Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
The day's Toastmaster, District Materials Engineer Kirsten Stahl, addresses the meeting.

The Toast of the District
by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 03/2010

Want to improve your public speaking skills? Join the club!

Cookie tycoon Mrs. Fields was a member. So was Coors Brewing Company CEO Peter Coors, management guru Tom Peters, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle and syndicated columnist Marilyn vos Savant, holder of the Guinness World Record for highest IQ.

What do they all credit with helping them achieve success? Toastmasters, an international organization for improving public speaking skills in a conveniently-located, supportive environment.

How conveniently located? There’s one right in the building! It meets every Thursday from 11:30 to 12:30. Fees are $24 for new members plus $32 every six months but it costs nothing to visit a meeting and observe.

District 7 has had a Toastmasters club on site since 1985, said District Materials Engineer Kirsten Stahl, a founding member. Stahl was also the toastmaster for the meeting Inside 7 attended last month. The toastmaster’s job is to run the meeting, set the theme (in this case, “the seasons”), introduce the various speakers and presenters, and attempt to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.

Those with additional assigned roles include up to two main speech givers, a timekeeper, general evaluator, speech evaluator(s), grammarian, who provides the word of the day, an “ah” counter, and a person in charge of Table Topics, subjects based on the theme that are assigned at random to members with no other speaking role; those impromptu speeches can be up to two minutes long.

Those roles are decided every quarter by the president, who prepares a schedule to ensure that everyone has a chance to play various parts throughout the quarter. “If a particular member is interested in completing a certain number of speeches or in achieving a certain goal then the schedule is prepared accordingly,” said current president Sujaya Kalainesan, an engineer specializing in Environmental and Water Resources. “All members get a chance to comment or request changes to the schedule until it is finalized. Once a schedule is finalized we simply follow it for the meetings and if a member cannot play their role, then they find a replacement.”

This day there is only one speech, given by Kalainesan. Her topic is “Biofuels – Too good to be true?” She gives a crisp, convincing speech that effectively questions the environmental wisdom of developing biofuels as a replacement for fossil fuels. Her speech ticks off one of the requirements from the basic Toastmaster manual, “Communication and Leadership” – memorized speech to “persuade with power.”

The “Communication and Leadership” manual has 10 speech assignments. When the basic manual has been completed, the member can apply for recognition as a Competent Communicator. After completing two of the 15 Advanced Manuals, the member can apply for recognition as an Advanced Communicator, bronze, silver and gold levels. In combination with the basic and advanced communicator achievements and the fulfillment of various leadership roles, a member can then apply for the ultimate recognition: Distinguished Toastmaster.

Kalainesan is enthusiastically applauded by the entire room. So is the timekeeper, the “ah” counter (only two!), and everyone else who addresses the group, even for a few seconds. “We’re not about shredding people,” Stahl said. “We’re here to provide positive support on many different levels.”

President for about a year, Kalainesan’s goal is to increase membership from its current 40-something, roughly 10 or 12 of whom might appear at any given meeting, and help it achieve Distinguished Club status (involving fulfillment of at least six of 10 Toastmasters criteria). Some people even belong to more than one Toastmasters club, going from public-speaking adverse to Master of Ceremonies material in relatively short order.

Toastmasters International was established in 1924 in Santa Ana, and now has more than 200,000 members in 10,000 clubs in 80 countries. Club members can pursue unlimited mastery by participating in speech contests and conventions locally, nationally and internationally.

Kalainesan encourages District 7 employees to check out the club as an observer and see what it has to offer. “You’ll meet a lot of great people, learn things, and become a better communicator,” she said. You may email her or long-time member Marvin Davis for further information.

Timekeeper Sule Alabi, a project engineer, explains the process to club members. Sujaya Kalainesan, current club president, gives the main speech of the day. Table Topics, short impromptu speeches incorporating the theme of the day, are assigned by Transportation Engineer Matt Liao. Senior Transportation Engineer Javad Rahimzadeh (L)handles a Table Topic while Project Engineer Marvin Davis prepares an evaluation.