Speech club supports region champs
In the Harry Potter series, boggarts are shape-shifting creatures that take the form of a person’s worst fear. The only defense is to turn them into something funny and laugh at it.
Far away from Hogwarts, the Park City chapter of Toastmasters has been conquering one of the biggest boggarts of all, fear of public speaking, with humorous story-telling.
Jon Henry and Mike Hodge, members of the Park City chapter, won the tall tale speech and humorous speech divisions respectively last month at a Salt Lake City contest of Toastmasters International chapters. They now move on to a statewide contest Oct. 18.
Humorous story-telling is a tradition at the autumn contests and the local chapter likes to compete to sharpen their skills.
"It forces you to go up to the next level and compete with people you don’t know and aren’t familiar with. It raises the bar, forces you to work a little harder and make this even better. That’s enjoyable," he said.
Self-improvement is the goal of Toastmasters. A non-profit association dedicated to promoting a friendly and supportive atmosphere to improve public speaking and leadership skills, Henry finds it a great place to rid himself of bad communication habits.
But Henry is no stranger to public speaking. He used to be a pastor and was a member of the Park City Storytellers Guild.
John Concannon, co-president with Lynn Ware Peek, said a little more than half of the club’s 25 members have a fear of public speaking and want to improve, and the others find it a great place to practice and polish their existing skills.
Those with a fear of public speaking are not few in number. A frequently cited statistic places public speaking as Americans’ worst fear above even death.
Toastmasters provides an atmosphere in which there is no fear of failure or looking stupid, he said.
Lynn Ware Peek said she’d been out of the professional world for a while after having kids and being a stay-at-home mom.
"I wanted to get my words back," she said. "At first I was intimidated, I thought they’d all be professional speakers not true. Three and a half years now, it’s something I’m addicted to."
Concannon came to a meeting with a friend and saw it was something he wanted to do. He said it took a while for him to dedicate the time to attending meetings, but has since found it to help him in all the ways he communicates.
Everyone is faced with public speaking, whether it’s with people familiar or strangers, he said. Even leaving a voice message requires someone to speak calmly and coherently to get their meaning across.
"We’re not all perfect, which is great. It puts a human face on people failing and making mistakes in a nice friendly atmosphere improving on their skill sets," Concannon said.
His membership has also changed how he listens to candidates this election year, he said. He can now identify effective techniques used in speeches and debates, and he works on emulating them at the meetings.
Another aspect of membership he appreciates is the creative outlet.
Everyone must write their own speech, and it provides an opportunity for self-expression and outside-the-box thinking that isn’t always present in workplaces, he said.
Henry used a character, Sven from Norway, to tell his award-winning "tall tale." Living in Tollgate Canyon and experiencing a lot of strange things in a neighborhood so high up, underdeveloped and snow-laden, he used some truth and a lot of exaggeration to create his speech, he said.
The club is holding an open-house on Tuesday, Oct. 14, at the Sheldon D. Richins Building in Kimball Junction at the normal meeting time of 7 a.m. to 8.
P.C. Toastmasters Open House:
Tuesday, Oct. 14
Sheldon D. Richins Building in Kimball Junction
7 a.m. to 8.
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