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A toast to learning: this social club is all about small talk (and big speeches)

Collingwood Toastmasters is marking its 40th anniversary as a local club
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A Collingwood club is offering to help untie your tongue and string together some sentences with public speaking practice – even from the privacy of your own home.

Collingwood's Toastmaster club aims to make sure your ability to make a toast goes beyond the bread-and-butter basics.

Collingwood Toastmasters is an educational club that teaches individuals public speaking and leadership skills. Part of a worldwide network, the organization is dedicated to creating opportunities for its local members to learn, practice and develop communication skills through bi-weekly meetings and presentations. 

Toastmasters International has over 16,000 clubs in 145 countries around the world, each with approximately 20 members. Along with Collingwood, additional clubs in the area include Barrie, Orillia, Midland and the Blue Mountains. 

“It’s such a great organization, the meetings are always interesting, and the knowledge and skills you gain are so valuable,” said Lynda Jeffery, vice president of education and the Collingwood club’s former president. 

Jeffery joined Toastmasters 20 years ago. She had recently started a career in financial planning and wanted to enhance her communication skills. She found herself struggling to communicate clearly with her clients and it began affecting her work. 

“I didn’t know what to do and I would have these panic attacks,” said Jeffery. “Obviously it was a problem, so I joined the club and then I started having so much fun. I just love it, and I’ve gained so many friendships from it.” 

This year, Collingwood Toastmasters is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a local club. In honour of the occasion, the members are planning an open house in May. The celebration will be hosted over Zoom, and members are encouraging anyone who has an interest in public speaking or wants to learn more about the club to attend. 

“We tend to get people who are just like me, starting out in a business and feeling like they could use some help with their communication,” said Jeffery. “I believe in what Toastmasters does for people so much that I am committed to making sure the program stays in our area and is available for people.”

The way the global organization works is through an online educational platform called Pathways. The self-paced learning program focuses on building professional skills through 10 learning “paths” made up of 60 projects. After taking an online assessment, members are guided to the ideal path based on their current goals. Then, during each meeting, three or four members will give a speech or presentation on what they are currently learning in their path. 

Along with the educational platform, members are assigned specific roles each week, anything from chairing the meeting or evaluating the speakers to telling a joke or leading an impromptu speaking series. 

“It’s really neat because every single meeting there is an opportunity to learn and participate and develop those skills even further,” said Jeffery. 

Traditionally, the club meets in person at the Collingwood Public Library, but following the outbreak of COVID-19, they have been hosting meetings virtually, via Zoom. 

“I don’t think we ever missed a meeting, we just jumped right into Zoom,” said Jeffery. “It was a bit of a learning curve figuring out how to manage the meetings online, but it’s worked out quite well.”

Collingwood Toastmasters meet the first and third Thursday of every month from the beginning of September until the end of June. Meetings start at 7:00pm and typically run for two hours.

There are currently 10 members in the Collingwood club, but guests are always welcome and the club is always looking to recruit new members. 

“We are very keen to grow our club,” said Jeffery. “It’s a lot easier to fill the roles and keep people speaking.” 

Membership costs approximately $200 over the course of the year, but Jeffery said it’s worth every penny. 

“You would not believe the transformation we see in people, it is amazing. It is an invaluable skill,” she said. “Plus it’s fun. There are always so many funny things and little jokes that will go on, and the speeches are just incredible.”

For more information about the Collingwood Toastmasters or to join a meeting, visit the club’s local website.

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Maddie Johnson

About the Author: Maddie Johnson

Maddie Johnson is an early career journalist working in financial, small business, adventure and lifestyle reporting. She studied Journalism at the University of King's College, and worked in Halifax, Malta and Costa Rica before settling in Collingwood
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