When Gary Miller joined the Puyallup Valley Voices Toastmasters four years ago, his goal was to improve his speaking in front of a group of people.
“When I’m in a small group of friends, I’m just fine,” he said.
It was larger audiences that made him freeze up. He thought Toastmasters could help.
Toastmasters, a worldwide organization dedicated to improving public speaking and leadership skills, has more than 15,000 clubs internationally. One of those clubs, Puyallup Valley Voices, has 19 members and meets Thursdays at noon.
Miller was one of the members recognized at the club’s monthly open house on Jan. 19 for his progress in public speaking. He was given the Advanced Communicator Bronze Award. As president of Crown Creative Marketing in Lakewood, Miller said Toastmasters helps him in networking and speaking in presentations.
“Now I come up and I’m much more fluent than I used to be,” he said. “If you keep doing it, you get better. That’s what the program does.”
Now I come up and I’m much more fluent than I used to be. If you keep doing it, you get better. That’s what the program does.
Two-year member David Croxford was also recognized at the open house and was first introduced to Toastmasters through work. While he was already a good speaker, Croxford was drawn to listening to others speak.
“It’s having the opportunity to just listen to people,” he said, adding that being a leader is about more than just speaking to others — it’s about listening to them, too.
A chiropractor at Health First Chiropractic in Puyallup, Croxford gives speeches to crowds ranging from 20 to 200. He’s also the vice president of education for the Puyallup Valley Voices.
It’s common for people to join Toastmasters for different reasons, said Sherrie Kenyon, who has been with the club since its creation five years ago.
Kenyon was honored at the open house with a Distinguished Toastmasters plaque, the highest award the organization bestows.
“I have completed probably at least 40 speeches,” Kenyon said. “Speeches can be on anything — on leadership, teamwork, branding…”
Jane Griffith, one of the club’s newer members, joined six months ago to improve her speaking skills. She works for Tarragon Property Services in Sumner.
“I knew I wanted to feel more comfortable ... and speak without having notes,” she said. “I feel like I’m getting better. It’s gradual. The great thing is you can’t make mistakes here.”
I knew I wanted to feel more comfortable ... and speak without having notes. I feel like I’m getting better. It’s gradual. The great thing is you can’t make mistakes here.
Griffith’s son is a member of a Tacoma Toastmasters club, and joined so that he can speak about topics he’s passionate about — with a captive audience on the other end.
At the club’s open houses, two members give prepared speeches within a time limit, while two “evaluators” prepare feedback. A “timer” lets the speaker know how much time they have left, and a grammarian provides critiques on the speaker’s choice of words and grammar. A “Table Topics” activity challenges members to be creative in impromptu speeches.
Puyallup resident Elisa Hays joined the club after a car accident left her in a wheelchair.
“I became terrified that I would lose the ability to perform in front of an audience,” Hays said. “I thought the best thing I can do is speak in front of people.”
Now, Hays is a keynote speaker and shares her story and message about what it means to be a leader across the country.
The members at Puyallup Valley Voices range in ages, backgrounds and the speeches they tell.
“The diversity is vast that I’ve noticed in every group I’ve been to,” Griffith said.
For more information, visit toastmasters.org.
Puyallup Valley Voices
When: Noon Thursdays.
Where: Riverside Apartments, 33107 E. Main, Puyallup.