Youth sharpen public speaking skillsEleven students participate in Toastmasters
Many young people would rather spend a day at the dentist’s office than deliver an impromptu speech in a room full of their peers.
That’s not true for the students in the Toastmaster Youth Leadership Program. Eleven local youths participated in the program designed to improve public speaking and communication skills. The students met at Aranda’s Mexican Restaurant Wednesday in Fairfield to celebrate the completion of their eight-week course with a speech on a topic of their choice.
The speeches were as diverse as the students themselves, who ranged in age from sixth-grade to senior year of college. The topics ran the gamut from Mahatma Gandhi and solving homelessness to baby-sitting adventures and mantis shrimps.
Local Toastmaster luminary Jean Symington Craig led the course. The students were introduced to the Toastmaster program through Beth Alonso of Fairfield Rotary and its youth outreach programs, Interact for high school students, and Rotaract for college students.
“I’ve wanted to do something like this for the past few years. I am grateful to Jean and the Fairfield Golden Speakers Toastmasters Club for all the wonderful lessons and guidance,” Alonso stated.
Symington Craig served as the Toastmaster for the evening’s celebration. By introducing each speaker and giving personal commendations throughout, the personal rapport that she enjoyed with the students was apparent.
“It was very rewarding to teach these students of different ages, genders, and backgrounds the Toastmaster principles of how to organize the content of a compelling speech and deliver it so that the speaker connects powerfully with his or her audience,” Symington Craig said.
Symington Craig said Toastmasters International is widely recognized as a leading authority on effective communication techniques and leadership development.
“Similar to a gym workout, guided practice builds mental muscles over time, regardless of where a student begins,” she noted. “In addition, learning and practicing impromptu speaking, focused listening and evaluation skills develop specific mental muscles that support lifetime achievement.”
Alonso was so pleased with the results from this year’s program she hopes to repeat it in the near future. Symington Craig was equally enthusiastic about the program’s success.
“It was a delight to watch these students support each other while growing in proficiency. They really touched my heart,” she said.
Kishan Thijm has been in the club since the beginning of the school year. He heard about Toastmasters through his participation in Interact, and he and a number of friends attended a Toastmasters’ meeting earlier this year to see what all the fuss was about.
Alonso and Symington Craig met after that meeting to discuss creating a special Toastmaster-style club for area youth. Symington Craig told Alonso that was a fantastic idea and agreed to teach the course. The 11 students who participated in the course were Thijm, Andrea Glick, Anna Unger, Bea Winn, Bimba Shreshta, Don Brathwaite, Isabella Unger, Lalith Rao, Narayani Thijm, Pari Nayek and Suraj Rao.
Thijm said Alonso wanted the members of Interact and Rotaract to lose their fears and sense of discomfort speaking in front of a group. Before embarking on the course, Thijm described himself as “not the best public speaker” and felt a strong desire to improve his skills in that arena.
Thijm’s speech Wednesday was a scathing rebuke of Christopher Columbus and the national holiday named after him. Thijm said Columbus was not deserving of the honor for his treatment of the natives he encountered and because he did not truly “discover” the New World.
“Columbus discovered America the way the meteorite discovered the dinosaurs – by accident,” he remarked.
The youth leadership program teaches young people the basics of delivering a speech, such as how to organize the content, how to hold the listeners’ attention, and how to prevent “filler” words such as “um” and “uh” from creeping into their speech. The participants were taught how to evaluate a speech and even how to think of things to say when they’re asked to speak on a topic of which they have scant knowledge.
Shrestha has been in the club four months, and feels like the experience has given him a great deal of self-confidence.
“It has encouraged me to get up in front of a group and not worry about what other people think of me,” he said. “When we do ‘table talks,’ we have to speak for four minutes about a subject that has just been given to us. After you’ve done that, you feel like you can do pretty much anything.”
Shrestha gave a prepared speech that night on a humorous experience he had baby-sitting a young boy genuinely convinced he was Spiderman with the ability to shoot webbing from his wrist. Shrestha did not write his speech beforehand or try to memorize it word-for-word. He said his speeches flow better when he has a general idea of what he wants to say than when he has to worry about sticking to a script.
Anna Unger, a high school sophomore, said she joined the youth leadership program because she felt uncomfortable speaking in crowds and wanted to conquer her fears.
“I feel more confident talking to people now. I’ve learned a lot in the program,” she said.
The first time Unger had to give a “table talk” on a subject thrown at her that night, she lasted about two minutes before running out of words.
“Like they say, ‘practice makes perfect,’ and I’ve definitely improved since that first speech,” she said.
When Unger is given the opportunity to speak on something that interests her, she likes talking about Destination Imagination, a creative problem-solving competition. Recently, she had an opportunity to put her speaking skills to the test when she appeared on a panel at Maharishi School on international and cultural diversity.
Glick just finished her junior of high school at Mt. Pleasant. She wanted to improve her speaking skills, and Fairfield was the closest city that offered a program that continued to meet this late in the school year. Glick was no stranger to giving presentations in front of large crowds since she has a wealth of experience competing in rodeo queen pageants.
“I’ve done a lot of speeches and impromptu talks before, and I saw this as an opportunity to better myself,” she said.
Glick said her experience in pageants and her time in the youth leadership program has helped her nearly eliminate those common crutch words from her speech.
“I catch myself using filler words like ‘um,’” she said. “I say to myself, ‘Don’t say ‘um!’ I keep that in the back of my mind. The trick is, if you’re about to say it, just swallow it and pause. Pauses are OK. It’s better to have a pause than to have an ‘um.’”