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The City Journals

Toastmasters group celebrates 30 years helping people overcome public speaking

May 09, 2018 03:58PM ● By Lori Gillespie

Imagemasters meeting of March 9. (Lori Gillespie/City Journals)

By Lori Gillespie |[email protected]

It’s been said that many people have such an intense fear of public speaking that they would rather die than speak in public.

There is one group, Toastmasters International, that has been helping people get past that fear and gain the confidence and leadership skills to become effective public speakers since 1924. Even if you don’t have an intense fear of public speaking, Toastmasters is a great way to hone your speaking skills.  One local Toastmasters group, Imagemasters, is celebrating its 30th year cultivating competent communicators and leaders.

Imagemasters started when a local business was looking for a way to engage its employees to become more effective leaders. Karen Bradakis, who worked for the business, is still an active member of the group.

“Imagemasters began in March of 1988, when the company I worked for wanted their employees to speak more comfortably at work meetings,” said Bradakis. “Others who wanted to improve their speaking skills were able to join the group too.” 

The group is no longer afflilated with the business but is still going strong with meetings every Friday at noon at the Anderson-Foothill Library.   

“I learn something at every meeting, I learn new words, and I meet new people. I really enjoy the meetings, so I like to keep coming,” said Bradakis.

Toastmaster meetings usually follow a set format, but they have been known to shake it up a bit – from hosting a backwards meeting to competitions. Members are engaged at every meeting. There are multiple roles that need to be filled every week from Toastmaster, speakers, timers, evaluators, and even a counter, whose role it is to count how many times speakers say “So,” “Um,” or “Ah.” However, it’s never intimidating, not even the Ice Breaker speech which is the first one new members give. This is an opportunity for the new member to introduce themselves to the group and get some positive feedback.

At a recent meeting of the Imagemasters group, three new members gave Ice-breaker speeches.

“The evaluation process to me is one of the best gifts that Toastmaster has to offer,” said Tim Lawlor, who is the past president of the Imagemasters club. “It is full of kind, generous feedback from people who want to help you better yourself. It can be scary to get up in front of people to talk, but after the speech the evaluators tell you the things you did really well and encouraging words of how you can improve, which inspires you get back up there the next time for your next speech. I love to give evaluations, and I love getting them.”

Like any organization, change can be hard, but often necessary. Since the early 1970s, all Toastmasters have followed the same curriculum, but starting in April, Toastmasters will be rolling out a new curriculum called Pathways.  

“I’m very excited about the new Pathways curriculum,” said Lawlor. “It’s bringing modernization to Toastmasters. It seems more relevant to life today. There are pathways focusing on social media, or online webinars, we are starting to bring more day-to-day experiences into your public speaking. It will be an exciting journey to be a part of and the best part is you get to customize your path on what excites you the most. “

The new curriculum is all online and has been changed to reflect the ever-changing technologies and the people who use technology. Now, instead of the two core competencies, there are 10 pathways in which to engage, and you can choose which path to take based on what is going on in your world. 

Lawlor said their Toastmaster group enjoys having newcomers.

“I love visitors to our meeting. Bringing new people to the table brings new perspectives. You learn so much from them by looking at their expressions and seeing if they are engaged,” said Lawlor. “Once they become new members, and they give their Ice Breaker Speech, we really get to know them and start getting them engaged is fun. Most of us jumped into Toastmasters because of some fear, so just coming to a meeting, and dipping your toe in the water and discovering how warm and nurturing the Toastmasters’ environment is is the best feeling.”  

Imagemasters meeting are held every Friday at noon at the Anderson-Foothill Library.  Visitors are always welcome.