“Learning by Doing”: Toastmasters International Helps Hone Oral Skills | News, Sports, Jobs
If, like most people, you get sweaty palms just thinking about standing in front of a crowd and talking, there’s a group that will help you gain the confidence to tell your story.
Toastmasters International has been helping people develop their public speaking skills since 1924 and now has 15,000 clubs around the world. The local Toastmasters group is offering a free eight-week course starting Wednesday.
“It’s a talking organization. The goal is to help people feel comfortable in front of an audience, because most of us don’t do that on a regular basis,” said Phil Buehrer, treasurer of the Williamsport chapter.
Most people would freak out if they were suddenly asked to stand in front of a crowd, like a Chamber of Commerce meeting, and talk about something they’re working on.
“It’s like that with all of us. The normal thing is that we don’t do it regularly. You take us out of our comfort zone.” Bührer explained.
To prepare for a situation like this, just as you will hone your skills on a musical instrument or in playing a sport, practice is key.
“You don’t improve the first time you play. It’s convenient, convenient, convenient. That’s all Toastmasters is. It’s a place where people can practice getting comfortable in front of an audience.” says Bührer.
“If you don’t have the ability to have an audience to talk to, then how do you do that?” He asked.
“It helps people become more confident in their communication skills, whether you’re a witness at a wedding or you’re in a meeting and have to give a presentation. It can go from one end of the spectrum to the other,” said Donna Miller, president of the local group.
The local chapter has existed for about 55 years. Currently, there are about 14 members, but they hope the new class will spark interest in their mission.
“We believe that Toastmasters is a learning-by-doing program, so our speaking art program is going to follow the same principle – learn by doing,” said Miller.
This means those who attend the two-hour classes won’t be there to listen to a lecture on how to speak – they will be speaking.
“We’re going to get them to stand up and talk,” said Miller.
“Even if it’s something as simple as ‘What is your favorite type of fruit and why do you like it?’ ‘What’s your favorite type of pie?’ same thing. We tell stories every day. We always tell stories. I just told you a story before I started the interview. We are good storytellers,” said Miller.
“Toastmasters just takes this storytelling talent that we have, that we use every day and just to say now, it’s OK to stand in front of a group of people. Just to give them the tools to use,” she added.
Classes are structured so that participants can expect to stand up and speak about three to four times, just for short periods to help them get comfortable.
“Then it will increase each time to get them up there – usually three, four, five minutes of speech is what we are looking for – to get them talking,” says Bührer.
“The key is to talk about something that interests you, something that you know about,” he said. “(There are) so many things that pop into your head and you don’t even realize it.”
During classes, each new member is assigned an assessor who will help them identify areas to work on, such as mannerisms, voice, eye contact, facial expression, to name a few. Two key aspects of learning effective communication are preparation and organization, which are also assessed.
In addition to helping people become more comfortable with public speaking, the training offered by Toastmasters helps develop leadership skills.
“We want you to become a better communicator and we want to prepare you to be a leader”, says Bührer. “It’s not just about talking. It helps you develop your whole repertoire of who you are and how you can help others. You can help others by leading.
“A byproduct of learning to be a better communicator is that you’ll become a better leader. There will be more and more times, as you become more important to your organization, that you will probably end up having to communicate regularly in front of other people, other colleagues. It’s going to help you develop those skills,” he said.
Often people join Toastmasters because they are looking to advance in their careers and want to improve their communication skills.
Miller shared the personal experience that brought her to Toastmasters.
“For me personally, I was a stutterer,” she says.
She described how, when she was younger, she didn’t want to talk because of her stutter. Her parents took her to the doctor, but no medical condition was causing her problem.
“Doctors and speech therapists said, ‘Donna gets so excited when she wants to say something that she can’t get the words out'” said Miller.
Working with speech therapists helped her when she was younger, but as she got older she admitted she just sat back and let others do the talking. Toastmasters helped Miller overcome this obstacle.
“We take you by the hand and help you somehow get over the obstacles that hold you back”, Miller explained.
Classes will be held in the 505 Restaurant Banquet Room, 505 Washington Blvd. The seats are limited. To register and for questions about the program, contact Buehrer at 570-326-6801 or Miller at 570-971-0098.