FAIRFIELD — The Golden Speakers Toastmasters, Club 7515 of Fairfield, invited community members to enjoy an evening of storytelling at the Fairfield Public Library on Tuesday evening.
“Telling Tales: A Lively Assortment of Iowa Storytellers” featured performances from five Toastmaster members from both Fairfield and Cedar Rapids. Theresa Mickelson, Aaron Russell, Jamie Ward, Jean Symington Craig and Mark Latta enraptured audience members with their tales about near-death experiences in Costa Rica, sneaking into concerto performances of world-renowned musicians and attempting to win stripping competitions at bars.
Dan Craig, president of the Golden Speakers, said the group tries to have one big event each year.
“Usually we have a speaker but we happened to see an event that the Crossroads Storytellers did at a bar in Iowa City and it was so funny, we thought, ‘let’s have a storytelling event this year,’” he explained.
Before launching into their stories, each speaker was asked to explain how Toastmasters, a nonprofit educational organization geared toward helping people develop better communication and public speaking skills, has improved their storytelling abilities.
Mickelson, the current district director of the nonprofit, said the organization has drastically altered her ability to stand in front of a crowd.
“I have to say that over the years, I didn’t start here. I would have been outside of the room, peeking around the corner wondering what was actually happening because I was too frightened to even join,” she said, right before launching into a tale about a precarious ride over a dilapidated bridge in Costa Rica that could have ended in her and her husband’s death.
Russell, a local Fairfield member, explained at the beginning of his speech that he came from a theater background where he was often lauded with praises after performances, but not challenged to consider how he could improve.
“Being critical of yourself allows you to realize that you aren’t perfect and you always have ways to improve yourself and become a better speaker as a result,” Russell said.
The Fairfield resident works as an engineer for John Deere and has been part of the organization for about a year. He joined because he wanted to find ways to continue to be involved with speech and performance outside of a theater stage.
“This was a good next step for me, something that is a little more professional oriented. What I really like about this and what makes it fun is that everyone comes with this sense that they want to learn something. We do a lot of evaluations of each other, it’s all these different things that make you think of speaking in a different way,” he said.
During his speech, Russell shared with the audience about spending a day at home alone, battling his family dog after provoking her to a point of aggression. The funny tale ended with Russell’s parents finally arriving, only to notice their dog sleeping away peacefully, an inconsistent image with Russell’s claims that she had been attacking him.
Jean Craig, another local Fairfield member, served as the emcee of the evening in addition to telling her own story. Craig said the organization plays a huge role in helping build leadership within the community.
“We’re committed to helping the community and the community members improve. Toastmasters is probably the most cost-effective organization for improving leadership and communication skills, which is needed in business, nonprofit organizations. It’s needed in homeowners associations, it’s needed in churches, it’s needed in families. We feel like we’re doing a community service,” she said.
Craig added that her own personal experiences lead her to joining the group in 2006.
“I had a bad previous experience [with public speaking] and I said to myself, I’m never going to put myself in that position again, but I started to feel like I have things to say. So I had to get over it, and Toastmasters came highly recommended,” she said.