Let’s propose a toast

By Laura Grandt

Edwin Zehner was nervous as he stood – ready to compete in front of about 30 people – near the lectern in a small meeting room.

Zehner is president of Toastmasters International’s DeKalb Area Club, a group that uses speeches and critiques of others’ speeches to help members improve their communication skills and leadership ability.

Zehner joined only five months before the competition, and previously had given only a few speeches and critiques at club meetings. Because of his inexperience, he thought his competitors were better.

Nerves were not necessarily a bad thing, though, Zehner said. They helped him focus on details in the speech he was supposed to critique.

A critique involves listening to someone’s speech, and informing him or her of the good points, the aspects that could use improvement and the structure of the speech.

Club members complete speeches to advance to higher levels of communication and leadership. The types of speeches necessary for advancement are outlined in a book, and correspond to a member’s current level, said Del Calderini, Toastmasters district governor and DeKalb Area Club member.

Toastmasters members can advance at their own pace. Speakers volunteer at meetings to give speeches in order to advance. Members also volunteer for roles that allow them to experience leadership positions. Typically, three speeches are given per meeting.

Table topics is a competition exclusive to the DeKalb chapter. It starts when someone informs the group of the theme of the night, a topic unknown to members prior to the meeting. Volunteers then briefly tell a story pertaining to the theme. If no one volunteers, someone is selected instead.

After the table topics speeches conclude, club members vote for the best. The winner receives a trophy and gets to select the table topic for the next meeting.

“It gives them a chance to speak impromptu,” Calderini said.

Winning table topics during his second meeting helped boost Zehner’s confidence. Later he saw victory in critiquing at an area competition, as well as his subsequent victory in the Division Competition.

There is a $28 fee every six months to join the club. The DeKalb chapter boasts about 23 members, said Carl Calderini, Del’s husband and fellow Toastmaster member.

Membership is not required to participate in club events, and anyone interested is invited to check out the proceedings as many times as they want, Carl said.

Those interested in joining the Toastmasters DeKalb Area Club can call 895-6427, or e-mail tahdog2002@yahoo.com.