Club helps speakers build confidence
By Zack Peterson
The timer light just turned bright green. Micah Richeson has been talking for a minute now about the number five.
Yes, anything and everything related to the number five is open to Micah’s oral assessment.
Another 30 seconds later, the timer light flashes yellow, signifying to the audience that Micah has 30 minutes left to finish his speech.
Micah exhales with relief, wraps up his final sentiments and flashes a brief smile of accomplishment before receiving a round of applause.
His speech ranges everywhere from the number of years he lived in Gainesville (five), to the number of organs the body has (five) and finally to the number of toes and fingers human beings possess on each hand and foot (also five).
Though seemingly arbitrary, here at the Wesley Chapel Speaks Toastmasters Club, Micah has been encouraged to take a leap of faith, take the stand and speak about whatever topic he draws for one to two minutes during what’s known as the Table Topic portion of the meeting.
Here at the Wesley Chapel Speaks Toastmasters Club, it’s not about proficiency at first; it’s about building confidence.
Although the club has a specific schedule they keep to for each meeting, during the Table Topic portion, members draw from a basket of potential speech topics, dwell upon the topic for a couple seconds and then approach their fellow members with a spontaneous speech about what they selected.
Though not officially members yet, Micah and his wife, Mitze (who had to talk about the number 13), wanted to experience what the club had to offer. The couple moved to the New Tampa/Wesley Chapel area about two years ago when they heard about the club.
“We wanted to get a feel for what this was like,” Micah said. “I do some speaking on the side and she’s (Mitze) been interested in her speaking skills. Being new to this community still, we hope it’ll be a good way to connect with more people.”
And connection is what the club strives to teach, particularly when it comes to connecting individuals with speaking skills they never knew they had.
“I was once terrified of speaking,” said David West, president of the Wesley Chapel Speaks Toastmasters Club. “My legs would shake and everything.”
West originally became interested with public speaking at the age of 15 when he delivered his first sermon. By the time he was 19, he began preaching full time and has moved throughout Dade City, Trilby and now, preaches at The Church of Wesley Chapel.
“I like starting things,” said West, and that’s why, a little over a year and a half ago, West helped found the club with intention of getting his fellow community members more comfortable with public speaking.
The Wesley Chapel Speaks Toastmasters Club meets on the first and third Monday evenings at the Hyundai of Wesley Chapel (27000 Wesley Chapel Boulevard), and then on the second and fourth Monday mornings at the St. Petersburg Times’ Wesley Chapel office on 26240 Golden Maple Loop.
“We want to get you comfortable with speaking,” West said. “And I think a key part to that is thinking, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about the message I’ve got to give.’”
That’s why West starts out newcomers to the club with their first public speech known as the “Ice-breakers,” which has members delivering a speech about themselves.
“When you’re asked to speak, you’re asked to speak because you’re an expert on the topic,” West said. “No one’s more of an expert on you than you are.”
Currently, between the two meeting sessions, the club has about 15 members, but West is confident that by September the club will be home to 35-40 members.
According to West, when the club first launched, “it did in six months what most clubs couldn’t do in a year.”
“We received all kinds of awards, distinctions and had great numbers,” West said. However, the next year, West stepped down from his position as president.
Though the club “dwindled” the following year, West took the initiative to reassume his former position and build the club back up to its former numbers.
Presently, West has spoken to 40-50 people who are interested in becoming members.
“I think it’s mostly the economy that keeps the Toastmasters numbers low,” West said. “People don’t have as much time for personal development; they’re just trying to get by.
“But this could be just the thing you need. If you want a good job, communication skills are critical. Now’s a great time to join; there’s always room for you.”
Members are required to pay a fee of $50 twice a year, but all of the proceeds go back to whatever supplies the club may need.
“Anything we put in all goes back to the members,” West explained.
But according to West, the greatest experience he takes out of working with Toastmasters is seeing the individual change.
“In six months, you won’t even recognize yourself,” West said. “There’ll be that much visible improvement.”