Toastmasters Imparts Both Communications and Leadership Skills

Over its 85-year history, Toastmasters International has built up very positive name recognition for its role helping people "become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience," in a supportive, nurturing environment. But while public speaking is a significant aspect of the non-profit's focus, it is not the complete picture. Imparting leadership skills is another important part of the Toastmasters mission.

"There are two distinct paths in the Toastmasters Program, the Communication track and the Leadership track," explains Christina Morales, president of the local club, which meets weekly in Hacienda. The organization recommends following both tracks, usually one at a time. As members progress through either track, they become eligible for a series of higher awards denoting the completion of specified milestones. On the Communicator side, the designations include Advanced Communicator at the Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels. Leadership awards start with the Competent Leader, earned by completing 10 projects. Members learn and practice leadership skills by serving in club roles. Requirements for successive designations at the Advanced Leader level are more extensive, including conducting new programs, serving as a club officer, and earning a Competent Communicator award. There are many different roles for members to fulfill during weekly meetings, which follow a well-defined format that helps to put newcomers at ease. The meeting starts off with preliminaries like the invocation and introduction of the theme and word of the day. Then come the speakers, the impromptu and the prepared. Impromptu volunteers offer a one-to-two minute response to a question posed by a table topics master to the general audience. The topics can be light-hearted, as was this one from the Hacienda group's pre-holiday meeting: "Who would you have delivering gifts instead of Santa Claus?" Even two weeks later Morales was able to remember a quick and amusing talk about Dumbo the Elephant dropping gifts by parachute. "It's not always a serious question, that's what makes it fun," she remarks. The prepared speakers then take the floor for a five- to seven-minute talk about a subject they have researched. The ensuing evaluations are constructive and specific. One of the more colorful functions belongs to the "ah/grammarian," the person who listens carefully to all speakers during the meeting and keeps a tally of their verbal quirks, filler sounds, and repetitive phrases. The video operator also makes a big contribution to the evaluation process by enabling the speakers to see their own performances on tape. It might look like the speakers sail through their moments center stage, but their Toastmasters experience has equipped them with several tools. Morales points out the value of always having a structure to rely on when speaking, whether impromptu or prepared. "It encourages you to use a story." She also advises including humor. "People who participate are more likely to learn and enjoy," she comments. The nonprofit organization now has nearly 235,000 members in 11,700 clubs in 92 countries. The local club meets every Thursday from 12 noon to 1 p.m. in the first floor conference room at 4305 Hacienda Drive. This is a new location. For more information, visit .

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