Finding a Voice Through Einstein Toastmasters
More Americans are afraid of speaking in front of a group of people than are afraid of devastating floods, germs, and ghosts, according to a Chapman University poll. Yet communication and public speaking are skills we all need when conveying information, persuading others, leading teams, and forming relationships and collaborations. What can you do if fear prevents you from improving your ability to communicate?
Ph.D. student Ruixuan Wang during her presentation
Luckily, help is at hand. The Einstein Toastmasters club, a chapter of Toastmasters International, addresses this issue by providing a friendly and supportive environment where people can learn to speak comfortably and effectively in any situation.
A Multitude of Goals
Members of the Einstein club participate for a variety of reasons. Many want to overcome the fear and discomfort they feel when speaking in front of others. This was the motivation for Ariel Wirchnianski, a Ph.D. student in microbiology & immunology and biochemistry, to join the group. “I hated public speaking. I would go through a pattern of preparing my talk and reviewing what I wanted to say. Even if I was calm after that, I would freak out when I saw everyone in the room.”
Others want to improve specific aspects of their speech or their presentation skills. Srinivas Aluri, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in developmental and molecular biology, said “I realized I could speak, but there are different stages in speaking: how to present, how to connect, how to move from one point to another, how to move around, hand gestures, vocal variety, and so on.”
And some already feel comfortable with public speaking, but simply want an opportunity to connect with others. Kumsal Tekirdag, Ph.D., a postdoc in developmental and molecular biology, enjoys the group because “you get to hear stories about people and get to know them.”
Einstein Toastmasters also provides a place for non-native English speakers to develop fluency., “Toastmasters helped me be okay with my own communication style and deliver effective speeches without stressing about my accent or word choices,” said Kumsal.
She added, “Taking part in Toastmasters has helped many non-native speakers improve their fluency and vocabulary, in addition to their presentation style and stage presence.”
Postdoc Kehao Zhang keeps time during each speaker’s presentation
The club helps its members achieve their goals through a self-paced educational program and structured meetings. At the gatherings, members volunteer for tasks such as timekeeping and tracking the speaker’s use of common “filler” words, such as “um” or “you know”; the results are shared later in the evening.
After club president Julius Harrison welcomes the group, each Toastmaster on that evening’s schedule delivers a speech, focusing on specific goals such as “persuading with power.” Later, during oral evaluations, other members describe, in a positive and supportive manner, what the speakers did well and how they can improve.
Each meeting concludes with Table Topics, an exercise in impromptu speaking. Members can also help run the meetings or serve as club officers to gain leadership skills and learn how to work with a team. The club welcomes everyone. Currently, Einstein’s chapter has 20 members—a mix of students, postdocs, faculty members, and individuals from the local community.
The communication skills that members develop in the club translate well to everyday life. Srinivas observed, “When I give presentations, like departmental works-in-progress, I now look into the audience and connect with them, use vocal variety and hand gestures, and explain what I’m doing.” He added, “People have told me that I’m doing well and they can see how I’ve improved.”
These skills also translate to the realms of learning and networking. Ariel, currently the club’s secretary and treasurer, recently returned from a scientific conference where she relied on her newfound confidence to meet people. “Before, I would prefer to walk around a poster session and just look. I’d go before anyone was even there. This time I asked people to tell me about their posters and engaged in conversation. Toastmasters has helped me break out of my shell.”
Einstein Toastmasters provides more than a place to learn how to become a better communicator; it also offers a platform where people can share stories about their lives and develop self-esteem. As Kumsal noted, “You improve your confidence and how you present yourself. On top of the other skills you learn through crafting a speech, you can speak anywhere, in front of a group or one-on-one.”
The Einstein Toastmasters group meets every other Monday evening at 6 p.m. in Forchheimer 310. Members pay modest dues, but if you’re curious, you are welcome to come as a guest for free. You can learn more about club events on the Einstein Toastmasters website.
Posted on: Thursday, April 25, 2019