Toastmasters program improves speaking skills

Liz Cogger, 57, and Jim Hills, 55, both remember being shy teenagers.

Hills grins when he says he might have turned out completely different if he’d only had the courage to ask out the pretty girls in high school.

Kidding aside, Cogger and Hills say their experiences as quiet teens were part of their motivation to get involved in Toastmasters, a free program open to anyone between the ages of 12-18 that invites its participants to work on their public speaking skills over an eight-week workshop.

Members have to make at least two speeches during this period and are encouraged to take on a variety of leadership roles, such as chair, sergeant at arms, or timer for the group.

Cogger and Hills were most impressed with the commitment the participants showed.

“I was just amazed that they would come out on a Saturday,” Cogger says with a laugh.”You know, they don’t have to be here.”

But what keeps the pair motivated, they say, is feedback from participants.

Bailey Valois, 13, whose teacher encouraged her to take part in the program, says her experience in Toastmasters has had a huge effect on her already.

“I used to hate public speaking with a passion,” she says. “But it’s really helped me with my confidence.”

Credit goes to Toastmasters, she says, for helping her get into the competitive International Baccalaureate program at her high school.

Deepak Jayaram, 16, who’s involved in his high school’s student society, also says the Toastmasters program has given him a big advantage.

“I’m definitely learning a lot,” he says. “Like what procedures are correct, and how to deal with difficult situations. And how to keep [the audience] entertained.”

Cogger says “It’s just fabulous to see the evolution,” as members come out of their shells.

The instructors began volunteering in Toastmasters roughly five years ago, after taking part in a similar program at their workplace.

Toastmasters, they say, is the perfect venue for kids to get involved and explore whatever interests them.

“Some kids, if you don’t draw them out, they’ll just sit there the whole meeting,” Hills says. “They won’t volunteer for one role — for some reason, they’re intimidated by it — but then they’ll volunteer for another role.”

The next Toastmasters workshop will take place on Saturday, Feb. 23 at the Morningside Library.

Contact 416-396-8881 for more information.