MLK Toastmasters helps build confidence, leadership skills

The Dallas Examiner

“Leadership is something that everyone can aspire to learn, and train to be. Public speaking is something that a lot of people are afraid of, believe it or not. There is a study that is about how people would rather die on a plane than speak in front of a crowd of a bunch of people,” Nathan Rogers laughed.

When the first unofficial Toastmasters meeting was headed by Ralph Smedley in 1905, the aim of the group was to assist the men in his community of Bloomington, Illinois, in learning how to speak well in public, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees, according to Toastmasters International.

In late October, the communication and leadership organization christened its newest chapter, the MLK Dallas Toastmasters Club, located in Fair Park.

Rogers, Area 55 director in the Southern Division of District 50 Toastmasters, affirmed that those basic foundations of the clubs are still in place on a now-global scale, but with the concept of fostering wider diversity as well.

He underscored that being well spoken when engaging members of the public can generate encouraging change.

“Think about if you’re in a job interview; you’re going to get a set of questions to supply answers to, such as your background, education, previous skill set, but that dialogue – that process, that exchange – you’d be ahead with folks like Toastmasters,” he explained. “If you’re looking to do anything progressive to improve yourself day after day, public speaking would be a great tool to have. Anytime you can articulate yourself confidently and professionally you’ll always look more positive than the alternative.”

He also gave as examples running for office or promoting a business.

The district’s support of diversity has included keeping an eye on geography, according to Rogers.

“Our goal this year was to try to make more clubs pop up in the Southern Sector, which is particularly why we chose the MLK area as a new location,” he said, noting that since the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center was already focused on “adult progression” as part of its mission, it would serve as the ideal location for the latest club.

The MLK Dallas Toastmatsers Club meetings are held at the center, located at 2922 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., on the first and third Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m. Membership is opened to men and women 18 years old and above. Fees include a one-time new membership payment and a prorated international fee to cover expenses every six months, which goes directly to Toastmasters International.

“We have an inclusive environment, it’s all constructive criticism, it’s really a fun place to be,” Rogers said, adding that members serve the club in a variety of ways. “The first thing, as a member, is our service is to you. As existing officers, as existing leaders, we want to make sure you’re getting your bang for the buck, and also personal and professional growth.”

Rogers said that this would not only consist of personal mentorship but also emphasized that every member would receive the club’s communication manual, in order to structure speeches, and their leadership manual, which will guide a Toastmaster through the role of leader.

“I’m just excited to be in that area; I’m excited to be a part of the growth – whoever participates, I just think it’s going to be opportunity for growth, and they’ll see it,” said Jacque Lacy, a District 50 member.

Lacy mentioned that she first looked into the club out of curiosity.

“A lot of my friends we’re joining and talking about it. It seemed like work at first,” she admitted. “Like I really had to do something.”

However, her perspective of the group changed quickly.

“When I went and I saw the fun that they were having, and some of the people that I knew – that weren’t particularly great speakers – were able to stand up comfortably and speak to the crowd and just feel good about what they were doing, I knew that there was some growth in that place,” she said as she confirmed that her club membership has created a pronounced, positive difference in who she is today. “It’s like night and day in terms of my level of comfort, because even though I did speak to people and had to stand up and do things from time to time, my level of comfort, and just confidence, has grown tremendously.”

Lacy also gave some thought as to why a young graduate or seasoned professional might consider joining Toastmasters.

“I would tell them it’s not work. It’s fun, and it’s growth. It’s potential. It’s opportunity. It’s experience. I love what I’ve accomplished and what I’ve learned,” she said. “They celebrate every level; they do a really good job at making you feel you are accomplishing something. So it’s a lot of personal growth that’s involved. So many times we don’t do what’s necessary to grow individually.”

She explained that people usually focus their concentration on business and family. The club helps shift that focus to benefit both the individual and other areas that are of importance to that individual, she countered.

“I’ll tell you, I worked for a long time at a ministry in the West Dallas community, really providing opportunities for the underserved families and children, and I was so excited that we were doing something like this in the South Dallas area because I feel akin to the families there, and I just feel like their experiences are my experiences,” Lacy said.

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