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For decades, Gainesville Toastmasters Club has taught speaking, leadership

POSTED: August 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS /The Times

Sheronda Kessler takes a turn speaking Monday evening in front of the members of the Gainesville Toastmasters Club during a meeting at the Hall County Library.

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On quiet evenings at the Hall County Library, a handful of people get together for the "best kept secret" in town and encourage each other to do what the librarians don’t — speak.

They are the Gainesville Toastmasters Club. And for 50 years, the club has encouraged members to improve their speaking and leadership skills in a supportive environment.

Toastmasters meetings are run through a shared leadership. Members work from manuals while one person serves as an evaluator at each meeting to critique others’ speeches.

Though it can be hard to criticize others, Kristy Walker, a past club president, said she appreciates the suggestions others give her about her own speeches.

Members are different ages and come from a variety of backgrounds, and "each member grows personally," said President Michele Bruce, adding that the ideal club size is about 20 members.

Chris Church, the director of annual giving for North Georgia College & State University, said she uses the skills she learns at Toastmasters to help her at work.

"It helps your self confidence," Church said. "It has made me comfortable. It has totally changed the way I think about speaking."

Sheronda Kessler said she joined Toastmasters with the goal of becoming a more effective storyteller. She said the structure of the meetings and the manuals help her stay organized.

"I like the fact that they do have a set agenda," said Kessler, who makes dolls and is interested in puppetry and storytelling. "I didn’t really know how to organize and be an effective leader."

At the hourlong meetings, members participate in a number of oratorical exercises to help them become more comfortable with speaking in front of people.

One member is charged with presenting the group with a word of the day, which they are encouraged to use. At the group’s last meeting, Bill Warner gave the group the challenge of using the word cuil, the Gaelic word for knowledge.

To spark impromptu speeches, one member brings an object that others must speak about in some way for two minutes.

Chris Church brought fortune cookies to Monday’s meeting and inspired people to share their personal memories and views on fate and fortune.

Aside from meetings, members also do work on their own. Beginners start with the Competent Communication Manual, which outlines different objectives and types of speeches for members to prepare and present at meetings, Bruce said.

After that manual is completed, members can choose advanced manuals to work from that focus on specific areas.

Bruce gave a speech with a PowerPoint presentation for the Speeches From Management Manual she is currently working through.

There are 11,500 Toastmasters Clubs in 92 countries, including 180 in Georgia.

The Gainesville Toastmasters Club welcomes visitors, and the next meeting is set for 12:15 p.m. Aug. 13 on the third floor of PeachState Bank.



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