Emory Report
June 25, 2007
Volume 59, Number 33

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June 25, 2007
Toastmasters@Emory helps its members converse with confidence

by kim urquhart

A local club is toasting its third year of helping its members become better communicators and leaders. Toastmasters@Emory, a branch of the worldwide nonprofit Toastmasters International, has helped Emory employees such as Belinda Browning overcome the common fear of public speaking.

Browning’s work as a training specialist for Emory Healthcare often involves presentations, yet she knew she could use some improvement and turned to Toastmasters for help. “I used to speak very fast and ramble,” she said. “Toastmasters has been a good support group and has given me a lot of guidance. I speak much slower now, and get right to the point.”

The club meets each Wednesday morning, during which every member has the opportunity to practice the skills useful to public speaking, including presenting speeches, conducting meetings and providing feedback. A distinctive feature of Toastmasters is continual evaluation, where members recognize the speaker’s strengths and offer suggestions for improvement.

Toastmasters is a learn-by-doing workshop, fostering a unique learning environment with an atmosphere of professional camaraderie. In contrast with a debate team or costly seminar, Toastmasters offers a chance to improve public speaking skills “in a non-competitive fashion that’s ongoing,” said Lee Pasackow, Goizueta Business School librarian and the club’s vice president of membership.

At the June 13 celebration of the third anniversary of the club’s charter, founding member Kai Young shared the club’s history. Young, who now works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, formed Toastmasters@Emory in 2004 with a few of her fellow students at the Rollins School of Public Health. “I wondered, how could I be effective as a public health leader?” explained Young. Seeking answers to that question led to the discovery of Toastmasters International, which has several local branches — including one at The Carter Center — but none that were active at Emory.

“We know people needed this club,” Young said, “and I’m proud to be able to have been a part of this and get it started.” She used the celebration as an opportunity to thank those who “shepherded the club,” including long-time Toastmaster Kimsey Pollard. Pollard was Young’s mentor at the Georgia Tech Toastmasters chapter that inspired the Emory students to begin a branch at Emory.

From the beginning, Young said it was “a priority that the club be open to the community since Emory is such a resource.” The club grew from a handful of members to its current contingent of nearly 40 — a diverse group of Emory staff, students, faculty and neighbors.

“The beauty of Toastmasters is getting to know people from across the campus and having the opportunity to learn from them,” said Pasackow. “It’s a real service to Emory.”

Members say the skills developed in Toastmasters have helped them in their careers as well as in their daily lives, from taking leadership roles in business and community activities to making casual conversation.

“Toastmasters can help you to be better understood when communicating with others on a daily basis, or to be more effective in working and communicating with large groups,” said club president Carol Tucker-Burden, a research supervisor in the School of Medicine. The Toastmasters program can be tailored to meet the needs of each member, from offering a training ground for seasoned speakers to providing a supportive environment for the less bold to build confidence.

“The goal is to give everybody an opportunity to speak at each meeting,” explained Carol Froman, senior editor in the School of Medicine, as she introduced the day’s “Table Topics” — an extemporaneous speaking exercise and a regular feature of a Toastmasters meeting, along with prepared speeches and evaluations. Froman was that day serving as the “Table Topics Master,” one of the many leadership roles members can fill each meeting. And the business portion of a meeting gives members the opportunity to learn parliamentary procedure and meeting etiquette.

Leadership is an important component of the Toastmasters program. “Communicating effectively is one of the most important aspects of leadership,” said Jane DiFolco Parker, vice president of operations for the Office of Development and University Relations and the keynote speaker at the June 13 celebration.

“Toastmasters is an incredible tool,” added Lee Holliday, District 14 governor of Georgia Toastmasters and a special guest at the charter celebration. “In Toastmasters we acquire skills to be better communicators. That is so intimately linked with being a leader you can’t separate the two.”

Karen Newman, who served as Toastmaster of the Day, urged members to “find different ways to step up and be a leader in our world and our environment.” Toastmasters provides “a wonderful, safe environment to practice in,” Newman, an independent consultant, added.

Tucker-Burden invites the Emory community to visit the club’s weekly meetings from 8 – 9 a.m. in the Dental School Room 231. “We get the day going with laughter and advice, which is sure to be the best cure for the ills of public speaking,” she said.

For information on membership dues and other aspects of Toastmasters@Emory, visit http://emory.freetoasthost.info.