Deborah Reeves remembers being so nervous speaking to a crowd that her legs trembled as she stood before the audience. Anita Shine understands; she’s so afraid of public speaking that her eyes sometimes well up with tears when she’s behind the podium.
Reeves and Shine, both with Defense Logistics Agency Logistics Operations, are among thousands of individuals who’ve found relief from their phobia through the McNamara Headquarters Complex Toastmasters Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary May 6.
The group’s mission is to provide a mutually supportive and positive environment in which people can develop oral communication and leadership skills, said Reeves, who is now recognized by Toastmasters International as an advanced communicator. She became the club president in July.
“Rarely do we have an opportunity to practice in front of a friendly group of people who will give us feedback that’s accurate, kind and recognizes us as individuals who are trying to be better,” Reeves said.
Toastmasters is different from traditional classes on public speaking because it’s self-paced and there is no instructor, added Kenneth Henz, the club’s vice president of education.
“What I think sets us apart from everything else is evaluations, where we have a Toastmaster formally evaluate the member’s speech. Evaluations are meant to help people grow, not discourage them,” he said.
The club was chartered in 1964 as the Defense Supply Agency Toastmasters at Cameron Station, Va., and was changed to DLA Toastmasters in 1977 when the agency was renamed the Defense Logistics Agency.
“The move from Cameron Station into the McNamara headquarters building in 1995 expanded the pool of organizations from which members could be drawn. Although anyone in the building was welcome to join, the name ‘DLA Toastmasters’ implied that only DLA employees were eligible, and this was true especially among newer employees,” said Henz, who works for DLA Energy.
The club became McNamara HQC Toastmasters in 2010 and has more than 20 active members ranging from administrative assistants to division chiefs. Meetings are held every Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Room 3501.
Shine said she recently joined to become a better speaker, as well as to learn new listening and impromptu feedback skills.
“I’ve only attended two meetings, but I’m very enthusiastic about being a part of this wonderful club,” she said. “I hope to learn valuable techniques that will move me forward not only in my career but in life in general.”
Toastmasters International was created in 1924 when Ralph C. Smedley began coaching boys on the art of public speaking at a YCMA in California. He named the group “The Toastmasters Club” because the word “toastmasters” referred to a person who proposed the toasts and introduced speakers at banquets, and he wanted members to experience a pleasant, social atmosphere, according to the Toastmasters International website, www.toastmasters.org. Today the organization has more than 292,000 members in 122 countries.
Deborah Reeves, president of the McNamara Headquarters Complex Toastmasters Club, describes how the club makes members better speakers and leaders during a 50th anniversary celebration May 6. Photo by Teodora Mocanu