White Rose Toastmasters aim to boost each others' confidence


Brian Houser grabbed the "Ahhh-scar" at Thursday's White Rose Toastmasters meeting.

That's not really a good thing: At each of the club's bimonthly meetings, the 10-inch-tall trophy, which depicts a man standing by a podium, is awarded to the speaker who uses the most filler words in his or her presentation.

The White Rose Toastmasters, York's branch of Toastmasters International, aim to create a low-stress environment to "help people become more comfortable in whatever kind of public speaking they have to do," former president Ginger Bova said.

Meetings are highly structured and conducted in a self-reflective way; each speaker, even the ones who have volunteered to evaluate speeches, faces evaluation during the meeting, as does the meeting itself.

The speeches: Toastmasters member John Brown passed out copies of his PowerPoint to members of the audience. He gave a very organized presentation based on a self-help book he'd read about finding out your motivations in life.

Brown was an animated speaker, but he lost in a competition against Karen Biddix. She made a much more brief speech, following an assignment in the group's advanced speech manual called "interpretive reading."

She presented the Whiskey Speech, which was made in 1952 by Mississippi state Rep. Noah Sweat in response to the state's continued prohibition of alcohol. Sweat's speech featured a witty account of some people's absurd fear of whiskey contrasted with a description of the beverage's pleasant features and uses.

A Toastmasters member for five years, Biddix said she joined the club after graduating from college as a nontraditional student. She said she wanted to continue her professional development.

The biggest thing she has gained from her participation in Toastmasters is flexibility, which comes from increased confidence — "It helps me to be more flexible in every area of my life," she said.

Roles: There are several roles that members fill on a rotating basis at each meeting.

Near the beginning of each session, a Table Topics Master calls on visitors and members without roles in the meeting to answer questions related to the meeting's theme in one to two minutes.

At Thursday's meeting, the theme was time.

One question was, "What is your prediction for the most important event of the year in 2055?"

Bova volunteered an answer. "We will finally find out what's in Twinkies," she said. "They are excellent at preserving our bodies."

She also brought up the possibility that someone would invent a sort of time-delayer, which a person could enter, spend time in, and then exit and end up in the same time they left.

Visitors: Of about 16 people at Thursday's meeting, a few were visitors, and one new member was welcomed in.

Donna Fiano was there for the second time and said she had yet to participate.

Fiano was there with a giant service dog, a Cane Corso named Max who lay flat on the floor next to her, making contented, gruntlike snores during Brown's speech. She said she rescued her dog from a bad situation when he was 7 months old.

"Now, he rescues me from falling," she said.

Fiano, who wore a sweatshirt that read "Horse lovers are stable people," said she was interested in joining the group so she could speak about animals and the good they can do for people.

Stacy Pagan, who recently launched a business as a life coach and motivational speaker, said she joined the Toastmasters "in order to perfect (her) craft of coaching people and motivating."

She officially joined the group on Thursday after visiting twice, she said.

Pagan said she enjoys the structured nature of the meetings and the focus on evaluation.

The White Rose Toastmasters meet from noon to 1:15 p.m. every first and third Thursday of each month in the basement of the Red Cross building, 724 S. George St., York City.

A quarterly membership fee of $55 covers lunch at every meeting as well as Toastmasters International manuals. To learn more about the club, go to www.whiterosetoastmasters.org or call Tony Crocamo, vice president of membership and education, at (717) 684-3877.

— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.