Perhaps your boss, teacher, manager, supervisor — anyone — asks you a question and you answer, “Ummm, ah, well, ummm, uh…” Has this happened to you? Probably. It happens to all of us. Of course, 10 minutes later you come up with a great answer, but then it’s 10 minutes too late.
“Why couldn’t I have said that earlier?”
The Toastmasters organization started almost 100 years ago with the sole purpose of helping people develop their speaking and communication skills. Today, there are chapters in almost 150 countries, yet the core mission is the same as it was in 1924: building the public speaking and leadership skills of its members.
Here at the University of Bridgeport (UB), my English as a Second Language (ESL) students, instructors, and I are active members in the Greater Bridgeport Toastmasters club and attend meetings every Wednesday. Our students have a chance to meet, network, and interact with local and international community leaders and other professionals and to develop their speaking, presentation, and leadership skills in a nurturing environment.
Why Toastmasters? Unlike some other civic and community organizations, Toastmasters membership is open to everyone, and local chapters are very welcoming. Also, the meetings are bottom-up and collaborative. Each member or visitor takes on a meeting role ranging from Timer, Grammarian, Um-Ah Counter, Word of the Day Leader, Table Topics Person, Toastmaster (emcee), General Evaluator, Speech Evaluator, etc. Each role plays an important part in the success of the meeting.
The highlight of every meeting is Table Topics. This is when off-the-cuff speeches are assigned on the spot by the Table Topics Leader. The goal is to think on your feet quickly with minimal preparation and speak for one to two minutes. Yes, it can be challenging, but this is when many members “open up,” and it often leads to very interesting, thought-provoking discussions. Many of our students have taken on the role of Table Topics Leader and come up with great questions and stimulated interactive and exciting discussions.
The Greater Bridgeport Toastmasters chapter is an international group, much like UB itself. We have former students who are now members in Korea and Saudi Arabia, current UB students, and a small group in Cape Verde, led by the parent of a UB student.
The two founding members of the Greater Bridgeport chapter have become mentors and friends to our students. In fact, these two have attended the last three English Language Institute program completion celebrations for our students and take pride in watching our students develop. It is wonderful that the students have role models and learn networking skills in a fun way and at a very early stage of their academic careers.
If this were a Toastmasters meeting, the timer would be holding a yellow card, a signal for me to finish before the dreaded red card appears. So, in closing, I am very pleased with the UB/Toastmasters relationship and very proud of the contributions our students make to the Bridgeport chapter.
Steven Rashba, ARM, is the Director of Modern Languages and the English Language Institute and currently teaches Advanced ELI 140 (Research Writing for ESL Students). Rashba has been affiliated with UB for 23 years and is one of the world’s approximately 3.95 billion bilingual (or more) speakers. A dedicated runner and cyclist, Rashba and his students are active members of Greater Bridgeport Toastmasters and Toastmasters International.