thursday at 7:30 a.m. in the University Club at GVSU’s Pew Campus.

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