By Joshua Phelps
The Scene staff
Looking to improve your public-speaking skills? Forest Park faculty and staff are trying to start a Toastmasters Club on campus.
It would be affiliated with Toastmasters International, a 93-year-old organization with 16,400 clubs in 141 countries.
“We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth,” according to its website.
Three faculty members and one representative of St. Louis Toastmasters District 8 showed up at the first meeting on Sept. 22, although seven people have signed up.
Eventually, they hope to add students. Twenty members are needed to officially charter with the national organization.
“Toastmasters (would allow students) to continue building that skillset outside of the college itself,” said Kat Mokriakow, District 8 director. “They can build upon it and grow.”
Toastmasters membership dues are $90 a year ($45 every six months) after people pay a $20 joining fee that covers the cost of the organization’s manual.
“If you’re going to a seminar, you’re paying thousands of dollars,” Mokriakow said. “This is just $90 a year. It’s very low-cost. The biggest benefit is you’re actually practicing (public speaking).”
At the first Forest Park meeting, members shared their personal stories, gave mini speeches and reviewed Toastmasters goals and values.
At future meetings, activities will include structured speeches lasting five to seven minutes and Table Topics, which are impromptu Q&A sessions that give members two minutes to answer questions on various topics without advance preparation.
Then they get feedback.
“It comes in handy for job interviews, thinking on your feet,” said June Jeffries, a Toastmasters mentor and Division B director who attended the meeting. “It goes for any speaking. That definitely could help students.”
The president of the Forest Park Toastmasters Club is Michelle Parrinello-Cason, assistant professor of English and coordinator of the Center for Teaching and Learning.
She couldn’t attend the first meeting, but in a telephone interview, she said scholarships may someday be available for students who want to join.
“But we really need to get an established membership going so that we can have stable meeting times in order to really advertise to students and invite them more regularly,” she said.
Campus Life Director Donivan Foster said he doesn’t think membership dues would keep students from joining the Toastmasters Club. Other clubs and organizations on campus charge fees.
“Dues are a way to take care of maintenance or licensing fees that may need to be paid, (like a) fundraiser,” he said. “There may be a fee assessed, but it goes to the function of the organization.”
Toastmasters International was founded in 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley, who was director of education at the YMCA in Bloomington, Illinois. He saw a need for men in the community to learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees. The organization admitted its first female member in 1970.
The next meeting of the Forest Park Toastmasters Club is set for 3 p.m. Oct. 20 in Student Center Room 25. Students are welcome.
“Our goal is to continue to hold meetings, spread the word and get as much membership as we can,” said Parrinello-Cason.