What: Ilwaco Toastmasters, a chapter of Toastmasters International.
Where: Ilwaco Timberland Library meeting room, 158 First Ave., N, Ilwaco.
When: The first and third Wednesday evenings at 6:15 p.m.-7:30 p.m. (There is no meeting Dec. 21. The group plans to change to the second and fourth Tuesdays beginning in January 2017 to avoid conflicts with fire department drills and midweek church activities.)
How much: Dues for full adult members are $57 for six months, with a $20 materials fee on joining. Youth programs are free to participants.
Contacts: For more information, call 360-642-0771.
Lifetime skills and confidence are the rationale for joining this Ilwaco club
By PATRICK WEBB
A Peninsula group is looking for a few good men and women … to stand up and talk.
And they’re primed to encourage them to get over their shyness.
Ilwaco Toastmasters have been in existence on the Peninsula for six years and its leaders hope to recruit more residents to benefit from its programs.
“If you are at an event and the speaker does not show up, what happens if you are asked to give an impromptu 5-minute speech,” said Mark Scarborough, the club’s treasurer. “Toastmasters can help you have the confidence to do it.”
The group meets two evenings a month at the community room adjoining the Ilwaco Timberland Library. It also hosts youth leadership and training programs a couple of times a year.
It is a varied group. Scarborough is the postmaster in Long Beach. Other members attending a recent meeting included a school teacher, a company finance officer, a golf course/restaurant owner and an artist.
All took turns to compliment and critique each other as they moved briskly through an agenda which combined prepared and impromptu speaking opportunities for everyone in the room.
Ripples of applause after each segment underscored what members label a “mutually supportive learning environment.” The evening’s designated evaluators instantly offered specific verbal feedback, always in a positive tone, seeking to boost self confidence.
Speakers learn to keep their talks within parameters by watching a timekeeper hold up colored cards. Another monitor listens and reports on how many unwanted “ums” and “ahs” creep into each speech, and how many sentences unnecessarily begin with “and” or “so.”
To build vocabulary, each meeting has a chosen word and speakers earn kudos for fitting it into their talks. Jim Eaton, a local golf pro, selected the word “rationale,” and reported that several speakers managed to use it in appropriate places, one more than once.
Toastmasters was founded in California in 1924 and its motto is “where leaders are made.” Its supporters include Fortune 500 companies like General Electric, Wells Fargo Bank, Disney and Apple, which host clubs and encourage their executives to participate to enhance their professional growth.
Until the 1970s, it was a men-only pastime, a fact that makes Jenna Austin Nisbett roll her eyes. She is Ilwaco president, having been around Toastmasters for 15 years, starting in Pendleton, moving to Astoria some while ago and later founding the Ilwaco chapter six years ago.
It is one of 15,900 chapters in 142 countries under the umbrella of Toastmasters International, which organizes general and humorous speaking contests for its 345,000 members worldwide.
She said participating allows people to rehearse for potentially more stressful situations. “It gives you a chance to practice a presentation that you are going to give for a local organization or at your church,” said Nisbett, an interior decorator and artist. “Almost 100 percent of my speeches are about work or things I present at chambers or women’s groups.”
New members are given materials that guide them through the preparation and delivery of 10 short speeches on their way to their “competent communicator” designation.
They learn research methods, the advantages of vocal variety, the importance of body language and how to use visual aids. All these elements are designed to help retain an audience’s attention while getting a point across.
“You can’t get from a college degree some of the things you can do in Toastmasters,” Nisbett said. “And you practice doing it in a safe environment with support.”
Marc Stoddard, chief financial officer at Goose Point Oysters, first attended a year ago. He is the group’s sergeant-at-arms and just gave his 10th prepared speech to earn his credential.
He learned about the program through his son, Anderson, now 15, who benefited from one of the Toastmasters’ youth training sessions.
“Probably the greatest thing was watching a young man with communication problems grow and develop — and become a confident young man,” said Stoddard, a coach with Ocean Beach Soccer Club.
Not all speeches are rehearsed. Sondra Eaton, owner of The Cove at Peninsula Golf Course, led a contest of impromptu talks where Scarborough, Nisbett and teacher Kelli Jacobsen each spoke for a couple of minutes on a surprise topic relating to the role of technology in a changing world. A ballot among attendees resulted in Nisbett being declared the winner, although colleagues chided her humorously for dropping in the word “freaking” at one opportune moment.
Scarborough, whose children Grace, 16, and Nathaniel, 13, both participated, said he highly values the club’s efforts to offer opportunities for young people to overcome fears of standing in front of an audience. But he is mindful that, at first, many people of all ages equate public speaking with drowning.
Jacobsen, an Ilwaco Middle School teacher, agreed that is a common reaction. “You tell yourself, ‘I can’t breath! When is this going to end?’” But young people who overcome these fears are better equipped to face the world and succeed with confidence, she added.
The club just welcomed its newest member, Roberta Marsh, who works in customer service at the PUD. She said she wants to overcome negative memories of school speech classes. “I talk with lots of people in my job,” she said. “I believe it will be very valuable and will help me better express myself.”
Scarborough will be among those guiding and encouraging her — while learning more himself.
“We all still have room to improve,” he said, eager to promote the value of joining Toastmasters. “We may be tired after work when we show up here on a Wednesday night, but we always leave energized. And it’s just two times a month for one hour only. It is a pretty easy one to fit into your life.”