Nicole Johnson was so nervous as she spoke into the Tyler Morning Telegraph’s video recorder after the city of Tyler’s Toastmasters meeting on Thursday that she walked away from the camera twice.
“I’m so sorry — I keep messing up my words,” Ms. Johnson, 30, who works in the city’s municipal courts department, said as her forehead began to sweat. Her colleagues assured her she was doing fine and told her not to worry.
Ms. Johnson finished her talk about the ways the city’s Toastmasters group had helped her gain more confidence on the job.
“I’ve held a number of different positions with municipal courts, and this (Toastmasters) has helped me with speaking up,” she said.
The number of people suffering from public speaking anxiety is staggering, according to a recent article on the Psychology Today website. About 60 percent of adults experience dread of raising a question at a meeting, making small talk, and giving a talk, the article stated. And a Gallup poll from 2001 showed public speaking to be second, behind snakes, on the list of things that Americans fear the most.
To help its employees become more self-confident about speaking publicly, the city created the Blueprint Toasters group in 2009, which meets weekly at the City University building. The group is open only to city of Tyler employees, but there are other groups in Tyler open to the public. The Toastmasters group is offered through the City University program, which offers leadership and in-house training programs for city employees.
The mood at the Blue Print Toasters group on Thursday was lighthearted as several city employees gave prepared and timed speeches. Others in the group had jobs evaluating the effectiveness of the speakers’ styles, while some counted the number of times the speaker used words such as “ah,” “but” and “and.” Other Toastmasters evaluated speakers’ grammar.
When it was time for table topics, a cheer went up from the crowd. Serena Butcher, manager for organizational development, selected three Toastmasters and threw an unexpected question at them to answer in front of the group to test their off-the-cuff speaking skills.
She selected Tyler firefighter Marty Lawrence.
“You get a big promotion and your boss invites you and your family to Villa Montez,” Ms. Butcher said to Lawrence. “You see your bosses’ eyes grow wide and you turn around to see your 5-year-old son urinating off of the deck. What do you do?”
Lawrence replied that an incident similar to that happened to him 11 years ago when his then 5-year-old son urinated in a church parking lot in front of everyone. Lawrence said he had lived in the country and had taught his son about urinating outside.
“I had to explain to him that this wasn’t the appropriate place for that,” he said.
Ms. Butcher also asked city employee Jay Mesa, if he was a character in a Greek tragedy what his fatal flaw would be.
“I think I spend too much time trying to please other people,” he said. “I would like to take more time for myself,” he said.
The city Toastmasters praised the program for helping them to become more confident in their everyday lives.
“It has given me the confidence to be able to speak and lead prayers in my church — our congregation is over 800 people,” Lance Yarema, president of the city Toastmasters group, said during the meeting.
City University got its start in 2008 to provide training, inspiration, education and inspiration to the city of Tyler workforce, Assistant City Manager Susan Guthrie said on Thursday. About 954 employees have taken at least one class at City University.
Before the program was launched, the city had no formal training program for employees. “All trainings were handled departmentally, and external training was primarily utilized, which required travel costs and time away from the job,” Ms. Guthrie said.
Now, employees are able to access technical, professional, and leadership skills at no cost to them without associated travel costs, she said. “Ultimately, the citizens of Tyler receive better products and services from a better-educated workforce,” Ms. Guthrie said.
For more information about Toastmasters International, go to www.toastmasters.org .