A post to Stutt-L about the Toastmasters Organization, reprinted with permission. From: "Andrew N. Carpenter"
Subject: Re: Toastmasters I wanted to share my experiences with Toastmasters. I've been a member for about three years -- joining was one of the first things I did after attending Dr. Breitenfelt's SSMP workshop in Cheney. I'm very "open" about my stuttering (as if they wouldn't notice!), and have given probably seven or eight speeches about my stuttering and experiences as a stutterer. The support I got back from my chapter was tremendous. It was a "mutual support network" that rivaled the San Francisco NSP chapter at its best -- and I found it worthwhile to deal with my stuttering so directly with a group of non-stutterers. At least in my experience, everyone who takes the time to attend TM meetings is there because they want to get help. Despite my worries before joining, it was NEVER the case that people were out to impress and "score points" (with the poor stutterer coming in last, of course). My chapter had included stutterers in the past and had people who were agoraphobic, crippled physically, or just aware that they weren't particularly effective speakers. There were also very accomplished speakers, from whom all of us learned. We all supported each other in a totally positive and humane way. When I left the Bay Area, I missed my Toastmasters chapter perhaps even more than my NSP chapter (and I LOVED the San Francisco NSP chapter). I've become pretty involved with the organization. I was chapter President for a year (a great opportunity to do a lot of good stuttering!) and also worked as a district governor. I've loved the attending the district conferences -- it always gives me a thrill to meet new people who care about me and my quest for "good stuttering". Last year I got involved in the speech contests for "table topics" (short, impromptu speeches). Much to my amazement, I progressed to the district conference, which is the highest level for table topics. I managed to speak about my stuttering in most of the contests (except, notably, at the final one, which I didn't win...) Toastmasters offers a "leadership" as well as a "public speaking" track (the leadership folks still do speeches, but they also take on duties at the club and higher level). It was a pleasant surprise to me how much I got out of the leadership side of things -- there were a lot of leadership and general social skills that I hadn't acquired earlier in life. (Avoidance, you know....) Several other stutters in the Bay Area have been long time Toastmaster members. (Nearly a decade ago, one East Bay stutterer rose to become an international director of TM.) Others have felt intimidated and haven't' kept it up. We flirted with the idea of starting a club for stutterers. The idea is a good one, although you need 15 members to charter a club. I always recommend (stutterer or not!) shopping around for a local club that matches your personality and needs -- each club is different. I also recommend that you really approach participating with a "good" attitude towards your stuttering -- but, then again, that's good advice _always_ and isn't that easy to follow. One note: If you attend, you will NOT be pressured to meet any "quotas" for doing a certain number of speeches in a certain number of time. Although the club's educational vice president will encourage you to push yourself hard, you should feel perfectly free just to come and watch. Plenty of prospective non-stuttering members sit glued to their chairs for months before saying ANYTHING. It's been said here frequently, but is worth saying again: The fear of public speakers is a huge fear for most people, not just stutterers. Toastmaster's is a wonderful way to confront that fear and learn how to deal with it. If any of you have questions or need any encouragement to "take the plunge", feel free to Email: phlos-ad@VIOLET.BERKELEY.EDU
Andrew N. Carpenter