Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Ashley Weibel
Editorial@lhvc.com 

Longmont's Toastmasters International celebrates 15 years of public speaking

 

Photo by Ashley Weibel Members of Toastmasters International in Longmont meet weekly to develop their communication and leadership skills.

Toastmasters International, an organization formed in 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley to promote communication and leadership development, has now been working to improve members’ public speaking for 15 years in the Longmont community. The club marked its June 28 anniversary by inducting new officers for the upcoming term.

The organization’s name comes from the term “toastmaster” being used to describe a person who gives toasts at banquets. It began when Smedley, director of education at the YMCA, saw a need for the people in the community to “learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees,” according to the organization’s official history.

Today, the Longmont chapter of Toastmasters International boasts around 40 members, many of whom live in Niwot and Gunbarrel. Members, who meet every Tuesday from 12-1 p.m. at Seagate in Longmont, gather to present prepared speeches, speak spontaneously and lead activities.

“[The meetings] are highly structured,” Gail Longenecker, vice president of public relations for Toastmasters International in Longmont, said. “People take on different roles every [meeting] and they know ahead of time what they will be expected to do. Every week there is a toastmaster who gets to decide what the theme will be. Then, people sign up for a particular role.”

These roles include preparing a five to seven minute speech, answering impromptu questions and taking on other leadership positions relating to the week’s theme. In the past, the Longmont organization has featured themes such as “explain photobombing” and “explore how to avoid internet burnout.”

“Rarely do we have very serious topics,” Longenecker said. “We find that when our topics are light and our theme is fun, more people want to get up and speak.”

“We cater to those who aren’t very comfortable getting up [to speak] in front of people,” Longenecker continued. “We encourage, teach and mentor people to start speaking in small roles, and eventually they do more and more. It’s a self-paced training. You can do it as much and as quickly as you want, or as slowly as you need to.”

Toastmasters International is known for the opportunity it presents to practice one’s speech-making skills, but Longenecker believes the ability to speak off the cuff is just as important.

“Oftentimes, especially in your work environment, you are given a question to speak intelligently about and you have to be able to bring your point across within one or two minutes,” Longenecker explained.

Leadership development is a second mission of the organization, as public speaking and leadership often go hand in hand.

“We use a leadership training curriculum in which members are given the chance to motivate other people, to create community and to truly become a leader," Longenecker said.

In addition to their weekly meetings, members have the opportunity to attend conventions and to compete in local, regional and national Toastmasters International competitions.

“Twice a year there are local speech competitions and, from those, you can go on to regional and national competitions,” Longenecker said. “We’ve had a few people at the regional level before. There are also regional and national leadership training [conventions] that are generally free or at least very inexpensive.”

Looking ahead, Longenecker would like to continue to see growth with the club’s membership.

“The more talent and the more members we have in the club, the more variety and the more new ideas that we’ll have. That makes everyone’s jobs easier and it makes [their] skill increase even better too.”

For those who wish to practice their public speaking and leadership skills in a supportive and collaborative environment, Longenecker would encourage them to try out Toastmasters International.

“My call to action would be to come out and join, or even just visit a meeting,” Longenecker said. “The first step is to just show up.”

For more information on Toastmasters International, visit toastmasters.org or call 303-819-2113.

 

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