Emory Report
September 28, 2009
Volume 62, Number 5


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September 28, 2009
Toastmasters raises speaking skills

By Tania Dowdy

When William Cassels attended his first Toastmasters@Emory meeting in 2008, he expected professional and motivational speakers to surround him. Instead, the room was full of others who were just as frightened by public speaking as he was.

The associate vice provost for academic space planning now serves as Toastmasters@Emory’s president. Toastmasters is an international public speaking organization geared to help individuals develop better communication and leadership skills.

Before Toastmasters, Cassels sometimes adlibbed or used humor to get through meetings. “I often did not come prepared to run a meeting, and I think it really detracted from my leadership abilities,” he recalls. “To me, it made plenty of sense because I knew in my head what I wanted to say, but I think a lot of people were going away wondering ‘what was he talking about?’”

Cassels, who jokes that he held the record for most ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ when he first spoke at a meeting, now knows that preparation is the key to successful public speaking. It’s helped him become more confident.
“It’s the practice. You can listen to great speeches, but unless you get in front of a group and start talking, you’re never going to become a better speaker,” says Cassels.

As president, his role lies between managing and leading, but every Toastmaster plays an important role. The task of leading meetings is shared by the “Toastmaster of the day.”

On a recent rainy Wednesday morning, Cassels put his skills to the test when he had to take over managing the meeting in absence of his daughter, who was supposed to be the day’s Toastmaster but got busy with her coursework at Goizueta Business School. This was a teaching moment, as is every moment at Toastmasters.

“This is an environment that is very supportive. It’s not intimidating at all. They’re going to point out 40 things you did right to every one thing you did wrong. You can come in and build your skills, but you will also make a lot of friends.”

Toastmasters@Emory is an open club where “anybody, anywhere can come and participate.” The group meets each Wednesday morning at 1462 Clifton. This year, Cassels’ goal is to get more students, staff and faculty members involved. He notes that Toastmasters can benefit anyone at every level of public speaking — from the very timid to the very confident.

“Once you take that first step, then you’re okay,” says Cassels. “We have a favorite saying at Toastmasters: ‘You can never get rid of the butterflies, you can only get them to fly in formation.’”

To join or learn more about Toastmasters, visit http://emory.freetoasthost.info.