Toasting to public speaking

University Police Department Security Officer Noah Roberson, dressed in a crisp blue shirt and tie, swished his hands through the air and spoke with an undulating voice as he attempted to convince a room of people why they should attend GW. But this wasn’t a tour of potential students – it was an impromptu speech competition.

Tucked away in a small room in the Marvin Center, the atmosphere of the GW Toastmaters’ fall competition on Thursday night was official and strangely offbeat. Students, alumni, Foggy Bottom residents and even a member of UPD went head to head as a full panel of judges critiqued both prepared and impromptu speeches.

As the winner of the competition, Roberson will move on to the next level of competition against members of other regions. If he wins the final international competition, he could be named the “World’s Best Speaker.”

“The driving force is the potential,” said Roberson, 26, adding that he hopes to one day be a motivational speaker. “Toastmasters gives the potential to become a better speaker, and it connects you to people all over the world doing the exact same thing.”

GW Toastmasters is a branch of the 84-year-old Toastmasters International Organization, which is dedicated to improving public speaking skills. As a representation of the international group, the student organization upholds its formal air. Even the smallest meetings are run by strict guidelines and all members wear business attire.

“Most things in education don’t prepare you with specific public speaking skills,” said sophomore Angela Cherepinsky, the club’s president. “Toastmasters will make you a better communicator.”

The makeup of the 20-member club is eclectic, but they all share a common goal: to be leaders in their fields. Many Toastmasters members don’t think of their participation as an attempt to conquer a fear of public speaking. Instead, they view it as training needed to conquer the outside world.

“When a person wants to take on leadership responsibilities, they eventually realize that they have to speak well,” Roberson said.

Toastmasters has a presence in government and bureaucratic organizations, including the State Department, the Department of the Interior and the World Bank. About 30 chapters exist within a one-mile radius of campus.

“So many people find that this is a great, nonthreatening place to practice their communication and leadership skills,” said Jim Dooley, a leader of all D.C.-based chapters. “And when they go out into the real world, they’re able to have those skills under their belt.”

Whether it’s ridding our generation’s tendency to use “um” and “like” or merely gaining confidence, members said GW’s student body could use a lesson in public speaking.

For Roberson, communication is power and if GW students “want to be powerful, they should take advantage of this organization.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.