“It’s the last group I would give up,” Alex Nilsson says of the Creston Valley Club of Toastmasters International.
Nilsson, well known for his many community volunteer efforts, has been a Toastmaster for 23 years and says he looks forward to every Thursday evening meeting.
“It’s an incredibly cheerful day in my life,” he said last Thursday. “You learn so much—everbody has a different slant. It provides a fabulous opportunity to stay fluid in speechmaking.”
The local Toastmasters group has experienced ups and downs over the years, but it is at a low right now, with only eight active members.
“But we are trying to build it back up. The positive side is that new members are progressing faster than normal because they get so much chance to practice.”
Helen White, a retired teacher, joined Toastmasters a couple of years ago, not only to become a better speaker but to be part of a supportive and enthusiastic social group.
“So many people I’ve known who were petrified to speak in public have joined Toastmasters and within a year they are completely comfortable,” she said. “If you don’t open your mouth you aren’t going to be able to learn to speak German. If you don’t open your mouth you won’t become a better speaker.”
Nilsson, a member of the Order of Canada for his community leadership, credits the club’s founders, Chuck Truscott and Christine Munkerud.
He said he had no interest in learning about conducting meetings and parliamentary procedure, but Truscott’s passion demonstrated their importance.
“He convinced me that parliamentary procedure was important, and I became a believer,” he said. “The skills I learned from Chuck and other Toastmasters have been invaluable in the other parts of my life.”
White said that the biggest challenge is not necessarily becoming comfortable in front of an audience.
“The hardest part is not using notes!” she said. “I am now seeing the importance of the craft of storytelling, and I am particularly interested in how it is a part of the First Nations culture.”
Brevity is a big challenge, too, Nilson said. He cites US President Harry S. Truman, who said it is easy to make a two-hour speech, but the real trick is making a short one.
Most Toastmaster speeches are five to seven minutes, and members learn to focus on body language, gestures, and vocal variation. And to lose the “ums and ers!”
“I really want to promote the value of Toastmasters to young people,” White said. “Learning to speak well and clearly is great for job interviews. First impressions are very important in the hiring process.
“And the other side is leadership. Toastmasters skills help members be part of any group and to make it work. And for me, the entertainment value is immense—listening to the presentations by our club members.”
Toastmasters has its roots in Bloomington, Illinois, where a young YMCA director of education, Ralph C. Smedley, began to see the value for men in the community to learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees. Smedley moved to another YMCA position in Santa Ana, California, and formed Club No. 1 of Toastmasters International in 1924. By 1930, there were about 30 clubs, including one in British Columbia.
Today, Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Membership is 313,000 strong. Members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 14,650 clubs in 126 countries that make up a global network of meeting locations.
No long-term commitment or membership is required for the Creston club. Anyone is welcome to drop into a meeting as a guest without being pushed to become a member. For those who do become members, the fee is $140 per six months.
The Creston Valley Club of Toastmasters International meets every Thursday from 7-9 pm in the Lutheran Church lower level. More information about the local club can be found at http://4949.toastmastersclubs.org.