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Jon Henry, flanked by Lynn Ware Peek, left, and Missy Hilton, right, founded the Park City Toastmasters Club to meet people after he moved to Park City. The club is affiliated with Toastmasters International, which teaches speaking and leadership skills. (Photo courtesy of Jon Henry)
Most people know what its like to be rendered speechless.

It can happen when they're asked an unexpected question. Other times people may be taken aback by an unexpected answer.

Some find it hard to talk when they are asked to give a public presentation, and there are those who think of a witty comeback long after a whimsical moment has passed.

These are some of the reasons people join a Toastmasters club.

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit organization that has taught public speaking and leadership skills since its inception in 1924.

Although its headquarters is located in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., Toastmasters oversees more than 13,500 clubs in 116 countries, according to its website (www.toastmasters.org ).

One of those is the Park City Toastmasters Club that meets every Tuesday morning at the Summit County Library Kimball Junction Branch from 7 a.m. until 8 a.m.

Jon Henry, founded the Park City club back in 2000, as a way to socialize.

"I moved to Park City in 1998, and at the time I was looking to get better connected with the community," Henry told The Park Record. "At the time, I didn't know squat about Toastmasters, but a friend of mine suggested that I start a local club up."

Henry was a pastor and had done some public speaking but felt he could try to improve that skill.

"So I did some more research and felt it would be a great way to meet people," he said.

There are three main components to a Toastmasters meeting — prepared speeches, "Table Topics" and evaluation.

"When you join the club, you get manuals that takes people through specific objectives and skills they can build upon for giving prepared public speeches," Henry explained. "Each week three people give a five- to seven-minute speech that they have worked on."

"Table Topics" is a Toastmasters exercise where people respond to a spontaneous question.

"Someone comes to the meeting with prepared questions and if your number is called out, you have to talk from one to two minutes about the topic they throw at you," Henry said. "You do this even if you don't have in-depth knowledge about the topic. This builds the thinking-on-your-feet skills on a weekly basis."

The last phase is evaluation.

"Evaluations happen throughout the meeting, but our speech evaluators get time to prepare their reports after hearing the prepared speeches," Henry said. "Each speaker has an evaluator assigned to them who will examine the objectives of the speech."

That doesn't mean the evaluator will judge on whether or not he or she likes the topic of the speech.

"They will judge if the presentation had interesting content, and whether or not the speaker effectively used visual aids and things like that," Henry said. "We also have evaluators that count how many times the speaker used filler words, such as 'um' and 'ah.'"

There are people who get nervous when they learn they'll be evaluated, but Henry said they shouldn't.

"The beauty of the Toastmasters Club is that it is held in a mutually supportive environment," he said. "We're not there to rip the speakers to shreds. We want to affirm what they did right, and give some constructive feedback in a kind and gentle manner."

Also, the evaluators are members of the club, and they don't have to be long-term members.

"Usually, the ones who do the speech evaluations are those who have been with us for some time, but we don't limit those positions," Henry said. "In Park City, we like to encourage anyone who wants to do it to jump in and get their feet wet to do some evaluating."

In addition to these exercises and sessions, Toastmasters also holds annual contests.

The one coming up on Tuesday, Feb. 19, is the International Speech Contest.

"This is a big one for us," Henry said. "Contestants have to be able to effectively relay a meaningful and personal story that inspires others in five to seven minutes. If you win the club contest, then you advance to the area competition and if you win that, you go on to the division and district, and semi finals and finals.

"The people who win overall often walk into a distinguished public speaking career," he said.

The other contest is the Tall Tales contest that happened just a couple of weeks ago.

"A tall tale is a very short speech ranging between three to five minutes when the speaker has to effectively tell a great lie," Henry chuckled. "A great tall tale takes something that is true and adds enough exaggeration and rhetoric to it that still could be feasible, but not."

Throughout the last 13 years, Henry has been pleasantly surprised at what he has learned through Toastmasters.

"I thought it would just be an educational club when I set it up, but I soon discovered, in our specific club environment, that we connect on a deeper level than other clubs I've been a part of," he said. "I have been a member of Rotary clubs and other volunteer organizations, and people have generally been a little guarded.

"But in Toastmasters, just by nature of what we do each week in the club, we end up sharing things that go much deeper than even when I was a pastor," Henry said. "People really open up. They don't have to, but they choose to, because the opportunity is there."

That is especially evident in the "Table Topics" exercises.

"People give heartfelt responses because we have become a very tight-knit group, like a second family," Henry said.

Membership to the Park City Toastmasters Club is $10 a month.

"There is no need to apply," Henry said. "People can just show up to one of our meetings. We have had people who come and watch for several weeks before deciding to join."

To date, the club has almost 50 members, which is quite large, he said.

"Most clubs need 20 members to stay healthy, but we have doubled that," Henry said. "Not all show up all the time, so we usually have 20 to 30 show up each week."

In addition to honing speaking skills and developing lasting friendships, the other benefits of being part of Toastmasters are the opportunities to make connections and do more public speaking.

"I've worked with nonprofit organizations and worked with some of our schools and businesses because of Toastmasters," Henry said. "In this day of social media and texting, person-to-person communication the ability to communicate effectively person-to-person is a vital skill."

For more information, visit www.parkcitytoastmasters.org.