ESCANABA - Enhancing public speaking skills can greatly improve a person's professional and personal life; one local group is striving to do just that here in Escanaba.
Toastmasters International is an organization that's all about communication and leadership development, with approximately 280,00 members in 13,500 clubs across 116 countries, according to the Toastmasters International website. Locally, the Escanaba area is represented by the Bay de Noc Toastmasters.
"Bay de Noc Toastmasters has been around for quite some time now," said Mitch Taylor, vice president of membership for the group. "It is a public speaking and leadership club if one is looking to better themselves in their communication skills." Members become involved in Toastmasters for a number of reasons - to improve communication and leadership skills for their job or relationship, or even to just better themselves as an individual.
Those who join Toastmasters are given two different manual or handbook options for their participation. One, the competent communicator, is geared toward public speaking, while the other, competent leadership, centers on leadership skills. Each manual is distributed from Toastmasters International.
"Our club is made up of people from all walks of life," said Taylor, noting the current 16-member club comes from a variety of backgrounds and has included participants as young as 18 years old and some older than 80. Once someone is a member of Toastmasters, they may stay in the group for as long as they like; some members have stayed with the group for 20 to 25 years.
Bay de Noc Toastmasters meets every Wednesday for one hour in an open environment and allows its members to move at their own pace. Each Toastmasters meeting focuses on communication skill-improving activities. One example is what's called a Grammarian/Ah! counter, where members count how many times a participant may stutter, use "filler words" or say "um" or "ah" when speaking. Then there's a chance for members to give brief impromptu presentations known as Table Topics. Everyone is encouraged to participate as it allows members to practice thinking and speaking off the top of their head. The group also has a word-of-the day in an effort to improve vocabulary, in addition to other activities.
Each meeting takes place at Positively! The Center for Success, located at 1300 Ludington St. in downtown Escanaba, having previously been held at Bay College. Each meeting begins at noon and lasts for one hour. New members can join by paying the new membership kit fee of $20 in addition to a six-month membership fee of $39, said Taylor, who noted the great things Toastmasters can do.
"We have several members of our club who have gone on to do amazing things," he said, noting some members have spoken in front of large crowds at events in major cities such as Chicago and Nashville.
The next big upcoming event for the group is the annual Grammarian/Ah program, a six-week program on learning the fundamentals of public speaking. Over the course of these six weeks, participants gain confidence and training in their communication skills and have the ability to express themselves in a positive manner. The program begins meeting each Tuesday, from Jan. 8 through Feb. 12, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Positively!. The cost of the program is $20, which covers all materials, including the Speechcraft manual. Members from Toastmasters will help Speechcraft participants on how to construct speech, and use gestures and vocal variety when speaking, among other items.
Once someone completes Speechcraft, the participant's employer is sent a letter at their request indicating their completion of the course, which demonstrates their invested time in bettering their communication skills.
"At the end of Speechcraft, if that individual decides to join Toastmasters ... they're about one-third of the way of completing their competent communicator certificate with Toastmasters," noted Taylor, as participants get credit for their first three manual speeches toward completing the certificate.
For more information on Speechcraft or Bay de Noc Toastmasters, contact Taylor at (906) 280-8467 or club president Maggie Nelson at (906) 399-4833.