Speaking in front of an audience can be a terrifying experience for some people. It comes with high anxiety and a fear of getting stage fright, tongue-tied, or, even worse, ridiculed. But one Rockville Centre man is trying ease those concerns by starting a special club in the village that encourages people to come out of their vocal shells in a comfortable and supportive environment.
With a bang of a gavel in the basement of the Turn of the Corkscrew Books and Wine store, financial planner Greg Alerte officially began the first-ever Toastmasters Club meeting in Rockville Centre on March 2.
The club is under the umbrella of Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. The organization started in 1924 and has over 345,000 members in 142 different countries.
To earn charter status, the club must have at least 20 members by April.
Alerte first joined Toastmasters in November 2015 to overcome his fear of public speaking and is a member of the Cambria Heights [Queens], and Bethpage chapters. In the months that followed, he began improving not only his speech, but also his listening and leadership skills while becoming more comfortable around other people.
As his skill set grew, he began looking to start a Toastmaster club in either Rockville Centre or its surrounding areas, but could not find any.
“The town is ripe for it,” Alerte said of Rockville Centre. “It’s such an educated town.”
Alerte’s main inspiration for joining Toastmasters was his son, Macallan, who just turned a year old.
“I had felt it in me that I needed to improve myself to be a better example for me son,” he said. “I didn’t want to have him deal with the concerns of public speaking [and] have that cross to bear.”
The biggest activity during meetings is five to seven-minute speech performed by several members of the club, which are recited without the aid of notes. Afterwards, the speech is evaluated by the other club members based on criteria such as how engaging the person was, whether an assigned word was used during the solioquy, vocal variety, strong adjectives, and a connection to the meeting’s theme.
During the speech, one person acts as the timekeeper, who makes sure it falls within a certain time range, and a grammarian and “ah-counter”, who keeps track of sentence structure and the amount of unnecessary filler words used.
Later on, the “quizmaster” asked detailed questions about the speech to the audience to see if they were paying close attention. There is also a “Table Topics” segment, where members answer impromptu questions, and a “Topicsmaster” block, in which every member and guest of the club gets to speak extemporaneously for a minute or two.
About 10 residents, mostly from Rockville Centre, attended and joined five officers from the Bethpage chapter that modeled what happens during a typical meetings. There was an even split between males and females, who held such occupations as lawyer, manager, salesperson and a social worker who was hoping to rebuild her speech.
“I thought it was great,” said resident Jim Cavanaugh. “I thought it was very welcoming and informal in a way that it’s also conducive to learning and getting out of your comfort zone. Everyone here seems great and I had a great time.”
Attorney Ken Flacon wants to improve his speech when addressing a judge during trials.
“I want to get my skills for public speaking to be a little bit more consistent and be a little more confident,” he said. “I frequently appear in court. When I’m talking to a judge, I find myself stuttering and going over myself, so I want to get better at that.”
Members who join have to pay dues and receive booklets that outline the 10 different types of speeches that need to be made to achieve “competent communicator” status.
The club meets on the first and third Thursday of every month (and fifth, when necessary) at the Turn of the Corkscrew.