“It’s not about giving toasts; that keeps people away,” said Rozina Vertz, the Key Center-Pierce County library branch supervisor and a KP Toastmaster club member. “It kept me away because I thought I would feel so inadequate among people there giving rousing toasts and rousing speeches. But there’s more to it.”
The KP Toastmasters have been training their members in speech craft and leadership since Frank Shirley expanded the club to the KP from Gig Harbor eight years ago.
“I was always shy and I always had a problem with communicating,” said Vertz, who immigrated to the United States from West Germany in 1973. “Thirty years ago, when I first heard about Toastmasters, I knew that I should be in it. I had other things to do, like raising children and working, but of course that was always just an excuse.
“Then I was a supervisor and I had to go to meetings with 20 or 30 people, and the first two years I just participated by listening,” she said. “What changed was that eight years ago Frank Shirley came into the library and brought this poster to hang up, and here it was.”
Toastmasters began in 1905 as a series of speaking clubs organized by Ralph C. Smedley, director of education at the YMCA in Bloomington, Illinois, to teach young men to speak in public settings and encourage participation in their communities. That approach evolved into a supportive, learn-by-doing method that has been spread by Toastmaster clubs all over the world. Women were not admitted to the clubs until the 1980s.
“Basically, it’s about leadership and confidence by learning to speak in public, which is the biggest fear for everybody,” said William Michael Paul, a past Toastmaster president.
“You get a manual with 10 speeches in it,” he said. “Your first speech is called ‘The Ice Breaker’ and it’s only five minutes long, and then it’s built up in blocks. You learn about voice modulation, eye contact, hand gestures, eliminating filler words. You learn how to evaluate with helpful criticism and how to listen. That gives people confidence to come back; we don’t want to scare anyone away.”
“I took an F in college just to avoid an oral report,” said current club president Steve Packer. “I was one of the slower guys to get through my manual. But there are things I want to do with my life and public speaking is one of them. I want to be able to get in front of people and talk about things that I’m passionate about.”
“I’ve been blessed to do about 30 movies, so I didn’t think I needed this but they asked me to give a speech about myself,” Paul said. “I grabbed the podium and I started shaking. I couldn’t look anybody in the eye because in movies, it’s just you, and on stage, there’s the fourth wall and you don’t ever have to look at anybody. And they welcomed me and it took off.”
“The hardest thing was the first speech,” Vertz said. “It was supposed to be four to five minutes. I would time it and it would turn out to be 21 minutes. The title was ‘Reading Is a Waste of Time.’ I stood up there, shaking in my boots and with a bad voice, but I got it over with.
“The reason I presented this speech is because reading wasn’t encouraged in my family,” she said. “There were no books in our house. My parents were farmers and there were seven or eight kids at home, and any time you sat there reading, you did nothing; you weren’t working. This was one of my defining experiences growing up because I was the only one who did this. It separated me from my family in many ways.”
Vertz has worked in the Pierce County library system for 27 years. She has been the Key Center branch supervisor since 2005.