MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- Sweat beaded on her forehead. Her throat narrowed and head spun. She was next to speak, but words refused to come.
The anxiety that once overwhelmed Capt. Mary Hoyer during briefings and speeches is only a memory after attending her first Toastmasters Club meeting almost two years ago at Maxwell Air Force Base.
With the help and support of her fellow toastmasters, she has been able to comfortably and confidently brief colonels and generals in her capacity as chief of the high school scholarship program at Headquarters Air Force ROTC.
As the current vice president of education for the Maxwell Toastmasters Club, Hoyer continues to improve her communication and leadership skills after relinquishing her former role as the club's president last month.
"I had a terrible fear of public speaking," said Hoyer. "Up until two years ago, it was a crippling fear, and I would have all kinds of anxiety, like waking up in the middle of the night before I had to give a speech."
"Then I got stationed here at Maxwell in a high-visibility program, and I knew I'd have to be briefing colonels and even some generals, so I had to get over my fear. I discovered Toastmasters, and it has worked. Now I have confidence. I've given lots of briefings and the more I do, the more comfortable I feel," she said.
The Toastmasters clubs at Maxwell and at Gunter are individually chartered clubs under Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and honing an individual's public speaking, communication and leadership skills through hands-on workshops throughout the world.
There are no instructors present at a Toastmasters meeting, but, rather, the collective group of members and visitors contribute to the critique, constructive criticism and praise of each other's prepared speeches, evaluations and table-topic discussions or short impromptu speeches.
Established 15 years ago, the Maxwell Toastmasters Club aims to provide members with a nurturing environment where participants feel welcomed and supported in overcoming fears of public speaking, growing in spontaneous and creative conversations, organizing and taking charge of business meetings, honing listening skills and growing in self-confidence.
Members contribute to the club meeting in several different ways, including presenting prepared speeches, conducting the meeting, timing each speech, selecting of impromptu discussion topics, presenting the vocabulary word of the day and evaluating speeches.
This way, each person has an opportunity to contribute differently at each meeting and learn a myriad of different skills.
As members grow and begin to develop their own presentation styles, they will prepare different genres of speeches from initial "icebreaker" speeches about themselves, to tackling more advanced objectives such as persuasive, motivational and argumentative speeches.
The Maxwell Toastmasters Club has not only helped Hoyer overcome her fear of speaking in front of others, but it has helped Master Sgt. Ricky Higby, an instructor at the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, as well.
In his six months in Toastmasters, he has been able to channel his presentation skills as an instructor into effective interpersonal communication with his co-workers, friends, wife and children.
"I have a teaching background so the speaking piece overall wasn't a huge issue," said Higby. "Toastmasters increased the awareness of the humanity of it. The selfish part of me sees it as a show, so I get to act, but what I've learned from my time in Toastmasters is to remember I am presenting to an individual, a person.
"That has really helped me to increase my awareness with my wife or my kids or my coworkers that it's not always about the show if you can't connect with them eye-to-eye on a human level," he said.
As newly elected president of the Maxwell Toastmasters, Higby hopes to improve the presentation skills of the club through motivation, encouragement and practice in helping them to achieve their goals.
Toastmasters can help individuals in all areas of life whether they wish to present during a board meeting, speak up during class, maintain a casual conversation or develop leadership skills.
As officers and enlisted members train to take on additional leadership responsibilities through the courses offered at Maxwell, efficient communication is essential, according to retired Air Force Lt. Col Bryan Holt. Holt has been a toastmaster for 22 years, and he holds the organization's highest award, Distinguished Toastmaster.
"Toastmasters is critical here at Maxwell," said Holt. "Eighty-five percent of all officers will come through Maxwell, so it's an opportunity for those officers who will be in leadership positions now, and in the future, to brush up on their communication and leadership skills. Everybody who comes into Toastmasters has something to learn."
Learn more about the Maxwell Toastmasters at www.facebook.com/Maxwell.Toastmasters, and on twitter @MaxToastmasters, or contact Hoyer at 953-6982 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Toastmasters International at www.toastmasters.org. Maxwell Toastmasters meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month from noon-1p.m. inside the Holm Center, building 500.