This Group Helps Conquer the World's Most Pervasive Fear

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This Group Helps Conquer the World's Most Pervasive Fear

You're about to enter a machine that will cleanse your brain of all memories except for one. If you could chose, what would that memory be? You have three minutes to answer and 30 people have their eyes on you.

The question was posed separately to four persons at the South River Toastmasters Club's first competition on May 9. Toastmasters is an international organization that teaches its members speaking, listening, leadership and networking skills. The numbers - 8,800 clubs worldwide, three in Korea - underscore its popularity, which has been growing in Korea.

Park Young-sun, the first competitor, spoke about a beautiful night on an island seashore, then blushed and stepped down from a podium in front of a lecture room at the KOTRA building in Yomgok-dong. A Toastmasters session may look exactly like a high school classroom, except that all its members usually stay wide awake and actively participate.

When Brian Bechard opened with, "I'm not kissing up here, but it would be the summer I met my wife," the audience ohhed and ahhed.

After the impromptu speeches, four other people gave prepared speeches concerning humor. Mr. Bechard won the impromptu speech competition; Richard Nygard won the prepared speech prize.

According to a survey in "The Book of Lists" by David Wallechinsky and Irving and Amy Wallace, fear of public speaking outranks fear of death. The eight competitors on Wednesday night volunteered as a way of overcoming that fear and honing their speaking skills in front of a friendly audience.

"It's a good chance to learn about public speaking from other people, their gestures, the way they talk and act and their approach," said Agnes Lee, who first joined a Toastmasters Club in the government complex in Gwacheon.

Some clubs, like the one in Gwacheon, meet during lunch; participants are primarily government officials. Others, like the South River group, meet for two hours at night, creating a social atmosphere. "A bunch of friends and I wanted to get off the base and meet other people," said Curt Schaefer.

South River Toastmaster attracts from college students to business people to government officials and GIs. Some attend to practice English, a trend that is common in the international club. Georg Brunner first joined a Toastmasters Club in Germany to improve his English and to develop his leadership abilities. When he moved to Korea, on top of his agenda was joining a Toastmasters Club.

The first Korean Toastmasters, called Pacific Sunset, began on the U.S. Yongsan base in 1992. One member, Kevin Kim, became tired of having to commute to the north side of the Han river, and struck off on his own, creating the Seoul South River Club in 1999. In May 2000, the club received its official charter from the headquarters in California.

The clubs in Europe and America may be more established, but increasing participation has led to developments like the addition of a Toastmasters in Gwacheon at the beginning of this year. As Toastmasters becomes more established in Korea, future competition winners may be able to attend international competitions.

The average weekly session is a mixture of impromptu and prepared speeches with an evaluation session afterwards. Members are able to take on duties other than speaking and develop other skills such as listening and conducting meetings.

Most members, who talk to each other with a direct gaze and an upright posture, say that their speaking abilities have improved, and some have even found a calling in public speaking. "You get a high from of speaking," Mr. Nygard said.

Jeff Klose agreed. "It's like a drug in a way, but you never stop being nervous in front of an audience." For more information,call 011-398-4267.

by Joe Yong-hee

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