Speakers by the Sea holds an open house welcoming people to master the art of public speaking
By Michael Aushenker
With its drab, gray cylinders, Playa del Rey’s Hyperion Treatment Center seems like a nondescript meeting place for a club dedicated to the art of standing out, yet it is here opposite Dockweiler Beach where Emily Sang, in a burst of boldness and nervousness, propels herself before a boardroom of 15 fellow Toastmasters and nearly weeps.
Under the stress of a two-minute time limit, Sang, 41 — polite and professionally dressed, with an accent belying her English as her second language — valiantly gives her presentation while fighting back tears. Her speech addresses Mother’s Day, but she’s currently discussing her comatose father, whom she and her devoted mother tended to at his UCLA hospital sickbed for two years before his 2010 death.
With the clock ticking, Sang looks her viewers in the eye, summoning a smile as she stands front and center, away from the dais. Across the room, Billy G. Ingram II, a.k.a. Billy G., flashes visual cues; his green card segues to a yellow card to red before Sang’s time ends.
Speakers by the Sea, a local branch of Toastmasters International that meets at 11 a.m. Wednesdays, is this week hosting an open house for prospective members as part of its regular meeting.
Toastmasters International boasts nearly 300,000 members at 14,350 clubs in 122 countries. The organization publishes a monthly magazine under the mantra “Where Leaders Are Made” from its Rancho Santa Margarita headquarters.
“Our club has made President’s Distinguished Club for two years in a row, and we are on track for our third year. That is the highest honor a club can achieve,” member Gisel Nightengale says of Speakers by the Sea, founded in 2004.
Speakers by the Sea can be a tough crowd. Prior to Sang’s speech at the club’s May 8 meeting, chapter President Monica Bodell delivers a two-minute address on eco-friendly design, a topic very much in her wheelhouse as an interior designer. Bodell engages listeners with eye contact and humor, but after the talk, member Staci Boggeri still has questions. She feels Bodell could have provided more depth.
Later critiquing Sang, Boggeri commends her on “great body language and fantastic eye contact.”
“Just to see the evolution, the posture, the body language … I wish we had a video of your evolution because I believe it’d win an Academy Award!” agrees fellow evaluator Fran Weber.
The pursuit of “persuasive speech” is what brought Sang here.
“I want people to listen instead of forcing your ideas upon them,” the Mar Vista resident said.
As a CPA for a Playa Vista-based corporation, Sang jumped at the opportunity to conquer a lifelong sense of nervousness about public speaking.
When Sang was 8, she won national awards for writing poems.
“I memorized [my poem] verbatim. I cleared my throat in front of my microphone. Everyone gasped. That gasp carried with me. It was a psychological obstacle for me to overcome,” she recalls of one disastrous reading.
By her own admission, Sang still needs to perfect her vocal variety: more acting in her storytelling, less monotone in her monologue. What she has improved since joining last August is body language and “getting rid of the fillers” — the dreaded “ums” and “ahs” that garner point deductions.
“I used to hold the podium and hang on to my dear life. Now I talk freestanding. I feel in general more confident, less nervous,” she says.
Like clockwork an hour later, award ribbons are presented, including the coveted “Best Speaker.”
And the award goes to … Emily Sang.
“It gives me chills,” said Westchester resident Mallory Gazecki, club secretary, of witnessing Sang’s development. “She was a little, meek, mild person who didn’t really relate to anyone. It looks like she’s just finding her stride.”
Sang’s in good company. Toastmasters’ distinguished alumni includes astronaut James Lovell, cookie entrepreneur Debbi Fields Rose, former White House Press Secretary James Brady, former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, The Guess Who lead singer Carl Dixon and filmmaker King Vidor.
“The more I practice, the less nervous I will get,” Sang says. In the meantime, Speakers by the Sea is “a wonderful place to practice and to fail.”
Speakers by the Sea hosts its open house at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Hyperion Treatment Center’s Pregerson Technical Facility, 12000 Vista Del Mar, Ste. 230A, