ALPHARETTA, Ga. — You’ve got to hand it to those who turn lemons into lemonade.
CHAT Toastmasters of Alpharetta faced some pretty yellow fruit when the pandemic struck this spring, forcing them to cancel in-person meetings. So, how do you practice public speaking, much less draw a good laugh, with no audience in front of you?
You get good online.
“The whole gist of the organization is to help people achieve through effective evaluations with whatever they’re doing,” said Scott Hoehn, CHAT Toastmasters vice president for membership. “It’s in all the Fortune 500 companies now. The Coca Cola club, The Sparkling Speakers is the name of their club. They find that it’s really built for leadership now.”
While not limited to business professionals, Toastmasters draws its share of members from the corporate world, businesses that promote effective speaking skills among their employees. There are close to two dozen Toastmasters chapters in north Metro Atlanta, each with from 15 to 50 members.
In a typical meeting, there are two or three assigned speakers who give short, five to seven-minute talks on any subject they choose, following the guidance of the many program materials provided by Toastmasters International. Those programs range from humorous talks, speeches to inform, persuade, entertain, motivate and more.
After the talk, the speaker receives a short evaluation, stressing the strengths they have as well as a thought or two on how they might improve. Some members say their club gives them a “bomb-shelter” where they can try out new material, say a sales pitch, before presenting it to their company or a client
“Aside from building self-confidence, it helps them in their community roles,” said Hoehn, who is a past district governor for the organization.
CHAT Toastmasters President Christian Dixon said she was urged by her employer, Nielsen, to join the club. She brought on co-worker Madelyn Michels later.
“Our company actually believes in it since we’re both in sales-oriented or client-service roles,” Dixon said.
The skills learned and honed through Toastmasters, she said, are even more important now that the business world has turned to online meetings. The same communication skills needed to succeed online can only be enhanced with the kind of coaching you receive from Toastmasters brethren, she said.
“Now, we’re really understanding how to use the camera better, hand expressions and where to look,” Dixon said. “Working on some of the skills have really helped us all.”
Michels agreed the lessons learned in public speaking have helped her career.
“I participated in one meeting, and I just fell in love,” she said. “I always was very conscious of how I spoke to people, especially when I landed this new role at Nielsen. I was very conscious of how I talked to clients.”
Now, she said, she speaks with more confidence. The club has sharpened her skills in reading people, grammar usage and pronunciation.
As far as humor, Hoehn seems to be the critics’ choice. In his last talk, he applied a screen background that put him aboard a commuter bus. He even raised an arm to mimic holding onto a strap.
Daniel Schwartz, public relations director for CHAT Toastmasters, said it’s easy to join any club. He suggests going to the toastmasters.org website to find a nearby location that seems to fit your interests. Fees are around $50 for six months, he said.
“You can try out as many clubs as you wish,” he said.
In normal times, CHAT Toastmasters meets at Serindipity Labs on North Point Center East. Meetings are now held on Zoom.
For more information about CHAT Toastmasters, email CHATAlpharetta@gmail.com.