On Sept. 14, the Campus Howlers Toastmasters Club had an early start with their open house, offering students and community members the opportunity to learn first hand about Toastmasters.
Toastmasters International is an non-profit organization that aims to improve the communication, public speaking and leadership skills of its members. Founded by Ralph Smedley in California in 1924, the organization now boasts over 345,000 members and 15,900 clubs spanning 142 countries.
Dongyan Song, president of the Campus Howlers, feels that the club provides a safe but challenging space for students to practice their public speaking skills.
“I think that my favourite part of Toastmasters is that you have this opportunity in your real environment that you can practice. We say there’s no pressure, there’s no stress, but you do get something just because you are standing in front of people … you are not getting judged but you get evaluated,” Song said. “You get to practice in a … supportive and a positive environment.”
The Campus Howlers are one of many Toastmasters groups in Saskatoon, each with its own meeting time, location, mission and values. For example, one group focuses specifically on improving the skills of members who speak English as a second language.
The Howlers, however, hold the values of integrity, respect, service and excellence. The club is open to anyone over the age of 18, student or otherwise. They meet each week on Wednesdays from 7:15-8:15 a.m. in room 2D21 of the Agriculture Building. Students are welcome to meetings any time. When they are ready to join the club, they can fill out an application form and pay the club fees.
The meetings include activities designed to improve communication and public speaking skills. For example, the open house featured a table topic session led by the Table Topics Master who creates short questions to ask group members.
Jennifer Rich, a prospective student of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, explains why the table topic sessions are beneficial.
“I really like the table topics because they ask you a completely random question. Sometimes they’re something … that you would expect to come across in an interview and sometimes it’s like, ‘Would you rather go to the past or the future?’ or something kind of out of nowhere and you have to come up with a good answer on the spot,” Rich said.
The meetings also give students the opportunity to take on leadership roles, such as the Table Topics Master and the General Evaluator, responsible for leading the evaluation portion of the meeting and working with an evaluation team, including the Grammarian and the Timer who times speech length.
Toastmasters also offers a program of improvement that includes manuals, such as the Competent Communicator manual. Emily Barlow, recent graduate of the College of Law, explains the manual method.
“When you join, you get a manual of 10 projects and it gives you a fairly simple task like, have a speech with a beginning, middle and end,” Barlow said. “You can pick any topic you want and speak with that goal in mind and you’re given feedback right away: an oral presentation from a fellow member and their written comments in your manual.”
Samuel Simonson, fourth-year physiology and pharmacology major and vice-president public relations for the Campus Howlers, has overcome much of his nervousness about public speaking because of Toastmasters.
“I joined because I was very nervous in a group setting having to speak and I want to do medicine … so I needed the skills to be able to speak in an interview, and the impromptu speaking was what really stood out for me to be able to polish my skills of standing up and just speaking without being really nervous,” Simonson said.
Barlow encourages students to practice public speaking with Toastmasters even if they feel nervous.
“It can be a little intimidating coming in, that it sounds like a lot of work, that you have to plan this five to seven minute speech, but it is a great confidence boost when you’re done and it just gets easier.”
Jessica Klaassen-Wright / News Editor
Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor