What We Do

Posted June 6, 2013 by Speak Up! Toastmasters
Categories: Uncategorized

A few weeks ago, Speak Up! member Reuben Schuff won second place at the District 37 International Speech Contest. (Congratulations, Reuben!) This post is about his experience leading up to the contest.
What We Do
by Reuben Schuff, CC 

We are what we choose. We are not victims of circumstance or situation. We are CHANGED BY WHAT WE DO.”  These sentences started my journal January 2, 2013, and become my contest speech. I stated with the statement, “My New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to be as uncomfortable as possible!” With the help and support of many of you in my clubs and in the District, I have achieved my goal over this last 6 months.  I talked about challenges, pushing our comfort zone, and reaching new achievements.


Toastmasters is entirely about the growth of its members.  Traditionally, we are asked to do 10 projects as steps to our next achievement award. As I’ve prepared and practiced for the international speech contest, I feel that I have done the same project, 10 times.  And from this I have grown immensely as a communicator.  Every nit has been picked, ever scratch exposed, every edit made to make the content clear, crisp, and meaningful.  The delivery was polished until voice and body emulated the meaning of the message.


The ascending levels of the contest pushed me to be the very best I could be and allowed me the opportunity to communicate something worth saying, and to communicate it the best I could.  My thanks to those who have listened to and critiqued my presentation, allowed me to make revisions and listened and critiqued again, and again and again. I was the best I could be because I was surrounded by amazing people who poured their wisdom in to me.  May you be challenged this year, push yourself to grow and be lifted up to new achievements.

How to Stop Saying Ah and Um

Posted April 3, 2013 by Speak Up! Toastmasters
Categories: Blog Post, public speaking tips

Great speaking skills are critical in life. They determine if you get the job. They determine if you land that contract. They determine if you get the girl. And nothing can improve your speaking skills better than getting rid of those ‘ah’s and ‘um’s. These distracting verbal fillers make you look less prepared, less confident, and less professional.

Verbal fillers, meaning random ‘ah’s and ‘um’s, hurt you when you speak. In casual situations, it’s expected. However, during a professional presentation, an interview, or even during a toast at dinner it makes you look unprepared and your message gets lost. Which is why reducing them can really improve your communication skills! Here are five tips that will help you stop your verbal fillers.

  • Be prepared

If you have something scheduled to say, like a toast or a presentation, it is very important that you prepare yourself ahead of time. ‘Ah’s and ’um’s come from the speaker not knowing what to say next. So the speaker will ‘um’ and ‘ah’ to fill in the silence while he or she thinks of it. Instead, practice your planned words at least 10 to 15 times until you can say it forwards and backwards without hesitating. The more you practice, the less you’ll ‘umm’…

  • Don’t read

Most ‘ah’s and ‘um’s come from people looking for something to read off the next card, page, or PowerPoint slide. Instead of reading, try your best to memorize what’s on these notes. You don’t need to read the words verbatim. However, memorizing your words without notes will eliminate your need to read off cards and slides.

  • Look in their eyes

Often people say ‘um’ because they are looking at inanimate objects while they think of the next thing to say. You don’t do this often while you’re having a one-on-one discussion with a friend. Making eye contact helps you recall what you want to say faster. Furthermore, it will make you feel more comfortable while speaking.

  • Relax

Verbal fillers are often a sign of discomfort. It’s hard to focus when you are in a different setting. Speaking makes it more nerve-wracking. Try your best to relax in these situations by taking deep breaths. Remember, it will all be over in a few seconds.

  • Slow down

Talking too fast makes it easy to lose your train of thought. Slow down when you speak and add in some brief pauses. Doing that will not only stop your ‘umm’ and ‘ahh’, but it will also improve your entire speech! Effective pauses make speeches sound more professional and polished.

Still need some help? Visit a local Toastmasters club in your area! Many members managed to greatly reduce their number of verbal fillers in a matter of months. It’s a great way to not only stop that pesky habit, but also to learn other ways to improve your public speaking and communication skills. You can visit Speak Up! Toastmaster in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area, or find a local club at:www.toastmasters.org

Our New Member, Reuben!

