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Mastering the Art of Public Speaking, Bilingual Style : Nichi-Bei Toastmasters


Each member participates actively in the session
with an assigned role: grammarian, timer, joke master etc…

Sweaty palms, dry mouth, cold sweats and shaky legs: it could be the flu…But the symptoms emerge only when you stand up to speak in front of an audience…no doubt: what you are really facing is a pure case of “PUBLIC SPEECHITIS PHOBIA.”  From this commonly shared challenge emerged a brilliant idea. In 1924, Ralph Smedley, director of Education for a California YMCA, observed that many of his patrons needed “training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings”. He decided to help them and chose a training format similar to a social club. “Toastmasters” was born. 85 years later, the shy organization grew into a network of 11,700 clubs in 92 countries, gathering 235,000 members eager to hone their public speaking skills.

To my delight, I am heading to the only bilingual Japanese/English Toastmasters group in New York, teasing my own demons and stepping out of my usual “restaurant-ordering in Japanese” comfort zone… The Nichi-Bei (Japan-America) Toastmasters meeting is held for 2 hours (equally divided between English and Japanese) on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month, gathering a joyful crowd of international people ready to share the lectern. Each member follows his own path, guided by the Communication and Leadership Notebook, which comprises several “projects” chapters, from “The Ice breaker” to “Persuade with Power”. Far from being a methodical manual, this book is more of a guide to help you set your own goals and establish a learning curve.


No exercise is more difficult than improvisation,
but this master knows how to use humor to light up the audience.

From the minute the President of Nichi-Bei takes the stand to formally open the ceremony, all participants gather in quiet listening: “Good evening Fellow Toastmasters and welcomed guests.” Tonight, the common theme we will dissertate about is Valentine’s Day.  The session is accurately timed and the dedicated “Timer” makes sure to raise a green, orange or red flag to inform the speaker about his remaining stage performance.

After a few introductory, short interventions, including the “word of the day” focus, a punchy joke-telling, and a table-topic improvisation role play, the first prepared speech is ready to be shared. The speaker starts, and two words instantly jump to my mind: eloquence and confidence. The intonation is right, the tone is entertaining, the body language owns the space, the story is flawless and above all I am being given the best advice on “How to Keep Romance Alive”. I am captivated by such an oratorical talent.


A fellow toastmaster brings her speech to life
by using engaging body language and enthusiastic tone.

The bilingual specificity of this group, opens new horizons for each member. Not only can they share views on cultural differences, but they can improve their linguistic skills. I am very impressed by the courage, casual seriousness and ability of the Japanese group-members to address the audience so professionally in English. I am equally amazed to hear how the English native speakers master the art of joke-telling in Japanese, or the difficult task to report constructive criticism in a foreign language to a native speaker!

This gathering could be an endearing bi-monthly experience for any person whose self-confidence is shaken by the tens of eyes directed at them during the speech. But the good will of the participants, the friendliest atmosphere of the group, and the constructive critiques shared by all the members, make the “Nichi-Bei Toastmasters” program one of the most rewarding public speaking enhancement organization. Enjoy watching the butterflies in your stomach flying away!

——– Reported by Ruth Berdah-Canet

Nichi-Bei Toastmasters
The meeting takes place the second and fourth Wednesday of the month.  $20 one-time, new member fee is required to cover New Member kit, and $40 membership fees every six months to cover Toastmasters International membership fee and Nichi-Bei club fee.