Walking into a meeting of the Quesnel Toastmasters Club feels like walking into a gathering of close friends.
The group, which gathers every Wednesday evening at the College of New Caledonia, is warm and friendly, and even as the meeting follows a strict schedule, nothing feels rushed or regimented.
Instead, the evening flows more like a conversation – one with a timer, evaluators, and even someone to quiz the group on how well they listened at the end of the night, but a conversation, nonetheless.
Julie Gonzalez has been a part of Toastmasters for the past 10 years. She says she joined during something of a transitional point in her life: “My kids were leaving home, and I had the time to do something for me. And this is what I chose to do, to help myself with personal and professional development.”
Participating in the club has helped her in her job “immensely.” She stayed in the club over the years because she loves to learn, but mostly, she says: “I love the people that I meet.”
In particular, she likes to see new club members join, give their icebreaker speech (the first speech you give in the program, which introduces you to the rest of the club), and watch their confidence grow as they continue to practice speaking and give speeches throughout the program. “That’s a nice thing with Toastmasters: you just see peoples’ confidence begin to increase as they become more effective speakers, and as they become more effective speakers they become more confident personally, and it just kind of grows from there.”
Another club member, Kimberly Delawski-Solecki, echoes Gonzalez. She’s going into her second year with the club, which she joined to improve her speaking skills, as she has to facilitate meetings and give presentations through her work. She says the club has helped to gain confidence, but, like Gonzalez, she keeps coming for the people, and because it’s fun.
“I’m all about personal development,” says Delawski-Solecki. “And this definitely helps … I’m big on leadership, and this allows me to hone those leadership skills and get better at talking to people.”
The evening begins with a theme. Wednesday’s, for example, was Cariboo winters, which each club member then takes turns speaking about. When club members speak, there are notably few ‘ums’ ‘ahs’ or ‘sos,’ something they also work to keep track of throughout the evening.
The club president and members then introduce what it means to be word master (you introduce a word for the group to use while speaking throughout the night, and track how often it is used), ah & pause counter (who keeps track of how many times a speaker says ‘um’ or ‘ah,’ or other filler words), quiz master (who quizzes the group to test their listening skills) and the timer (who helps people to keep track of their timing while speaking).
Then, the evening shifts to table topics. Table topics are used as a way for people to get used to improvised speaking; for example, answering a boss who asks you a question you weren’t expecting. The table topics master can do just about anything with this – they can bring in photos, for example, for club members to randomly draw on, and then speak about for two minutes. This could also be done by having people discuss an interesting news article for two minutes, or to speak on a specific theme or question.
From table topics, the group moves into speeches. On a good night, there are two of them, split by a 10-minute break.
Following the speeches, pre-chosen evaluators give constructive criticism to those who participated in both the table topics and the speeches, then the word master, ah & pause master, quiz master and timer give their reports (and quizzes).
The night ends with final remarks from the group.
The Toastmasters meet every Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at CNC. Turn left through the main doors and follow the signs. Anyone interested in joining the club is welcome to drop by for a few meetings to get a feel for how the club works before they commit to joining.