Doug Smith had a problem with "ums" -- something that didn't help when he gave speeches on finances at the hospital where he worked. Those "ums" kept popping up throughout his talks.
Smith didn't realize there was an issue until a neighbor talked him into attending a Toastmasters meeting. There, he learned how to organize his material to cater to his audience and also to eliminate those pesky u-words.
The chief financial officer for McKay-Dee Hospital was so impressed with Toastmasters that he founded the Rise and Shine Orators group at the Ogden hospital.
The Toastmasters organization -- which teaches communication and public-speaking skills -- has more than 12,000 groups around the world, a dozen of them in Northern Utah.
Each meeting is officiated by a Toastmaster, the group leader, who chooses several people to give speeches, which are then evaluated.
"Our toasmaster usually has a theme for the meeting and sometimes you talk about news events," said Ellen Snyder, vice president of the Rise and Shine Orators.
Snyder decided to join the group two years ago to help with presentations in business meetings. She noticed a change in her verbal delivery as well as how she wrote those presentations.
Case of the 'ums'
Toastmaster groups help members with several facets of speech-making.
For example, a timekeeper holds up colored cards that give visual clues to the speaker to help him/her recognize when she has talked long enough or too long.
An "um"-counter counts every instance the speaker used "ums" or "uhs" -- filler words that are a public-speaking no-no.
Smith recalled one man with a severe case of filler words.
"We counted 60 'ums' in his speech," Smith said.
The "um" counter is not just reserved for "ums." An "all right" or "and so" and can also ruin a speech's momentum, said Kimberly Telford.
"Unfortunately, what we find is that there ... (are people who don't) ... even realize that they use filler words, and they don't know what filler words are," said Telford, a Toastmaster division C governor who leads groups from Northern Utah and Southern Idaho.
Toastmasters is not meant solely for those in public-speaking roles, but also for everyday conversation. Snyder said that shows in the diversity of the membership, which includes stay-at-home mothers, college students, business professionals and even the unemployed.
"It helps in your communication if you're just trying to get the point across," said Marion Gorder, Toastmasters area C3 governor, responsible for the groups in Ogden and Box Elder County. "Sometimes you really need to be clear in what you're saying and not to speak too quickly without thought. You can mess it up."
The classic advice of "speak before you think" is one of the main lessons. Every week, the group plays a table-topic game where someone is chosen to stand in front of the group as the Toastmaster gives him/her a question such as: What is your favorite color? What is your favorite invention?
The speaker must then speak for one to two minutes on that topic and then be evaluated on his/her answer.
"That's to hone your skills of speaking on your feet," Snyder said.
Members are taught to take a long breath, repeat the question and formulate their thoughts into words.
While a majority of people today are not in a public-speaking position, Telford said, everyone can benefit from impromptu speaking practice. That includes those who are vying for a new job; the interview can be what separates them from other candidates.
"A good communicator really can get a lot of jobs," Telford said. "Because in a job interview, what you want to do is leave the interviewer wanting more.
"You have to communicate with your spouse and children, too. And how often do we have communication issues there?"
Speaking of ...
* Just do it. Ellen Snyder, vice president of the Rise and Shine Orators, said the first step is shedding your fear of public speaking -- and just try it.
* Be yourself. "Don't try to imitate someone else," said Kimberly Telford, Toastmaster division C governor. "Because the thing that draws people to you is being who you are, injecting your personality and having fun doing it."
* Take a breath, repeat the question to yourself and "formulate your thoughts and spit them out quickly," Telford said.
* Watch those filler words. It's better to say nothing for a quick second than to say, "... um ..."
* "Most people get up and they kind of ramble," Telford said. Instead, go back to formulating your thoughts. Toastmasters also does not recommend reading from a script.
* Make eye contact with people in the entire room.
* "If you forget a line -- don't apologize," Snyder said. "It kind of changes the momentum in the speech. It takes away from what you were saying."
LOCAL TOASTMASTER GROUPS
* Box Elder Club
Brigham City and Logan
Meets 7 p.m. second and fourth Wednesdays
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, (435) 753-0101
* GSBE Club
Weber State University
Meets 11:45 a.m. second and fourth Fridays
Contact: email@example.com, (801) 626-8610
* I Express Toastmasters Club
Meets 4:15 p.m. first and third Tuesdays
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, (801) 394-2726
* Leadership Pathways Toastmasters Club
Meets 10 a.m. first and second Saturdays
Contact: email@example.com, (435) 734-2300
* Mount Ogden Toastmasters Club
Meets 6:30 p.m. second and fourth Thursdays
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, (801) 825-3423
* Outspokers Anonymous
Meets 5:30 p.m. Mondays
Contact: email@example.com, (801) 725-3729
* Rise and Shine Orators
Meets 7 a.m. Tuesdays
Contact: Marion.Gorder@imail.org, (801) 387-3713
* TNT Club
Meets 7 p.m. Wednesdays
Contact: tnt.freetoasthost.info, (801)251-4566
* Toast of the Town Club
Meets 1 p.m. second and fourth Wednesdays
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, (801) 721-7306
* WSUAA Club
Weber State University
Meets noon Mondays
Contact: email@example.com, (801) 393-4836