Langley Toastmasters helps speakers gain poise

Toastmasters are of all ages and backgrounds, with an interest in improving their speaking skills in common.

Wendy LeRoux is president of Langley Toastmasters.

Wendy LeRoux is president of Langley Toastmasters.

Wendy LeRoux hasn’t tried the often-suggested trick of imagining her audience is naked to overcome anxiety about public speaking.

“Never, never, never,” says LeRoux, president of the Langley Toastmasters club.

“Why would you want to do that? It would only make me more nervous.”

As customer service manager for Botanus, a Langley-based mail-order plan and gardening supply company, LeRoux had been an occasional and reluctant public speaker.

“That sickening, wrenching feeling in the stomach,” is how she describes her experience of doing client presentations to audiences as large as 300 people.

“I did everything I had to do, but I didn’t enjoy it,” she says.

“I was scared to death.”

LeRoux did try one suggested trick of looking over the heads of the crowd to the back of the room, something that she doesn’t recommend now.

“They (your audience) know you’re not engaged.”

So she went to Toastmasters, the non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills.

Toastmasters was started in 1924 by Ralph Smedley a director of education for a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) who observed that many of the young men needed “training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings”

He decided the training format would be similar to a social club and chose the word “toastmaster” because it referred to a person who proposed the toasts and introduced the speakers at a banquet.

Members are of all ages and backgrounds, with an interest in improving their speaking skills in common.

There are more than 5,000 members in 267 B.C. clubs.

LeRoux recalls her first Toastmasters speech, a so-called “icebreaker” where the novice is expected to spend about five minutes talking about themselves.

“My heart was racing,” she remembers.

“I was um-ing and ah-ing all over the place.”

Now, she says she actually enjoys public speaking.

Instead of avoiding eye contact, she likes to look for one person in an audience who doesn’t seem interested and try to connect with them, without ignoring the other listeners.

The skills she has acquired have helped her work with clients on the phone and even everyday conversation, she says.

“It’s resonated through my whole life.”

LeRoux is now teaching a course through Langley Continuing Education, called “Successful Selling, Successful Life” that combines her Toastmaster skills and her years of experience in sales and customer service.

February of this year was declared “Toastmasters Month” in B.C. by the Lieutenant Governor.

For more information about the Langley club and the international organization, visit http://langley.toastmastersclubs.org/

How Does It Work? (From Toastmasters website)

A Toastmasters meeting is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a no-pressure atmosphere.

There is no instructor in a Toastmasters meeting. Instead, members evaluate one another’s presentations.

A typical group has 20 to 40 members who meet weekly, biweekly or monthly.

A typical meeting lasts 60–90 minutes.