Speak for Yourself: Local Toastmasters want YOU

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, January 10, 2018

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish residents from all walks of life can benefit from joining Toastmasters International, an organization that teaches valuable public speaking and leadership skills in a supportive environment.

Prospective members are invited to attend meetings at Marathon Petroleum Company LP and Celebration Church in LaPlace this month to learn more about the organization.

The LaPlace location, officially chartered last week, holds meetings every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Local Toastmasters president Rachel Chaney said the organization is a much-needed addition to the River Parishes because self-presentation skills are applicable to any profession.

Rachel Chaney

“I can’t think of any position where public speaking and leadership development wouldn’t be a plus,” Chaney said.

Chaney, an eighth grade teacher at John L. Ory Communication Arts Magnet School, discovered Toastmasters International while searching for an adult public speaking organization to sponsor a school club.

Seeing a need for more speaking and leadership opportunities in the River Parishes, Chaney collaborated with District Director Mohamad Qayoom to establish a local chapter.

The organization has attracted people from varying backgrounds since meetings commenced in November, and Chaney said she and other members have already shown remarkable growth.

“It seems odd that I would be nervous to speak in front of people because I do it for a living,” Chaney said, noting speaking to students feels less intimidating to her than addressing a crowd of adults.

“We comment every week on speeches, and I can see a difference. The growth in confidence is immeasurable.”

According to Qayoom, meetings are conducted in a positive environment and involve three major components: 5- to 7-minute prepared speeches, short impromptu speeches and evaluations.

Qayoom said the group’s seven officer positions provide an excellent opportunity to build leadership skills that can in turn be used to make the world a brighter place.

“Having individuals who are better communicators and leaders helps society,” Qayoom said.

Speech assignments rotate through the group on a volunteer basis, and members who complete 10 initial speeches can become a “master Toastmaster.”

Members can also become master leaders by following steps outlined in manuals handed out upon joining the organization.

Those who are apprehensive about public speaking have no need to worry because Toastmasters is a safe, fun environment, Chaney said.

“You are never forced to do anything,” Chaney said.

“We’ve had people come to listen, and by the end of the meeting, they talk. They see it’s a supportive environment. It’s not judgmental, and it’s a safe place to learn to sell yourself.”

One girl who swore she would never deliver a speech served as toastmaster and spoke to the crowd in a recent meeting, Chaney said. Others use meetings as an opportunity to practice and perfect presentations for work.

Chaney is excited to see the organization continue to grow throughout 2018.

In February, the Celebration Church group will travel to Lafayette for leadership training and a chance to compete with other Toastmasters International groups from around the state.

She said new members are welcome to join at any time.

Prospective members must be 18 or older. A $20 membership fee is required upon joining, and dues are $45 every six months. For more information, call Qayoom at 504-812-0707 or visit the Toastmasters International District 68 website, d68tm.org.