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Local Tale Weavers Toastmasters learn to talk, listen, evaluate

Posted on 21 November 2017 by calvin

Article and photos by JAN WILLMS
It is a Tuesday night, around 6:30pm, and the meeting room on the second floor of Minnehaha United Methodist Church at 3701 E. 50th St. is starting to fill up. Here, on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, the Toastmaster group, Tale Weavers, gathers to talk, listen and evaluate each other’s words.

Don Mathews, current president of the Tale Weavers, co-founded the group with Dave Schaal in 2003.

“I had started going to the VAMC Toastmasters club in 1996,” Mathews said. “I thought ‘What a great organization, dedicated to people who like to talk.’” Mathews described Tale Weavers as a club that is small and has a safe environment, where new members feel comfortable. He said when someone gets up to speak for the first time, he or she can be assured that the audience members have all done it before. “We are not teachers, we are comrades,” he explained.

Mathews said members get a kit when they join, with two books enclosed. One is a manual on communication, the other on leadership.

Photo left: Don Mathews speaks to Tale Weavers.

“The communications manual is all about speaking,” he said. “The first speech project is the icebreaker, a four-to-six minute speech where you tell us about yourself. You are what you know the most, and this speech is the easiest way to break the ice. The second speech is about saying what you mean, talking about something you are passionate about. And as you get more encouragement and confidence, you learn how to say it.”

Mathews emphasized that when someone joins they are responsible for their own education. “Most people join, and within eight months they’re out. They get through about six speeches and then just leave. Toastmasters International has found this to be a problem,” he said.

He said members who are successful in the club are those who are self-motivated or have someone to help them. “People who grow and stay in Toastmasters for many years are very self-directed. One thing which we try to do in our club, which all clubs should do, is when a new toastmaster comes in we get them to give their first speech, provide evaluation and get them as comfortable as they can be.”

One part of the Toastmasters program that does not provide a lot of comfort to newcomers, according to Mathews, is table talk. In Tale Weavers it is called tiny tales. Members are asked to answer a question or speak off the cuff for two minutes. Sometimes a story is started, and after two minutes, someone else needs to continue it.

“I ask them if they have ever been asked a question by their boss and had to answer it quickly. And if so, don’t they wish they had practice?” Mathews said these short, impromptu speeches provide good learning.

He stressed the importance of the skills training Toastmasters provides. “For $40 every six months, you get to practice many speeches. You can pay $!000 for a Dale Carnegie course, get a couple of practice sessions and then you’re on your own. So what is best? Be self-directed or be told what to do? Where do you retain your learning?” He said a lot of companies are bringing in Toastmasters because it is excellent training for their employees and does not cost very much.

Photo right: Stephen Taylor weaves a story.

Mathews said his only expectation of members is that if they cannot make a meeting, they let him and the education vice president know.

Mathews said Tale Weavers has a lot of charter members who are still in the club. “That’s always a good sign for a club,” he claimed.

“Here at Tale Weavers we tell stories,” Mathews continued. They have told stories at NPR Moth Hour events. One member does storytelling for children; another has a small film company. Whatever their profession is, Toastmasters has been helpful.

“Every club does different things,” he said. “We have a regimented program to follow but are still flexible enough you can do what you want with it. Visit another club and draw comparisons. We’re very different but in some ways the same.”

Mathews said he recommends potential members visit at least three clubs to see where they feel most comfortable.

Schaal, who co-founded the club with Mathews and is vice president of education, said he has been a Toastmasters member for 20 years. “To tell a good message, you want to tell stories,” he noted. Listeners may forget your point but remember your story. And if they remember your story, they will remember your point. I felt storytellers could use Toastmasters, and Toastmasters could use more storytelling. I told Don, and he said ‘Let’s do it!”

Schaal said belonging to the club has made a difference in his professional life. “For a while, I was a consultant, and I had to do a lot of interviewing. Toastmasters helped me so much. He said it has also helped him in his work as a minister and his character acting as he plays Santa Claus for groups each year.”

Schaal said that although Toastmasters started as a speaking club, the organization has a long history of wanting to serve people professionally, providing skills in listening, giving feedback staying on time and other leadership skills.

Kent Hawks, a 17-year member who is vice president of membership, said Tale Weavers is designed to help members improve and develop as speakers, leaders, and storytellers.

“Once people become members, they become my responsibility,” he said. “I make sure they are coming to meetings.” He said if someone becomes busy in his or her professional life, he encourages them to take time away and return when they can.

He said he works in customer service and has found Toastmasters has helped him communicate on the phone. “I can talk with them about anything, and impromptu speaking is something I want to keep up with.”

He said Toastmasters becomes a part of one’s life. He has earned the Distinguished Toastmasters award, the highest level in the organization, and he said it took him 14 years to do it. Hawks said he worked with another member, and they encouraged each other to move ahead.

“We strongly recommend that when someone joins, they get a mentor,” he said.

It has been about an hour and a half. Speeches have been given and evaluated. A grammarian and timekeeper have weighed in. One member listens for how many ahs or ums a speaker may voice.

The evaluations are helpful and encouraging. And there has been a lot of laughter.

Mathews likes the blend of professionalism and enjoyment. “Someone told us once we were professional clowns, and we take pride in that,” he said.

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