- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2016

STERLING, Ill. (AP) - Some people speak softly and carry a big stick. Others speak boldly and talk about goats.

Take Paul Kane. The president of the local Speak Boldly Toastmasters Club bought a billy goat, one that wanted nothing to do with the Sterling farmer, and ran off at its first opportunity.

He was a goat with his own agenda.

The solution? Kane’s cattle buyer told him to “get yourself a nanny goat.”

So he did, and he tied her up outside. Then, about an hour later, the billy goat returned to the farm and hasn’t left since.

That goat tale is a condensed version of the longer story the 61-year-old Kane tells his fellow club members. To the casual observer, it might not seem like something that fits in with Toastmasters International’s goal of seeking to “empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders” - but it is. After all, if you need something to break the ice, a goat’s a pretty good choice.

The men and women of Toastmasters work to become more competent communicators, improve their listening skills, and learn the importance of speech “icebreakers” and visual aids. They evaluate one another, in a way that is supportive, not critical or disparaging, Kane said.

Members create their own speeches - some to inform, some to persuade, and some simply to amuse.

Other times, they might be called upon to deliver impromptu responses to a request, such as, “Tell me one thing that is special about your mother,” a topic during Speak Boldly’s meeting that took place around Mothers’ Day this year.

All that speaking isn’t just idle chit-chat. There’s a good reason to master the art of conversation. Communication is not only a skill, it’s an asset. Companies sometimes encourage their employees to join a local Toastmasters Club to make them better communicators.

The club also taps into an increasingly important cultural need: getting people to present themselves to others face to face, not behind the relative safety and anonymity of a computer screen.

The term “toastmaster” refers to a person who gives a speech in front of a crowd - a toast - usually in a formal or celebratory setting, such as at a wedding or anniversary.

“We are all going to be called on to speak at some time or another,” Kane said, be it a class presentation, a business proposal, or - as Kane learned recently when he delivered his father’s eulogy - a funeral.

Toastmasters “has made me a little more outgoing, and a better speaker,” he said.

Toastmasters was founded in the early part of the 20th century by Ralph C. Smedley, director of education at the YMCA in Bloomington, who saw a need for men in the community to learn how to speak, conduct meetings, and plan and work on committees.

The universal need for effective communication skills soon spread, and in 1924 Toastmasters International held its first meeting.

It now has groups in about 30 countries, and recently celebrated its 90th anniversary, proclaiming proudly and humorously on its website that it’s been “Breaking the ice since 1924.” The local club, Speak Boldly, which has eight members, celebrated its 60th anniversary in May.

Considering the extent many people will go to avoid public speaking, it’s a wonder Toastmasters has managed to survive as long as it has.

“It speaks volumes to the importance of what we are doing,” Kane said.

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Source: The (Sterling) Daily Gazette, https://bit.ly/2dGQxes

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Information from: The Daily Gazette, https://www.saukvalley.com


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