"Most people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy." — Jerry Seinfeld
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld's observation was right on. According to some estimates, 75 percent of all people experience fear of public speaking. Lists such as "The Ten Most Common Fears" almost always include speech anxiety (along with fear of death, bodily injury, open spaces, heights, closed spaces, bugs, snakes, dogs and clowns).
The desire to overcome the public-speaking fear is what motivates many to join a group such as Pacific Beach Toastmasters. Meeting weekly, the group offers members and newcomers the chance to learn to practice communicating well in a friendly, supportive and educational environment. Newcomers are encouraged to attend as often as they want as guests, until they feel comfortable participating.
Often a change in career or job status is what prompts people to show up and then they join to take advantage of the positive group feedback.
For example, new member Christi Norton, who works in sales and marketing for corporate development, said she realized she needed to practice speaking in front of others.
"This group is perfect for me. It's casual, yet structured, and members have been incredibly supportive since I started participating as a guest this summer," she explained.
"I'm already feeling more confident in my new role at work, and I think I can attribute a lot of that to Toastmasters."
Another new member, Dave Magarian, a CPA and tax software consultant, shared similar thoughts.
"I recently had a change in my career where I'm talking with and presenting to large corporations," he said. "I've only been a member for a couple of months, but I can already tell it's helped me feel a lot more comfortable speaking in front of people.
"I've also become more aware of filler words and have improved greatly in stopping to use them during my speeches and regular conversations.
"I'm excited to see how much improvement I'll see in a year. In addition to practicing speaking, watching other people speak and catching on to things they do well has also been a great way to improve."
Those who join Toastmasters also discover that learning to communicate well and participate in meetings positively impacts other areas of their lives.
Current president Siobhan Maher, an IT professional who has been a member for about a year, explained that she joined for both personal growth and to overcome her fear of public speaking.
"I've gained more confidence and improved my communication skills. Toastmasters has also given me an opportunity to develop my leadership skills by serving in club officer roles," she explained.
"I didn't realize the impact of my struggles with public speaking on my life until they began to fade away and I started feeling much more confident and comfortable in both professional and social settings.
"I have met so many great people since I joined the club and I have a much greater awareness and appreciation for how many people actually struggle with public speaking every day."
Gustavo Matias, a software engineer, said he joined the group four months ago and is already serving as its vice president of public relations.
"Toastmasters has helped me in so many ways … from being a better communicator when negotiating my lease on the phone and in person ... being more skillful in dealing with whatever life throws at me ... communicating with my friends and family in a much more productive, engaging and helpful way ... improving the relationship with my wife ... feeling A LOT MORE comfortable in social situations, company meetings and giving presentations ... and the list goes on," he said.
Ben Paull, Ed.D., a retired school principal, has been a member of several Toastmasters groups throughout California and in PB for four years. His father was one of the original members of the group, which formed in 1949 and met over dinner at Waibel's restaurant at Hornblend and Bayard (later Copper Skillet and China Inn and now Pueblo). His mother belonged to the local Toastmistress club. Women were admitted to Toastmasters in 1973.
"I felt it would help my public speaking, but I didn't realize it would help in every day communication, whether it's one-on-one or in groups. Toastmasters has also has helped me get rid of my use of filler words such as 'ah, you know, OK.' "
The first Toastmasters club was formed in 1924 by Tom Smedley, an education director at the Santa Ana YMCA. The non-profit organization now includes approximately 16,400 clubs in 141 countries, with a total of more than 352,000 members.
As of this year, the organization is headquartered in Englewood, Colorado.
The PB club meets every Tuesday at the PB Rec Center from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Although the atmosphere is friendly and laid-back, the meetings move along at a brisk pace and follow a specific structure.
Each meeting includes three prepared speeches, feedback, evaluations for timing, grammar and use of filler words, and a Table Topics segment for short, spontaneous speeches. There is even time for a 10-minute break and presenting awards for the best speakers and evaluators of the night.
New members are assigned a mentor and can access a variety of educational materials, workshops and contests. A new education program called "Pathways" offers members 10 different areas they can focus on for personal growth, such as Dynamic Leadership and Presentation Mastery. For more information, visit toastmasters.org/pathways-overview
"People who join Toastmasters are good people who are trying to improve themselves," said long-time member Paull.
Added Matias: "Toastmasters is more than just mentoring me on how to speak and lead. It's the main catalyst for transforming my life and the life of others around me."
Pacific Beach Toastmasters
• Meetings: 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesdays
• Address: PB Rec Center, 4649 Gresham St. (Meeting room is on the south side of the building next to the basketball courts.)
• Year established: 1949
• Dues: $45 every six months; $20 one-time registration fee
• Phone: (949) 858-8255
• Website: pbtoastmasters.com