Many STEM students would rather spend hours solving equations than speaking in front of a crowd, but members of the UT Sciences Toastmasters organization challenge themselves every week to improve their speech skills.
The organization is an extension of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit founded to encourage people to embrace public speaking. On March 24, the group will hold an open house for potential members of all majors to discover the club and hear speeches.
The meetings are structured so that each member must speak at least once, whether through a critique of the prepared speeches of the day or by engaging in an impromptu activity.
A “toastmaster of the evening,” who can be any member, acts as the host for each meeting. Members give prepared speeches of varying levels pertaining to the topic of the day. Previous topics include “work-life balance” and “bizarre situations.” These speeches are critiqued by a “grammarian” who checks for grammar, an “ah counter” who counts the use of words such as “um,” and a “time keeper” who tracks the length of the speech.
Otitoaleke Akinola, electrical engineering graduate student, said the critiques have helped him improve his communication, especially as an international student.
“When I first came to the U.S. I was having issues with communication,” Akinola said. “I wanted to learn some tricks on how to articulate and when I got here (UT Science Toastmasters) I found that place … I love how organized it is. I joined because communication is a day to day thing. Nobody cares about my major unless I can communicate to my clients what I’m working on.”
The organization competes in speech contests hosted by Toastmasters International, which contain categories such as “Table Talks,” where competitors must perform an impromptu speech on a surprise topic, similar to an activity in their meetings. This year two members represented UT Toastmasters at area level, and physics freshman Tarek Zaher will go to district for Table Talks.
“I was so honored and flattered when I won because I’m so new,” Zaher said. “Toastmasters is more than just public speaking, it’s human interaction and connecting with people.”
Zaher added that he joined the club because he feels as a science major, he must learn to communicate to better his prospective career.
“The terrible truth about physics is that it’s very boring, and so the true talent in physics is to somehow make it interesting,” Zaher said. “I’m very interested in learning (speaking skills) because physics can enrich people’s lives.”
Karlos Kazinakis, UT Toastmasters president and engineering mechanics graduate student, said he encourages people, no matter how shy, to join.
“The warmth and the friendliness of the environment and the whole group has inspired me,” Kazinakis said. “I love public speaking because it gives me the opportunity to speak out to other people to influence them and be influenced by them. We aren’t just a faceless organization where people come and go … there’s always friendship and familiarity. We are friends first.”