Toastmasters group works to decrease speaking anxiety

Published 11:45 am Wednesday, September 12, 2018

By MICHAEL BROOKS / Special to the Reporter

ALABASTER – The most common human fears include flying, snakes, closed spaces, death and public speaking. The Circle of Champions Toastmasters Club in Alabaster is committed to decreasing at least one of these fears.

Club member Nancy Gilmore of Shelby has been a Toastmaster for about eight years. She is a data management contractor for BBVA/Compass Bank.

“I grew up a shy person, and I remember in college I had an assignment to read a poem in class and I couldn’t do it,” she said. “And then I had to do business presentations at work, and I was filled with anxiety. My fears were common. My hands would tremble, I’d rattle my notes and feel like I was passing out.”

Gilmore said she joined Toastmasters where she was expected to give an introductory, or “ice-breaker” speech, but it took her six weeks to build up her courage.

“I had another club member assigned to mentor me, and I learned to use humor and props, and these helped me feel more at ease,” she said. “Now I still get a little nervous, but I’m working on projects and contests in Toastmasters to increase my skills.”

Toastmasters was founded in 1905 in Bloomington, Illinois, when Ralph Smedley began to think of a way to help men develop skills in organizing and conducting meetings and in public speaking. Coming from a YMCA background, Smedley envisioned this training for men only. The group admitted women for the first time in 1973 and elected its first international female president in 1985. The organization is now active in more than 125 countries.

The local club held an open house on Sept. 10 at the Abundant Life Church in Alabaster. Vice President of Education Sonia DeYampert presided.

“We meet to study communication and leadership,” she said. “We convene on the first and third Mondays at 6:45 p.m. When new folks show up and express interest, we assign them a mentor whose job is to guide them through the process of growth.”

DeYampert, a Pennsylvania native, began her work with Toastmasters after 27 years in the military. She said the group seeks to help others develop confidence in front on an audience, and to work on the mechanics of speech-delivery, such as eye contact and gestures and adhering to time limits.

“Sometimes, companies send employees to us and pay their dues,” she said. “And sometimes members come on their own. We normally have three speeches in our meetings. Everyone has opportunity to speak and to evaluate other speakers. We’re helpful, not critical, and we enjoy watching one another grow.”

The open house featured club member Cedric Burton, a professor of English at Lawson State Community College, who spoke on “Life Lessons from the Eagle.” The meeting also featured three audience members as “Table Top” speakers who were given topics on-the-spot and spoke impromptu for one minute. Other club members served as timer and grammarian. The grammarian is also called the “ah-counter.” He reported, to enthusiastic applause, that very few filler words, such as “ah,” “uh” and “so” were spoken.

“We have fun and we’re excited,” DeYampert said. “It’s wonderful to see how members grow in confidence and do better on their jobs.”

DeYampert said there are Toastmaster clubs in Vestavia Hills and Hoover, but Alabaster is the only other club in Shelby County at this time.

Toastmasters has an application fee of $20 and dues of $45 each six months, pro-rated from the due dates of October and March.

More information is available from Club Growth Director Wanda Spillers at 475-5964. The group also has a Facebook page, “Circle of Champions Toastmasters.”