Rupert Johnson wants to be a speech therapist, so it makes sense that he is a member of the State College Toastmasters Club.
It wasn’t long ago, however, that Johnson was seeing a speech therapist for a stutter.
“I’m very comfortable with my speech now,” said Johnson, a Penn State graduate student. “I wasn’t as comfortable when I was 16 and in high school in New York.”
He is one of six students in the Toastmasters group, or one-third of the club’s members — a vast difference from the group’s demographic makeup more than 20 years ago, according to a longtime member.
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“I think we have more younger people than ever,” James Dunn said. “I think one reason is, despite the impression that there is online communication and cellphones and that they’ll kill the need for public speaking, it’s the exact opposite. The reality is you have to be better than ever.”
Dunn said the Internet has given users access to videos of the world’s best speakers, so job-seekers have to improve their speaking skills.
“You get exposed to so many people that are good speakers — some of them are the best speakers in the world — and younger people need to compete with not just their job skills, but their public speaking skills, too,” Dunn said.
In 1990, a year after Dunn joined Toastmasters, he was in Czechoslovakia and on the receiving end of a question-and-answer session. Dunn, a Penn State professor of agricultural economics, was there to provide insight to farmers about how they should enter the market economy after communist rule ended there in 1989.
Dunn was instructed to answer one of the first questions for the rest of the session when he was asked how farmers make decisions. He had two hours to fill.
“Had I not been in Toastmasters, that would have been brutal,” Dunn said. “How do you plan a two-hour answer without much warning? So, I talked about markets, investments, short runs, long runs. All I remember is I was looking forward to lunch when I finished.”
Johnson said job-seekers can highlight their Toastmasters credentials on their resumes.
“Within the club, you can attain levels of public-speaking competency,” Johnson said. “Once you become a competent communicator, that could be something you highlight on your resume. But I think younger people become Toastmasters not only to become a more attractive candidate for a job, but also to sharpen their skills in public speaking.”
Tammy Miller became a public speaker, auctioneer, instructor and author after joining the State College club.
“I was in class giving a speech about 20 years ago with a pencil in my hand as a part of the presentation,” Miller said. “My hand was shaking so badly that I needed to take my left hand to put both hands on the lectern. I would have said you were crazy if you told me I’d be a public speaker and auctioneer now.”
Miller has gone to businesses to discuss opening Toastmasters company clubs.
“I was going to businesses with Toastmasters books and instruction manuals, but one thing I always told them is what they couldn’t see,” Miller said. “What it can’t show is the tremendous confidence boost people get, and that makes them better employees, managers and people in the community.”