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Local pros perfect the talk
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While serving in the Navy, I had the opportunity of completing a tour as an Electronics Instructor. Although mastery of the subject matter was critical, the hardest part was effectively communicating the ideas to new sailors. Most students did not have a technical background and many were fresh out of high school. In order to hone my verbal communication skills, I joined a local Toastmasters club.

Toastmaster is an international nonprofit organization that operates in local clubs to allow people to come together on a weekly basis to practice the much-feared art of public speaking. A typical meeting consists of impromptu speaking, known as Table Topics, and prepared speeches that move members through exercises in a progressive fashion.

When my family and I moved back to Richmond Hill, the closest organizations were in Savannah. With my schedule, participating in those groups was not an option. Fortunately, I met two seasoned Toastmasters, Bob Mock and Carol Kirchner, who offered to assist me in creating a Richmond Hill club. The group started meeting early January and is well on its way to achieving the 20 members required for charter.

While the club is open and beneficial to all people of various ages, backgrounds, and interests, local professionals are finding the group especially conducive to their professional development.

Shawn Johnson and his wife LaTosha relocated from Atlanta to Richmond Hill in June 2007. Both are active Toastmasters. He is employed by Southwire as an outside sales representative of residential and commercial wiring and cable. His territory is small - if you consider traveling to Tallahassee, Florida small. Shawn, a self-described introvert, found the Toastmaster model immediately beneficial to his profession.

"The first time I saw a round of Table Topics, I knew I needed this. It has been a great way to practice speaking off the cuff and being comfortable in my own skin. Toastmasters has given me an immediate way to separate myself from my competition. Nobody else is putting forth this kind of time to keep communication skills fresh and relevant."

Christy Balbo, a local attorney, found the group to be much different than she expected. "I thought it was going to be more extemporaneous speaking. I had no idea there were prepared speeches and an educational program. I find it very exciting."

Shirley Rowe of Rowe’s Photographers has found that she is a natural. Each meeting produces a winner for the best Table Topics talk given. Shirley won the first three she participated in. She followed that up with an introductory prepared speech that kept the audience listening. She has accepted the nomination as Vice President of Education and is currently working on the general foundation of the weekly impromptu talks. As the group progresses, she will also be responsible for assisting members in moving through their development program. This will become vitally important as Shawn works towards reaching his goal of winning the prestigious, annually awarded, World Champion of Public Speaking.

Andy Uhlig, Richmond Hill resident and founder of the tourism and internet marketing company Uhlig Enterprises, is a Toastmasters success story. Andy immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1986. When Andy joined Toastmasters in 2004, he found an educational and supportive environment in which he could not only improve his presentation skills, but also gain control over the English language. "The Toastmasters club environment is friendly, and I always felt it to be safe there to make mistakes and learn from them instead of taking risks in the real business world where it really counts," Andy says. Now a successful entrepreneur, Andy has made himself very available to new Toastmasters looking to overcome the hesitation that often accompanies public speaking.


The Richmond Hill Toastmasters meets every Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. and is graciously hosted by Magnolia Manor. We think it is a great addition to the local community. I would love to hear what you think.


April Groves covers all things business for the Bryan County News. You can send thoughts, press releases, tips and questions you’d like answered to

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