Now two years old, WPI Toastmasters is open to any area professional who wants to work on speaking and leadership skills, says vice president of membership Heather Davis Lam. Most members are WPI staff and faculty, but it also includes a number of Worcester-area professionals.
There are currently 17 members, and Lam says she would like to see that number increase and remain steady at 20 to 30 members.
Last year the club received the Select Distinguished Club Award from the international organization for achieving 7 out of 10 Toastmasters International goals, and the Smedley Award, by adding more than five new, dual, or reinstated members during August – September.
“Since our club meets at noon each week, our members are able to participate at lunchtime, which is more convenient for most of them than attending a night meeting after work,” she says.
When asked about why people choose to join Toastmasters, she replies, “Some come out for camaraderie and friendship, and others come here because they’re afraid to speak in front of a group or want to improve their professional speaking and leadership skills.”
During a typical one-hour meeting, members are assigned to specific roles. Those who participate in a meeting role are provided with a verbal and written evaluation from another club member, so that they can improve for next time. Two members will deliver a prepared 5–7 minute speech, while others are called upon to speak for 1–2 minutes on a “table topic” which are questions asked that help to improve impromptu thinking and speaking skills.
The grammarian notes any overused words or filler sounds, while the member assigned to the Word of the Day role helps club members improve their grammar and vocabulary. A timer is responsible for monitoring the time of meeting segments and speakers, and evaluators provide verbal and written feedback to meeting speakers.
“We had one member who was with us for a year before she got up to speak,” Lam recalled. “She got up to do a 3-to-5-minute speech, and told us later that she had gotten great feedback from her co-workers because she was speaking up more.”
The mission of Toastmasters International is to empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders. The WPI club’s mission is to provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.
“I hope we can raise the visibility of Toastmasters in the Worcester community,” Lam said of Wednesday’s open house. “We’re trying to show people the educational value of the Toastmasters International program, and also find people who can benefit from honing their skills. It’s a great way to meet new people, and a nice way to network.”