Toastmasters Warming Up In Bridgehampton

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A small, encouraging round of applause trailed Carmen Adriana as she walked to the podium—and for every other public speaker at last Thursday’s ToastHampton meeting at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton.Smiling in front of 10 people in her high-heeled boots and a bob with bangs, Ms. Adriana presented “Project 6,” a short speech using vocal variety. Not only did her inflections rise and fall as she explained “why I love Thanksgiving,” she also used hand gestures—an upward stab, a soft air chop, a finger-by-finger countdown—for emphasis. At one point, Ms. Adriana pretended to pop the lid off a can of cranberry sauce and dump it out.

“Phllllllphphhh,” she suction-sounded, mimicking the cranberry sauce sliding out. “If it doesn’t make that sound, it’s not my Thanksgiving.”

Her speaking time? Five minutes and 20 seconds, the Timer for the meeting, Timothy Jochen, reported to polite applause.

Number of filler words? Only two, reported Meg Rudansky, the evening’s Ah-Counter, also to applause.

General evaluation? Fun topic, good pitch variety and movements, could’ve used “a little bit more of a punch line,” said Mr. Jochen, Ms. Adriana’s Evaluator and a Toastmasters area governor from Huntington Station, to more applause.

“We’re judged by the way we speak—like it or not, it’s a fact of life,” explained Anthony Devivio, the evening’s General Evaluator, managing director of the Hamptons at Halstead Property, and the partner of Ms. Adriana, a wardrobe specialist who used to go to Toastmasters International in New York City before moving to East Hampton in February.

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit group that helps people feel more comfortable in front of an audience, teaching public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network. It has 14,350 clubs in 122 countries and has been up and running since 1924.

According to the organization’s website, famous Toastmasters have included a Miss America, an NBA basketball coach and NBA player, business executives, a rock musician, and politicians—the last being partial to a public speaking technique called “the slide,” which is a deft change of subject.

Until early last summer, South Fork residents who wanted to participate in Toastmasters International had to drive to Brookhaven National Laboratory, as one of last Thursday’s participants, Rachel Rudansky of Bridgehampton, used to do. Then Ms. Adriana started up ToastHampton meetings with an assist from Kelly Harris, the Hampton Library’s director, who let her use a downstairs community room at the Bridgehampton library from 6 to 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.

Ms. Adriana hopes to recruit at least 20 members so that her group, of which she is “self-appointed president,” can become a chartered outlet of Toastmasters International.

“If you go to China, you can go to a meeting” and find “instant friends,” since the group is 292,000 strong, Ms. Adriana told the small gathering, which included two toasters’ partners and two Toastmasters leaders from the west. Rachel Rudansky later said that she had done precisely that while visiting Germany.

Her role for the evening was Table Topics Master—the person who calls on others to give a very brief speech on a subject made up on the spot. Daylight-saving time, buying versus leasing a car, and giving extemporaneous speeches were the ones Ms. Rudansky came up with, while the audience offered the three speakers appreciative chuckles or reassurance where appropriate.

“I like speaking, but know I can refine it,” Carol David of East Hampton said after tackling daylight-saving time. Like Mr. Devivio, she works for Halstead, and this was her first ToastHampton meeting. “I thought it was very fun,” she said. “I’m going to come again and keep going.”

Meg Rudansky, an elder law attorney who lives in Sag Harbor, said Rachel Rudansky, who is her sister-in-law, had turned her on to the group and that this was about her fourth meeting. “I was looking at Toastmasters as an opportunity to learn skills,” she said, explaining that her line of work is mostly counseling, “with a high comfort level,” but adding that she is sometimes asked to speak in front of larger groups.

“As soon as I saw it was happening, I got on board,” said Rachel Rudansky. “I have a dream to be a public speaker and present my ideas to an audience,” she said, going on to explain that she likes to do clowning and improvisational theater, and hopes to more effectively share what she knows about holistic health care.

“Even the top speakers in the world feel nervous,” explained Don Romard, president of the Toastmasters chapter at Brookhaven National Laboratory, who gave an audiovisual presentation on the attractions of Block Island and recommended using short, bulleted speech notes, as he had done.

Mr. Devivio, whose “Ah-Count” had been zero when his Table-Topic was purchasing a car, explained the importance in the sales world of an “elevator speech,” in which a speaker needs to nail a listener’s attention in, say, 30 seconds or less.

Fulfilling his role as General Evaluator, he gave an assessment of Thursday night’s session.

“Overall, I thought that the meeting was great,” he said. “There are no mistakes when you’re in this crowd.”

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