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Orators in the Making
Nervous in front of a crowd? Hopkins Toastmasters can help you get over it.

Jim Brasic

About to deliver a talk at a neuro-psychiatry meeting, Jim Brasic approached the podium with confidence. He knew his topic backwards and forwards. He’d rehearsed. He had 50 slides and a videotape, and the equipment was working like a charm. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

But it did. Part way through his presentation, while looking out onto an audience of experts he sought to impress, Brasic’s mind went completely blank. Hitting another slide, he barely recovered.

Probably few knew what had happened, but Brasic, a postdoctoral fellow in a neuroimaging lab, was determined not to let it happen again. He knew that speaking well is particularly important in a scientific career because scientists frequently must explain their work to others. “And I realized that I’d been avoiding speaking for years because I had stage fright.”

Several months later, out of town at another professional meeting, Brasic was introduced to Toastmasters, the self-improvement club that dedicates itself to honing public speaking and leadership skills. Impressed, he got on the Internet in search of a local club and found one right here at Johns Hopkins.

Hopkins Toastmasters began life in 1999 as a student club based at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Today, while students predominate, membership includes faculty and staff of all ages from across the East Baltimore campus.

At weekly club meetings, members deliver prepared and impromptu speeches. One evaluates the talks; another, the “grammarian,” counts “ums” and “ahs” and scrutinizes syntax.

Faisal Karmali, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering and club president for two years, joined Toastmasters when he was just 20. “I saw the value of speaking publicly. You get more exposure. The return is almost immediate. After joining, I noticed the difference the next time I went for a job interview,” says Karmali. “It’s important to get over your nervousness, and Toastmasters teaches you how to channel it into energy.”

Brasic, meanwhile, has racked up Toastmaster awards and won contests, including second place in the division with an extemporaneous speech. He’s now president of Hopkins Toastmasters, and in the two years since he joined the club, he’s delivered dozens of speeches. As for his stage fright, it’s but a distant memory.

Anne Bennett Swingle

Hopkins Toastmasters meets on Mondays at either noon or 5:30 p.m. Membership dues are $5.50 monthly, plus a $20 one-time fee for a new-member packet. Info: Jim Brasic,

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10 Ways to Banish the Butterflies

Adapted from “The Fear of Public Speaking: 20 Ways to Get Over It,” The Toastmaster, April 2006.



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