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Smooth talker: Toastmasters develops speaking skills

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Lt. Col. Kevin Whaley, intelligence officer at Air Force Space Command Headquarters, fills the role of Toastmaster and leads the meeting of Peterson Toastmasters Club, Nov. 8. The club has been meeting on Peterson Air Force Base for more than 30 years, helping members become better speakers and leaders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Lt. Col. Kevin Whaley, intelligence officer at Air Force Space Command Headquarters, fills the role of Toastmaster and leads the meeting of Peterson Toastmasters Club, Nov. 8. The club has been meeting on Peterson Air Force Base for more than 30 years, helping members become better speakers and leaders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. –Peterson Toastmasters Club has been meeting on base for more than 30 years, helping members become better speakers and leaders. The club meets at the chapel each Tuesday at 11:35 a.m., but the room changes so the club banner marks the official meeting place. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. –Peterson Toastmasters Club has been meeting on base for more than 30 years, helping members become better speakers and leaders. The club meets at the chapel each Tuesday at 11:35 a.m., but the room changes so the club banner marks the official meeting place. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- About 30 years ago a group of people from the Air Force Space Command Inspector General’s office were looking to improve their speaking skills. Since they regularly gave presentations during the course of their duties, brushing up on public speaking was a good idea.

The desire to become better presenters led them to form a Toastmasters club on Peterson Air Force Base. Three decades later, Peterson Toastmasters still meets and can be found at the PAFB Chapel every Tuesday at 11:35.

The club gains its strength from the composition of its members, said Mike Pierson, Peterson Toastmasters president.

“We have a good mix of active duty, retirees, spouses and civilians,” he said. “I joined in 2010 and we have some members who have been in the club for five plus years. That’s pretty good for a military group.”

Toastmasters is a popular organization well known for helping members hone and develop public speaking and leadership abilities. There are about 300,000 members in 135 countries around the world, making it one of the foremost groups of its type.

“I’ve been a Toastmaster for a long time and it’s a proven program that makes you a better speaker,” Pierson said.

Lessons learned through utilizing the club’s structured programs can be used to improve the skills a person uses now, and can also bring about overall improvement by teaching other skills such as using body language, visual aids and inspiring an audience, Pierson said.

The public speaking aspect of the club’s programs is well established, however, it has a strong leadership development track as well. Both sets of skills are gained and cultivated through a structured program that includes learning by doing. Various types of speeches are given by members and the meetings are run by Toastmasters filling different roles.

Rosie Suerdieck, vice-president of public relations for Peterson Toastmasters, joined the group because she is naturally introverted, but started her own business and wanted to become a better communicator to benefit her effort.

“I wanted to be with a supportive group of people as I started to figure out my own professional voce,” Suerdieck said. “I am allowed to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment.”

“It’s a safe place to fail,” Pierson said. “You can try new things and if they are awful, we can tell you how get better. It’s a supportive environment where you can have structure and improve your skills.”

Pierson said he cannot recall anyone in his long involvement with the organization who made it through their first five speeches without being a noticeably better speaker.

“It’s because they get the chance to practice,” he said.

Suerdieck said the practice and following the Toastmasters’ method worked well for her. She recently earned Competent Communicator recognition for completing her first 10 speech projects.

“Toastmasters has helped me grow, not only as a speaker, but as a leader,” she said. “I even communicate better with my children at home. I find that I have better listening skills with my children. When I need to lead, I am more calm and effective in choosing my words. I understand my audience a lot better.”

In the club, speakers get the opportunity to do a variety of speeches preparing them for many common speaking situations, including structured talks and impromptu speeches. Learning to run an efficient meeting is another benefit members receive, Pierson said. It is a skill many people in the military need to use on a regular basis.

“I’m proud to say our meetings are run very efficiently,” said Pierson. “Our meetings appeal to people with structured backgrounds like in the military. We learn to stick to an agenda and run a tight meeting.”

The leadership lessons learned in Toastmasters apply not only to military duties, but also to life after service. As a retired lieutenant colonel, Pierson said he used skills learned in the club to help him handle roles he has held following his military service when leading volunteers and employees in the private sector.

Suerdieck sees the value in using Toastmasters skills after life in the military is through.

“My husband is active duty and has 16 years of service in,” she said. “We both agree that Toastmasters will help us to transition into the civilian life once he retires.”

Peterson Toastmasters meets every Tuesday at 11:35 a.m. in the Chapel. The exact room the meetings are held in varies so Pierson advises looking for the club banner. There is no dress code nor obligation to join. Meetings are open and visitors, and observers are always welcome.

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