Are you a person who suffers from glossophobia? Even if you’ve never heard the word before, you probably have dealt with it at least several times in your life and didn’t know it. Glossophobia is the scientific name for the fear of public speaking, one of the most common phobias found in human beings everywhere around the world.
While most people become anxious and uncomfortable when put in the position of having to speak in front of an audience, few ever get around to doing something about it. That’s not true; however, for a small group of Parkland residents who meet twice a month in a meeting room at the North College Center on the Mineral Area College campus in Park Hills.
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills. Through its thousands of member clubs, Toastmasters International offers a program of communication and leadership projects designed to help men and women learn the arts of speaking, listening, and thinking.
Jerry Hoeflein has been a member of Toastmasters for 30 years and a member of the Parkland Area Toastmasters since it was formed in 2006. He’s an associate psychologist for the Missouri Department of Corrections and he believes his participation in the organization has been an asset to him both professionally and personally.
“The things I’ve learned in Toastmasters has helped me in my counseling sessions with prisoners and it’s helped me in working with other people, too,” he said.
Hoeflein’s specialty is extemporaneous, or unrehearsed, speaking. He’s won a number of Toastmaster competitions through the years using his ability to stand before a group and give a talk on a subject he was given only moments before. At the club’s first February meeting, he was chosen to serve as toastmaster, or master of ceremonies, presented a three minute off-the-cuff talk on aircraft carriers and ended the evening with a 10 – 12 minute talk on a club-related topic.
Hoeflein never hesitated for a moment. He doesn’t have the habit of many public speakers who use the words “ah,” “you know” or “uh” while trying to form their next thought. Hoeflein is smooth and confident in his presentation. He knows what he’s doing.
Chapter President Charlie Boyer, a local funeral home director, said Toastmasters can be of help to everyone, no matter what their occupation might be.
“Everyone needs to learn how to communicate more effectively,” he said. “Joining and participating in this organization will give you the skills you need to improve your communication at work and in every other area of your life.
The qualifications for membership in Toastmasters are few. Applicants must be at least 18 years of age and pay a $20 lifetime membership fee. Once a person has joined, they’re expected to regularly attend meetings and pay the club’s nominal bi-annual dues.
So how does Toastmasters help someone become a better speaker? Real-life experience.
A Toastmasters meeting is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a no-pressure atmosphere. Meeting participants give impromptu talks on assigned topics, conduct meetings and develop skills related to timekeeping, grammar and parliamentary procedure. They learn communication skills by working in the Competent Communication manual, a series of 10 self-paced speaking assignments designed to instill a basic foundation in public speaking. Then members evaluate one another’s presentations. This feedback process is a key part of the program’s success.
The members also learn leadership skills by taking on various meeting roles and working in the Competent Leadership manual. In Toastmasters’ learn-by-doing approach, members aren’t lectured about leadership skills; they’re given responsibilities and mentoring to help. Then they are asked to lead.
Toastmasters learn that feeling some nervousness before giving a speech is natural and even beneficial, but too much nervousness can be detrimental. Part of the program is learning these simple steps to control butterflies and give better presentations:
• Know your material. Pick a topic you are interested in. Know more about it than you include in your speech. Use humor, personal stories and conversational language – that way you won’t easily forget what to say.
• Practice. Practice. Practice! Rehearse out loud with all equipment you plan on using. Revise as necessary. Work to control filler words; Practice, pause and breathe. Practice with a timer and allow time for the unexpected.
• Know the audience. Greet some of the audience members as they arrive. It’s easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers.
• Know the room. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone and any visual aids.
• Relax. Begin by addressing the audience. It buys you time and calms your nerves. Pause, smile and count to three before saying anything. (“One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand. Pause. Begin.) Transform nervous energy into enthusiasm.
• Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and confident. Visualize the audience clapping – it will boost your confidence.
• Realize that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They’re rooting for you.
• Don’t apologize for any nervousness or problem – the audience probably never noticed it.
• Concentrate on the message – not the medium. Focus your attention away from your own anxieties and concentrate on your message and your audience.
• Gain experience. Mainly, your speech should represent you — as an authority and as a person. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking.
Toastmasters International grew out of a single club, Smedley Club Number 1, which would become the first Toastmasters club. It was founded by Ralph C. Smedley on Oct. 22, 1924, at the YMCA in Santa Ana, Calif. Throughout its history, Toastmasters has served more than 4 million people, and today the organization serves more than 260,000 members in 113 countries, through its over 12,800 member clubs.
The members of Parkland Area Toastmasters are a small group, but they obviously enjoy the time they spend together every first and third Tuesday of the month. The meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and last approximately 90 minutes to two hours. A 15-minute break is taken approximately halfway through the meeting at which members gather in a small kitchen off the meeting room where they eat snacks and enjoy a time of fellowship.
Boyer said the club is actively seeking new members who want to learn how to build self-confidence and to improve their public speaking and leadership skills.
Those interested in learning more about Toastmasters International are encouraged to check out its website: www.toastmasters.org. Those wanting to learn more about Parkland Area Toastmasters may call (573) 747-6357. Guests are always invited to attend a local Toastmasters meeting.
Kevin R. Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 114 or at email@example.com.
How is it that intelligent, business-savvy people end up boringtheir audiences?
They fail to recognize that public speaking is an acquired skillthat improves with practice and honest feedback. Speaking for 20minutes before the right group of people can do more for yourcareer than spending a year behind a desk! Rob Sherman, an attorneyand public speaker in Columbus, Ohio, wrote in an article appearingin the Toastmaster magazine to avoid these mistakes:
• Starting with a whimper. Don’t start with “Thank you for thatkind introduction.” Start with a bang! Give the audience astartling statistic, an interesting quote, a news headline –something powerful that will get their attention immediately.
• Attempting to imitate other speakers. Authenticity is lost whenyou aren’t yourself.
• Failing to “work” the room. Your audience wants to meet you. Ifyou don’t take time to mingle before the presentation, you lose anopportunity to enhance your credibility with your listeners.
• Failing to use relaxation techniques. Do whatever it takes –listening to music, breathing deeply, shrugging your shoulders – torelieve nervous tension.
• Reading a speech word for word. This will put the audience tosleep. Instead use a “keyword” outline: Look at the keyword toprompt your thoughts. Look into the eyes of the audience, thenspeak.
• Using someone else’s stories. It’s okay to use brief quotes fromother sources, but to connect with the audience, you mustillustrate your most profound thoughts from your own lifeexperiences. If you think you don’t have any interesting stories totell, you are not looking hard enough.
• Speaking without passion. The more passionate you are about yourtopic, the more likely your audience will act on yoursuggestions.
• Ending a speech with questions and answers. Instead, tell theaudience that you will take questions and then say, “We will moveto our closing point.” After the Q and A, tell a story that ties inwith your main theme, or summarize your key points.
• Conclude with a quote or call to action.
• Failing to prepare. Your reputation is at stake every time youface an audience – so rehearse well enough to ensure you’ll leave agood impression!
• Failing to recognize that speaking is an acquired skill.Effective executives learn how to present in the same way theylearn to use other tools to operate their businesses.