Traverse City Business News | Toast of the Town: Local group Toastmasters International tackles fear of public speaking
Toast of the Town: Local group Toastmasters International tackles fear of public speaking
Tyler Cerny, the owner of Strata Design, wanted to boost his leadership skills and company profile. Strata Design specializes in modular backs, laminated plastic furniture and shopfittings for hospitals, medical office buildings, schools, retail stores and other commercial buildings. He was also moving into a leadership role at the Architectural Woodwork Institute and knew that would also require some growth.
Either way, you should become more comfortable talking to others, especially large groups.
“I knew I would give speeches,” Cerny said.
So he turned to Toastmasters. And he says he’s glad he did.
“It was wonderful for me as I was moving into a leadership role in a national association and I knew I would be giving speeches to bigger crowds.
“It’s also paid dividends for me leading my team at Strata Design,” said Cerny, whose wife Jen also joined to help bolster his work selling skincare products.
According to numerous surveys over the years, public speaking is the American public’s greatest fear. Toastmasters International brings together people from diverse backgrounds who, like Cerny, want to become better at speaking in front of others.
The organization welcomed the Cernys like all new members. Eric Davis, the current president of the local Cherry Capital Toastmasters, joined four years ago after hearing his sister say how much she appreciated him and how it benefited him.
“I had heard of Toastmasters a few years ago,” he says. “I was working and I didn’t have time. Six months before I retired, I started dating.
As a pharmacist with Munson, he interacted with the public and occasionally gave presentations for other Munson staff.
“It gives me confidence at Toastmasters or social events,” he said.
Toastmasters International is an educational, nonprofit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a global network of clubs.
It dates back to 1905, when Ralph C. Smedley, director of education at the YMCA, realized that men in his community needed to learn how to speak, lead meetings, plan programs and serve on committees. . So he decided to organize a club where they could learn these skills in a social environment. The first unofficial meeting of Toastmasters was held on March 24, 1905.
It was not until 1970 that the organization admitted its first female member, Helen Blanchard – under the name Homer Blanchard. Ironically, she became the first female international president in 1985. It has since grown to over 15,800 clubs in 149 countries, with membership exceeding 300,000.
Why the name Toastmasters? Back when Smedley founded the organization, “toastmaster” was a popular term that referred to a person who made toasts at banquets and other occasions. Today, the group is proud to help its members develop such communication skills and other leadership skills.
Members of the local club come from all walks of life, from salespeople to business owners to pastors. There is also a diversity of ages, from the 30s to the 70s.
Merek Roman is one of the youngest. Casey Cowell, her stepfather, suggested she find out.
“At US Robotics, he had all of his sales people go through this. As a salesman, I know I can always improve,” Roman said.
He even convinced his mother, Dana Cowell, to join.
“I do a few shows with Casey,” Dana Cowell said, “so it’s nice to feel like I have a better stage presence.”
She said it helped her feel more comfortable speaking to groups of all sizes.
“And it’s kind of fun,” she said.
Meetings follow a regular format. Each meeting has a leader, determined at the previous meeting. They are divided into three parts. Table Topics are short impromptu speeches, where members are asked to speak spontaneously for 45-90 seconds.
Prepared speeches are assigned in advance; they are longer than table subjects. The third part is that of the evaluations, where the speakers receive feedback on the parts that have been done well and the points for improvement.
In addition to local meetings, Toastmasters hosts an international convention, webinars, and even a public speaking contest every year. The organization also offers personal and professional development through Pathways, a series of seminars and learning experiences based on areas such as coaching, presentations and collaboration.
Everyone is welcome to attend the meetings, which take place once a week: Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. They moved to a virtual format during the pandemic, and are now a hybrid with in-person on the first Thursday of the month and Zoom on other dates.
To become a member, there is an annual fee of $90. Apparently, it’s money well spent, as the members are all enthusiastic about the group and its benefits.
“I feel better able to express myself more effectively. I have less apprehension in a group,” Davis said.
Roman said impromptu table topics make people think on their feet. Without notes to refer to, he said speakers can lose their train of thought or even freeze.
For Cowell, the ability to be part of the organization from anywhere is an advantage. Although she would rather meet in person than meet via Zoom, she says being able to be part of the group virtually during the winter months without having to travel is a godsend. Additionally, she said she and her son attended another club in Florida.
Cerny said a traditional college education often overlooks the teaching skills needed to succeed in business or social settings.
“You can get a business degree, an engineering degree, whatever. Then all of a sudden you have to start a project or a program,” he said, which requires different skills — skills he says Toastmasters can help a person develop.
Even better, he won something he never expected.
“It became a group of friends,” he says.