Toastmasters helps improve public speaking Published Feb. 27, 2009 By Wayne Crenshaw 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- As a weapons officer in the JSTARS, it might seem that there's not much that could intimidate Capt. Terri Prosperie, but when it comes to speaking in front of people, she's a bag of nerves. "Shaking, having a hard time breathing, fighting the feeling of passing out," is how she described her bodily reactions whenever she had to give a briefing to a group of people. "It's something that has bothered me my whole career, and I finally decided I wanted to do something about it." She faced her fears by joining Toastmasters, an international organization that originated with a Santa Ana, Calif., YMCA class in 1924. The group, which today has 11,700 clubs and more than 235,000 members in 92 countries, is focused on helping people improve verbal communications skills. Captain Prosperie joined the Aerospace 3368, one of four Toastmaster clubs at Robins. People who are interested can find a local Toastmasters Club by going to www.toastmasters.org. The clubs are set up in small groups of 10-15 people so that there will be ample opportunity for everyone to speak in a non-threatening environment. At each meeting several people speak in varying roles. At a recent meeting of the Aerospace 3368 group, two people gave speeches of several minutes each, then others had roles that included critiquing those speeches and speaking extemporaneously on impromptu "table topics." Captain Prosperie said the group has helped her overcome her fear of public speaking and she plans to be a lifetime member. "It forces you to get up there and do it and face your fears," she said. Johnny Marlin, a production controller in the 78th Civil Engineer Squadron, is president of the Aerospace 3368 chapter. He joined the group a couple of years ago after he found himself speaking to groups as a part of his job. He decided he wanted to do something to improve his skills. "I was charged with presenting information to my superiors in a timely, clear and concise manner so I turned to Toastmasters to help me with my skills," he said. "It has helped me tremendously." Ron Jones, the area governor for Toastmasters, has been a part of the group since 1993. Although some people stay in for a short while to develop their skills and then leave, many people like Mr. Jones become life members. He said he stays in the group both to help others and to continue to develop his own speaking skills. "I enjoy helping others and there's always something to learn to work on," he said. Members are given a booklet in which they go through a series of speaking assignments that get progressively more challenging. Different members of the group are assigned different tasks to gauge the effectiveness of a speech. One person times the speech, using a green-yellow-red light board to warn the speaker when time is up. Another person watches for bad grammar and counts the unnecessary "filler words," such as "uh" and "you know." Finally someone gives an overall critique of the speech. It might sound pretty intimidating, but Mr. Marlin said the process is designed to be positive and encouraging. In fact, in the two main speeches given at their meeting Feb. 11, the critiques were almost entirely positive, noting that the speakers were animated, engaging and to the point. In fact, whatever criticisms are given are not called criticisms, but "opportunities for improvement." The Aerospace 3368 meets in the civil engineering building, and Joe Ballard, 78th Civil Engineer Group director made a point to visit the group at it's Feb. 11 meeting and thank members for their effort to improve their skills. "This is invaluable training," he told the members. "You can come in here and mess up and nobody knows. It doesn't affect your job. This is a place to practice and learn to get better. Learning to communicate more effectively is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your life."