Posted March 21, 2013 by Speak Up! Toastmasters
Categories: Blog Post, New Members

Meet one of our newest members, Reuben Schuff,


Reuben is a traveler, an aerospace engineer, a juggler, an uncle, and a person who stutters. Originally from Indianapolis, IN and a Purdue Boilermaker, life brought him to Raleigh, NC in 2011 for new challenges and opportunities. Currently, he is working for a technology development company as a mechanical engineer. He thoroughly loves the outdoors, and has a passion for space and exploration.

Outside of his career, Reuben is a local chapter leader for the National Stuttering Association. The National Stuttering Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to children and adults who stutter, their families, and professionals in speech pathology through support, education, advocacy, and research.

Reuben joined his first Toastmasters club in 2011 and joined Speak Up! this year to push his comfort and expand his horizons further. He is also a member of Tarheel Toastmasters in Raleigh, and currently serves as Sergeant at Arms. His Toastmasters goals for this year include completing his competent leadership award and his first advance communicator award (ACB). In life and travels his goal is to enjoy the challenges of his career and do his best with whatever is in front of him. He aspires to advance to a technical leadership role. He only has two states left in the USA to visit, 3 continents, and 6 natural wonders of the world.

Learn more about Speak Up! Toastmasters at www.speakuptmc.org.

Area 61 Speech Contest

Posted February 10, 2013 by Shahar Gur
Categories: Contest Winners


Meet Karen Tax

Posted January 15, 2013 by Speak Up! Toastmasters
Categories: Blog Post, New Members

photo 2Meet our new member Karen Tax!

Karen joined Speak Up! Toastmasters recently. She states that at this point in her life, she’s not that fond of labels to describe herself. They all seem so limited! What seems most important to her is to enjoy life and living – absolutely everything about it. She especially enjoys her husband, Jan Tax (he’s Dutch) and their two sons Alex and Lucas. She’s also super close with my Mom (my Dad died in February 2012), her sister and her sister’s family, and her brother and his family (who all live on the west coast). She also enjoys my in-laws who live close-by in Chapel Hill NC, and Jan’s extended family who live in the Netherlands. She enjoys a close-knit group of local friends; they mutually support each other in living juicy lives. She loves her work as a career, business, and leadership coach. She’s especially interested in helping people to be passionately engaged in their work, and to create healthy, life-nurturing work environments.

She joined Toastmasters to add speaking to her skill set. She has a message she wants the world to hear! Toastmasters will help her get the word out.

Her goal for 2013 is to have more and more magical experiences. She finds that magic happens in coaching conversations:  when you anchor a person in the essence of their being and from there discuss what they want to create, anything is possible. She finds that magic happens in relationships: when you connect from your heart and abundant self, everyone gets what they want, no conflict is needed, and love flows in amazing ways! She finds that magic happens in business: when she relaxes into what she want to create, it happens with ease and grace. She’s ready for the next level of magic to unfold, and for speaking to be a new way to play with this magic!

Welcome, Karen!

Mentorship Matters

Posted January 10, 2013 by Shahar Gur
Categories: Blog Post

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin

Why does mentorship matter in Toastmasters? There are plenty of ways to answer that question, but here are my three favorite responses:

1. It allows newer members to grow by learning directly from an experienced member.

We all joined Toastmasters for a reason. Most of us are working towards the improvement of our communication and leadership skills. More specifically, we want to give better presentations at work or provide constructive feedback to those who ask for it. For some of us, simply becoming a member is not enough because it is harder to self-motivate when there are no penalties for not giving a speech or fulfilling a supporting role. Having a mentor, therefore, can provide a newer member with the drive to get more involved in the club. More involvement allows the mentee to reap the benefits of the Toastmasters program in a meaningful way. Whenever people ask me how much they should be involved with Toastmasters, I say that with Toastmasters, you get what you put in. If you want to be a better speaker, you need to speak. If you want to be a better leader, you need to lead. Without taking action, there would not be any growth.

2. Experienced members get a chance to practice their coaching skills.

In my opinion, a leader and a coach are not the same. A leader is someone who takes charge and responsibility for your actions in order to command a group, but a coach is someone who builds you up and gives you the tools to succeed along with the confidence to use them. Being a mentor goes beyond being a leader. A mentor, just like a coach, should be encouraging and supportive, no matter what his or her mentee does. This is a new set of skills for someone who hasn’t had a chance to be a coach to anyone. For example, a leader may tell someone that she must give an ice-breaker, and they may even tell her she will be fine, but a mentor provides more confidence and support to her mentee to help diminish her nerves. As a mentor, you should comfort and calm her by exhibiting empathy and maybe even a little humor.

