The 1,600 Toastmaster Clubs around the world have some 300,000 members and now some are Crozetians. Their goal is to develop their ability to speak confidently in public and to become more articulate and expressive.
The Crozet club aims to be official as soon as January. That means at least 20 members. Members pay semi-annual dues of $36 to cover workbooks, manuals, etc. Once a club has its charter, it can compete against other clubs. Crozet’s is a club based just on geography. Many clubs are organized by businesses that are trying to develop the communication and leadership skills of their employees. Members of Charlottesville clubs are helping the Crozet club get established.
Christina Brown is the organizer of the Crozet club, which started in September and now has a dozen members who meet weekly on Tuesday nights at Tabor Presbyterian Church’s fellowship hall. Members proceed through a series of workbooks prepared by the international club that teach how to make different types of speeches. Club members politely critique each other, applaud each other readily and count up the mistakes they are trying to avoid.
The idea is to learn by doing, so club members have different roles, such as the ah-counter, who tallies crutch words, the ahs, sos, and other pauses or repetitions that you don’t want to make, and the table topics master, who job is to develop extemporaneous speaking skills. Speakers must conform to time limits and are tracked on how close they come to the target time for the speech. Other roles include the grammarian, who watches for grammar errors and helps develop speakers’ vocabularies, the timer, the joke master and speech evaluators.
At the Thanksgiving week meeting Laura Brown gave a 5- to 7-minute “goodwill” speech—her subject was The Local Food Hub—and Jamie Jackson gave an 8 to 10 minute speech that was intended to be inspiring to the audience. She spoke on the topic “What are you thinking?” and talked about becoming a dog owner. Both tried to make eye contact and to use their hands in gestures. Members passed short written comments to both after their speeches. Brown went just a few seconds long. She was praised for her wealth of detail. Jackson, who had graduated to a new workbook, was short of the target time. She was encouraged to think about how she used her hands and if they might convey anxiety.
The table topics were “What do you like about yourself?” and “What do you want to improve?” Speakers who took up the topics had one to two minutes to make their answers. Part of the challenge is having the courage to stand up and face the group unprepared.
Finally the crutch word tallies for each speaker were announced and everyone had at least a couple. They are hard to stamp out. The grammarian regretted that she hadn’t herself used the word of day, tremulous, but she found very few grammar infractions among speakers. Whew. The meeting, which proceeds on a strict agenda with times for each segment, ended promptly on the hour.
David Oxford, a new member, said, “I joined when it came to Crozet. I was very interested for professional reasons.” He handles technology for a local oil company. “I have to get in front of people on a regular basis. Here I can practice that without judgment or reprisal. There’s no negative side. It’s very welcoming. It’s absolutely paying off for me. The feedback I got made me want to stand up again.”
For more information on the club, call Christine Brown at 703-965-6028.