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Sharpening communication skills for 75 years: Gaveliers Toastmasters Club marks anniversary

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 13, 2017

Dave Moore gives an impromptu Table Topic speech on “What is truth?”  during a Toastmaster meeting at  Something Else Deli, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The Gavaliers Toastmasters Club has been meeting continuously since 1942. The meets every Tuesday morning to hone their communication skills. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Dave Moore gives an impromptu Table Topic speech on “What is truth?” during a Toastmaster meeting at Something Else Deli, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The Gavaliers Toastmasters Club has been meeting continuously since 1942. The meets every Tuesday morning to hone their communication skills. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Truth in the media.

The Shroud of Turin.

How to know when a politician is telling the truth.

The importance of honesty in marriage.

Many people were still sleeping, or just finishing their first cup of coffee at 6:30 a.m., but the group gathered at Something Else Deli on Dec. 5 fearlessly tackled the above topics despite the early hour.

Every Tuesday, members of the Gaveliers Toastmasters Club convenes to sharpen their wits and their communication skills. And this group has been doing it for a long time – 75 years to be exact.

“We were founded in 1942 and have been meeting continuously ever since,” said Dick Jensen, club president.

The Gaveliers is one of 16,400 Toastmasters clubs in 141 countries, and one of just 77 clubs in the world now in their 75th year.

Founded in 1924, by Ralph Smedley, a YMCA employee, Toastmasters’ goal has always been to develop leadership and communication skills among its members. Currently, 352,000 men and women are registered members.

If the early morning time slot isn’t for you, other groups in the area meet during the noon hour or in the evening.

Jensen joined in 1985.

“I wanted to improve myself,” he said. “Toastmasters helps you communicate, not just to groups, but also one-on-one.”

The meetings follow a fairly strict format. A brief time of mingling, followed by an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, then one or two prepared speeches, followed by evaluations, and lastly, table topics – impromptu timed speeches.

Bill Franks served as master of ceremonies.

“Toastmasters is viewed as a public speaking club, but it’s more about ideas, creativity and discovering yourself,” he explained.

Larry Stalley, a local pastor, was first on the docket with a speech he’d prepared about the Shroud of Turin. A timekeeper used a panel of colored lights to help Stalley stay within the 7- to 9-minute time limit. A green light flashed at the 8-minute mark, followed by a yellow light at 9 minutes. and the red light at 10.

An assigned evaluator takes notes and offers feedback at the conclusion of the speech, and awards are handed out at the end of each meeting.

Dave Moore, a retired pilot, evaluated Stalley’s speech, giving the pastor high marks for stepping out from behind the lectern, using engaging gestures and keeping listeners in suspense with his title, “The Riddle of the Ages.”

He did point out that at 10 minutes and 52 seconds, his speech overran the time limit.

“We talk a lot about time here, because it’s so important,” said Franks. “If you don’t start your meetings on time or let them go on too long, that’s not professional.”

Next up, Kevin Paulson presented table topics. The theme of the day was truth and Paulson fired off topics at random members, who then stood and addressed the topic.

He asked Moore what the phrase “you can’t handle the truth” means.

“Let me turn that around,” Moore said. “If you want to handle the truth, and get to the truth, you need to listen. The other side of Toastmasters is listening.”

Guests don’t need to fear being targeted with a table topic – the off-the-cuff speeches are reserved for members.

District Court Judge Dick Leland was tasked with the topic “truth in media.”

He deftly addressed the somewhat sticky subject by saying, “Truth is kind of a moving concept. There’s an edge and people are always moving toward it – working the fringe.”

Leland joined the Gaveliers more than 25 years ago. He’s been a lawyer for 27 years, and a District Court judge for nearly five.

“I’m very much in the communication business and I use the skills that I have gained through Toastmasters each and every day,” he said. “We are all involved in communication wherever we find ourselves.”

He said the benefit of attending weekly meetings is that “over time you cannot help becoming a better communicator and certainly a more confident one.”

Retired Catholic priest the Rev. Ted Bradley, 91, falls in the confident category.

“Toastmasters helps,” he said. “My sermons are fantastic!”

At the other end of the age spectrum, new member Flash Hodges, 25, hopes the group will help him feel more comfortable and knowledgeable.

So far so good, he said.

“I learn something new every time I come.”

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