A golden anniversary was celebrated with golden tongues last weekend as the Columbians Toastmasters Club celebrated 50 years of fostering confidence and leadership skills.
The group, which specializes in teaching its members how to become better public speakers, held its anniversary dinner Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Holiday Inn Laurel West.
The Columbians Toastmasters Club — named after the College Park Knights of Columbus, the group that founded the local branch — marked its 50th year in May, but club member Lianne Gayle said they orchestrated their celebration to coincide exactly with the anniversary of the founding of Toastmasters International: Oct. 22, 1924.
Gayle joined the Columbians Toastmasters in 2003, and quickly moved up the ranks in the small group, then only comprised of six members, she said. Eight years later, she is the immediate past president and area governor for the group, and the club has grown to 20 members.
"It has been very fulfilling, in terms of developing my communication and leadership," Gayle said.
Improving communication skills
Columbians Toastmasters are a varied lot, coming from all walks of life and fields, Gayle said. The unifying factor is a desire to improve communication skills and leadership abilities.
Diane Bayly, of Laurel, joined the Toastmasters three years ago, when she took a job with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and realized she needed to improve her public-speaking skills.
"I had such a fear of it," she said. "It's not uncommon, and this trains you to learn to communicate. It's a fantastic environment, friendly and supportive."
At Saturday's 50th anniversary celebration, Bayly delivered the invocation.
"I never would have been able to do that before. Thank God for Toastmasters," Bayly said.
Maxene Bardwell, of Laurel, joined two years ago for similar reasons. Her work as the chief audit executive at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission often requires her to give presentations.
"I needed to become a better presenter," Bardwell said.
Many people have the "toastmaster" moment, said Barry Piatt, governor of Toastmasters District 36, which includes clubs in Northern Washington and Montgomery and Prince George's counties. It's the moment, he said, when a person realizes that their public-speaking skills need some work — or even some formation.
"It's that feeling of 'I need to be better at this' "he said. "Jerry Seinfeld joked once, that the No. 1 fear people have is public speaking. No. 2 is death. That means, at a funeral, more people would rather be the one in the coffin, rather than the one giving the eulogy."
The Columbians Toastmasters meet twice a month. At the meetings, they deliver speeches to one another and provide constructive feedback. It's an opportunity to learn new things, Bardwell said, and to learn about one another.
It also helps each become better speakers.
"With each speech, I get more confident," Bardwell said. "It's a gradual thing. … I'm happy I joined the club."
Every job is based on communication, Piatt said, and more than that, every interaction in life is based on communication.
"These are core skills in today's society," he said. "Communication skills are valued in families, churches, communities. If we all had our own island, things would be different, but we're all in this together, and we need to connect with each other."
In a night filled with public speaking on the importance of public speaking, the keynote address was reserved for Rep. Donna Edwards, whose 4th District now includes most of Laurel after last week's vote on redistricting in Annapolis.
Edwards commended those in attendance for learning how to lead and how to be confident.
"You've grown as leaders and also as speakers," she said. "Use these skills, every day."
The Columbians Toastmasters Club meets the first and third Wednesday of each month at 7:15 p.m. at Capitol College, MCI Hall, room 137, 11301 Springfield Road, Laurel. For more information about the Columbians Toastmasters and how to join, go to Columbians.toastmastersclubs.org.