At the First Nevadans Toastmasters Club, how you say things gets you noticed. The club that meets every Wednesday at Round Table Pizza in the Sparks Galleria is made for encouragement and constructive criticism in oral presentation skills.
First Nevadans also serves as a platform for employees of all industries to articulate themselves and gain leadership skills in the work environment with confidence, which is why club meetings are conducted like business meetings.
"When you stand up to speak to your boss and co-workers, you're more promotable, you're more valuable," First Nevadans President Bob McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon, known as "Builder Bob" because he's a carpenter, said some of the club members actually have advanced in their careers because they've become more proficient in communication, an asset many employers consider essential for success.
Toastmasters clubs that are the size of First Nevadans, about 20 to 25 members on average, are tightly structured. Members see to it that every person participates, whether as the meeting's grammarian, a speech evaluator, a general evaluator, the jokemaster or the wordmaster. Speakers and evaluators are voted upon and awarded certificates at the end of the meeting.
Every role has a specific responsibility to help others hone their skills, but roles also provide member a way of learning and applying their advice to themselves.
"Often if you did something wrong, it disappears" before a speaker has the chance to find out how to improve, said evaluator Kelly Smith.
Every meeting, two members present a speech during which they pay careful attention to the objectives designated to them, such as incorporating visual aids or watching sentence structure to clearly describe a topic. The grammarian listens to their language for proper sentence structure and to dock them for filler words, such as "uh." A speech evaluator judges the speaker based on verbal and nonverbal gestures and gives pointers later in the meeting.
On Wednesday, Smith critiqued Jimmie Winters, who works as a specialist with the Truckee Meadows Water Authority. Winters gave a presentation on backflow, or the undesirable reversal of flow of nonpotable water or other substances into public or private water systems.
As he spoke, he tried to convey the concept the best he could, but his evaluator told him to keep his technical vocabulary simple.
"Watch for jargon," Smith advised him. "I like that you're passionate about what you're talking about. You start off with a good question, but then you get into the 1994 Verdi fire and there's an image of fear, but you didn't explain it well. It needs more detail."
The Toastmasters Club ultimately is about developing faith in one's ability to present in front of the crowd in any form, whether it's informative, humorous or persuasive. Some find speaking humorously to be extremely difficult, which is why the role of jokemaster exists.
"That's the most terrifying thing I could ever do," said First Nevadans vice president Virginia Edwards. "I have to practice my jokes. For others, it just comes to them naturally."
Even so, Edwards said it benefits her and the other members by providing experience and a constant education in public speaking.
The wordmaster is responsible for introducing a new word for members to incorporate at any time during the meeting. Wednesday's word was "concept."
Members are also called upon for short, impromptu speeches called "table topics." The table topics master is responsible for generating ideas, then choosing members to respond to the topic for between 30 and 60 seconds. Afterward, the master summarizes the speeches, praising them for what they did well in their spontaneity.
The club also helps speakers focus on their storytelling abilities and technical skills, including voice, eye contact, presence, openings and closings. After enough practice and experience, members can rise to the level of a CMT, or "Competent Toastmaster."
"It challenges you mentally and keeps you sharp," Edwards said.
Edwards and Smith will represent First Nevadans on Saturday during a competition at the University of Nevada, Reno. An evaluation and speech contest will be open to all area clubs. Winners will go on to the regional competition, eventually making their way to the national finals.
"You have to get through about 25,000 people to make it (to nationals)," Smith said.
The First Nevadans club is one of 12 in the Reno-Sparks area. They are all members of Toastmasters International, which began in 1924 as a way of training young college students in the art of oral communication, according to the www.toastmasters.org. It started in Santa Ana, Calif., and attracted clubs in British Columbia, Canada, hence creating an international organization. Currently, 11,500 clubs with 226,000 members in 92 countries continue to flourish.
For more information on First Nevadans, visit www.firstnevadans.org or www.toastmasters.org.