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Local club’s speakers become toast of town

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By Brenda Sexton-The Courier-Herald

Melanie Chinn admitted before she addressed the group of nearly a dozen people gathered bright and early in Enumclaw’s KeyBank community room that she was nervous.

After her speech on ceremony, evaluator Jody Horn praised Chinn’s speech for selecting words that were clear and concise and present wonderful imagery, but also let her know she should never let the audience know she’s nervous.

That’s what Toastmasters is all about.

Started in 1924 by a group of men assembled by Dr. Ralph C. Smedley in a California basement as a social club to promote public speaking, Toastmasters has helped more than 4 million men and women become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience.

It’s a club where participants learn to communicate more effectively, become better listeners, improve their presentation skills, increase their leadership potential, build their ability to motivate and persuade and increase their self confidence.

Enumclaw’s chapter is working toward its second full year, but has 27 members who meet promptly at 7:30 a.m. Wednesdays for precisely one hour and a second opportunity from noon to 1 p.m. the first and third Wednesday - always in the KeyBank community room.

“Learning to speak comfortably in front of people was a personal goal,” said Chinn, who unlike many of the other members does not need to speak publically for her job. A stay-at-home mom for years and a massage therapist, Chinn knew Toastmasters would be her guide to reach her goal.

“I wanted to join years and years ago, but was very intimidated,” she said. That is until Enumclaw started a chapter where she was among friends, neighbors and colleagues. “I feel comfortable and supported here.”

“It’s been extremely helpful,” said Becky Elder, who also was a presenter. Elder is on the fast track through the program. Encouraged by Chinn, she joined in July and is on Speech No. 7 of 10. She’s in the midst of switching careers from a massage therapist and fitness trainer to a financial service profession and thought with her new field she would need to have more of a presence in front of people. “That’s why I joined Toastmasters. I need to be more comfortable at it. It’s been so helpful. The more I do the less stressful it is.”

When Chinn and Elder successfully complete Speech No. 10 they will earn Toastmasters’ Competent Communication award. The program has a manual that guides them through the essentials of public speaking by completing 10 speaking assignments. It is loaded with tips and information for a successful engagement. For example, Chinn’s speech was on ceremony and was geared to be more colorful and warm. Elder’s speech was on changing careers and was designed to be filled with research and facts that support her topic.

That too is part of the beauty of the program.

“Here today we had a very intellectual speech and a very emotional speech,” said Shawn Inmon who served as the day’s general evaluator. “Each of us gets to set our own syllabus.”

A man who he himself talked about Fantasy Football for one of his speeches, encouraged members to select topics outside their area of expertise. “I challenge everyone to mix it up and grow outside our comfort zone.”

There is a place in the meeting for off-the-cuff, speaking-on-your-feet - table topics.

Toastmaster Davalynn Opsahl posed a series of situations to three fellow Toastmasters and then each had a short period of time to respond. Each performance was judged by the group and a winner, who received a ribbon, was announced later.

There is also a thought or joke of the day, a word of the day, which if used correctly in conversation during the meeting scores Brownie points.

And, there is a grammarian, who keeps track of whether the word of the day is used correctly. That person also tallies each um, ah and piece of colorful language. She tabulates them and at the end of the meeting a member could owe between 5 and 25 cents.

There’s also a timer - no one rambles here. This is also no place for jargon.

What one will find here is plenty of support and applause.

“We’re here to help each other to get better,” Inmon said.

“You never reach perfection,” said Bill Young, who has been a Toastmaster for 24 years. He belonged to the Kent Toastmasters and moved to Enumclaw three years ago where he helped found this chapter. He was a manger for a company and needed to improve his public speaking. He said he always admired good speakers.

“I discovered Toastmasters and never quit,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people from different occupations.” He also likes that the club is split evenly between men and women.

Unlike Young, many Toastmasters believe they are ready to move on and that presents an interesting challenge for membership said club President Bruce deJong.

“When people become confident they tend to drop off,” he said.

That’s why Enumclaw Toastmasters is in the midst of a membership drive. He said there are a number who continue to see a benefit and stay on past their 10-speeches. Their experience is a valuable asset to the membership and new members are always welcome.

The organization, as young as it is, is the recipient of the Toastmasters President’s Award for its growth in awards and members.

Enumclaw is just one of many Toastmasters organizations. Toastmasters, now international, has more than 11,700 clubs and nearly 230,000 members in approximately 92 countries. Membership dues are less than $100 annually. For information, contact deJong at Mutual of Enumclaw, 360-825-2591, ext. 3278.

Reach Brenda Sexton at bsexton@courierherald.com or 360-802-8206.

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