It is often said most people fear public speaking more than death. In spite of this, a group of 15 students is meeting twice a month to make their mortality a higher priority.
The GW Toastmasters, founded by sophomore Ben Meiselas, is one chapter of an international organization claiming more than 200,000 members in 80 countries. The organization’s mission is to help people gain confidence in their leadership and public speaking skills.
“It was originally set up for people who were afraid to speak publicly,” said Mary Ann Guerra, a Toastmasters regional officer.
Guerra said that now Toastmasters is “for experienced speakers, as well as those who are scared to speak.”
Meiselas, the president of GW’s Toastmasters chapter, said he was inspired by a class he took with Christine Hanson, a professor of communications and organizational sciences who was president of the United States Senate Toastmasters group.
“After I went to class, I went to (Hanson’s) U.S. Senate chapter meetings, and thought it was a great program,” Meiselas said. He decided to form the GW chapter.
“We’ve been meeting since February,” he said. “We have about 14 to 15 dues-paying members now.”
The club’s meeting on Tuesday had the air of a trial run, as people began to get the flow of the Toastmasters meeting format. It began with the announcement of the word of the day, which was ideally supposed to fit into every prepared speech of the night. Ironically, the word of the day was laconic, which means “using, or marked by the use of few words.”
Three ice-breaker speeches were next on the docket. Scott Edwards, a sophomore in the Elliott School of International Affairs, talked about his experience studying abroad.
“The best way to sum up England is: ‘What a crappy country,'” Edwards said.
Freshman Laura Weinstock waxed poetic about Washington. “I love how the police sirens wake me every night at 4 a.m.,” she said.
After the three speeches had been given, each rhetorician was evaluated by another club member and Toastmasters District Governor Kristen Nicholson, who attended the meeting to help the chapter with its charter.
Nicholson chided Edwards for using the word “crappy” in his speech.
“That is never appropriate. Perhaps you could have used a British colloquialism instead,” she said.
She also responded to the evaluations of speeches. “We don’t give negatives and positives. We give feedback,” she said. “We don’t say constructive criticism, because there is no such thing in Toastmasters.”
After the prepared speeches, the club held officer elections. This meeting was originally scheduled as the last of the year, but the club does not have enough members to officially charter. Because it didn’t meet membership requirements, the Toastmasters will meet again Monday at 8:10 p.m. in a room to be determined.
When all was said and done, everyone attending had been given an opportunity to help conquer one of society’s biggest fears. “Our main goals tonight were to stand up and not pass out,” Nicholson said, “and if we learned something about each other, that’s just a bonus.”