SAVANNAH, Ga. – In bold letters, a placemat with the verb “Immix,” meaning to mix in or mingle, is placed on every table at the Castle Toastmaster’s open house held Oct. 2.
Guests and members acted accordingly before the hour-long meeting that featured guest speaker Sonny Dixon, an Emmy-Award winning news anchor at local news station WTOC.
Dixon, a former toastmaster and dynamic orator, illuminated the symbiotic relationship between communication and leadership in a speech filled with humorous and insightful anecdotes tracing his involvement with the organization.
“Communicators lead and leaders communicate,” said Dixon. “Those are two words that have been paired together in the Toastmasters vernacular since the very beginning.”
Castle Toastmasters leads as the only corps-affiliated branch of the Toastmasters International organization in the state of Georgia, said Renee Atkins, Castle Toastmasters vice president of education.
The group provides a supportive and positive learning environment for members to develop their communication and leadership skills, according to Vicki Gatling, Castle Toastmasters president. The sessions strengthen self-confidence and professional growth, she said.
Gatling uses the placemats encouraging members to mingle as a tool to help expand her members’ vocabulary, she said.
“Our group provides a platform for all individuals to improve upon and polish their speaking ability,” she said. “Even if you think you are a strong speaker there’s always something you can improve upon.”
Scalable measures to develop communication skills are integral to the group’s approach.
All members receive a speech manual that navigates them through topics such as “Organize Your Speech,” “Get to the Point,” and “Inspire Your Audience.” The tips help improve the elements of oral communication.
Members who complete the first 10 speeches are eligible for a Competent Communicator Award. An additional 10 speeches can earn the member an Advanced Competent Communicator Award, said Gatling.
Even with incentives in place to encourage participation, Gatling said many still fear the proverbial spotlight.
“A lot of people are intimidated by the prospect of joining or speaking in front of a team of people,” said Gatling. “What they don’t understand is that we are there to help them prepare for future speaking engagements and armor them with confidence.”
While mastering oral communication is a hallmark of the Toastmasters mission, leadership prowess is a corollary of the Toastmasters experience.
There are ample opportunities for members to fill leadership roles, said Gatling.
“We have ‘ah’ and ‘um’ counters,” she said. “In these roles, the individual tracks the number of ‘ahs’ or ‘ums’ given in a speech and presents a report at the end of the meeting.”
Those working towards leadership goals can acquire a Competent Leader Award upon assuming all of the assigned leadership roles, and two rotations can earn an individual an Advanced Competent Leader Award, said Gatling.
Gatling’s involvement in the club began in 2008 as a training requirement for the Corps’ Bridge to Leadership course, she said. Her trajectory from member to president has aided her own professional development as a project manager for the reimbursable team in military programs. In her role, she is frequently tasked to conduct project review board briefings in front of senior district leaders, she said.
“I am a person who likes to do a lot of self-renewal,” said Gatling. “My experience with Toastmasters has made me a better impromptu speaker and speech preparer, because in my position, I have to be prepared to speak in front of anyone.”
In 2014, the club received the Distinguished Club Award for their accomplishments. Since its inception, the club has won numerous awards and recognition, including the President’s Distinguished Club recognition from 2005-2012.
Ultimately, Gatling and her team of officers aim to produce confident public communicators who feel comfortable preparing and delivering well-crafted speeches to audiences of all professional levels, she said.
Meetings are the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of the month from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. To receive additional information contact Vicki Gatling at 912-652-5557 or Mabel Ruth at 912-652-5800.