Every Wednesday night, something strange happens on campus. Every week, between 15 and 20 students come together in the Student Resource Building for a single purpose: to improve their public speaking skills. These students are a rare breed in this day and age of text messages, Facebook and Twitter. The art of rhetoric is dying, yet these students are committed to bringing it back from the precipice of extinction. All of these students are members of the Gaucho Toastmasters group on campus.
The fear of speaking in public, or glossophobia, is the number one fear in the United States. At a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy. That is why Toastmasters exists. It is a place where people can slowly but surely overcome this crippling stage fright. Here’s a fun fact about UCSB’s chapter: almost all of the members started going because they wanted to get over their fear of speaking in front of a large audience.
Even if you do not want to speak in front a large audience, I can almost guarantee that you have had a professor whose lectures were painful to listen to: professors that use “um,” “ah,” “like,” “and,” “so,” “you know,” etc. between almost every other word. The interesting thing is that they likely have no idea they are doing it, even though it takes away from their pathos as an educator. Speaking clearly, and more importantly, speaking intelligently, not only make listening bearable but actually motivate people to pay attention to what you have to say.
In Toastmasters here on campus, students give speeches about almost anything you can think of. Yes, that includes sex, drinking and well, everything else that goes on in I.V. The coolest part of it all though, is seeing the progression and dedication to this ancient art form that is almost anachronistic on a campus like ours. For an hour and a half on Wednesday nights, students from virtually every walk of social life come together and just talk. Frat boys come and give speeches alongside guys in choir and athletes talk with honors students, who speak after students on academic probation.
In the last presidential election we all witnessed Barack Obama’s historic election. What set him apart from John McCain and most definitely from President George W. Bush was his way with words. His speeches were mesmerizing, no matter your political affiliation. He captivated millions of people, using only words. This skill is not difficult to develop, but people today fail to see its use, except for those 15 to 20 students who make up the UCSB Gaucho Toastmasters.