A toast to public speaking

The Toastmasters of Fort St. John want to hear your stories.

The local branch of Toastmasters International, called Achievers Toastmasters, host learn-by-doing workshops where members hone public speaking and leaderships skills by giving speeches on any given topic to be evaluated by the group.

The Achievers had February designated Toastmasters Month at City Council a few weeks ago. Now they are holding some events to encourage new membership.

"We all have a story and we need to learn to tell it, because it can always help another," said Deb Bartok, the spokesperson for the group.

"Many (members) are businessmen, they want to be able to carry themselves comfortably in front of their employees and train them," she said. "Others just want to be able to have the confidence to communicate in a group setting."

The Fort St. John Toastmasters club has its competitions in March, then area competitions in April and regionals in March. Competitors are scored points for the quality of their speeches, gestures and vocal skill.

Members are provided with guides to various speech projects and can choose from the "leadership track" or "communication track." The end result after around four or five years of self-guided progress is the certification "Distinguished Toastmaster," widely recognized on employment resumes.

"It's like a college course, it's pretty cool," Bartok said.

Bartok said after having five children following a career in Vancouver as a singer-songwriter, she wanted to return to communicating and storytelling. Toastmasters is a great way to build those skills, she said.

"I can handle myself really well while singing and I would rather get up and sing my message to a group, but I want to be comfortable speaking," she said.

"I'm getting more and more comfortable. They really emphasize using your hands and your body as an extension of what's in your heart and your mind so that it just flows with the words. There's the body language, the vocal highs and lows to keep people's interest.

"There's so much that even if you aren't planning to do anything professional, just to be confident in a group to speak your story, speak what you have to say. And not be afraid to."

Toastmasters are screening the documentary "Speak" in room 150 at Northern Lights College on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m. The film follows six Toastmasters on a journey to the world championships in Calgary. The Fort St. John Toastmasters will also host an open house on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in their usual meeting place, room 105, with refreshments, practice speaking topics and a speaker to educate attendees about the club. Anyone can attend both events for free.

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