Toastmasters club helps members speak up

| Saturday, March 8, 2014, 1:47 p.m.

Don Michel used jokes, hand gestures and pop-culture references to tell a room full of Toastmasters about one of the most frightening days of his life — the day his twin sons were born prematurely.

“I had never felt so helpless,” said Michel, 45, of Adams Township, before he chronicled the outpouring of assistance his family received in their time of need before about 15 people at a recent meeting of the Cranberry High Noon Toastmasters Club.

Michel has crafted his public-speaking skills with Toastmasters for nearly five years and has earned the highest title, Distinguished Toastmaster.

Toastmasters International is a global organization that is made up of local clubs in which members practice public speaking and develop leadership skills. The organization is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.

Pittsburgh's northern suburbs is home to six public Toastmasters clubs — three in Cranberry and one each in Ross Township, Franklin Park and O'Hara Township.

Members generally gather weekly or twice a month to give short speeches. They are evaluated and critiqued by the other club members.

Members who aren't speaking during a Toastmasters meeting take on different roles to help those giving speeches.

Evaluators give feedback to speakers. Timers keep track of how long speeches run. Grammarians keep track of word use and verbal tics, such as “ums” and “likes.”

There are Toastmasters manuals on different speech styles or leadership skills. As members complete programs in the manuals, they earn titles such as Distinguished Toastmaster, Competent Communicator or Competent Leader.

The local clubs are in Toastmasters International's District 13, which encompasses southwestern Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia and Ohio.

The district, for which Melissa McGavick of Cranberry is the lieutenant governor of education and training, is one of the fastest-growing districts in the country, she said. She attributed the uptick to an uncertain economy and competitive job market.

“More and more people are recognizing that communication and leadership are important for most jobs,” said McGavick, a Distinguished Toastmaster.

McGavick is a member of the ProMasters club in Cranberry, which is geared toward people with public-speaking experience; the Cranberry High Noon club and the Cranberry Area Toastmasters. She owns her own company, McGavick Interactive Training, which that offers employee training for businesses and schools.

Michel, a chemical engineer with Westinghouse, participates in the Cranberry High Noon club and Westinghouse's corporate club.

He plans to speak in a Toastmasters speaking competition this spring that eventually could lead him from his club in Cranberry to the Toastmasters International Convention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to compete against speakers from around the world.

The Cranberry High Noon club meets Mondays at noon in the Cranberry Public Library.

President and Competent Communicator Michelle Hall. 40, of Pine Township founded the club for people in the area who were looking for a lunch-time club.

“Personally, Toastmasters has made me a more consistent and confident speaker,” said Hall, a business coach at ThistleSea Business Development.

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. Reach her at or at 724-772-6353.

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