Enjoy living on the edge?
Are you the type who might jump out of an airplane, ski Double Black Diamonds or take a kayak into Class 5 rapids? The West Liberty University Toastmasters Club takes it a step further.
Toastmaster Gayle Seidler recalls a classic Jerry Seinfeld premise. “When surveys ask people to rank their greatest fears, consistently, the Number One rated fear is public speaking.” She pauses for emphasis. “Death is Number Two.” Seinfeld’s punch line is that at a funeral, the average person would prefer to be in the casket rather than to give the eulogy.
Toastmasters make that choice a little easier.
Great comedy comes from truth. Most of us dread public speaking. Ironically, our livelihoods often depend on some form of it. Yet, aside from the occasional elective speech class, the majority continues to “wing it.” Toastmasters International, founded in 1924, fills that gap.
One local member confided that, during her annual employment review, she was counseled that her core competence was exceptional. However, she was passed over for promotion due to her lack of effectiveness in meetings and groups. Toastmasters training and its internationally proven methods are tailor made for that challenge. She is working to upgrade her skill set for the next round of promotions.
Another local Toastmaster had a similar story but with a much happier ending. Jennifer Kiger, Treasurer of Riesbeck Food Markets, Inc. got her promotion first, but joined Toastmasters to prepare for the communication responsibilities in her new position.
The local Toastmasters club is a gathering of friends with common purpose. They meet twice monthly at West Liberty’s Highlands facility for self-paced Toastmasters International leadership training in an atmosphere that is “uniquely Wheeling.”
Time-tested leadership and communication exercises, developed and proven by Toastmasters International, are packed into meetings that are rarely more than an hour long The format combines structured 5-7 minute speeches with extemporaneous speaking opportunities; all followed by review and coaching in a collaborative atmosphere that surprises some local members when they first experience it.
For Seidler, an insurance executive, that informal, supportive tone relieved her initial concerns about joining the group. “ I was afraid that it would be stuffy and stoic. Instead, we have a lot of fun as we work to improve our skills.”
Kiger, who serves as the club’s current President, recalls her first meetings with the group. “I was surprised that there was no pressure to get up at every meeting and talk. The environment is easy going and allows you to become comfortable with the group before giving any speeches.”
On any given Monday, speakers and audience are a blend of entrepreneurs in career reinvention, a nationally recognized multi-level marketing star performer, an associate college professor, a pastor-counsellor, a nationally certified sales coach, a public relations professional and college undergraduates building their resumes.
The genius of the Toastmaster format equips it to serve this eclectic group with diverse levels of experience and expertise. Earl Nicodemus, Associate Professor of Education at WLU, was initially skeptical. “When the group was formed, I was intrigued by the opportunity it represented for our young graduates to improve their speaking and communications skills. However, given my experience, I did not anticipate much personal benefit from the organization. I quickly learned from the feedback from my early presentations that even experienced speakers can benefit from the Toastmasters program”
Johnny Carson used to say that fledgling stand up comedians needed “places to be bad”—venues to experiment and develop craft. Toastmasters provides that freedom to experiment and grow within the club’s supportive atmosphere. It’s a formula that produces measurable results.
Sharon Welsch, a nationally recognized Mary Kay Beauty Consultant who had given countless sales presentations before joining Toastmasters explains, “When I first joined, all I wanted was to stop saying ‘Um.’ Soon, I was amazed to realize how much I rambled. Toastmasters has taught me to organize my thoughts and get the point across in a more concise manner.”
Seidler, with a similar sales background, remembers. “In my first speech, I think I had 27 ‘ums.’ It was ridiculous. I was so nervous. I still say ‘um’ and ‘sooooo’ more than I should, but the improvement is dramatic. Toastmasters is a safe place to improve in a fun environment where you can practice without judgment and hone your skills at your own pace.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to be the best you can be?” added Toastmaster Karen Gerardi, associate admissions director at Washington and Jefferson College. “Toastmasters is a group of professionals who gather to continue learning, improve public speaking and gain confidence.”
Jeff Knierim, West Liberty University Vice President of Community Engagement and the club’s first president, noted an underrated benefit of Toastmasters meetings. “The speech content of each meeting’s presentations is an eye-opening learning opportunity in itself. It’s surprising how much one can learn from each of our members’ unique experience.” Speakers present topics including: local history, medical advancements, inspiring stories of local people overcoming obstacles, sales training, and somewhere along the line there always seems to be a great joke.
Knierim notes with pride that the local club, chartered on April 1, 2012, achieved recognition as aToastmasters International Distinguished Club n 2013 and President’s Distinguished Club recognition in 2014, testament to consistent growth by both the club and its members.
“This club’s potential is limited only by the number of individuals in the Ohio Valley committed to their individual and professional growth. They’ll find themselves are welcome at Toastmasters.
The club meets the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month at
5:30 p.m. at the WLU Highlands Center. Guests are always welcome! For more
information, contact club officers Jennifer Kiger, President, at
firstname.lastname@example.org or Jeff Knierim, Vice President Education, at
The door is open…
However, if you want to begin with something a little less challenging, there’s always sky diving.