Paul Derkach is speaking up for himself.
That is not something that would have happened a year-and-a-half ago.
That’s when the 60-year-old Salmon Arm resident joined Toastmasters.
“All my life I had struggled with the fear of getting up in front of people, so I decided I had to overcome this,” he says, pointing out someone had suggested the organization to him many years ago. “So I finally took the plunge and went to a Toastmasters meeting.”
Derkach says his first impression was amazement.
He was given a very warm welcome and invited to introduce himself and, as a guest, invited to speak, in a very relaxed atmosphere.
Now he agrees with an oft-repeated phrase that the club is ‘the community’s best-kept secret.’
“Everyone is encouraged to take part, everyone is encouraging and there for the same reason, so it was really positive and exciting,” he says. “It really encouraged me to want to keep going.”
Derkach says he has come a vey long way, from being really fearful, unable to think on his feet, stressed and nervous, to being very comfortable speaking.
One of Derkach’s main attractions to the group is a weekly session called table talk in which the evening’s table talk master poses five or six questions to different group members.
“You’ve got a minute-and-a-half or two minutes to talk off the top of your head; you don’t know who’s gonna be asked so it keeps you on your toes,” he laughs. “At first my brain was dead. People say they have out-of-body experiences. I have out-of-brain experiences.”
Derkach also enjoys the evaluation that everyone is invited to provide for other members.
As well as the on-the-spot table talk sessions, a few people volunteer every week to make a five- or six-minute speech on a topic of their own choosing.
“And we have an ‘ah, um’ counter,” Derkach laughs, pointing out that at the end of the night, the one who interjects either ah or um in their speeches has to put coins in the club pig at the end of the meeting. “It’s way more fun than I thought.”
Not only has being a member of Toastmasters opened a whole new area of understanding of what it means to lead, Derkatch says it has emboldened him to challenge himself in other areas of his life.
The 60-year was never willing to play his guitar when anyone else was around – that is until he joined Toastmasters.
“I am learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he says, pointing out he now believes it’s never too late to try something new. “I really feel like it’s helping me to grow in areas I struggled with for so long and, it’s like anything, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.”
The friendly, encouraging group welcomes new members to the regular meetings, which take place at 7 p.m. Thursdays in the community room at Uptown Askew’s. For more information, contact 250-832-2807 or just show up.