3. Camaraderie improves the atmosphere of the club.

Can you imagine a Toastmaster club where members aren’t friendly with each other? People would enter the room before the meeting and there would be complete silence. The evaluations would be cold and unhelpful. The guests would feel awkward and uninvited. Camaraderie among club members makes everything better.

Mentorship fosters camaraderie. The first time I went to Speak Up! Toastmasters, I remember being so impressed by how friendly everyone was towards me and towards each other. When someone arrived, everyone greeted them enthusiastically (especially if it was Sharon Hill). When someone made an error while they were speaking during the meeting, everyone showed their support to him. After the meeting, everyone stayed in the room and gave each other additional constructive feedback about the meeting. The club was warm and welcoming, and that’s why I decided to join. I knew that I found a supportive environment where I could sometimes make a fool of myself and always learn how to grow from it.

If my top three responses haven’t conviced you that mentorship matters, here is a great article about it from Toastmasters International: http://www.toastmasters.org/ToastmastersMagazine/ToastmasterArchive/2010/February/Mentoring.aspx

Liz’s Ice Breaker Speech

Posted January 5, 2013 by Speak Up! Toastmasters
Categories: Uncategorized


Recently, one of our newest members Liz Tedesco gave a moving ice breaker. We’ve decided to share this memorable speech here, so that other people can enjoy it.

Ignorant before the heavens of my life,

I stand and gaze in wonder.

Oh, the vastness of the stars. Their rising and descent.

How still…As if I didn’t exist.

Do I have any share in this?  

Have I somehow dispensed with their pure effect?

Does my bloods ebb and flow change with their changes?


Let me set aside every desire, every relationship,

except this one, so that my heart grows used to its farthest spaces.

Better, that it live fully aware, in the terror if its stars,

than, as if protected, soothed, by what is near.


–Ranier Maria Rilke

As I prepared for this ice breaker speech, one in which I’m asked to introduce myself to you that you might get to know me better, The question occurred to me, who am I, really??

Some say I was born of the Great Creator, the Divine, the Great Spirit in the Sky. Others still preach evolution, Darwin’s theory that homo-sapiens evolved from the sea.

Who Am I?? This question, I believe, has been pondered deeply since the beginning of time.

19th Century philosopher and scientist Rene’ DesCartes penned, “I think, therefore I am..”

The Buddha states “I Am the miracle.” Jesus the Christ is quoted as saying: “I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Heck….even Popeye said “I yam what I yam!”

The universal question posed to ALL of humanity throughout life.. Who am I. (statement)

I jumped out of a perfectly fine airplane at 14,000ft. on a dare. Why? Because it was an opportunity to fly like a bird, see how a bird sees, soaring, free-falling at 200 mph, watching the earth rapidly approaching, then putting my legs out and gently landing upon the ground.

I am a self taught pianist who started playing at age 36 and within 7 years was teaching full time, performing throughout the community raising money for various non-profit organizations, and composed and recorded a CD of solo piano pieces.

I can tell you that I love photography, art and music. That I get lost gazing at the night sky. that I seek solace in the beauty of nature, that I have been, and always will be, drawn to the healing qualities of the outdoors especially when I am in, on or near a body of water…a lake, stream, river or ocean.

I can tell you that I am kind, thoughtful, caring human being who walks this planet in search of peace and harmony….Who Am I??? (question)

I am told, and I believe this to be true, that I am a child o9f the universe. Made up of the same “stuff” that the stars are made of. That my body is 67% water, the same as the proportional make-up of the earth itself..

I am told, and I believe this to be true, that I am one with ALL of nature, ..All that is. That I am one with the dog, the flower, the human, the trees. Where everywhere I look I see a reflection of myself. I am one with the bees,…who pollinates the flower…that grows from a seed, …planted deep in the earth. And when I savor the golden elixir, this honey, like silk down my throat,…I recognize the essence of all of tis magnificent energy flowing through me—and suddenly—I AM the bee, I am the flower, the earth, the pollen.

Woman am I…Spirit am I…Daughter, aunt, sister, am I.

Who am I?? Who am I. All this I am.


