Jim Webster, center, gives a presentation at a Moab Toastmasters meeting. Webster said the public speaking exercises offer people a great way to organize their thoughts and present their public images. [Photo courtesy of Moab Toastmasters]

Public speaking can be painful for many people, but as Toastmasters International likes to point out, your chances of dying from stage fright are extremely slim.

Moab Toastmasters Club secretary and treasurer Daniel McNeil is living proof of the nonprofit group’s popular saying: Even as a child, McNeil was afraid of public speaking, and he said he was terrified every time he had to give a presentation as part of his job.

Everything changed one day, though, when the Grand Area Mentoring director saw an ad in the paper for a local Toastmasters meeting that offered readers a chance to build their communication skills. He decided to check it out, and McNeil said he found a supportive and friendly environment that helped him build his confidence behind the podium.

Even now, I get nervous when I have to make a speech or a presentation, but I know I can do it,” he said.

McNeil believes that others can benefit from the public speaking and leadership skills that he picked up. He encourages anyone to join him and other members at noon on the first and third Wednesday of each month at the small downstairs conference room inside Zions Bank, 330 S. Main St.

First-time visitors can expect to hear Toastmasters offer critiques or suggestions that improve a speaker’s abilities, but they’ll find that club members are always supportive of others, according to McNeil.

I think that we really focus on helping people develop confidence in getting up and speaking in front of people,” he said.

Moab Toastmasters President Jim Webster said the one-hour sessions can be valuable experiences for people who need to make on-the-job presentations.

It’s a great way to organize your thoughts and present your public self,” he said.

Webster can recall the experiences of one local resident who was, in his words, “absolutely terrified” to speak in public, yet that person had to do so on the job.

Personally, Webster thought the woman did just fine before she began to attend Toastmasters meetings. But perhaps more importantly, he said the woman gained confidence in her own abilities through her experiences with the club.

She would physically become very uncomfortable before,” Webster said. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”

At last count, the Moab group was one of more than 14,000 clubs in 126 countries around the globe.

It’s been going strong for almost 10 years, following a lengthy gap between meetings.

Longtime Moab resident Izzy Nelson is no longer involved in Toastmasters. However, he was an active member during the height of the local group’s first run, when its ranks were full of members from the now-shuttered Green River Launch Complex missile base.

As he looked back on his experiences with the original group, Nelson said he found them to be more meaningful than a college-level speech class he took.

In contrast to that class, Nelson and his fellow Toastmasters couldn’t hide in the back of a room: They participated at every meeting, and every member offered critiques of each other’s presentations.

You’re taught by your peers, and not by an instructor, so you get lots and lots of feedback,” Nelson said. “If you take (that feedback) in the spirit in which it’s given, you can really benefit.”

According to Nelson, a number of notable local residents and community leaders passed through the meeting doors over the years.

It was interesting to watch them grow through the years at their businesses and in the community,” he said. “These are people who maybe started in a low position at their jobs and moved up to management.”

Interest in the local group began to wane after the missile base shut down, and it eventually dissolved before the late Al Boyd and Bob Doherty helped revive it in 2005, according to Webster.

Today, impromptu “speaking from the can” exercises are one of the highlights of Toastmasters meetings. Members who choose to participate speak for one to two minutes about a word or a phrase that’s written on a piece of paper they pick at random from a can.

I’m one of those people who really enjoys that, but others can’t fathom it,” Webster said.

According to McNeil, club members will also test-drive their speeches at Toastmasters meetings, ahead of scheduled presentations elsewhere.

This is a great way to hone your message using member feedback and practice delivery at the same time,” he said.

Toastmasters also offers its members a “Competent Communication” manual, which includes 10 different kinds of speeches that they can work through at their own pace.

The local group is actively looking for new members, and anyone who would like to learn more about the group is free to sit in and observe for a meeting or two at no charge.

You can come in and just be an observer, or you can come in and give a little talk,” Webster said.

For more information, call Daniel McNeil at 435-260-9646. To learn about Toastmasters International, go to http://www.toastmasters.org/.


Group offers supportive environment for building confidence, leadership skills



“I think that we really focus on helping people develop confidence in getting up and speaking in front of people.”


When: Meetings are held at noons on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, with a hiatus each summer

Where: The small downstairs conference room at Zions Bank, 330 S. Main St. For more information, call 435-260-9646

Cost: Introductory meetings are free; members pay $36 for club dues every six months