Public speaking is an exercise that can make even the most self-confident person nervous.

Thankfully, there are local organizations specializing in helping people overcome their fear of public speaking.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations.

The Andrew T. McNamara Headquarters Complex is one of the local locations that have a toastmasters club.

Each member of the McNamara HQC toastmasters club joined to overcome different issues they had with public speaking.

"I joined last April to learn how to structure speeches better," said Angela Wilder, McNamara HQC toastmasters club President. "Since I've joined I've gained professionalism, and I've also learned a lot about leadership."

Toastmasters International has a communication and leadership tracks that helps members improve their public speaking and leadership skills.

The two tracks are not mutually exclusive and can be worked on at the same time.

Upon joining, new members receive a packet containing the manual on how to become a competent communicator and competent leader.

Each manual consists of 10 projects.

"The first four of the 10 competent communicator projects are to help you craft a speech, start from the beginning and add details to the speech as you go along," said Ken Henz, McNamara HQC toastmaster. "Five through nine give you techniques on how to deliver the speech, using body language and about combining techniques to be persuasive. The final speech, number 10 is when you put everything together. The speech is a little longer and is supposed to be inspirational."

Advanced Communicator bronze, silver and gold are the final three communicator tracks.

Toastmasters have to do two advanced manuals and each has five projects that focus on a particular area like giving an interpretive reading or how to conduct a television interview. For each advanced level you have to complete two separate manuals.

Wilder has seen her speaking skills grow in a short period of time, but other members of the club have seen growth in themselves as well.

Lydia Morales, a member since 2009, joined because she wasn't sure if audiences could understand her accent while she was speaking.

"I felt uncomfortable speaking in pubic because I didn't know if the audience understood what I was saying," said Morales. "Was it me? My accent? Or the audience? At this moment, I feel very comfortable speaking in public because of all the practice and feedback I've received as a toastmaster."

Henz joined toastmasters in 2006 because he was having trouble focusing during speeches due to cancer treatment. He wanted to reacquire his public speaking confidence.

"It's been an interesting experience," said Henz. "I've learned a lot from everybody in our club."

Retired Master Sgt. Annie Mickle joined toastmasters in 1995 to improve a public speaking habit and improve her leadership skills.

"I couldn't stop shaking my right leg whenever I was speaking," said Mickle. "I came in the Army in 1979. I was in charge of a lot of males, so I couldn't sound wimpy and I was sounding wimpy. So, I was advised to join toastmasters to learn leadership skills."

A toastmaster for nearly two decades, Mickle has seen the fruits of her labor as she was the Mistress of Ceremony for the McNamara HQC's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observance on Jan. 12.

"It was very exciting and I was extremely honored to be asked to be the Mistress of Ceremony," said Mickle. "All the training I've done with toastmasters allowed me to do that."

For more information on the McNamara HQC Toastmasters Club, call Angela Wilder, club president, at (703) 767-9149 or Rodion Wyatt, vice-president for membership, at (703) 767-5973.

Page last updated Thu January 19th, 2012 at 13:24