Souhegan Speakers and Leadership Club helps develop skills

AMHERST – The thought of having to speak in public makes most people want to run for cover, and a poll once had public speaking ahead of death as the thing that frightens us the most.

Yet, there are people who put themselves through this anxiety every week and get up early in the morning to do it. They are members of the Souhegan Speakers and Leadership Club, and they meet at 7 a.m. each Wednesday at the Chamber of Commerce office in Amherst.

Through practice and support from their peers, they manage to turn their fear into pleasure, and they waste little time, starting with jokes and moving on to speeches and responding to impromptu questions.

At a recent meeting, the club hosted six teens from Milford and Souhegan high schools who are interested in improving their speaking skills.

Bill Drake, from Souhegan High, gave a presentation on the effects of cellphone use on the brain, and Anna Meldrum, from Milford High, talked about writing.

Bill’s father is club member Mark Drake and his speech was about his family’s long involvement in the philanthropic Kentucky Colonels, and in particular, relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Another Souhegan student talked about her problems with memory that resulted from Lyme disease and how the Girls On the Run program has helped. Brian Meldrum explained why he believes high schools should offer a general life competency course that includes drivers ed.

Most of the students were interested in improving their speaking skills for Mock Trial competitions, and Mark Drake explained that they held an exploratory meeting with the teens in July to gauge their interest.

Seven students delivered prepared and impromptu speeches, served as the meeting’s humorist and “Quiz Master” – all roles normally filled by adult club members.

The immediate feedback from that first meeting was all positive, Drake said, with the overwhelming consensus that the kids would support a high school version of Toastmasters.

The Souhegan Speakers and Leadership Club is part of Toastmasters, an international nonprofit organization focused on helping people become eloquent speakers and effective leaders.

Rheo J Bouchard, the club secretary/treasurer and eight year member, said the club has improved more than his speaking skills.

On the club’s website, he notes the kind of person who joins Toastmasters: “They are driven, determined, motivated, fully intent on improving themselves. This type of person often becomes a very, very ‘improved’ individual – in all aspects of life.”

They are also good-humored, supportive, and highly competitive, even competing for the “best evaluator,” and last week’s winner was Bob LaRochelle.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.