Conventional wisdom shares that of all the fears we have, none is more common than speaking in front of a group and that scares more people than death, poverty, or failure. Though not a “phobia” in the conventional sense, this “social situation” fear is more grounded in discomfort rather than the more psychological fears of spiders, snakes, the dark, or heights.
Jerry Seinfeld made light of it in one of his famous quips and shared: “According to most studies, peoples' number-one fear is public speaking. Death is number two! Now, this means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy." And as funny as that is, it is more true than not. The good news on top of that is that it is one of the easiest fears to conquer.
Toastmasters International, based here locally in Rancho Santa Margarita, since 1924 has been the world leader in helping people overcome that challenge and in Laguna Hills, Club 86, also known as Saddleback Sunrise Speakers, has been helping locals since 1977. Of all the 13,500 clubs in 116 countries, just 11% reach this significant milestone and in celebration they are having a gala affair on February 23 at the Laguna Hills Recreation Center. Toastmaster’s roots are even more localized to Orange County since it was founded in Santa Ana by Dr. Ralph Smedley, who created it as a program of the YMCA, where he was the Director of Education.
Over the past 90 years many famous Toastmasters have emerged, including celebrated author Napoleon Hill, astronauts James Lovell and Walter Schirra, government leaders Linda Lingle, former governor of Hawaii and James Brady, former press secretary for President Reagan and inspiration of the “Brady Bill.” The number of not so famous Toastmasters runs into the hundreds of thousands.
But the value of feeling comfortable before a group goes beyond leadership skills, and is more basic in our needs, since it helps with self-confidence and acquiring work skills that can be used for career advancement. And the truth is, it’s just plain fun!
My personal experience goes back to January of 1981 when I joined this specific club, though it was just a few years old. Like every new member, I quaked when asked to say hello and share what brought me there; felt nervous during the initial sessions of “table topics,” i.e., impromptu speaking and worked through my ice-breaker, the number one speech, with shaky knees and quivering voice. And yet, just two years later I was the president of the club, finished numerous speeches and entered many speech contests. Over my initial 15 year run I learned leadership by becoming an “Area Governor,” in charge of several clubs, mentored others and helped form a few clubs. It would be an understatement to say that Toastmasters helped me become a better speaker, leader, and businessperson. I left the club in the mid 90’s and later hosted my own radio show where speaking and listening skills were vital.
The 35th celebration is open to the public and specifically to former members of this club or others in the area. On the 23rd, social hour begins at 5pm with light refreshments and a modified Toastmasters program and there is no charge to attend. Laguna Hills Mayor, Barbara Kogerman, and Mayor Pro Tempore, Andrew Blount, will both be attending and will be presenting a Proclamation to the club.
More information about the club is available at www.saddlebacksunrisespeakers.com or to register for the celebration: http://ssstoastmasters.eventbrite.com. The Saddleback Sunrise Speakers meet from 7-8:30am every Wednesday morning at the Farmers & Merchants Bank, 24300 Paseo de Valencia in Laguna Hills, near the Laguna Hills Mall, and the club is open to the public.