Monica Cheru-Mpambawashe Lifestyle Editor
“I can get over the lovely Jacaranda flowers blooming everywhere. And the people are so friendly and supportive. Maybe because this is just a one day visit and I am dealing with wonderful people, everything is magnified. Zimbabwe is a beautiful country.”  That was the verdict of Toastmasters International president Jim Kokocki when he visited Harare this past Monday to touch base with the local clubs as part of the commemorations of 90 years of existence for the club.
While many Zimbabweans may not be too familiar with Toastmasters International, the names of Jona Mungoshi and Lloyd Mugabe may ring bells.

Mungoshi hit the limelight when he became the first person from Zimbabwe and Africa to achieve a top three place in the World Championships of Public speaking in August, 2002 in San Antonio, Texas.

In 2003 he attempted to break the Guinness World record for the longest continuous speech when he spoke for 36 hours to beat the existing record of 26 hours. The record currently belongs to a Brit who spoke for more than 46 hours in 2014.

Lloyd Mugabe won the Toastmasters Southern Africa International Speech Contest, and went on to represent the region at the World Championships in Malaysia August 2014.

From ordinary existences, the two men are well on their way on odysseys to conquer the world. They are living up to the motto of Toastmasters International which declares that Every Toastmaster’s journey starts with a single speech.

They say to the toast of the town you need a lot of bread. Which may be true enough but after getting the accolades, one needs to know how to accept them gracefully.

Many successful people in business and other spheres of life pull themselves from disadvantaged backgrounds to become the movers and shakers of the world. While they may have proved themselves in their fields, a lot of them still feel inadequate in some social and formal settings as they struggle to relate to the culture they now find themselves in.

The importance of fitting in is more than about shallow snobbish perceptions such as knowing the right knife to use with each given dish. While it may not matter that one cuts their pre-meal roll with a knife instead of breaking it with their hand, it is vital for a person in a position of influence to be able to effectively communicate with subordinates, clients, peers, the media and other key people.

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organisation that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.

Although officially Toastmasters International was founded in 1924 by Ralph C Smedley, it actually started in 1905 with clubs for young people.
“The founder was working with YMCA and he realised that the kids needed a place to develop their speaking and leadership skills,” Jim Kokocki said.
Toastmasters International focuses on creating a collegial and informal setting for interested people to boost their public speaking skills and developing their leadership potential.

Jim Kokocki says he was a typical geek with no conception of his own abilities to be a leader and a confident public speaker.
“I was working as computer programmer. One day I was invited to a Toastmasters club, and today here I am working in sales and marketing for a telecommunications organisation.”

Jim Kokocki says that Toastmasters International grooming classes are not approached from a one size fits all concept as each person is different. But there are basic guidelines for each individual to use in a way that suits their space.

“There are lots of ways to develop public speaking skills. But there are basically three things that you need.
“The first is the knowledge of what makes a good speaker. Things like eye contact, pacing and how to use your hands.
“The second is the cultivation of the skills which you do through practise. Once you have the knowledge you must practise.

“Third is feedback. You need to understand your gestures, habits, and organise them so that they work for you.”
He says the club is ideal for most people.

“Do you want to become a confident public speaker and strong leader?” is the question that they ask of would-be members. If the answer is affirmative then you are in.

Joining Toastmasters International is as simple as visiting the website and finding the nearest club. In Harare an upcoming meeting will be held by Engineers Toastmasters Club on the 13 October at Bromley House, 182 Herbert Chitepo Ave, between Leopold Takawira and Mazowe Streets from 6 – 8 pm.

There are currently nine clubs in Zimbabwe mostly in Harare with two more in Mutare and Bulawayo in the process of coming on board. This is a new high from a previous best of five in 2003 and a nadir of one and a half clubs in 2010 high showing growing interest in the concept.