Arts and Entertainment

Stepping up to the lectern: South Whidbey group aims to fine-tune communication skills

Sean Callahan presents his speech titled “Why you should jump out of bed in the morning,” during a Toastmasters meeting on Monday, Jan. 6. The group met for the second time to start a Toastmasters charter for the South Whidbey area.  - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Sean Callahan presents his speech titled “Why you should jump out of bed in the morning,” during a Toastmasters meeting on Monday, Jan. 6. The group met for the second time to start a Toastmasters charter for the South Whidbey area.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

A trembling hand, a thumping heart and the “ummms” that come with not knowing what to say next: public speaking is a hard skill to master.

That was a sentiment echoed from people across the South End interested in improving their speaking and leadership skills through the international organization called Toastmasters on Monday, Jan. 6. The club’s aim is to provide a supportive environment for members to practice and improve communication skills by giving speeches to one another.

This was the second meeting for the group, organized by Freeland resident Beverly Rose who saw a need for such a club in the community. Rose had never been to a Toastmasters meeting before organizing the group and came across it online.

“I like to start things up when I see there’s a hole to fill or a need to be met,” she said. “That’s what I thrive on, getting things started.”

About 30 people attended the meeting, with occupations ranging from business owners to teachers. Their common bond was that each wanted to improve their public speaking skills, which ranged from first-timers to returning members who had been waiting for a club to start in the area.

Members from the Oak Harbor charter, called Whidbey Sounders Toastmasters Club, attended the meeting to help guide the group.

Sean Callahan, vice president of public relations of the Oak Harbor charter, said the club has helped him establish confidence and identify his triggers while speaking in front of people.

“I’ve moved on from playing with my ring to my hands (when giving speeches),” he said.

Callahan has been a member for one year and has given more than 10 speeches, a fast pace within the group.

The meetings include three parts: table topics, speeches and evaluations. In table topics, a subject is chosen and people are selected at random to respond for a given amount of time.

The second part includes prepared speeches from a few members of the group, which are also timed. The talks are guided by a manual that outlines topics such as organization and motivational speaking.

The final section of the meeting covers evaluations — which are timed as well — and a check on everyone’s time.

Callahan said the speeches are often the funniest part of the meetings with subjects ranging from informational to magicians performing their acts.

During the meeting Callahan presented a speech called “Why you should jump out of bed in the morning,” commenting on the health benefits of avoiding the snooze button.

Oak Harbor resident Mary Jo Strain evaluated the speech afterwards, listing three positives and three things to work on for future speeches.

“You learn so much, you don’t realize how much fun it is,” she said about the club.

Strain, vice president of membership of the Oak Harbor charter, said the club has helped her become comfortable speaking in front of a group through speeches and evaluations.

Another benefit for her is being able to jump into any group around the world. While vacationing in Hawaii, she attended a meeting with a local charter.

The club has been around since 1924 with more than 290,000 members internationally.

For the South Whidbey group, the club is still in its preliminary phase. Following the meeting, 14 people joined, just a few members away from the 20 needed to become an official charter.

Rose said she thinks people in the area could benefit from what the club has to offer. It’s intriguing to see what drives people to join the club, she said.

“Each person comes with their own set of wants, needs and expectations,” Rose said.

“It’s a new year and new beginning for those who want to come,” she said.

 

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