By Greg Beckwith - 04/17/12 11:20 PM EDT
It was as a Senate intern that Christine Clapp attended her first Toastmasters International meeting. Worried that her speaking skills might become rusty, the former college debater later decided to join the Senate’s chapter to not only refine her public speaking but also learn new skills, like evaluating other speakers.
Clapp, who went on to become a press secretary for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), credits the U.S. Senate Toastmasters club for much of her professional success. She is now the founder and president of the public speaking business Spoken With Authority.
The goal of the Senate’s Toastmasters club is to improve the public speaking and leadership skills of Senate staffers and its other public- and private-sector members.
“The Senate Toastmasters Club is successful because it helps improve the confidence and expert presentation skills for members whose jobs require exceptional communication,” says Daniel Rex, Toastmasters International executive director.
Evan Liddiard, a current member and past club president, sees the skills that Toastmasters hones as vital to any congressional staffer’s job duties.
“The Senate Toastmasters Club is unique in that it is a club dedicated to increasing communication and leadership skills in a place where these skills are vital to the success of the republic,” he says in an email. “In the ‘Greatest Deliberative Body in the World,’ it is not just the senators who need to know how to communicate and lead, but also those who support them.”
Because public speaking plays such a prominent role in politics, many of the Senate’s club members have also become go-to speaking professionals. Karima Mariama-Arthur, immediate past club president, works with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute to provide the basics of a Toastmasters education. She recently conducted speechcraft workshops with CHCI personnel.
“The results of the workshops were quite compelling,” says Mariama-Arthur, who is working toward the Advanced Communicator Gold Award. That will make her a Distinguished Toastmaster, the organization’s highest honor.
“The experience has truly affirmed that the work we do in Toastmasters is invaluable and that, when the skills we learn are applied meaningfully and consistently, we have the potential to produce life-altering results — not just for ourselves, but for the world around us,” she said in an email.
Clapp, who joined the Senate chapter in 2003, agrees.
“I certainly wouldn’t have the thriving business I do now if not for my participation in Senate Toastmasters,” says Clapp, also a communications professor at George Washington University.
Though serious in its mission and composed of politically minded people, the Senate Toastmasters Club is not serious about politics. The meetings, which are open to anyone with an interest in public speaking, are nonpartisan.
“The Senate Toastmasters Club is one place in the Senate where partisanship and incivility are set aside and staff and friends from all sides come together for the purpose of improving interpersonal skills,” Liddiard says.
The club is planning a celebration Friday in the Dirksen Senate Office Building to recognize the VIP members and accomplishments of the past 40 years. (Among its alumni is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.) The featured speaker is Dana LaMon, a retired California administrative law judge and Distinguished Toastmaster who was the 1992 public speaking world champion.
Toastmasters International was founded in 1924 in Santa Ana, Calif.