Club Spotlight: Pacific Beach Toastmasters helps people improve their public speaking skills

Members of the Pacific Beach Toastmasters Club.
(Flora Coden)

When I attended the Pacific Beach Toastmasters meeting on a recent Tuesday evening at the PB Rec Center, my intent was to gather information for an article, not to give a speech. However, given their name and reputation, I should have known that delivering a speech to the members of this group was a strong possibility.

And so it happened. During the “Table Topics” section of the meeting, towards the end of the night, the Table Topics Master chose me to speak in response to the question, “Have you ever worked outdoors?”

In a matter of seconds, I pivoted from reporter to public speaker, and found myself giving a timed two-minute monologue on my relevant experience working as a field biologist.

PB Toastmasters is comprised of both regular members and drop-in guests. Any guest that does not wish to speak at the meeting may opt-out; there is no requirement for guests to speak if they don’t feel comfortable. While I didn’t expect to give a speech that evening, the energy of the group was so inviting and friendly that I decided there was no reason not to.

PB Toastmasters was founded in 1949 as the 54th Toastmaster club (currently there are over 14,700 clubs worldwide) and meets every Tuesday, either at the PB Rec Center at 4649 Gresham Street or remotely via Zoom. Meetings are highly organized; when you enter the room there are clipboards with full agendas atop each chair and a podium set up in the front of the room.

Want to join?

Pacific Beach Toastmasters

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday

Where: The first, third and fifth Tuesdays of the month are in-person at the Pacific Beach Recreation Center, 4649 Gresham Street. The second and fourth Tuesdays of the month are virtual. Email for the link.

Cost: Membership dues are $12.50 per month plus first-time members pay a one-time fee of $31.75.


There are many roles for each meeting, including speaker, speech evaluator, ah-counter, grammarian, timer and, of course a toastmaster. There is a posted agenda that details the order of events for the night. The group also has a president, currently Mat Gabryszuk; a treasurer (Charlotte Bentley), as well as other officer positions that rotate every six months.

According to multiple sources, including a study conducted at the University of Florida, approximately 75 percent of the population fears public speaking, with some people listing it even before death in order of greatest fears.

Glossophobia is the technical term for fear of public speaking. It afflicts approximately 15 million people in the United States alone.

“It’s difficult to get better at doing something you’re afraid of without doing it at all,” said Gabryszuk, “(but) that doesn’t mean that you have to jump into deep waters.”

Toastmasters provides a way to ease into public speaking, with many smaller speaking roles to choose from, allowing one to build up to the traditional 5- to 7-minute memorized speech. The meeting is organized to allow for many speaking opportunities, to give multiple people a chance to get up in front of the room and practice their public speaking throughout the evening.

Some roles require less speaking such as the timer, who simply reports the times of each speech, whereas others such as the toastmaster require introducing each subsequent speaker and agenda item.

The members are diverse; from different backgrounds and lines of work, but all share the same goal: to improve their public speaking abilities.

“At the beginning, when I first joined, I practiced my speeches religiously, over and over until I essentially had memorized them word for word,” Gabryszuk said, adding he initially joined PB Toastmasters three years ago to decrease his anxiety related to public speaking. Now his speeches are much more improvisational, following an impromptu style.

“I still get nervous, not every time, but it’s certainly a feeling that’s always there,” Gabryszuk said. “As I’ve had much more practice, there’s been a massive change … (I now have) a lot higher comfort level with public speaking.”

Abraham Proo, a member for about seven months, said it helps with his job in real estate, essentially allowing for more effective communication of ideas.

“When I got up there, I had a vague idea of what I was going to say, and I let the audience guide me,” said longtime member Patrick Kelly when explaining his speaking style.

Toastmasters’ main benefit is simply providing a space where members can practice speaking and be evaluated in a positive environment. One unique aspect is that every time someone speaks, no matter for how long, the entire room claps for them.

“The feedback here is positive because we want people to get up here and speak again,” Kelly said.

Toastmasters also offers an educational program to members called Pathways, which provides online content and specialized learning paths to hone in on specific skills. Pathways also assists with structuring a speech.

For those who have completed at least two levels of Pathways, there is the option to become involved with Toastmasters competitions. It is optional for clubs to participate and the PB club has not competed in recent history. Competition begins internally within the club, then spans larger to area, division, district and regional competitions that culminate in a worldwide international competition. Gabryszuk said he is planning to compete at the start of next year, and is hoping other members will also be interested.

Gabryszuk’s advice for those who want to improve their public speaking but are nervous or intimidated is to attend a Toastmasters meeting. People can always attend as a guest so the speaking role is optional. After observing for a few meetings, guests can start participating in more speaking roles.

Gabryszuk said his favorite part of Toastmasters is “seeing the incredible level of progress both in the other club members and my own public speaking abilities.”

So many of us have a fear of speaking in public, and eventually, we are all going to have to face that fear, whether it’s a presentation at work, for school, a job interview, a wedding toast … the list goes on. Toastmasters allows for practice in a controlled, friendly, helpful environment, allowing members to turn their greatest fear into a great strength.