By Josette Keelor
Lou Einstman was at a meeting with no leader 20 years ago when he decided to start a local Toastmasters International chapter.
"No one knew what we going on," he said. A Toastmaster for several years in Germany and then in Norfolk, he thought his coworkers at the Army Corps of Engineers could benefit from a local club.
Their first 20 members included some from outside the corps, so when security increased after Sept. 11, 2001, the club looked for a new location where members wouldn't need to pass a security check to attend meetings. That's when the private club went public, and despite some ups and downs through the years, members have kept it going.
On Wednesday, they will toast 20 years of helping each other become better public speakers, and Einstman said the community is also welcome.
Toastmasters International teaches vocabulary, gestures and the use of visual demonstrations. Meetings at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays each month, invite attendees to give prepared speeches and impromptu two-minute table topics.
"You've been on job interviews, haven't you?" Einstman asked. The interviewer poses the question, "If you were a candy bar, which one would it be?" And you freeze.
"[Toastmasters] gives you the wherewithal to handle that sort of stuff," he said.
After the speeches, participants get feedback from an assigned evaluator on what was good and what needs work.
"'Cause there's no such thing as a perfect speech," he said.
The group normally meets at Perkins Restaurant in Winchester, but this Wednesday will celebrate its anniversary at 6 p.m. at the Best Western Lee Jackson Hotel. A catered buffet dinner will be $21.50 per person.
During the regular twice monthly meeting, club members will welcome district, area and division Toastmaster governors as well as guest speaker Winchester Mayor Elizabeth Minor.
Members join for various reasons, depending on careers, interests and public speaking needs.
Ex-military, engineers, accountants, insurance salesman, "You name it, we have all kinds of people in the club," Einstman said.
He tells them to speak about what they know.
One member, a nuclear physicist gives speeches on topics like fire safety at nuclear facilities.
"He comes to us and practices at our meetings," Einstman said, laughing.
Public Relations Officer Amy Costello joined two years ago for help in her life coaching business.
"I talk about hypnosis and goal setting," she said. "I learned a lot from it."
Describing Einstman as a funny guy -- like "the funnier of the Grumpy Old Men," she said she was encouraged to join after seeing how members have such a good time.
"That's what made me interested in the club," she said.
Winchester Toastmasters will celebrate its 20th anniversary meeting at 6 p.m. at the Best Western Lee Jackson Inn and Conference Center, 711 Millwood Ave., Winchester. For more information, visit winchestertoastmasters.org.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org