When Lisa Wilson found herself unemployed last year, she avoided applying for jobs where public speaking might be involved.
Then, she joined the Davidson Toastmasters Club, whose goal is to help people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience.
A few months later, Lisa landed a job with Sabic Innovative Plastics in Huntersville as their human resources specialist. She said Davidson Toastmasters was a major factor in getting that position.
"Toastmasters made a positive difference in my job search" said the 33-year-old Rhode Island native who now lives in Huntersville.
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"While I was seeking employment, I went on several interviews where the hiring manager asked about Toastmasters because it was noted on my resume. It provided a supportive atmosphere to gradually build confidence in my speaking ability and network with other professionals as well as a unique opportunity to build my leadership skills."
One of the newest clubs in the Lake Norman area, Davidson Toastmasters meets every week at the Lake Norman YMCA in Cornelius. Most Toastmasters meetings are comprised of approximately 15 to 20 people who practice and learn skills by filling a meeting role, ranging from giving a prepared or impromptu speech to serving as timer, evaluator or grammarian.
There is no instructor; instead, each speech and meeting is critiqued by fellow members in a positive manner, focusing on how the speaker was effective while detailing opportunities for improvement.
On a recent Wednesday evening, Sarah Wetenhall of Davidson was selected to give a five-minute speech advocating the need for "spreading the warmth this winter" through charitable donations. Members were asked to bring in surplus clothes and similar items the next week to help the needy. At the following meeting, a generous collection of items were donated.
Tim White of Huntersville, who is the Toastmaster's area governor, also attended the club's Nov. 30 meeting and emphasized the global need for more face-to-face communications. "Interpersonal communications are lacking in the texting/cell phone world we live in today. We need to re-emphasize the importance of public-speaking skills and that's exactly what Toastmaster's can do for its members," he said.
Davidson Toastmasters is part of an international network that began in 1924 at the YMCA in Santa Anna, Calif. Today, Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization, has nearly 250,000 members in more than 12,000 clubs in 106 countries.
Membership fees are similar for each chapter. At Davidson, they charge a one-time new member fee of $40. and monthly dues are $4.
With membership, a new member receives educational materials (Competent Leader and Competent Communicator manuals) as well as the monthly Toastmaster International Magazine, plus full participation in all aspects of each meeting.
There are also area contests, where several clubs get together to compete in different aspects of a meeting. For example, Davidson Toastmasters recently hosted a humorous speech contest and an evaluator contest.
The club is always looking for new members, and Wilson said it has made a big difference in her life. "I have been a member of Davidson Toastmasters for almost a year, and I still have a lot to learn," she said. "But I consistently attend our weekly meetings and challenge myself to participate and step out of my comfort zone.
"At the end of every meeting, I'm glad I attended because I always learn something new."