While public speaking ranks as most people's biggest fear, it is also one of the most influential aspects in being successful in a career. With that in mind, Toastmasters International works to produce effective communicators and public speakers. The organization includes more than 10,500 clubs with 211,000 members in 90 countries, including Toastmasters La Jolla, which was founded in June of 1978.
"Public speaking is a fear greater than death for most people. Toastmasters has several programs for gradually helping people to feel comfortable and speak well in front of crowds," said La Jolla Toastmasters president, Olev Tammer, who joined in February of last year.
Started in 1924 by Dr. Ralph Smedley in Santa Ana, Calif., Toastmasters has developed into a well-oiled machine. A typical meeting is opened by the sergeant of arms, followed by the welcome by the president, a joke from the jester and a quote for some inspiration. Afterwards, the three main speakers speak, and then there is table topics where people randomly give small speeches about a theme.
The setup of the event leaves room for a variety of individuals to speak and keeps almost everyone involved. The toastmaster leads the whole event, introducing each speaker and keeping the energy level up, and a grammarian, videographer and timer also have specific roles. Each main speaker has an evaluator, who judges him or her on different things such as volume, pitch, hand gestures, body language, meeting the time limit, eye contact, and redundancies. While the general evaluator critiques every speaker and the entire event, a popular vote determines which speech in the weekly meeting best satisfied the objective, according to Tammer.
"It's a learning process, you're not just going through the motions, no matter what you do," Tammer said. "It's progressive. The first program we have is the competent communicator program. Its a 10-step program that starts with an ice breaker within the first few weeks of joining. You learn a different skill each time after that. You work your way up to the 10th speech, an inspiration speech, which is between five and seven minutes."
Citing the impact it has had on his professional life, Tammer said, "I was a cubicle dweller in a big corporation for 25 years. Now I'm an entrepreneur and am developing my own products, and I realized that I really need to develop skills."
Dianne York-Goldman, owner of La Jolla Spa MD, has also been positively impacted by Toastmasters. After opening La Jolla Spa MD in 2002, she started going to Toastmasters in 2003. "I felt so welcome and have learned so much," she said. "It's such a positive group, they really want you to be better, have more confidence. Over the past few years, you watch people change, see people grow. It's such a safe environment and makes you professional in your work."
Asked if Toastmasters could positively impact anyone, Tammer said, "Yes, absolutely. Everyone has come through and done surprisingly well. It's very proactive. We give mentors to each member, which helps provide confidence." All professions, including sales people, Phd's, scientists and doctors participate, according to Tammer.
The Toastmasters of La Jolla won the "Presidents Distinguished Award" this year, given to the top 10 percent of all Toastmaster clubs in San Diego County. This means that, within the last year, they had four members achieve competent communicator, two members achieve advanced communicator, the group acquired at least eight new members, and one member become a Distinguished Toastmaster, which is the highest award. Scott Sabul, who has been a toastmaster for 20 years, achieved the honor this year.
With 15 different manuals working towards different skills, and a World Champion of Public Speaking tour to work towards, "You can make this a lifelong activity," Tammer said.
The La Jolla Toastmasters meets at the La Jolla Firehouse, 7877 Herschel Ave., from 6:30 to 8:15 p.m. on Tuesdays. La Jolla Toastmasters has about 45 members, and Tammer said that about half show up every week. To be a member, you must be 18 years or older. Besides that, there is a membership fee and a bi-annual fee. They are open to the public and welcome visitors to come and watch or join. For more information visit the Web site at www.tmlajolla.org.