By Bubba Brown, ParkRecord.com
Jon Henry didn’t know much about Toastmasters International when he helped form a Park City chapter of the club in 2000. He saw it as simply a way to get involved in the community.
“Over the years, though, I’ve become passionate about what Toastmasters has to offer to people of all kinds of backgrounds and professions and experiences to help us with communication leadership,” he said.
Now, he and other members of the Park City Toastmasters Club, which helps people develop public speaking skills, are showing students how to get in on the fun. Last week, the club visited the ninth-grade leadership class at Treasure Mountain Junior High, showing the students what one of the club’s typical meetings involves.
The students needed a good look, said Cheryl Henry, who teaches the class, because they’ll participate throughout the year in their own version of a Toastmasters club.
“It’s a total life skill, so I really think that they need to have lots of opportunities to develop it,” she said. “Especially in a leadership class. One of the key components of being a good leader is being able to inspire people to get on board with whatever it is you want to accomplish. If you can’t speak effectively in front of an audience and inspire them with your communication, you’re not going to be able to get a team around you to move forward with your ideas.”
Jon Henry said a Toastmasters meeting consists of three elements. First, a few members deliver prepared speeches focused on developing certain speaking skills. Next, members participate in “table topics,” in which they are asked to give two-minute answers to questions for which they have not prepared. Lastly, members designated as evaluators for that meeting offer critiques and positive feedback to the speakers.
The students in the leadership class will be doing similar exercises each week.
“This is such an important skill to learn in life and professionally,” Jon Henry said. “If these kids can get a head start on it in ninth grade, wow — they’re going to be light-years ahead of all their peers. So that’s exciting.”
The Toastmasters tried their best to impart the importance of public speaking to the students. The members who visited the class come from a variety of professional backgrounds, but all of them have found their public speaking skills to be critical. They hope that fact was apparent to the class.
“These students can see, ‘Oh, this is something that’s important to real-life professionals,’” Jon Henry said. “They see the value of honing and perfecting — although you never perfect — and practicing these skills. You don’t just arrive and be ‘Oh, I’m good enough.’ It’s really important to practice. Some people are natural at it, but most of us need to practice it on a regular basis just to keep our minds sharp.”
For the most part, the students saw the value in honing their public speaking ability. Liam Dvoranchik, for one, said he is eager to learn the tips and tricks Toastmasters has to offer.
“It helps you get your ideas across to people,” he said. “There are a lot of examples where people have a great idea but they don’t deliver it correctly, so people might not understand. But if you speak it correctly, they’ll understand.”
Zach Robinson was also excited to learn. He said overcoming the fear that often accompanies public speaking is an important step.
“It’s hard speaking in front of people because you’re so nervous and scared of what people will think about you,” he said. “But you try to do your best.”
Cheryl Henry said the goal is for the students to meet the requirements for certification through the Toastmasters Youth Leadership program by the end of the year. Particularly ambitious students can also attempt to become certified by the club’s adult standards.
“It’s a really fun way for them to build those leadership skills and practice their communication and get feedback from each other,” she said.