By Leah Fallon
Does public speaking give you sweaty palms, tie your stomach in knots, or cause your hands to shake? Fear of public speaking is shared by many. In fact, according to a Chapman University study, public speaking is the number one fear people face, just ahead of heights.
The Loudoun Club of Toastmasters International has a mission to help people get over those fears, guiding them to be leaders at home and at work.
Loudoun Toastmasters is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month.
Loudoun County needs good leaders for businesses to succeed, government to function, communities to come together and for families to thrive. Toastmasters gives back to the community by producing confident leaders to not only speak better, but to be better listeners, club leaders say.
Jim Bapst, the club’s president, joined because he was looking to change his life. He took up running after a long hiatus, and aspired to be a leader at his job at K2M in Leesburg. Learning to speak with assurance was the skill he needed most.
“I stepped outside my comfort zone. … I got back in running and gained confidence. And that’s what Toastmasters gives you. Confidence.”
Having the opportunity to improve public speaking also gives Bapst and other members the opportunity to reflect and accept feedback. He said the positive and supportive environment of Toastmasters clubs provides encouragement for success.
Toastmasters is also a résumé builder and is recognized globally by hiring companies. After encouragement from Bapst, Alice Benson, also of K2M, joined the group and quickly earned herself a promotion at work and a leadership position within Toastmasters.
The name “toastmaster” was a common term in the early 1900s, referring to people who gave toasts at special occasions. The Toastmasters organization began in Illinois when Ralph C. Smedley worked for the YMCA and wanted to help young men gain confidence for public speaking for community programs and committees.
What started out as a small community-based meeting for men has grown into a huge, multi-national nonprofit organization. Today, Toastmasters International boasts 345,000 members in clubs in more than 140 countries. These men and women come from all backgrounds, ranging from college students to retirees, English language learners to people working to advance their careers.
Kevin O’Neil of Leesburg works as a retirement planning consultant and is in his fourth year with Toastmasters. He says he joined because, “I have reached the age when I need to face the fears I live with. Public speaking is one I don’t want to die with.”
Work with the club has helped him be a better listener and be more attuned to what people say. “It helps with the ‘hows’ of life. We always have lists of what to do, Toastmasters gives you the how to do them well.”
For more information about the Loudoun Toastmasters go to loudoun.toastmastersclubs.org.
The 30th anniversary celebration meeting is 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Thomas Balch Library, 208 W. Market St. in Leesburg. The club encourages members of the public to come by to observe the meeting and help celebrate this milestone.