On paper, the goal is to foster the ability to speak with composure and confidence in any setting, but it’s a lot more challenging to put into practice. That’s why members use a manual and practice together. Instead of tests, members help one another craft and deliver 10 speeches and various conversational exercises such as “table topics,” where someone improvises to speak on a conversational subject. Some chapter members go to regional and national competitions.
President of the Hudson Toastmasters, Kieran White, 41, from Bayonne, said that he sees the group as “exercise for your brain.”
“In Bayonne you have like 50 gyms to exercise your body, but not many to exercise your brain,” he said. As president, he helps lead members through exercises, such as the table topics. “You’ll be given a random subject, and you speak on it for one to two minutes,” he said. “It’s developing your wit, too, to an extent.”
When the Toastmasters held a meeting at the Bayonne Public Library five years ago, White, whose worked in construction since 1998, was at the library exercising his brain when he stumbled upon the meeting. Since then, he said it has helped him communicate within groups in construction, lead PTA meetings, and meet a range of community members.
“Our club is very diverse,” said White. “The youngest is 18 and still in high school. The oldest is in her 70s. We have people from all backgrounds. Teachers, sales, advertising, construction.”
“The beautiful thing about this particular chapter is that they don’t rush people,” said Nelchael Antoine, 27, from Jersey City, who joined the Bayonne group in 2017. “They’re all welcoming, encouraging, and take different approaches to it. Although there is kind of a guide to how the club should move along, everyone is encouraged to go at their own pace and comfort level.”
She went on, “As long as you speak slowly and think about what you’re going to say you’ll be totally fine.”
The added benefit, she said, is that “for young professionals, they can add it to their resume. It helps you stand out.” Those who complete 10 speeches receive a “Competent Communicator” award.
“As long as you speak slowly and think about what you’re going to say you’ll be totally fine.” – Nelchael Antoine
Many surveys have revealed that public speaking is high on the list of Americans’ top fears. According to the 2017 Chapman University Survey on American Fears, which surveyed 1,500 people in all walks of life, 20 percent of respondents reported a fear of public speaking. This is more than those who fear getting abducted or kidnapped (15.5 percent); being murdered by someone they know (11.6 percent), and zombies (5.3 percent).
Jerry Seinfeld famously said, “According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. …This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Up the organization
Members who attend meetings not only improve interpersonal relations but are often on career paths where public speaking is required.
“I was looking for a place to help me get more comfortable with the idea of public speaking,” said Antoine, who works in a corporate environment, which requires her to communicate in meetings, with managers, with clients, and on a team.
“It wasn’t something I was very comfortable with at first. There are a lot of people that are complacent and afraid to approach managers, vice presidents and executives.” Now, she said, “I’ve become more confident in seeking opportunities that I want and talking to people at different levels in my company.”
Luis Morales, from Union City, started the NJCU chapter and was president until it recently closed. North Hudson chapters, the Mile Square Toastmasters in Hoboken, and the one in Bayonne are always encouraging new members. A former NJCU student, Morales is now a teacher.
“It’s a great experience,” he said. “I say to try it.”
Antoine didn’t deliver her “icebreaker” speech until her sixth meeting, or three months into her Toastmasters membership.
When the day finally came, Antoine said, “It felt great. It wasn’t really scary. When you picture that you’re going to stutter or faint or have a panic attack in front of the room, but you just do your thing, and next thing you know five minutes is up and everyone is clapping.”
Finding nearby clubs
Find nearby clubs by using the Find a Club tool on toastmasters.org. Each club has its own culture, so prospective members are encouraged to visit multiple clubs to find the right one.
What: Toast of the Meadows
When: 9 a.m., the third Tuesday of the month
Where: 6th Floor Board Room at 500 Plaza Drive, Secaucus
What: Union City Club
When: 7:15 p.m., every Tuesday
Where: William Musto Cultural Center at 420 15th St, Union City
What: Hudson Toastmasters
When: First and Third Tuesdays of the month
Where: Bayonne Public Library
What: Gold Coast Advanced Toastmasters Club
When: 7 p.m., Second and fourth Thursdays of the month
Where: United Way building at 855 Bergen Avenue, Jersey City?
What: Mile Square Toastmasters
When: 7:30 p.m., every Monday
Where: Hudson School, 601 Park Avenue on the corner of 6th Street and Park Avenue (enter on 6th Street), Hoboken
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.