By Ann Reily
---- — Do you freeze up in front of crowds? Does the mere thought of public speaking terrify you?
The Clipper City Toastmasters want to help.
The club, one of 14,350 Toastmasters International groups in 122 countries, is holding an open house Monday to introduce potential new members to all it has to offer.
“Toastmasters in general is a nonprofit, educational organization that specializes in training people in communication and leadership skills,” said member Jay Jorgenson, the area governor.
Monday’s event will include presentations on how the club works and some personal stories, followed by a question-and-answer session.
“We will have some pointers on topics related to speech craft and leadership,” said Jorgenson, a Newburyport resident who oversees nine clubs in the region.
Jorgenson credits the club with transforming him from a “wallflower to struggling to keep my mouth shut.”
“When I started, I was deadly shy,” said Jorgenson, who joined the Newburyport group five years ago. “I went through high school and college without raising my hand once. It was just time to do something about it.”
Jorgenson is one of about 30 members of the Clipper City Toastmasters, which was formed 22 years ago. Membership in the local club is split evenly between men and women, while Toastmasters International’s 292,000 members are 52 percent women and 48 percent men. That’s a telling statistic when you consider the fact that the organization, which turns 89 next month, didn’t allow women to join until 1973.
Clipper City Toastmasters treasurer Richard Mullen says that people seek out the club for a number of reasons. Some are simply looking to network, while others want to polish their speech skills. Retirees and telecommuters also join as a way to socialize and get out of the house, he said.
And some, like Mullen, end up turning public speaking into a career. The Georgetown resident is a professional speaker and career coach who teaches classes on public speaking, including one starting next week at Newburyport Adult & Community Education.
“It’s probably the best way to overcome the fear of public speaking,” said Mullen, who joined his first Toastmasters group in Sarasota, Fla., 14 years ago.
Mullen started studying the phobia and taking acting and improvisation classes shortly after his own apprehension cost him a major career opportunity.
“At a key point, I had to address a whole group of professionals in Boston,” he said. “I froze and I couldn’t even speak. You couldn’t duplicate the potential of that opportunity.”
Little by little, with the help of Toastmasters’ training manuals and activities like Table Topics, where members learn to think on their feet with impromptu speaking on a chosen subject, Mullen overcame his fear. He now enjoys helping guide others in the same way.
“I find people with an average fear can come into Toastmasters and in three months see a change,” he said. “I really think the Toastmasters process helped me. It all comes from learning from that process.”
“We’re constantly training each other,” said Jorgenson, who tapes the members’ speeches so that they can track their own progress.
Those videos have helped club president Ben Savoie really see the difference from his first speech to his just-completed 10th speech. “You would not believe” the improvement, Jorgenson said.
Savoie joined the club in March after moving to Newburyport from Gardner. As a documentary photographer, he was originally looking for a way to network but has found that the skills have really helped him in his job.
“I like to tell stories with my camera,” said Savoie, who was elected president in June. “Now I can tell just as good a story verbally. It’s been great.”
As members move from beginning to advanced speaking projects, they earn certificates of achievement and other awards. The more awards a club’s members get, the more awards the club itself earns from Toastmasters International, Jorgenson said.
The Clipper City Toastmasters’ success has earned them the title of Distinguished President’s Club, the top honor bestowed by Toastmasters International.
If you go
What: Clipper City Toastmasters Open House
When: Monday, 7-8 p.m.
Where: Newburyport Public Library, 94 State St.
More information: www.clippercitytm.org or www.toastmasters.org
If you join
Meetings: Held on the first and third Tuesday of every month from 7-9 p.m. at Newburyport CleanTech Center, 10 Mulliken Way. Open to anyone 18 and older.
Dues: $20 one-time fee to register and get manuals. $10 monthly dues, with $60 due on April 1 and Oct. 1. Dues are pro-rated for those who join in a month other than April or October. Guests are welcome to observe a few meetings for free before deciding to join.