NE Philly Toastmasters celebrate the holidays

The organization that promotes public speaking had a holiday party.

Raise a toast: The organization’s objective is “public speaking made fun.” The group meets weekly at Aria Health Torresdale Campus, 10800 Knights Road. JOHN COLE/ TIMES PHOTOS

On Dec. 19, Northeast Philly Toastmasters Club met for a holiday party, with members bringing presents, enjoying a bevy of food and beverages and conversing before the weekly meeting officially began.

The organization’s objective is “public speaking made fun,” and it has a diverse group of members. The weekly meetings are held Tuesday nights from 7 to 9 at Aria Health Torresdale Campus, 10800 Knights Road.

After the shared meal, the meeting kicked off with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a reciting of the “Toastmasters Promise.”

Maryna Hradovich, president of the club, was particularly pleased with the number of people in attendance and requested those who were guests of members to introduce themselves to the room. The guests stood up and told the room who they were and why they decided to attend the meeting. The welcoming environment of the group was evident from the beginning, with each address by a guest followed by a round of applause.

Each guest had their own unique reason for why they were in attendance that night, but that does not change the direction of the meeting, said club secretary Darcel D. Davenger.

“We are all here for the same reason,” Davenger said. “To learn to be better speakers and to be better leaders. We are all going in different directions, we all have different perspectives, but the objective is to become a distinguished toastmaster.”

Davenger has been a member of the club since April 2014, but her story of joining the group is certainly a unique one.

During 2014, her husband was in the hospital at Aria Health Torresdale Campus, and she decided to go toward the cafe to grab a cup of coffee and tea. Little did she know she was going to stumble upon a group that would be worth joining.

Davenger was attracted by the banner hanging for the group outside of the meeting room and proceeded to ask what the group was about. She has been attending these weekly meetings ever since this unlikely encounter.

Two members delivered the “joke of the day” and the “quote of the day,” which helped set the mood for the evening.

A key component of delivering an effective speech is to expand one’s vocabulary, so each meeting, there is a “word of the night.” The group’s word for the night was “vigorously.”

Each member in attendance was given the opportunity to not only deliver a one-minute speech to the room, but to receive a gift brought by another member and describe what the gift means to them. The 30-plus members and some guests received a variety of gifts, from holiday candy to board games.

Receiving a gift, eating food and sharing conversations with a friendly group of people makes for a fun night, but Aysylu Ismagilova, vice president of public relations for the club, has seen her involvement leave a positive effect for her outside of the weekly meetings.

“Toastmasters gave me the feeling of responsibility. The ability to speak openly and confidently and just be myself and share my story,” Ismagilova said. “Everyone should come here and develop themselves and grow as a person.”

Hradovich, president of the club, wholeheartedly agreed and has reached new heights in her career because of the group.

“Within a year after joining Toastmasters, I began representing the company for which I work by speaking at various online and offline marketing conferences,” she said. “I have delivered speeches to audiences small and large, including groups of over 1,000 individuals domestically and internationally.”

Hradovich has delivered speeches in Philadelphia, Atlanta and San Francisco and recently delivered a speech in front of 1,000-plus people in a conference in Brazil.

“If it wasn’t for Toastmasters, I wouldn’t be able to give speeches right now,” Hradovich said. “Toastmasters has been a great help for me. Not just on the speaking side, but I also learned leadership skills here as well.”

With international speeches planned in the near future for her as well, she still recognizes the importance of honing her skills and assisting others in the organization at the weekly meetings.

Before the conclusion of the evening, a member of the group who was tasked with being the “Gramarian” gave advice on what she saw as the positives and negatives of the speeches from the evening, but did not single people out. Another member was tasked with being the “AHA counter” and counted the number of times “um” and “so’s” were said during the evening.

The guests of the group had the pleasure of concluding the evening by stating what their big takeaways were.

“I was struck by the mixture of people here,” one guest said. “This is true use of the word communicating.” ••

To join the group, there is a one-time fee that goes toward the Toastmasters International Group, then a $63 fee is paid every six months to the group. For information, email nephillytoastmaster@gmail.com or visit nephilly.toastmastersclubs.org

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com