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After 15 years, it's still: Speech, speech

Table Topics is one speaking categories Toastmasters can compete in. In the March 2013 club contest, Margie Osterbauer (right) took first place and Wayne Hanson (left) took second place. Submitted photo

When a group member first approached Wayne Hanson to start a new toastmasters group, he was hesitant.

That was then. As of March 2013, the group celebrated its 15th anniversary.

The Eclectic Image Toastmasters is consist of some 15 people who meet weekly at the River Falls Hospital to practice public speaking.

At each meeting, participants have the chance to deliver a speech that they write and prepare for. Then each participant is critiqued on criteria including organization and delivery.

“If he got up there and put you to sleep -- bad speech,” said Hanson.

Hanson is a “distinguished toastmaster,” which is the highest skill level in the club.

When he joined, the group was made up of only men. Now, men and women, 18 and older, are welcome to join.

What hasn’t changed, Hanson said, is the comradery that the club shares. He said he instantly had 12 new friends when he joined the club.

This comradery was something that Kathleen Wesselink, also a distinguished toastmaster and a past district governor of Toastmasters, said was important to group learning.

“The thing most people gain out of it,” she said, “of course, the confidence, but it also is you learn in a safe environment.”

A safe environment, for the toasters, means encouragement.

“If you get a lot of encouragement,” said Hanson, “you get better.”

Because of this, Wesselink said the person’s confidence grows and, “they feel they can conquer the world.”

What neither of them realized when they joined Toastmasters was that they could conquer the world -- to an extent at least.

Toastmasters in an international organization, members in 116 countries, that started when a California YMCA Director, Ralph C. Smedley, noticed his employees made better presentations if they had practiced beforehand.

In 1924, Smedley started to hold meetings in a “supportive, informal atmosphere,” read the international website. Almost 90 years later, they are international.

The group requires the speaking competitions to be in English, including countries where the first language is not English.

Said Wesselink: “The competition is really stiff, and the one who is chosen as the number one international speaker is set for life, because they then have all sorts of opportunities open to them.”

These opportunities include national to international speaking campaigns for anything, including products and issues.

Even with these big possibilities, Hanson and Wesselink said the biggest result is self-confidence.

One example was a French immigrant who came to the first meeting “scared to death to talk to anyone, much less in front of the group,” Wesselink said.

With support and encouragement, she became a confident English speaker, Wesselink said.

“By the time she left, she was telling us all kinds of stories about her cats,” she said, “and she didn’t even have notes, and she was doing a really good job.”

Because of stories like this, Hanson said he is proud of the 15 years the group had been around. He hopes in the next 15 years the group will keep growing.

For more information, contact the club through their website at