By Dan Harkins
DELTONA - Speaking of speaking: it's rare to find someone who can do it impeccably when everyone else in the room is listening.
That's probably why it was standing-room-only on Sept. 26 in the largest community space at the Deltona Regional Library at Lyonia Preserve for the inaugural meeting of the newest Toastmasters club in the area.
Nonprofit workers. Entrepreneurs. Anyone who wanted to feel OK about being a leader in the spotlight.
"This is going to be about networking with other people and improving ourselves to become better adults," said Felicia Benzo, the director of the CATALYST Florida mentoring group, who's also the group's first sergeant-at-arms. "And when we get better, the kids get better."
Getting better here is mostly geared toward becoming better at getting a point across, touching hearts and minds.
Founded in 1924 by a small klatch of Santa Ana, Calif., entrepreneurs, the group has grown to about 200,000 members in 9,300 clubs in 70 nations. Other nearby clubs are in DeLand, Daytona Beach and Sanford.
That long entrenched history has led to some unique but easy-to-adopt conventions.
The meetings start by introducing the night's theme - last week it was self-improvement - and then the members who would be monitoring a different facet of effective communications.
The grammarian at Deltona's first meeting presented the word for the day, "epitome," which speakers then tried to fit into their impromptu speeches throughout the meeting. Every time a speaker landed the word of the day, the audience knocked lightly on nearby wood to commend them.
The timer was making sure speakers stayed within the accepted range of one to two minutes for each speech, and the 'ah' counter chronicled each speaker's use of filler words meant to buy more time, like 'ah' or 'um.'
The basics of telling those speeches were delivered by a few seasoned Toastmasters during the meeting, like Mary Carol Holbart, a member in charge of marketing for the entire Toastmasters District 84, which covers all of Central and North Florida.
Her speech, The Sticking Point, showed how a story, recounted once by one of her brothers about being the problem child, made a lasting impact on her life, even though it recounted an event from before she was born.
"That is part of the power of story," she said. "Stories create memories for us, even if we weren't present."
Then Rodney Gray, president of the DeLand Toastmasters club, delivered a basic cornerstone for effective speaking, the acronym PREP, which stands for "point, reason, examples (at least two) and point again."
"If you can consistently do that," he said, "you'll find that you can stand in front of a crowd and actually deliver a coherent message."
As easy as that.
Regular meetings of the new Toastmasters club will be 6 to 7:15 p.m. every Wednesday. Though the first meeting was held in Deltona, all future meetings will be at the Horizon Bay senior living center, 500 Grand Plaza Drive, Orange City. Membership costs about $10 a month.