Niles Township Toastmasters builds speaking skills, self-confidence
Andrew Segal gives the word of the day during the Niles Township Toastmasters Club on June 13. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:05AM
Unlike many people who join Toastmasters International, Sang-Jin Lee didn’t really join the Niles Township club because he wanted to advance in his career.
Instead the retired pharmacist wanted to improve his communications skills in ways he thought would improve his life.
“I have more confidence in life. It’s given me a higher level of self-confidence,” Lee said.
The Morton Grove resident now serves as president of the Niles Township Toastmasters Club, which meets at the Morton Grove Public Library.
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. Founded in 1924 the organization currently has more than 270,000 members in 13,000 clubs in 116 countries.
According to the organization’s website the group helps a “quarter-million people of every ethnicity, education and profession build their competence in communication so they can gain the confidence to lead others.”
That ethnic mix is evident in the Niles Township Club, which reflects the diversity of communities such as Morton Grove and Skokie.
“Morton Grove is a very diverse community with people from many different backgrounds,” said Daniel Fang, who joined the club in November. “The club is like that, too.”
“It’s like a small United Nations,” Lee said.
At the club’s biweekly meetings members take turns handling different activities such as providing a word of the day. One member also serves as Jokemaster, standing up front and presenting a few jokes to the group.
A part of the meeting called Table Topics has members give brief, impromptu dissertations on topics provided by another member. The idea is to learn to think on your feet.
A key portion of the meeting gives three members a chance to give a speech to the club, either one from Toastmasters manual or one they have written themselves. Following that, other members act as evaluators, critiquing the presentation and helping the speakers improve their efforts.
Lee said that over the course of their participation on the club most members give between 20 and 30 speeches.
Lee, a member since September 2008, said the skills he has learned help him as a fitness buff and proponent of alternative medicine, something he tries to share with other people.
“I give presentations on medicine and food as medicine,” Lee said. “Being a toastmaster helps me in fostering my ideas on health and longevity.”
On another level, though, the Korean-American said his membership in Toastmasters has made him more outgoing.
“Now when I share an elevator with somebody, I start talking to them. It goes beyond the pleasantries,” he said.
Lee said the club has about two-dozen members.
But more than 100 people showed up earlier this month when the club hosted a special presentation by 2001 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix. His presentation was aimed at teaching the audience how to improve their public speaking.
Lee said interest in Toastmasters has been on the increase, a side effect of the poor economy and higher unemployment.
“People are more interested in self-improvement,” he said.
Fang joined with his job and future career in mind. Though he does not give speeches in his role as a quantitative analyst at a trading company, he needs to communicate with traders and other departments in the company.
On top of that, he said, as a Chinese-American, English is his second language and the club has helped him improve his language skills.
“Communicating with other people is part of my job,” he said. “I deal with numbers, a lot of theory. I need to translate it into plain English.”
His experience with Toastmasters also helps him deal effectively with the stressful atmosphere at work.
“The trading floor is highly stressful. Everybody needs to work without friction,” Fang said.
In the short time he has been with the club Fang has already given four speeches. But he said he is looking ahead to his future and a higher position in the company.
“Making speeches will be my future goal,” he said. “You need that to take your career to a certain level. I will be able to speak to people.”
In addition, Fang said, the whole process of preparing for a speech has helped him become better-organized.
“It’s a real good way to enhance your communication skills, your organizational skills,” he said. “I really enjoy being here.”
The Niles Township Toastmasters Club meets at 7:15 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at the Morton Grove Public Library, 6140 Lincoln Ave.