by Sharmin Shanur
In a small, discreet room located in Aldrich Hall, Toastmasters come together to do the one thing they love: speak. This club is a non-profit national organization that strives to develop members’ speaking skills and help individuals grow into courageous leaders. To an outsider, the name “Toastmasters” is quite elusive and borderline unattractive, considering that dinner toasts are often filled with ambivalence and fear of public speaking — not something that can be mastered. But Toastmasters turns the widely accepted perception of public speaking on its head and makes it a fun sport capable of improvement.
Kevin Bossenmeyer, President of Toastmasters, noted that the club provides an avenue to get to know different cultures and ideas as well as cultivate rhetorical techniques and improve leadership skills.
Austin Soedarsono, third-year computer engineering major and Toastmasters member, believes in the necessity of cultivating one’s speaking skills. He is articulate and quick to use quotes when necessary. Soedarsono joined Toastmasters because he “liked the idea of just entertaining people… Entertaining people, in general, comes with acting and speaking. When I heard about Toastmasters I thought it was an avenue of entertainment, but it became more than that for me. It became an avenue of inspiration and motivation — it became my hobby.”
Soedarsono is an international student from Indonesia, but one would never be able to tell — his adeptness at using American colloquialisms is on par with his American counterparts. As a student who joined Toastmasters during his first year at UCI, Soedarsono was able to cultivate his speaking and grammatical capabilities much more than some of his other international peers because every week, Toastmasters has impromptu speaking events that require participants to think on their feet.
Mohammad Almudhry, first-year student from Saudi Arabia who is currently majoring in mechanical engineering, also attributes his improvements in speaking to Toastmasters. He noted that before joining Toastmasters he would have “40 ‘ahs’ and ‘ums’ in a two minutes speech.” But now, he has “less than 5 ‘ahs’ and ‘ums’ in a 7 minute speech.” A huge improvement, he pointed out.
This club is not just for international students; it is also revered by Americans. Toastmasters is an international organization that was created in 1923 out of a meeting in Santa Ana and its origins are intrinsically related to California and numerous people of all ages are a part of this organization.
Christopher Durr, third-year majoring in computer science, remembers going to Toastmasters events as a kid with his dad. He often saw older people continually trying to hone their leadership skills as well as public speaking capabilities. Durr noted that despite the age gap that he had at the time, the atmosphere was “positive and welcoming.”
Overall, according to its dedicated members, Toastmasters creates an avenue for people to share ideas and enhance their speaking skills. At UCI, Toastmasters engage in impromptu speaking that eventually culminates in an international convention where Toastmasters from all over the world compete against one another in a speech contest. Participants have the autonomy to choose the topic of their speeches, but the judges create a singular criteria in which they evaluate the participants’ speech developments, effectiveness, mannerisms, voice inflections and more. These competitions essentially urge participants to be well-rounded when it comes to public speaking.
UCI’s Toastmasters are fortunate to have Bossenmayer, a long time Toastmaster as well as an affiliate of the business world, as a the leader and president of Toastmasters. Although he is not a student, but an adult supervisor, he takes an active role in helping each individual student improve develop their public speaking skills. With numerous pamphlets and evaluation forms surrounding him, it is clear that Bossenmayer takes this club very seriously. He often tells Toastmasters participants and outsiders, “Warren Buffett [a multimillion dollar business magnate] said that if you become an accomplished public speaker you can expect to earn 50 percent more during your entire career.” He hopes that his UCI Toastmasters can enter the world ready to lead and talk their way to success.