Military members master public speaking as group

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- "Some people just have the gift and ability to speak," said Senior Airman Bryce Bellmore, an Air University knowledge operations manager. "I don't have that, but I'm learning."

To improve his ability to speak to the masses, Bellmore, along with other service members, attend Maxwell Air Force Base's bi-monthly Toastmasters club meetings.

After attending to support a co-worker six weeks ago, he found value in what the club was teaching and has attended ever since.

"I saw that it was a really fun environment where you get to meet new people and learn how to be more comfortable speaking, so I kept going" he said.

Master Sgt. Lorelaine Hale, Toastmasters secretary and treasurer, said the group's mission is to improve communication and leadership abilities in an organized manner and low-threath environment.

"We try to maintain etiquette," she said. "We all come to these meetings as equals, so we don't use rank, but rather use the title "Toastmaster" for everyone."

Each Toastmaster plays a role in the meetings, whether they speak or not. The roles are also interchangeable, giving people a chance to practice various skills. These duties also help the speakers as it keeps the audience attentively listening.

She added that the organization of each meeting also helps keep people on task. Each meeting has the same structure in which introductions are made, topics of the day are presented, speeches are presented and evaluated and Toastmasters are presented awards.

Speakers also get to choose their own topics, but for each speech they must meet certain objectives.

In the most recent meeting held Dec. 18, Navy Capt. Randy Blackmon, an Air War College instructor, had to incorporate body language into his speech.

He spoke about, and showed how to perform the perfect punch.

"You did this task very well," said Cynthia Holt, Toastmaster evaluator. "You commanded your audience and used your body language to enhance your speech."

She added that he did need to show more action in the beginning of his speech to match the tone of what followed.

"The evaluators are fair and to the point. They really help you improve through constructive criticism," said Blackmon.

Blackmon has attended Toastmasters for five months and said he has learned a lot not only from the evaluators, but from his fellow speakers.

"For me it's the networking," he said. "This is a great environment where you can learn from not only the process, but the people. You learn how everyone else performs their speeches and how they present themselves."

Blackmon is retiring from the Navy and credits Toastmasters to being more comfortable with answering impromptu questions that may come up in job interviews.

"I recently went to (Executive Transition Assistance Program) and the instructor asked a lot of impromptu questions," he said. "The venue here has some projects where you don't get a lot of time to prepare, which helps you get points across with very little preparation."

While the group helps people master the art of speaking, for some, the fear of talking in front of people is still there, but they're okay with that.

"I feel more comfortable, but I still get nervous - not near as nervous as I used to get, but the butterflies are still there," said Hale. "People said I've improved and that I didn't seem scared even though I was, and that's why I keep going ... In one speech, I sang a song and that took me completely out of my comfort zone, which is good because you need challenges to progress."

The Maxwell AFB Toastmasters club meets noon - 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month in building 501, Room 122. The club on Gunter Annex meets 
every Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., bldg 856 Room 163.

For more information about the Maxwell club, email Lorelaine.hale@us.af.mil, or call DSN 493-5316. For more information about the club on Gunter Annex call Paul Carter DSN 596-1143.