When Kate Niederehe joined the local chapter of the Toastmasters International club, she said it was like a New Year’s resolution, even though it was in the springtime of the year.
Eight months later, Niederehe and other local Toastmasters have a resolution for the New Year — as resolutions of others and the clinking of champagne flutes in toasts to Auld Lang Syne usher it in.
“Membership growth is a specific goal for 2018,” said Niederehe, the Moab Toastmasters’ vice president for membership. That’s why she and fellow club members Dan McNeil and Sharri Casler sat together to talk to The Times-Independent about Toastmasters. They call themselves “members,” but to hear their enthusiasm, one is tempted to call them Toastmasters evangelists.
“I got so much more out of it than I expected,” Casler, a Toastmasters member for four years, said. “I came there to be a better speaker, better communicator. But I got so much more than that. It influenced all my interactions daily.”
Most people know Toastmasters as a club for public speaking — and improving spoken communication indeed is why most people join. That’s how the club got its name, after all.
Brevity, wit, wordcraft, fluency, poise and presence — the ancient art of giving a toast distils them all to a point. Thus, a “toastmaster” (the term is not as well-known now as it once was) is someone who has honed and exhibits those skills.
Paul Dickson, who wrote an entire book on the subject, summarized the inseparability of good speaking and giving a toast: “Flubbing the toast is like serving stale champagne: it flattens the mood.”
That’s why Ralph Smedley, while trying to come up with a way to improve the speech of boys he mentored at a YMCA in Bloomington, Ill., named the club he started back in 1905 as “Toastmasters.”
The founders of Moab’s Toastmasters club (in truth, a “resurrected” version of a club that had been around in the 1970s but had gone defunct) had additional motivations, said one of the club’s members.
“The bottom line is that it was just … an opportunity to get together and do something different,” said member Jim Webster. “It brought together a lot of different walks of life in Moab that you just don’t see very often,” Webster said. “Folks that had been here for generations and decades, and other folks that had moved into town more recently ... it was a real nice, interesting blend of people.”
It made for a nice mix of stories.
“We get stories from people talking about Moab during the uranium days, or even their post-World War II days, versus my stories of being a ranger at Arches National Park,” Webster said.
The diversity in the club is something all its members agree is as big a selling point, especially when it comes to the opportunity for personal development the club offers. So, too, is the opportunity to learn about people you would otherwise not know about.
Hearing so many stories about each other, “You really get to know people on a whole different level. That’s what makes this group so special,” Casler said.
But in the final analysis, it is the personal-development angle that is the club’s foundation.
“It has been a real pleasure to watch people grow in this club,” McNeil said.
Take, for example, the club’s newest member, Niederehe, who sat next to McNeil during The Times-Independent’s meeting with three of the members (the other being Sharri Casler).
Niederehe joined the club last spring, after realizing she needed to do something to up her speaking game. It wasn’t even public speaking — just normal communication.
“I was just finding that talking to almost anybody was terrifying,” Niederehe said, adding that it was becoming detrimental to her job and to her career goals. “I thought I would have to work on it if I wanted to advance.”
So she joined Toastmasters. “It was almost like a New Year’s resolution,” she said. But even then, “It took a couple meetings to decide I was actually going to do it.”
McNeil remembers the first time Niederehe got up to speak. “Could I say ‘terrified?’” He turns to her: “You weren’t terrified, were you?”
“Yeah, I was terrified,” she said.
However, she said, “As a new member, I have felt pretty welcomed. It’s a great space to practice … I felt supported.”
That support, though, comes right alongside the challenges for improvement club members give to each other. For instance, the club has an “ah” counter — someone who counts “ahs” and “uhs” and “ums,” and other “filler” words and phonemes.
By only her third speech, Niederehe made noticeable improvement. “I was nervous, but it wasn’t debilitating. I wasn’t terrified.”
“Every Toastmasters member should have the opportunity to be mentored. It’s part of the process,” Casler said. “It’s a safe place to grow, to get out of your comfort zone.”
The club meets the first and third Wednesdays of the month at noon, in a downstairs room of Zions Bank at 330 South Main St. Guests are welcome anytime. An open house is being held during the club’s meeting on Jan. 17, beginning at 11:45 a.m. Following the meeting at 1 p.m. will be a question-and-answer period. Refreshments will be provided.
The club has a Facebook page and people wanting additional information or who are interested in joining can email firstname.lastname@example.org.