Vanderbilt’s Toastmasters Chapter is back on campus, ready to boost students’ public speaking skills, one meeting at a time.
Most people, even us high-achieving Commodores, can relate to that chilling moment when your nerves overwhelm you before speaking in front of an audience. Whether it’s a fifth-year science project presentation or a more ceremonial speech, the task of public speaking is undoubtedly a daunting task, no matter the size of the audience or the formality. of the occasion. Where can one go to effectively improve their public speaking and overall communication skills? Look no further than the student-run Toastmasters organization recently reestablished by Vanderbilt.
Founded in 1924, Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization with the primary objective to teach students and community members public speaking and leadership skills. Today, Toastmasters boasts of a global network of 16,200 clubs located in 145 countries and currently has over 364,000 members, according to their website. He first came to the Vanderbilt campus in 2015however, after his charter ended in the spring of 2020, junior Mackenzie Moore knew she had the drive to bring him back to campus better than ever in the fall semester.
Now president of Vanderbilt Toastmasters, Moore was first motivated to join a Toastmasters club in her hometown outside of Boston after she felt her public speaking skills were weak. As a member, Moore immediately noticed the value of the club.
“Toastmasters [in high school] helped me a lot to be more self-aware in my speaking, reflective, engage my audience and become a better overall leader,” Moore said.
Since its revitalization this year, Vanderbilt Toastmasters has approximately 20 members and meets via Zoom at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday evening. The club offers many engaging activities and offers flexible participation for its members. At weekly meetings, for example, members who want to get more involved can sign up to be the Toastmaster (meeting leader/MC), Table Topics Master (leader of an impromptu speaking exercise) or the Ah-Counter (for counting filler words throughout the meeting).
“One of the main goals of our Toastmasters club is to provide a 100% non-judgmental environment and a supportive community so people feel comfortable expressing themselves in the group and can reach their full potential,” Moore said.
Feedback and evaluation mechanisms are also an essential part of the Toastmasters club. At meetings, members always have the opportunity to constructively evaluate the speeches and contributions of their peers, which Moore highlighted as a particularly engaging and interactive experience.
Students looking for a more personalized experience within the club have the option of specializing in a particular “Pathway”. This personalized education program offers a number of specific projects to members of each path that guide them more closely towards their development goals. There are 11 different tracks for members to choose from, such as the popular “Presentation Mastery” or the more specialized “Engaging Humor” and “Persuasive Influence” tracks.
Despite the variety of experiences one can get from Toastmasters, Moore personally loves how all the members help and support each other to achieve their goals throughout their respective journeys.
“The network of Toastmasters around the world is really strong and there’s always someone ready to help out when needed,” Moore said. “We’ve had Toastmasters visit from other clubs, it’s great fun meeting people who have been with the organization a lot longer than us.”
First-year Ellie Dessart, Sergeant-at-Arms of Toastmasters, described in more detail the impact the club has had on her. Toastmasters not only helped her become confident while thinking quickly and creatively, but it was also an important part of her campus camaraderie. Her favorite aspect of the club so far has been the friendships she has made, especially as a distance learning student.
“Of all the things Toastmasters has given me, I’m so grateful for the friendships. I fully expect laughs, corny jokes and jazz hands — yes, jazz hands — at every meeting,” Dessart said. “Every member is really so supportive and makes you feel like you belong somewhere, and as a first-year distance learning student, that’s priceless.”