Speak Up! Welcomes Shanee Cowland

Posted November 14, 2012 by Speak Up! Toastmasters
Categories: New Members

Speak Up! Toastmasters Welcomes Shanee Cowland!

Shanee has been living in North Carolina for only a few months. He and his wife recently moved from Florida, but he moved to the US about six years ago. He is married to Justiss Boyer-Cowland (another new member of Speak Up!) and is a proud step-dad of a fourteen year old.

Professionally, he has been a teacher for about eight of the last ten years. He has always loved school, and to him it seemed obvious that if he loved school this much, a job in school would best suit him.

His wife, Justiss, brought him to Toastmasters. He was reluctant at first, but he realized that not only could Toastmasters improve his presentation skills in school, but it was also fun and interesting. Shanee and Justiss are very competitive, and now they compete with each other for Toastmasters achievements.

His goals for the future are to improve his presentation skills for school and to enjoy meeting people at Toastmasters. He knows that while he talks, he uses a lot of verbal fillers (like “um”s and “ah”s) and he hopes to reduce his usage of filler words.

Welcome to Speak Up!, Shanee!

Speak Up! Welcomes Justiss Cowland!

Posted November 1, 2012 by Speak Up! Toastmasters
Categories: Blog Post, Community Talk, New Members

One of our newest members, Justiss, was born in Enid, Oklahoma and moved to Florida when she was young.  She is a mom to a teenage daughter and wife to her best friend, Shanee. Justiss and Shanee have been friends since 1994 and married in 2004. They recently moved to the Chapel Hill, NC area from Palm Coast, Florida.

Justiss is a veteran of the United States Navy, serving from 1995 until 1999. She loves traveling and has visited half of the United States, as well as Mexico, Canada and several countries overseas.

She loves to read and is currently reading “The Neon Bible” by John Kennedy Toole. Justiss is huge fan of music, and with the exception of some country tunes, she hasn’t found a genre she does not like. She grew up listening to HipHop, R&B and small Indie bands. She loves to cook and bake, and hanging out at cafés while reading or chatting with friends. She collects and displays vintage cameras, and loves to entertain and play games with family and friends. Justiss also loves talking about business, especially marketing, and hosts her own video interview series on her blog: “Modern Glamour, My Pursuit of style, life, love, and a yummy sparkling wine.” She also operates a boutique glamour and beauty photography business, something she is very passionate about.

Justiss has been indirectly involved with Toastmasters since she was a teenager, when her mom first joined. Justiss feels that personal and professional development is important once we shift past traditional education. A wonderful mentor of hers shared a great quote that she always uses today, “knowledge is power”. Justiss has a lot of public speaking experience, especially in her past corporate life. Another passion of hers is empowering women to strive for financial independence, and feels that further developing her communication skills will help her pursue this vision.

When she and her husband visited Speak Up!, they felt at home and really liked the group. Justiss really loved the fact that the club gives our prospective members an opportunity to “try on” the club by participating in various roles before they make a commitment to join.

Some of Justiss’ goals include continuing to grow her business and reach an international market, to continue to interview successful business women from around the Triad area and beyond, help her daughter’s school raise needed funds for technology, and to become a great communicator and public speaker. Justiss wants to complete both her Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership manuals by May 2013.

Our Brand New Member Nate Creger!

Posted October 26, 2012 by Speak Up! Toastmasters
Categories: Blog Post, New Members

Speak Up! Toastmasters Welcomes Nate Creger!

Speak Up! Toastmasters Welcomes Nate!Nate, a first year law student at UNC, joined Speak Up! Toastmasters this month. Nate decided to join Toastmasters because he has been uncomfortable with public speaking, and starting law school made him realize that he needed to do something about it. He’s known Shahar for a long time, and she suggested joining our club in order to practice public speaking and communication skills.

In the distant future, he would like to have a positive impact in the world, even if it’s a small one. In the not-so-distant future, his goal is to improve his public speaking skills and become more comfortable addressing audiences.

Nate is the proud owner of a dog named Murphy and a cat named Fred, who happens to be most beautiful cat in the world. He really likes grilled cheese sandwiches, bad science fiction, and everyone who has ever had anything to do with the taco truck that comes every weekend to the parking lot across from his house. Recently, he has been watching a ton of British TV shows.

Welcome to Speak Up!, Nate!


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