Toastmasters Club returns to Waynesville

Next meeting is April 24
By Rachel Robles | Apr 20, 2017

There’s an old cliché that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. Whether that’s actually true is a matter for debate, but for those who need help with public speaking, there’s hope — Waynesville is once again home to a Toastmasters club.

According to its website, Toastmasters “a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.”

“It’s like what you would learn in a communications class without having a professor grading you,” said member Tommy Bourque, a commercial lender at Entegra Bank. “It’s to better yourself. The critique you get would be compassionate. You’re amongst friends, and it’s not like the teacher’s coming back and you’re wondering what the end report would be.”

Bourque, along with member Ken Brown, revived Toastmasters in Haywood County after a decades-long gap. Prior to the Waynesville group’s re-establishment, the closest Toastmasters Club was in Asheville.

Bourque and Brown were wanting to start a club in Waynesville when they happened to meet a fellow Toastmaster from the Franklin branch — the Gem City Forum Toastmasters Club established in 1997 — who told them that, due to low membership, the club was on the verge of losing its charter.

To solve both problems, the charter was moved from Franklin to Waynesville.

“The club didn’t lose its charter and it didn’t take us six months get a charter,” said Bourque, saying it would have taken at least that long to get enough members to qualify.

According to Bourque and Brown, the group is a small, friendly bunch that welcomes newcomers with open arms.

“I compare it to riding a rollercoaster,” said Brown of participating. “A lot of nerves and intimidation as you’re going up the hill and great fun once you get the top, and you want to do it again once you’re finished.”

Brown is in sales, and he said Toastmasters lets him practice and perfect his presentations to clients. And as a banker, Bourque hones his skills in order to stand out from the competition.

Club members learn how to open a meeting, welcome people to the stage, give a speech and then close the meeting. According to its website, Toastmasters is built on four principles:

— Experiential Learning: Members learn by doing; by giving speeches and fulfilling leadership roles, they practice and improve.

— Self-paced Program: Members learn best at his/her own pace and comfort level.

— Peer Feedback: Through honest and supportive peer evaluation, members grow and improve

— Mentoring: Experienced members encourage, guide and support others in their goals and help others to achieve more than they thought possible.

Members give at least two speeches — an icebreaker speech and a prepared speech.

“My first Toastmasters speech was an icebreaker called “Connect the Dots” and it was based on Steve Jobs’ commencement speech [at Stanford],” said Brown. “When you’re not accustomed to standing in a room with people, you don’t think about what you’re doing with your body. I made eye contact, but when I moved my head, I would move my feet, so it made a rocking motion.”

It’s little details like that that can detract from a speech’s effectiveness, and that’s where Toastmasters can help.

“Once you get in there, it’s not as intimidating as you think it is,” said Bourque. “It’s a lot more welcoming.”

The group meets from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. every other Monday at Entegra Bank, formerly Old Town Bank, 2045 S. Main St., Waynesville. The next meeting is Monday, April 24.

“Toastmasters can help anyone,” said Bourque. “We don’t want a certain group of people; we learn from everyone.”

For more information about joining, call Ken Brown at 513-543-7356.