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For the last 3 years, the MC-Hillman Program has been developing its relationship with a local Toastmasters Team through an introduction by one of our esteemed alumni, Tchata Koubonou. Since that fateful day when he suggested we talk to the president of the Vagabond Toastmasters Chapter in Gaithersburg, we have honed a series of established Toastmasters workshops called Speechcrafters for a self-selected group of Hillman Entrepreneurs. To date, almost 40 students have participated and we look forward to many more joining up in the future.
Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. The organization has more than 352,000 members who improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 16,400 clubs in 141 countries that make up their global network of meeting locations.
Members of Vagabond Toastmasters meet with our students for six weeks during the semester at their regularly scheduled location in Asbury Village in Gaithersburg, focusing each session on a different type of speech—ending with a persuasive pitch for a business venture. The skills are the same skills taught by all Toastmaster groups around the world, and they are honed in an accepting and nonjudgmental environment of peers who take an active role in providing support and feedback to all participants. Students rotate in various roles including being the toastmaster, general evaluator, the timekeeper, the “ah” counter, or grammarian. Below are just a few of the lessons and feedback that students this year shared:
Yealshaday Demise explained her experience this way: “When I attended the first session, I felt like I was set up so I thought out loud, “What in the world is going on? Don’t tell me we have to give speeches! I am here to listen and learn from guest speakers not SPEAK!” Well, it didn’t take long for all of us to learn that we had to give a speech for every session. So, first session…I was not happy about it. Second session … I regretted joining the program. Third session…I was told that I was more confident than I was before; Guess what? That changed my attitude towards the sessions because apparently, it really felt good to hear those comments. So, I looked forward to hearing better comments the coming weeks.”
Wasique Iqbal told us his favorite speech to prepare was when asked to bring in an object to present and sell it to the audience. He explained and important lesson he gained from the Speechcrafter seminars: “I would spend hours doing research and putting together my speech and spending very little time practicing it. I would have good content but not good delivery, and I realized that I need to strike a balance and make sure I have enough time to practice my speech. The one speech everyone thought I did well on was my selling a pen speech, where I had the speech written before and I spent all my time practicing it. In the future I will make sure I manage my time properly and also focus on rehearsing the speech instead of spending all my time writing it. Taking part in the Vagabond Toastmasters was a great experience and I look forward to applying the techniques and advice I learned to all my presentations from now on.”
Jason Acevedo added that one of the most important things he learned was how to use meditation and voice exercise before a speech in order to relax. He also realized that he “was not engaging my audience because I would use the same tone for the whole speech. To improve this issue, I went in front of the podium and repeated my introduction paragraph two or three times until the tone of my voice was suitable for my speech.”
Nazea Khan was surprised to learn so much and pointed out that in each session, “I learned something new and was pushed to another limit in my speech crafting skills.” For example,“one thing I didn’t realize I did during my speech is that I speak too fast. Everyone thought I did a great job but if I slowed down and took my time, they would’ve enjoyed my speech much better.” Nazea realized that this was a habit she had when she was nervous and the Toastmaster leader Bob gave her some suggestions to help her slow down, including writing the word “pause” on her index card and listening to the cadence of professional speakers.
In addition to getting to know their Hillman colleagues better in this setting, students note how proud they are of how they have improved. One Hillman student, Jason Denny, pointed out that he will “use these lessons throughout life due to the universal need to express oneself clearly and concisely.” He noted that “as an entrepreneur, I will have the opportunity to give business pitches and sales talks. All of these are strengthened by the lessons I received at the Toastmasters Speechcraft Sessions.”
The students agreed that they all saw growth in their confidence. As Yealshaday said, “Most of us were afraid of giving speeches at first; however, with the help of constructive feedback, we all improved and successfully developed our public speaking skills.”
Jason Acevedo goes one step further, encouraging “everyone who has the opportunity [to participate in Toastmasters] should take it.”
Thank you to the members of the Vagabond Toastmasters, especially to the volunteer leaders of the workshops: Bob Silver, Ramu Garapati, Raj Iyer, and Heejeong Yoon.