Tidewater Toastmasters Club held its first meeting of 2014 at the Talbot Senior Center on Friday, January 17. The club is the only Mid-Shore chapter of Toastmasters International, the worldwide organization building communication and leadership skills. It welcomes new members and guests to its meetings on the first and third Fridays of each month.
The meeting opened with the presentation of its 2013 Community Service Award to Jackie Davis, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association in Talbot County, by Tidewater Toastmasters President Pete Cerutti and Vice President Scott Ackerson.
Ackerson commended Davis for her public service, describing her as energetic and able to reach out to all different kinds of people. Davis has been a member of Tidewater Toastmasters for about four years and credits her experience with the organization for being “enormously helpful” in enhancing her outreach skills.
“We have ‘no torture’ rules in effect,” said Davis, encouraging those who may be afraid of public speaking to give Toastmasters a try. She explained that members reach goals in “baby steps,” at their own pace, within a supportive group.
Structured manuals guide novice speakers as they work on individual aspects of presentations, including body language, making eye contact and engaging the audience. Members learn the nuances of making various types of speeches. Power point presentations are covered, as well as humorous and informative speeches, after-dinner talks and more.
With the meetings kept to a strict one-hour limit, they respect today’s busy life styles, allowing a wide range of participants. Members include retirees who enjoy public speaking, as well as young professionals who need to become more comfortable at the podium to give them an edge in their careers. Both novices and veteran speakers are welcome and benefit from the program.
Cerutti is a business owner, founder of Federal Resources in Stevensville. “As the company grew from 10 employees to about 150,” he said, “I found myself speaking in front of more and more people. I wanted to be more polished.”
The meetings are structured yet still fun and informal. Members play various roles, taking turns as Toastmaster, conducting the overall session. Several five- to seven-minute speeches are scheduled for each meeting, along with evaluators who offer constructive critiques.
A timer records how long everyone speaks. A grammarian keeps members mindful of those unintended “uhs” and “ums” and introduces a word of the day, meant to be included by speakers somewhere in their remarks.
Members practice impromptu talks during Table Topics, where volunteers draw a topic from the day’s theme and speak for one to two minutes on the question selected.
As entertaining as the meetings are, one can forget that there are valuable skills being taught through this organization founded 90 years ago. “The structure is old and it works,” said Cerutti. Members pay annual dues, but guests are welcome to attend a few meetings to get a taste of Toastmasters before joining.
There are about 40 manuals available that guide members through various levels along two tracks—Communication and Leadership—culminating in the designation of Distinguished Toastmaster.
Davis expressed her pride at completing her first Competent Communication Manual, with ten speech projects. Most members move on to more advanced levels, further enhancing skills that help them grow from that initial fear into dynamic public speakers.
Working to promote these skills within the community, Tidewater Toastmasters volunteers serve as judges for speech contests at the local 4-H Club and at Easton High School. Its members also enter their own public speaking competitions, sending winners on to regional and national championships.
Cerutti acknowledged the trepidation most people have when faced with giving a speech. “Fear of public speaking is inherent to all of us,” he said. “Through training and structure in our preparation, public speaking is easy and fun.”
All are welcome to Tidewater Toastmasters meetings, held the first and third Fridays of each month at the Talbot Senior Center in Easton. For more information or to join, call Pete Cerutti at 443-864-1342 or visit http://tidewater.toastmastersclubs.org/.