Cat got your tongue? Toastmasters lives up to its name

By Andrea Prazmowski – 

It’s true. According to two members of its Westboro chapter, the Toastmasters organization lives up to its name and helps people prepare to make a toast at a special event. But that’s only a small part of what it does and the Westboro folks are opening up their meeting on January 23 to demonstrate how much more they offer.

Tobi Cohen, who lives in the Civic Hospital neighbourhood, says her mother started going to Toastmasters because she was nervous about making a toast at Tobi’s sister’s wedding. The weekly meetings gave her the chance to practise delivering a speech in public and get helpful feedback from other members. The wedding came and went and the toast was a success. Her mother stayed on because she enjoyed the challenge and the people. Tobi soon joined too. She was between jobs and was “looking for a creative outlet and to tell all the stories I’d been collecting” in her career as a journalist. Toastmasters filled that need, and her newly enhanced public speaking skills helped her transition into a second career as a speechwriter with the federal government.

Natasja Billiau was also going through a transition when she joined in January 2016, just three weeks after re-locating from Belgium.

“I was new to the city and looking for the opportunity to learn something new in a supportive environment,” she says. Six months later she stepped in as president of the chapter.

Natasja’s experience prior to joining Toastmasters will be familiar to many.

“Speaking off-the-cuff was very stressful,” she says. “I would be very nervous and wanting it to end as soon as possible, because the moment of giving the speech was not enjoyable at all.”

This past summer, only half a year after joining the group, she too gave a wedding speech – at her best friend’s wedding. This time,  she enjoyed it.  “And my friend really appreciated it too,” she says.

Natasja, a management consultant who lives in Champlain Park, has found the Toastmasters experience helpful in her career, noting that the program focuses on both public speaking and leadership skills. Organizing the meetings, facilitating them, and giving feedback to other members is directly relevant to her work, she says.

A Toastmasters meeting is described as a “learn-by-doing” workshop. Tobi explains that new members first work through the Competent Communication Manual at their own pace, preparing ten different kinds of speeches, each focused on a new skill. Members deliver the speeches at the weekly meetings and continue to build their skills and gain confidence. Topics include how to organize a speech, how to get to the point, using body language, doing research for a speech, and more.

At the upcoming open house, visitors will get an introduction to a typical meeting. There will be a time for Table Topics – when people respond to an impromptu question or topic for one to two minutes. Anyone who attends will be welcome to give it a try, says Tobi, but nobody is pressured to participate.

The open house is Monday, January 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Westboro Masonic Hall (430 Churchill Ave. N.). Admission is free and membership is not required. For additional details go to


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