The word of the day was already carefully written in orange dry-erase marker when the clock struck seven Thursday night. The twenty or so members of the Moore Toastmasters chuckled from their seats as Chrystal Drewery read the word and its definition out loud.
“Impish,” she said. “Mischievous, inclined to do slightly naughty things for fun.”
The group offered up a collective din of approval, and began to dream up ways to incorporate the word into their speeches and conversation that evening.
For more than a year the Moore Toastmasters had met every Thursday for the sole purpose of improving their speechmaking skills and having fun in the process. This night, was special though, because the club had reached 20 members.
That night, it received its official Toastmasters club charter.
District leaders Doug and Paula Weeks presented the Moore Toastmaster’s club president Chad Drewery and the club leadership team with certificates and a shiny new club banner, as well as an official Toastmasters lectern and light-signal speech timer.
There are 96 official Toastmaster International clubs in the state of Oklahoma and thousands around the world spanning 142 countries. The organization’s mission is to empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.
Members have opportunities at every meeting to give speeches, gain and offer feedback, lead teams and help guide others to achieve their goals in a supportive atmosphere.
There are also opportunities for competition.
The World Championship of Public Speaking is an annual event open to all Toastmasters, and recent winners include speakers from Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and Sri Lanka, though Oklahoma Toastmasters have also shone. Harold Patterson of Oklahoma City was World Champion in 1987, and David Ross of Norman took home the gold in 1991.
But most of what happens at Toastmasters happens closer to home in the weekly club meetings.
All the speeches are timed and are supposed to run between five and seven minutes. Thursday’s feedback included appreciation for good props like autographed Oklahoma City Thunder apparel, eye contact, animated gestures, confidence, and getting the audience involved.
“Evaluations are a fun part of the evening,” Steve Self, who led Thursday’s meeting as Toastmaster of the Day, said. “We try to be nice to each other because we know we’re going to be evaluated next.”
At every meeting a designated “ah-counter” and “grammarian,” gives a tally of each person’s ums, ahs, filler words, and Oklahoma style g-dropping at the meeting’s end.
“You were walkin’ and talkin’ instead of walking and talking,” Chad Drewery quipped to his fellow Toastmaster, Lance Reynolds, who quickly offered the defense that he was recovering from face surgery and had to be forgiven this week. All in good fun.
Speakers receive guidelines for the preparation of each speech, so they can focus on building skills incrementally. Denise Koch gave her second speech Thursday on the topic of why people fear public speaking. Her goal was to be organized.
“It’s how you get around the mistakes that will determine how you recover,” she said. “For example, you can make an impish reply and turn your mistake into a joke.”
Internationally, there are slightly more women than men in Toastmasters today, which is a huge shift from its founding in 1924 when all members were men. The first female member was Helen Blanchard, who joined Toastmasters International in 1970 as “Homer.” In 1985 she became Toastmaster’s first female president.
Paula Weeks said Toastmasters is designed to be self-paced and to accommodate different personalities.
“Some step right up to the plate and want to give a speech the first night,” she said. “Then there are the introverts like me who can take time.”
The club is also designed for busy professionals.
“If you want to be involved, there’s a lot of opportunity,” said Mike McVey, who has been a member of Toastmasters for almost two years and now helps mentor new clubs. “Or if you just want to come every now and again, that’s also ok.”
Tim Smyth got the final word as he closed the meeting and dismissed the group to celebratory cookie cake.
“As a whole, the meeting was fun,” Smyth said, “and that’s what we’re here for.”
More information about Toastmasters International, including locations of more than 50 clubs in central Oklahoma, is available at www.toastmasters.org.
The Moore Toastmasters meet every Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the First Methodist Church location at 201 W Main St. in Moore. All are welcome.