Mastering Communication, Leadership with Techmasters
Some mornings, it can be tough to get going. Some people like to wake up with coffee; others might like a hearty breakfast before they tackle the day. For one group on campus, on Thursdays at 7:30 a.m., they give speeches.
The Toastmasters chapter at Georgia Tech — known as Techmasters — gives the campus community an outlet for improving public speaking skills, enjoying those of others, and sharing in the process of becoming better communicators.
The group, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is open to all faculty, staff, undergraduates, and graduates. They meet weekly in Room 102 of the Pettit Microelectronics Research Center (MiRC).
Tierra Clemmons, a residence hall director in the Department of Housing, first heard about Techmasters in a conversation with her supervisor about professional development goals. Though Clemmons studied broadcast journalism as an undergraduate, she wanted to improve her confidence in public speaking.
“I do a lot of presentations and impromptu speaking in my job, and I wanted to feel more comfortable and have that come through in my presentation style,” said Clemmons, who now serves as president of Techmasters. Clemmons also uses her speaking skills outside of work by leading a running club, giving motivational speeches, and hosting a noncommercial radio show. “I wanted a place to get more comfortable in front of crowds and where I could practice putting together speeches.”
Toastmasters is an international organization with materials, guides, and resources related to public speaking. Participants can work through the curriculum, which gives certain types of speeches on certain topics, at their own pace.
The 90-minute meetings begin with table topics, where a subject prompt is given and attendees can give short extemporaneous talks about the topic, usually around 45-60 seconds. The meetings then move to prepared speeches, where club members give speeches of around 5 to 10 minutes.
For Clemmons, who first attended a meeting in 2015, the welcoming environment kept her coming back almost immediately.
“That’s what got me to join so quickly,” she said. “Even though it’s early in the morning, you feel productive and are accomplishing something in a fun way. I always tell people, since you can win trophies for prepared speeches, you could win a trophy before a lot of people are even up in the morning.”
Toastmasters International provides a manual of 10 speeches to work through, each building off the previous. The manual has members learn speaking skills such as how to cut to the chase, manage body language, and use vocal variety.
“It’s very informal and self-paced,” said Molly Croft, executive director of development for the College of Engineering and a longtime Techmasters member.
An evaluation period at the end of each meeting lets those who presented prepared speeches get feedback on their delivery. A collective vote also gives recognition — and possibly a trophy — to the standouts of the week.
“It’s a fun and supportive environment,” Croft said. “You’re getting feedback, but it’s not criticism.” Croft added that they’ve had international students and non-native English speakers participate to improve their language skills. There have also been participants who are involved in startups and want to get better at giving an elevator speech or investor pitch.
All meetings open with an explanation of the format so guests will know what to expect. Guests can also expect to be greeted by others at the meeting and encouraged (but not required) to participate in table topics.
“A lot of people join to become better communicators and to grow their leadership skills, which go hand in hand — good leaders are good communicators,” Clemmons said.
Members can work with a mentor for one-on-one support during their first three speeches. Techmasters dues are $57 biannually, with a one-time $20 fee for new members. Fees are dictated by Toastmasters International and include manuals and meeting materials.
The group will mark its 30th anniversary at its weekly meeting on Thursday, Oct. 5, at 7:30 a.m. Techmasters is also open to those outside the Tech community. To learn more, attend a meeting or visit techmasters.gatech.edu.