A night with the Tumut Toastmasters

Tumut Toastmasters (back row) Jenny Roddy, Lyn Malone, Trish Matthews, Karin Garner, Dallace Hunt, Leonie Flint, Marcus Stacey, (seated) Damien Petfield, Val Wilkinson, and Ilja Noordermeer.

I must admit I didn’t know much about the Toastmasters before I headed along to one of their fortnightly meetings last Monday. I knew the group’s activities involved public speaking, but I imagined it being a bit like my high school debating days – competitive, probably quite dry, with everybody trying to outdo each other and put each other down. However, what I discovered instead was a big, warm, lovefest.

“You’ll notice we do a lot of handshaking and clapping,” group member Ilja Noordermeer correctly presumed.

“When I first came to a meeting I thought it was just like a happy-clappy church – and I’ll tell you what, when I walk out that door I feel like I’ve been to one of those churches because it is just so positive.”

As fellow member Val Wilkinson explained, the purpose of those sorts of gestures is actually to make sure every member is acknowledged and respected, which is emblematic of the whole meeting’s vibe.

After a few introductory statements proceedings kick off with ‘table topics,’ an activity is designed to improve the participants’ ability to be easy conversationalists. One member directs questions of their own design to the other members one by one, and they have approximately two minutes to deliver an impromptu response in front of the group.

For a nervous public speaker, that prospect sounds absolutely terrifying – but everyone is supportive and validating, and suggestions for improvements are constructive and kind. It was all quite heart-warming, actually.

Toastmasters member Jenny Roddy explained the appeal: “I’d like to be better at table topics, because I’m good at regular conversation but when I’m put on the spot I just can’t answer questions clearly; I get a bit nervous,” she said.

“I have improved a lot since I first came, when I first came it was hard for me to get up in front of everybody. I still get a bit nervous now, as everyone does, but not as much as I used to.

“It’s a great skill to have and a great place to come. Confidence is a great thing to have, isn’t it? It can take you a long way in life, because you’ll reach out and pick up more and learn more as well, if you have confidence in yourself.”

There is a person responsible for timing, a person responsible for counting ‘ums and ahs’ (something everyone is trying to avoid), and different people responsible for evaluating the different speakers.

The highlight of last Monday’s meeting was the prepared speeches section.

Lyn Malone presented a beautiful speech about her time in the Kimberley. It was lyrical and evocative, and made me for one want to pack my bags and jump on a plane to WA immediately.

Following her, Dallace Hunt delivered a speech on the benefits of solar power, which had more of an informative bent.

The Tumut Toastmasters meet at the Valmar building, 75 Capper Street, every second Monday. Their next meeting will include a potluck dinner, with guest speaker Sue Bulger.

Call Trish Matthews on 6947 4381 to get involved.