Group searching for voices
By RANDY GONZALES
Hays Toastmasters has been in existence for 55 years.
However, membership has dwindled through the years, and there are but a handful of members left who regularly attend meetings.
Greg Sund, who joined Hays Toastmasters shortly after moving to Hays approximately two years ago, has been involved with Toastmasters International since 1987, when he lived in South Dakota. He wants to build membership in the local club.
"Ideally, I would like to get it to more than 20 people again," Sund said after a recent meeting that had two members and three guests present. "Having a Toastmasters of 20 or more people makes it far more successful, and also adds to the individual members to be more successful."
Toastmasters develops public speaking and leadership skills, Sund said.
"Toastmasters really does get you to the point where you can think on your feet," Sund said.
Don Westfall, executive director of the Ellis County Historical Society, was a guest at the club's last meeting. He was checking to see if he would like to join.
"I was pretty well impressed with how well organized it is," he said. "I wasn't sure what routine they followed. It seems as though they have a pretty specific program in mind."
Kurt Beyers said he has been a member of Hays Toastmasters since 2001 or 2002. He said the most members the club has had in his time has been approximately 10.
Beyers said what has hurt membership has been moving meeting locations and times. The club now meets at noon on the first and third Wednesday of each month at Thirsty's Brew Pub and Grill, 2704 Vine. Once you are a member, dues are $42 every six months.
"We used to meet for years at the Country Kitchen," Beyers said. "When that closed down, it was really difficult to find a place that we could meet regularly."
In the table topics portion of a recent meeting, each person had to speak for a few minutes on a topic presented to them.
"I enjoy the challenge. My favorite thing is the table topics," Beyers said. "I enjoy having to come up with two minutes, whatever the topic they give to you. That's fun.
"It's a different kind of skill. One of the things I learned is how often you really need to organize what you're about to say, when you're leaving a phone message, for instance."
"That's always something you're going to run into in real life," Sund said. "People will say, 'Can you say a few words about x?'
"If you're able to think on your feet a little bit, and be able to respond, that's what people are looking for. They want you to respond to those kinds of things, and it happens constantly."
Westfall said in his job, he is put in that position from time to time.
"This is a position that involves a certain amount of public speaking, so it would have to help communicating when I make presentations to various organizations," he said.
One thing Westfall and others at the meeting became aware of when they spoke was the number of pauses during their speeches. A member of the group keeps track of the number of ahhhs -- when a person pauses while talking.
"When you get people to being aware of those audible pauses, they stop doing them very quickly because they're aware of it," Sund said. "Most of the time, we do that kind of thing because we're not aware of what we're saying."
Awareness is the key to breaking the habit, Sund said.
"Instead of saying 'ahhhh,' you'll just stop for a second, collect your thoughts and continue," he said.
Westfall was impressed with the meeting he attended and thought it was an enjoyable experience.
"I'm pretty sure I will go ahead with it," Westfall said of joining the club.
Sund was surprised when he received a certificate in the mail honoring the Hays club's more than five decades of existence. That's why he wants to make Hays Toastmasters bigger and better, to honor that tradition.
"I think we can be successful with this," Sund said. "It's like anything else, though. You have to work at building awareness of the organization and what it can do for people."
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For more information on Hays Toastmasters, go to Hays Toastmasters on Facebook or email the group at email@example.com or call Sund at (785) 259-0622.