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New Toastmasters club is not just for professional speakers

So many people want to improve themselves, whether its becoming more confident or learning how to be a leader or simply being comfortable in and in front of a group of people. There are all sorts of self-help books on personal development, but there's one method that's proven to work, and on Monday, it's coming to Hastings.

It's called Toastmasters, an organization a handful of Hastings residents are hoping will find feet here in town.

Don Scott is one of those people. He's been involved with Toastmasters for years, participating in other clubs in the Twin Cities, Hudson and Red Wing, but he lives in Hastings.

"It's something that I wish would find a foothold here," he said of the club.

Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization centered around helping people improve their communication and leadership skills. The clubs Scott has participated in have been charter members of TI, but the new Hastings club won't be - not until they get 20 members.

Initial reactions to the club are varied. Many people have never heard of it, Scott said, while others have a list of preconceived notions about what it is and who it's for.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that it's a club for professional speakers. But the meetings aren't as formal as many might think, Scott said.

Sure, members give speeches in front of each other, but the environment is relaxed and supportive, Scott explained, designed to help anyone grow.

Members don't just give speeches, either.

"It's not just about speaking," Scott said. "It's about growing leadership skills."

Everyone in the club gets the chance to take on official duties in each meeting, and within the larger organization they can be elected into leadership positions.

Scott doesn't focus so much on the larger leadership positions. Rather, he likes to point out the less obvious benefits to the club.

"It broadens you in more ways than you realize," he said.

The clubs have a certain camaraderie to them, for example. Members get to meet new people and make new friends while they learn to communicate better. They also get to learn about an impossible range of topics from other members' speeches and personal experiences.

"You gain so much in friendships and knowledge of things you'd never be exposed to," Scott said.

This isn't the first time Hastings has had a Toastmasters club. The last club, the Missicroix, died out in 2004.

Scott and others are hoping to reignite the club. They are holding their first meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13, in room A101 at Hastings High School. The first meeting will be an orientation to the club, and will attempt to mimic a regular meeting. The club will meet every week after that.

The club, Scott said, is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it's a great way to prepare for communicating in a high-stress environment, such as a job interview, orientations or presentations to influential people.