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January 22, 2002

Toastmasters fosters fellowship

By Eric Rangus


The “Ah” Counter. The onomatopoeic title is pretty self explanatory.

Lisa Horton counts the “ahs.”

When someone speaks, Horton jots down the number of times he or she “ahs,” “ers,” “ums,” or “you knows.” All are phrases or useless utterances that unnecessarily gum up public speaking.

To an untrained listener—or a nervous speaker—these little gaffes often go unnoticed. But not to Horton, a senior accounting assistant at the Carter Center. When a speaker uses one of the aforementioned “filler words,” she marks it down on her notepad.

After giving a well-thought-out, even-handed, crisply spoken review of a speech by co-worker Bernstine Hollis, Cynthia Hooks sat down and awaited Horton’s “ah” report.

“You had one ‘ah,’” Horton said.

“I did?” was Hooks’ surprised reply. Hooks’ incredulity was greeted with laughter and then applause from the 15 other people gathered in the Carter Center’s Zaban room, Jan. 10. It is that upbeat, positive tone based on constructive criticism that characterizes the Carter Center’s Toastmasters Club, of which Horton, Hooks and 19 other Carter Center employees are members.

Toastmasters International is a worldwide nonprofit organization dedicated to helping its more than 800,000 members speak more effectively. Individual Toastmasters clubs are organized into districts geographically, but each club retains its autonomy. A total of 88 Toastmasters clubs are located in Atlanta, but just two are based at Emory (in addition to the Carter Center, the Goizueta Business School has a club).

The Carter Center club came together about a year ago when Carter Center Human Resources director Mike Turner sent out an e-mail inquiring about interest in starting a Toastmasters International chapter at the Carter Center.

Response was swift. The club met informally for several months until finally gaining the 20 members necessary to apply for a charter, which it received last June. The club has met on the second and fourth Thursday of each month ever since.

“Many of us joined the chapter not only to hone our speaking skills, but for its fellowship,” said club president Wyatt Ware, who until December had worked in the Kirbo Building about a mile from the Carter Center campus. He now has a job outside the University but retains his social ties to the center.

“It really helps people come out of their cocoons,” said Michelle Hilliard, a senior accountant at the Carter Center and the club’s vice president for membership. “I was like that. I never wanted to ask questions or really talk much. But after joining Toastmasters, I’m no longer scared to come out and talk.”

Even for seasoned speakers, the club has been a benefit. “When I have to give a formal speech—sometimes we host events here, and I have to present and welcome everyone—I still get really nervous,” said LaSandra Milner, the Carter Center’s conference coordinator and the club’s sergeant-at-arms. “This is where I learn. This is my training ground.”

The Jan. 10 meeting, the club’s first of the new year, was pretty typical. It featured one speaker (sometimes there is more than one): Hollis, a senior accountant and club vice president of public relations, who gave a speech praising the club.

A speech of praise is one of those listed in the Toastmasters manual. Hollis, for example, is certified a CTM (Competent Toastmaster) since she has already given the 10 specific speeches to earn that designation.

Hooks evaluated Hollis’ speech—touching on both the positive (good use of metaphor) and where improvement could be found (when speaking of the club’s accomplishments, she could have listed more). Evaluation techniques are also something included in Toastmaster literature.

While each club is independent, Ware said he hopes to reach out to some other clubs in the area.

There are already some connections; Hollis and Johnson each belong to Toastmasters clubs at their churches, and Christy Owens, associate director of direct mail, is president participated Toastmasters club at CARE, her previous place of employment.

Members would also like to recruit more men to a club that is almost exclusively female. Just three of the club’s paid members are men, although men frequently attend as guests.

“I can see how my team members have grown,” Milner said. “We’ve become like a family, and we’d like to expand that family and invite others to participate. There is learning and there is excellence with care. That’s what we want to promote.”

Guests from throughout the Emory community are welcome to attend club meetings. People interested should contact Hollis at 404-420-3404 for more information.




Back to Emory Report January 22, 2002

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