Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the
January 23, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Friendly Intro to Public Speaking
Barbara Schoenhoff arrived at a recent Toastmasters
meeting at a Carnegie Center conference room wearing a blue life vest
with black buckles even though there was not so much as a creek —
or even a puddle — in sight. Schoenhoff, an administrative
took a seat at a long table in a conference room overflowing with
nearly 20 other members of the Toastmasters group, many toting
bags and plastic containers of raw vegetables. No one got too excited
over the life vest — its story would be told soon enough.
Toastmasters next meets on Friday, February 8, at noon at the offices
of CUH2A, the architecture firm at 211 Carnegie Center. Meetings are
held twice a month, but the day of the week varies. Susan Moss,
manager of information resources, says the group of 20 to 30 regulars
welcomes new members. There is no cost. Call 609-452-1212.
Some in the room, like Elliot Dennis, have been involved with
for more than two decades. The organization, a non-profit founded
in 1932, exists to turn businesspeople into confident, effective
speakers. Dennis, who joined in 1980 in the hopes of overcoming severe
stuttering, is "lieutenant of marketing" for the organization
in southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. His diction now
free of any sign of a stutter, Dennis says he learned through
in Toastmasters that his fear of speaking in public was shared by
nearly all humans.
Dennis is a Canon copier representative who works part-time at Best
Buy in Nassau Park, but most of the others in the Toastmaster group
are CUH2A employees. The club is open to anyone who works in Carnegie
Center or in a company with offices on Roszel Road.
In addition to longtime members like Dennis, there were newcomers
and visitors. Michal Gurfil, an architect, was making her first
called an Ice-Breaker, and her husband had come along to lend moral
support. Tulia Ronda, an accounts payable administrator at CUH2A,
has been sitting in on meetings for quite a while, according to her
daughter, Ana Ronda, a CUH2A engineering designer, who led the day’s
Table Topic section. But the elder Ronda is still feeling her way,
unsure of whether she wants to sign on as a member.
Toastmasters’ meetings are highly structured. They last exactly one
hour and move swiftly from one pre-determined segment to another.
Anyone frustrated with the often sloppy organization of many an office
meeting will find them a delight. There is no wasted time. Most
are short — the longest not more than seven minutes — and
the pace is lively.
Members take turns being the "toastmaster,"
the person who organizes the meeting. The meeting opens with the
of the day" segment. Seeing this come up, I began to sigh. Words
not in a person’s vocabulary are better not used, I think. They
sound as out-of-place as a clown at a funeral. The word chosen here
was just right, though, and Nancy Brouwer, the presenter, did a fine
job of explaining why.
"Neoteric" was the word. It means "recent in origin"
or "modern." Brouwer made an impressive case for adding the
word to a vocabulary, quoting magazine articles and websites that
have started to use it. She provided some interesting history, too,
disclosing that neoteric, derived from the Greek, has been part of
the English language since 1596.
Brouwer’s spirited treatment of the potentially deadly dull
segment left everyone in the congenial, supportive group smiling.
The meeting was off to a flying start.
Next up was the inspirational thought of the day, followed by the
joke of the day. Each ran just about two minutes, alternating
and laughs. Soft-spoken and sincere, Meliani Teoh suggested that
takes only a minute to hurt feelings," but years to repair the
damage. An ebullient Mike Castellano, head of CUH2A’s construction
administration department, told a funny story involving a cocktail
party and melting shrimp that turned out not to be shrimp at all.
Then it was Schoenhoff’s turn. She quickly revealed why she had shown
up in a life vest. If a Toastmasters’ meeting has a star turn, at
this meeting it was Schoenhoff’s speech, the fourth in a series of
10 each member needs to give to become win a CTM (competent
award. The speeches progress logically. The first is a short
the second an exposition on a subject about which the speaker feels
strongly. Other speeches emphasize following an outline or varying
vocal characteristics. The fourth speech, the one for which Schoenhoff
had donned a life vest, is called "Show What You Mean."
Perhaps the most difficult speech of all, it calls for five to seven
minutes of body language and gestures, but few spoken words.
had chosen a raft trip as her subject. She was amazing, carrying the
whole office-bound group along with her as she dipped and soared and
all-but-flipped during a family raft ride down the normally-placid
Delaware, turned white and angry by a spring of abnormally high
From sidelong glances out an imaginary car window as she approached
the put-in spot to extravagant digging motions as she struggled to
keep her imaginary oar in the roiled river, Schoenhoff used every
part of herself to recreate the treacherous trip.
The Show-Me talk was a hard act to follow, but Michal Gurfil, a native
of Israel, accomplished the task, using her Ice-Breaker to deliver
a passionate plea for peace in the Middle East. The light-hearted
mood in the room, established during the vicarious raft ride, changed
in an instant. Listening intently, the group heard Gurfil speak
of her experience in the Landmark Forum, a group that brought together
Israeli and Arab architects for five days of dialogue. "We
and danced, had a lot to eat. We got mad and shouted on political
issues," she recounted. In the end, the Landmark Forum forged
the kind of mutuality and understanding Gurfil is prepared to spend
her time and energy replicating on a larger stage.
An impressive speech, lasting almost exactly the six
minutes allotted, the Ice-Breaker was followed by a segment called
Table Topics. The light mood returned as leader, Ana Ronda, asked
for volunteers to describe the animal with which they most identified
and to explain why. There were plenty of volunteers, as elephant and
dog emerged as favorites.
Next up was evaluation. A Toastmasters’ meeting has a general
who dissects the meeting as a whole, one evaluator for each major
speech, a grammarian who looks for errors, an "ah" counter
on alert for filler words, and a timer. Each took a turn at the
briefly delivering his or her findings. At this meeting, there was
little to criticize. The only substantive suggestion was that
might have moved the podium entirely out of the way, rather than
it to one side, as she launched into her river ride narrative.
There is no evaluation category for the atmosphere in the room, but
the all-out acceptance and good humor abundantly evident from
to end added tremendously to the success of the meeting, putting
at ease, and making the leap into public speaking look effortless.
Jerry Seinfeld jokes in one of his monologues that Americans say the
thing they fear most is public speaking, choosing death as a close
second. That means, he says, most people would rather be lying in
the coffin than giving the eulogy.
True for most people, possibly, but not for the CUH2A Toastmasters
Group, every one of whom sound capable of delivering a eulogy —
or a business presentation or a wedding toast — with aplomb
and confident composure or self-assurance).
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
and in downtown Princeton. Both are open to the public. The Princeton
chapter meets on the first three Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. at Princeton
United Methodist Church. Call Michael Suber at 609-921-6685.
area. Stand at the lectern, speak into the microphone. If you are
using visual aids, practice with them.
as they arrive and chat with them. It’s easier to speak to a group
of friends than strangers.
material or are uncomfortable with it, your nervousness naturally
will increase. Practice your speech and revise it until you can
it with ease.
your back straight. Breathe in slowly, hold your breath for four to
five seconds, then slowly exhale.
walking confidently to the lectern as the audience applauds. Imagine
yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear, and assured.
speakers to be interesting, stimulating, informative, and
They want you to succeed.
show at all. If you don’t say anything about it, nobody will notice.
nervous feelings will dissipate if you focus your attention away from
your anxieties and outwardly toward your message and your audience.
energy that causes platform panic can be an asset. Harness it.
it into vitality and enthusiasm.
key to effective speaking. Most beginning speakers find that their
anxieties decrease after each speech they give.
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