Toastmasters International is a nonprofit organization that was formed to teach people the skills necessary to deliver superior toasts at weddings or banquets. Founded in 1924 by Ralph Smedley, it has helped hundreds of thousands of people speak before all kinds of audiences, big and small, from classrooms to conventions.

Specifically, Toastmasters wants its grads to learn communication skills and gain confidence at a podium. They should feel comfortable and be engaging when speaking before an audience. Since September, Ivy Tech Community College has offered its own Toastmasters course at its John Waldron Arts Center downtown.

“There’s no instructor up front,” explains Susie Graham, director of Ivy Tech’s Center for Lifelong Learning and a member of the Toastmasters class. “But there is a facilitator, who’s a seasoned Toastmaster with certain communications credentials.” Chris Cockerham, vice president of CFC Properties, is one of the past session’s facilitators.

During each class, members deliver a presentation that concentrates on a certain element of effective communication. “It’s usually a speech that you’ve had a week to work on and focus on certain points,” says Graham. The speeches emphasize different aspects of communication; grammar, word choice, body language, vocal inflection, and eye contact are all topics that are explored.

“Everyone is evaluated by one other speaker. You’re encouraged to stress both the good points and the areas where there are deficiencies,” she says. “It’s intended to help the person, not cut them down or criticize.”

The fall session’s participants came from a variety of backgrounds, notes Graham. “Administrators from both Ivy Tech and Indiana University, small-business owners, a retiree who serves on various boards and committees, and a real estate professional. People from all walks who simply want to be better communicators.”

The spring session will begin in late January; registration opens December 1. There will be a cap on registration, as time constraints limit the number of people who can participate in one class.