SPEAKING UP: Heidi Fishlock encourages other people to enhance their lives through Toastmasters.
SPEAKING UP: Heidi Fishlock encourages other people to enhance their lives through Toastmasters. Claudia Baxter

Heidi finds a voice with Toastmasters

IF PICTURING the audience in their underwear just isn't cutting it, fear not - there is a better way to master public speaking.

Ipswich is home to a branch of Toastmasters International, an organisation devoted to helping members develop communication and leadership skills.

Through its educational program, the club is improving the lives of people like personal assistant Heidi Fishlock.

The 28-year-old, once considered "shy" in her circle of friends, now speaks confidently in front of hundreds of people.

"At my first Toastmasters meeting, I was asked to give a short impromptu speech and I went blank after 16 seconds," she said.

"I found standing up and talking in front of an audience really daunting, so it took a while for me to come out of my shell."

Miss Fishlock said the fortnightly sessions were packed with prepared and impromptu speeches and table topic discussions.

Each speaker is welcomed to the podium with a handshake and rewarded with enthusiastic applause and helpful evaluations by fellow Toastmasters.

The Redbank Plains resident, who has been with the club for four years, said the experience had benefited her both professionally and socially.

"My friends have noticed a change. I used to sit in a group and not talk much because I worried my opinion would not be valued," she said.

"I now have the confidence to speak up and join in conversations which has, in turn, strengthened my friendships."

Her Toastmaster journey has also enabled Miss Fishlock to compete against other top level speakers. In 2011, she won two competitions to advance to the divisional round against competitors from across Queensland, the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea.

"For that competition I had to make up a speech in front of more than 250 people - it was definitely a highlight."

Former president of the Ipswich Toastmasters Club, Marianne Steentsma, said Miss Fishlock was one of many people who had enhanced their lives through Toastmasters.

"It's an opportunity for people to practise public speaking in a relaxed and encouraging environment," she said.

"When we give feedback on people's speeches, we never criticise them - just offer tips on where they could improve."

The Silkstone resident said the Ipswich club usually drew about 10 to 20 attendees to its meetings.

"Once people develop the skills they need, they generally take what they've learnt and fly alone," she said.

"We are always looking for others to join."

The club meets every first and third Tuesday of the month at 7.15pm on the first floor of the Humanities Building on the corner of South and Nicholas Sts, Ipswich.

For more information phone Bill on 0400 561 264 or email wsteent@ngvemail.com

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