Shakes. Sweats. Stutters, “ums” and “likes” — for many, this is what happens when they give a speech in front of a large audience.

But there’s a club on campus that equips its members with the skills and tips to soothe the shakes, dry the sweats, smooth out the stutters and remove the filler words.

The Ross School of Business Toastmasters, a local chapter of Toastmasters International, is a non-profit organization focused on the art of public speaking. Pharmacy student Rachel Rarus said the group is not only committed to advancing its members’ rhetoric abilities, but it also helps them as people to further develop their leadership skills.

“A lot of people who come up to the room are very nervous and very scared, but what we provide them is very positive, encouraging feedback,” she said. “We’re not a hostile environment.”

Members of Toastmasters stress how important speech-giving is in contemporary society. It’s a useful art for debate clubs, leadership positions and jobs that require presentations.

A cinematic example of the importance of speechmaking can be found in this year’s Oscar winner “The King’s Speech.” In the film, King George VI of England overcomes a speech impediment to raise the morale of a country on the brink of World War II.

But Daphne Wey, Business graduate student and Toastmasters president, said though the group does provide a sheltered positive environment for its members to feel comfortable in terms of experimenting, it’s not meant to be therapy the way the “The King’s Speech” is.

“We’re less proactive in pushing members and setting a pace for them on how quickly (they advance),” she said. “We’re always there for the members, but in terms of when they want to give a speech, it’s completely up to the member themselves. So in that sense, we are more passive.”

Each speech, generally between five and eight minutes long, is subject to a series of constructive criticisms to help the members improve. Though the topics are open-ended, each one has a different focus or theme for improvement.

“I’ve been in Toastmasters for over eight years now,” said Business graduate student and Toastmasters vice president of education Luis Aguilar. “The very first time I stood up to speak, I was sweating. I was shaking, my voice was shaky and you could hear my nervousness. I could feel that as time progressed, those things would start to go. I’d first stop sweating, then I’d stop trembling and at some point, my voice leveled.”

The group’s meetings are structured with short introductory talks given by the president and other key members of the group. A rotating toastmaster introduces the day’s speakers. Other members include the timer, who warns the speaker when his or her time is running out, and the grammarian, who not only watches for good use of language but also the use of filler words such as “like” and “um.”

The toastmaster will then invite the prepared speakers to the front. After the speeches are made, then the “table topics” start.

Rarus said these table topics are the “heart and soul” of the group and allow all the members to get involved. A question or picture is posted, and members are invited to come to the front of the room and speak spontaneously about it for one to two minutes.

After this portion is over, the meeting moves on to the evaluation portion, during which the prepared speakers are praised on their successes and given tips to improve their speech delivery for the next time.

Wey said the evaluation portion is not only helpful for those three speakers, but also for all those in the audience. It’s an opportunity to see what techniques worked better than others and which ones to start incorporating in their own speech-giving.

Many suggestions focus on improvement of tonality, which, much like singing, is fundamental for speech-giving. Aguilar said the way he improved this is by imagining he’s trying to speak specifically to the last person in the audience or even to the back wall.

Another common suggestion is improved eye contact. For this, members are told to look at each person, holding eye contact for three full seconds before moving on to the next until the speech is over.

Yet another common critique involves body language, vocabulary and removal of filler words. The best way to improve this, among other skills, is practice.

Finally, remembering a speech can sometimes be difficult, so in order to facilitate memorization, members are encouraged to use acronyms to remember the topics and to use the stage as a visual aid.

“It’s nice to stay firmly planted. It shows that you’re a strong speaker,” Rarus said. “We also encourage (the members) to use the space.”

Rarus herself uses what she calls a “visual timeline,” where she will move from space to space on the stage as she transitions from speech introduction, main arguments and conclusion.

Many of the Toastmasters members started off terrified of speaking in front of an audience, but soon progressed to being able to sign up for a speech on the spot and give it without worries, like Wey.

“When I first started (giving speeches), I would be thinking about everything,” Wey said. “What am I supposed to say next? Am I looking at everyone in the audience? But now, I just focus on the audience’s reactions and having fun with it.”

Members are given the freedom to choose their speech topics and are generally encouraged to speak on something they are passionate about. Members tend to migrate toward personal stories or commentaries about life.

“In Toastmasters we’re very fortunate because people feel that in this environment they can really open up,” Rarus said. “(The speeches) are very personal and reveal some very deep secrets and things that are very close to them or people they love.”

Despite the group’s affiliation with Ross, participation is open to all. Aguilar said they’ve had members ranging from students to doctors to University affiliates.

He added that members are generally divided in to two groups: those who stick around for a while, learn some skills and leave, and those whose lives are changed by both the skills they acquire and the group itself. Aguilar said he’s one of the latter.

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