BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
It was an effort just to stand up and walk to the podium. Now, all eyes are watching you, and you can feel each and every pair, judging every word, every movement, every tic. Your palms begin to sweat and you can't clear that frog in your throat. But then you realize it's OK. You're among friends - all fellow members of the Buckley Toastmasters Club - and they're here to help you get over your fear of public speaking.
Toastmasters International, an organization designed to promote professional and personal development, meets bi-monthly on Buckley Air Force Base and is open to anyone with access to the installation. According to Toastmasters.org, meetings are a "learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a no-pressure atmosphere."
"Toastmasters is an organization that helps you with public speaking, as well as leadership skills," said Staff Sgt. Letitia Edwards, Air Reserve Personnel Center personnel systems manager. She joined Toastmasters a year ago because she wanted to improve her ability to communicate in public. "I need work with my public speaking -- to have someone to help me articulate proper words and terms and get a little more confident in speaking in front of people."
Recently elected club president Staff Sgt. Kyle Carpenter had no fear of speaking publically, but he wanted to improve the professionalism of his presentation.
"I wanted to figure out how (Toastmasters) would help me," said Carpenter, ARPC evaluation technician. "I've never had an issue of getting up in front of folks, but I feel like Toastmasters has helped me ... fine tune how I speak."
Edwards, too, could deliver speeches before groups of people, but she credits her adaptability and professionalism to her time with the club.
"I could speak in public prior to Toastmasters, but I needed lots of planning, would get nervous and worry about saying the right words," Edwards said. "(Today), I'm a better speaker. I have more confidence."
That training showed when Edwards was tasked to give a short-notice briefing to her entire unit.
"Just recently I had to give a speech on sexual assault," she said. "I only had two days to prepare, build a powerpoint and all those things. I was still nervous before it was my time. However, once I started speaking, I felt comfortable. I used a lot of the tips: not saying 'um' or using pausing in my speaking. I'm confident more than I was at first."
That ability to knowledgably speak with short preparation time in order to persuade an important audience can be paramount in the day-to-day operations of Airmen.
"Being in the military, being an NCO, we have to give many briefings to the commander as well as our customers," Edwards said.
"(It's important) the leadership buys off on what you're talking about and really understands what you're trying to sell them on," he said, "if you're trying to change a process or trying to help your section."
Toastmasters uses a variety of tactics to improve public presentation. For every meeting, one member is scheduled to prepare for and deliver a speech. After the speech and throughout the meeting, smaller, impromptu speeches and various speaking challenges become a fun activity for all attendees. These include members offering short, improvisational speeches to simple questions, and they must also integrate the word of day into those and other speeches. These challenges are often timed and everyone in the room participates. There is no meeting leader, though each club has officers to facilitate long-term outlook and coordinate with other Toastmaster clubs in the local area and on national and international stages.
And it's not just about public speaking.
"It helped me understand some things to better myself," Carpenter said, who detailed that the lives and experiences of fellow Toastmasters were inspirational to his own professional and personal growth. "(What I've enjoyed most) is being able to hear other people's walks of life."
That experience and the interaction with fellow members have served as a valuable form of mentorship to Edwards, also.
"Getting to know the older members in the group," Edwards said was most enjoyable to her about the program, who counts the many retired military members as her mentors.
Started in 1924, Toastmasters has grown to more than 280,000 memberships in 13,500 clubs in 116 countries. The program is available to military, government civilian and anyone else who can access base. The Buckley club meets twice a month and has active-duty and retired military members, as well as civilians and spouses. For more information, contact the club at firstname.lastname@example.org