A toast to public speaking

Mike McNasby knows how to catch his audience’s attention.

At a recent Temple Toastmasters meeting, McNasby took out his cell phone to call his high school teacher, CJ Mills, to congratulate him on the recent birth of his son.

“You never want to burn bridges,” McNasby said. He placed the call, putting the phone on speaker mode so the 16 people in the room could hear. “OK, we’ll see if he picks up.”

Miles never answered, but McNasby still left a message of congratulations. McNasby believes networking is an important key to success, and for his speech on networking he used his relationship with his high school teacher as an example of how to maintain relationships that could benefit you in the future.

“You’re either networking or you’re not working,” he said.

Students like McNasby are honing their speech-giving skills through Temple Toastmasters, a 2-year-old organization that promotes the art of speech giving to help students form “effective communication, presentation and leadership skills,” according to the group’s mission statement. Toastmasters is an international organization at the corporate and collegiate levels with more than 10,000 clubs in 90 countries, McNasby said. Philadelphia’s Blue Cross Blue Shield has a large group of employees active with Toastmasters.

“[Belonging to the group] looks awesome on your resume,” he said.

As a salesman at Best Buy, McNasby, a junior broadcast, telecommunications and mass media major, found he had difficulty answering on-the-spot questions posed by customers about products. Now the director of public relations for Toastmasters, McNasby’s impromptu speaking skills have come a long way since he joined last spring.

“I didn’t give my first speech until the second semester I was in Toastmasters,” he said. The group suggests that all members give at least one speech each semester. “[But] nothing is required. Self improvement really is voluntary. The people who show up and have the idea that public speaking is good for them, more power to them.”

New members introduce themselves to the group with an “ice breaker” speech, where speakers simply talk about themselves. Members tighten their skills by working through the group’s list of themed speeches. Speakers give speeches on topics by “getting to the point” or talking about “how to” do something.

Each meeting four members give a prepared speech to the group. A pre-assigned evaluator uses a scoring sheet to rate the speech. The evaluator comments to the group on the speaker’s strengths and weaknesses and makes suggestions for improvement.

The meeting’s timer signals the minute marks of a speech by holding up ping-pong paddles, while the meeting’s official “ah counter” records the number of “ahs” and “ums” spoken during a speech. Speakers pay ten cents for each flub, and the money goes to the chosen speaker of the day.

With an engaging and open view to speech giving, Toastmasters helps students learn the communication skills they’d learn in a speech class but in a fun and relaxed environment, McNasby said.

“In a speech class you’re required to write a speech, while here, you’re not,” McNasby said. “There you’re hurried along, but with us, it’s your pace. I don’t think [speech classes are] as personal as Toastmasters.”

Meetings conclude with “table topics,” an impromptu speaking activity that has participants answer a question in two minutes or less.

Questions like ‘Who would you take to jail with you?’ require the speaker to be witty and to the point – communication skills important to anyone, no matter their major or career aspirations.

While the organization is based out of the business school, “Most of the people are actually in the communications school,” McNasby said. “[But] Toastmasters is great for anyone. If you’re an art major and you’re sitting there trying to explain [to someone] what the heck you just painted, perfect.”

Membership fees are $40 for new members and $25 each semester for renewing members. Fees purchase members a new member kit, which includes a copy of the basic Communication and Leadership manual, orientation materials, information on speech evaluation and general speech giving tips.

Interested students can attend a Temple Toastmasters meeting, held every Friday in Speakman Hall room 213, from 11:30 p.m. to 12:40 p.m.

Sammy Davis can be reached at s.davis@temple.edu.

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