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

assistant,

took a seat at a long table in a conference room overflowing with

nearly 20 other members of the Toastmasters group, many toting

sandwich

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,

CUH2A’s

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

Toastmasters

for more than two decades. The organization, a non-profit founded

in 1932, exists to turn businesspeople into confident, effective

public

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

completely

free of any sign of a stutter, Dennis says he learned through

participating

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

speech,

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

segments

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

"word

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

generally

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

learn-a-new-word

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

reflection

and laughs. Soft-spoken and sincere, Meliani Teoh suggested that

"it

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

Toastmaster)

award. The speeches progress logically. The first is a short

introduction,

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.

Schoenhoff

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

rainfall.

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

eloquently

of her experience in the Landmark Forum, a group that brought together

Israeli and Arab architects for five days of dialogue. "We

laughed,

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

evaluator,

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

podium,

briefly delivering his or her findings. At this meeting, there was

little to criticize. The only substantive suggestion was that

Schoenhoff

might have moved the podium entirely out of the way, rather than

pushing

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

beginning

to end added tremendously to the success of the meeting, putting

everyone

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

(complete

and confident composure or self-assurance).

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Other Toastmaster chapters meet at Educational Testing

Service

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.

Toastmaster Tips

Know the room. Arrive early and walk around the speaking

area. Stand at the lectern, speak into the microphone. If you are

using visual aids, practice with them.

Know the audience. If possible, greet audience members

as they arrive and chat with them. It’s easier to speak to a group

of friends than strangers.

Know your material. If you are not familiar with your

material or are uncomfortable with it, your nervousness naturally

will increase. Practice your speech and revise it until you can

present

it with ease.

Relax. Ease tension with exercises. Sit comfortably with

your back straight. Breathe in slowly, hold your breath for four to

five seconds, then slowly exhale.

Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself

walking confidently to the lectern as the audience applauds. Imagine

yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear, and assured.

Realize that people want you to succeed. Audiences want

speakers to be interesting, stimulating, informative, and

entertaining.

They want you to succeed.

Don’t apologize. Most of the time your nervousness doesn’t

show at all. If you don’t say anything about it, nobody will notice.

Concentrate on the message — not the medium. Your

nervous feelings will dissipate if you focus your attention away from

your anxieties and outwardly toward your message and your audience.

Turn nervousness into positive energy. The same nervous

energy that causes platform panic can be an asset. Harness it.

Transform

it into vitality and enthusiasm.

Gain experience. Experience builds confidence, which is

key to effective speaking. Most beginning speakers find that their

anxieties decrease after each speech they give.


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