The learning experience had been so positive for Anish Krishanthan that he wanted to share it at school.
"I had joined a couple of years ago and witnessed others and myself make drastic improvements in speaking ability," says Krishanthan, a Grade 10 student at St. Michael's College School (SMCS), referring to an out-of-school club he experienced.
To successfully bring the new initiative to SMCS and divide the workload, he needed to rally support. Classmate, Gilberto Tumangday was all in, once he heard about the goal.
"We hope to get kids who are shy or uncomfortable speaking in front of others to overcome those fears and enjoy sharing their ideas with their peers because public speaking is a very important tool to have," says Tumangday, also in Grade 10.
Together, both students undertook the required steps to establish a new club at SMCS --- filling out a charter, getting it approved, and finding a club moderator, among other protocols.
"The first teacher I asked was Mr. (Andrew) Rossi," continues Krishanthan. "I knew he was a good, powerful speaker as he taught me history. I also knew he was a lawyer and had experience with how to deliver speeches."
With the initial pieces secured, the Toastmasters Club at SMCS took flight in early March and has been soaring ever since.
It began with 28 students and has grown to more than 50. Club members meet weekly and follow many of the key principles of Toastmasters International, described on its website as, "a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs." Established more than 80 years ago, the organization boasts more than 16,000 clubs in 145 countries and membership in excess of 360,000 worldwide.
A variety of proven techniques and tactics keep each meeting fresh and members engaged. Assigned roles and some preparation ensure time spent together is well-used by all attendees.
"At the beginning, I was maybe a little more hands-on," says Rossi, history teacher at SMCS and Toastmasters Club moderator. "Now it's almost like I just sit there and watch them because they're getting better. It's also better if they're self-directed and learning from one another."
Rossi, who began teaching at SMCS in November 2020, previously taught in a public school board, articled with Infrastructure Ontario, and has worked for Community Legal Aid as a caseworker and litigator.
"Every meeting, there's a particular word of the day that has to be woven into each speech to try to throw people off and make sure that they're learning new vocabulary," says Rossi, describing one of the regular exercises. "Secondly, while they're speaking, someone is counting every time they say 'like', or any of these kind of filler words, so that their speech is more professional and eloquent."
There are also five-minute speeches prepared in advance and delivered on a topic of the students' choice at each meeting.
"Over the course of our club, we expect to see a reduction in filler words, an increase in speaking confidence, better use of gestures, speech clarity, and vocal variety," says Krishanthan, who previously attended Toastmasters events outside school. "Our filler word count in only a couple of months has gone from more than 15 per person to now more than three per person. The progress is wonderful and all our regular members see improvement in thinking on the spot and delivering speeches without preparation."
For Tumangday, it's been a whole new learning curve, and so far, an impactful one.
"I had no prior knowledge of Toastmasters International before starting the club with Anish," he says. "I have learned lots about the members of the club, the different aspects of speech and most importantly, the responsibilities of being a leader of a club or a leader in general. You have to be open-minded and you have to listen just as much if not more than you speak. You need to be able to get people interested when you introduce something new and you have to be able to take chances."
While buoyed by the interest in the group so far, the co-founders are eager to grow the club's membership across all grade levels.
"I would say no matter how much experience you have with speaking, whether you love it or hate it, whether you are an expert or have no experience at all, if you want to learn, share your ideas, or listen to the ideas of others, come to a meeting and see how the club is because we would love to have you and public speaking is a great tool to have in your inventory," adds Tumangday.
"The community that has been created at our club is inclusive and not overly formal," says Krishanthan. "Our meetings play out like a group of friends working together to improve themselves. We allow anybody to join our meetings and spectate if they would like. You can attend a meeting and see what you think. The environment is friendly and inclusive and if you want to be a part of it you will be welcomed with open arms."