Tiger Tales: RIT launches campus Toastmasters International chapter

Participants develop leadership and communication skills through organization and camaraderie

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Michelle Cometa

Rob McCartney welcomes guests to the Tiger Tales Toastmasters International meeting in April. It was open to members and guests to learn more about the new campus organization.

Few people are “naturals” when it comes to making speeches in front of crowds. But practice and feedback from peers can help novice presenters become skilled speakers, according to Toastmasters International.

This year, RIT established Tiger Tales, a campus chapter of Toastmasters, and opened one of its regular meetings to campus guests. More than 30 people attended the meeting recently—participating as members for the day—and heard presentations by chapter members and critiques of those speeches. It was a chance to see the Toastmasters process firsthand and to encourage guests to join the chapter to help them develop public speaking skills, said Haleem Syed, Tiger Tales chapter president.

Established this past January, the chapter is sponsored by RIT’s Office of Graduate Studies and has 21 members consisting of students, faculty and staff. Presentations are part of the learn-by-doing philosophy of Toastmasters where speakers select topics, combinations of personal anecdotes and persuasive messages, and focus on speaking techniques such as organizing ideas or using body language correctly. Having a campus-based chapter is intended to increase interest in public speaking and accessibility, especially for students with limited transportation, Syed ’08 (electrical engineering) explained.

“Anyone who has been to an off-campus Toastmasters’ club will tell you that they can see the positive impact this club can have on their communication skills,” he said. “Our very first meeting attracted 40 people without any elaborate PR campaign. Since then, we have had 15 meetings, which translates to 30 speeches by members who have never given a speech before.”

Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization with more than 14,000 chapters in 122 countries, helps participants hone skills in public speaking and leadership. It is a resource for individuals in fields as varied as business, technology and education. Meetings consist of impromptu talks, peer reviews, vocabulary and grammar development and an overview of parliamentary procedure.

At RIT’s event, Brennan Coon, assistant director of RIT’s intramurals and club sports, shared his experiences over 30-plus years traveling with his father to Watkins Glen, N.Y., watching some of racing’s biggest names compete and experiencing the victories as well as tragedies that happened over time. “I love going because of the track’s history. It has staying power to keep fans in the seats. The track has the same soul,” said Coon. “It’s the memories that live on, and make up the great stories of Watkins Glen. I hope that the triumphs are more prominent than the tragedies.”

Coon’s story resonated with his evaluator who pointed to the speech’s strong, descriptive language and imagery. Constructive feedback is given to the speaker, highlighting strengths and providing insights to improve their next speech, Syed added.

“On the surface this seems to simplistic, but we have seen time and again, that this process can completely transform the way you communicate. I believe this happens because the feedback is tailored to you. It’s almost like one-to-one coaching over an extended period of time. You will get better.”

RIT’s Tiger Tales Toastmasters organization meets Fridays at noon in Institute Hall, room 1140. For more information, contact Syed at has1061@rit.edu or 585-208-5540.