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Scared speechless? In this case, practice does make perfect

August 17, 2011

Members of Elk County Toastmasters, a group that helps people develop public speaking and leadership skills, engage in a round-table discussion. From left are members Dale Fox, Danielle Micale, Paula Micale, current Toastmasters President Jeff Yetzer and Past President Cory Straub. Photo submitted.

Making the toast at your best friend's wedding? Asked to make a presentation at work? Addressing a group of donors for your charity? If the prospect of any of these scenarios scares you speechless, you're not alone.
Many people have a paralyzing fear of speaking in public. Even teachers who are used to addressing a classroom full of children every day can get tongue-tied when it comes to speaking in front of a more grown-up audience. But it doesn't have to be that way, according to Elk County Toastmasters Past President Cory Straub.
"Most people have the ability to speak in front of people. What they lack is the confidence. That's what we help instill," said Straub.
"The confidence comes from just doing, repeating. It's getting over a hurdle. You're not going to get over that hurdle unless you jump."
Straub said he thinks many people fear public speaking because they are afraid they'll embarrass themselves. He said Toastmasters and other organizations offer a non-threatening environment where people can become acclimated to speaking before an audience and learn about different techniques, such as voice projection and gestures, to make their speeches more successful.
"Our organization is a confidence-builder," Straub said. "When you give your speech, you are critiqued by one of your peers. They let you know how they perceived your speech. Most of the speeches aren't critiqued as per the subject-- it's the delivery. After that, it's easier to speak in front of a group."
He noted that even if people are used to addressing an audience, they can still benefit from honing their techniques and practicing their delivery, and it doesn't matter what their profession is.
"We've had a professor, a mailman, a businessman, a store owner, a day laborer from a factory and college students," Straub said.
Current Elk County Toastmasters President Jeff Yetzer concurred that people from all walks of life can benefit from improving their speaking skills.
"I thought the Toastmasters was an organization only for highly professional individuals. I realized that it's for everybody," Yetzer said. "It is an organization that promotes self-confidence and lets us all realize that we all have the ability to engage in public speaking."
Dale Fox, who has been active with the Toastmasters since January, said she joined because although she has spoken in public many times, she just became a published author and realized that she would have many more speaking engagements on her schedule to promote her new book.
" I began to realize that there's always room for improvement," Fox said. "I decided I could probably benefit a great deal from learning how to connect with my audience, and I wanted to be able to give it my best to get that message across."
She said her best tip for people who are nervous about public speaking is to actually do it.
"Even though I've already done that much public speaking already, I was really nervous when I got up to give my first speech at the Toastmasters. I must have said 'um' 18 times," Fox said. "There are loads of people who speak professionally who could really stand to make some improvements."

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