Facing down the fear of public speaking

While many people are frightened of and repulsed by the idea of public speaking, a dedicated group of Stettler residents embrace the idea.

While many people are frightened of and repulsed by the idea of public speaking, a dedicated group of Stettler residents not only embrace the idea, but want to bring more people into the fold.

These individuals belong to the Stettler chapter of Toastmasters International, a world-reknowned organization that helps people hone their public speaking, listening, and leadership skills.

The chapter has been up and running for roughly a year, Claude Dupont, vice president of membership, said. He was the Toastmaster — essentially master of ceremonies — for the recent meeting, held at the Stettler Board of Trade boardroom on Thursday, Nov. 5. The group meets from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every first and third Thursday of the month.

While most chapters need 20 paid members to register its charter with Toastmasters International, the Stettler chapter was fortunate to be able to assume its charter from a Calgary chapter which was folding, Dupont explained.

Guests are not only welcome, but are encouraged. Even, and especially, those who feel their knees go weak and their stomach toss and churn at the idea of standing before an audience.

Members receive an official guide, which walks them through novice speech-making skills to more complex speech structures. Each person progresses at their own pace, completing speech after speech.

Speeches are evaluated by fellow Toastmasters, who highlight areas of improvement over previous speeches and successes of the speaker, all the while providing useful and kind critique so the speaker can address weaknesses.

In addition to scheduled speakers, there’s a table-topic section, where random attendees are chosen to pick a topic from a box, and must speak for two minutes on the topic — with very little time to prepare.

“Table topics are designed to help people learn to speak on their feet,” Dupont said. “You’re given very little time to prepare, just collect your thoughts…and impress.”

Rob Somerville, president of the chapter, said the year with Toastmasters has already helped him a great deal.

“It’s one thing to have ideas, but if you’re not a good speaker, it often falls on deaf ears,” he said. He said many great ideas have been bandied about in his lifetime, working with organizations like the Alberta Beef Producers, that have gained little traction because the people behind the idea simply didn’t express themselves well.

The Stettler Toastmasters are looking to increase the number of people attending meetings, not only because it’s important to the health and longevity of the local chapter, but because of the wealth of opportunities Toastmasters provides. Interested individuals can contact Claude Dupont at 403-742-4373, or simply attend a meeting at the Board of Trade building, side door, on one of the Toastmaster evenings.

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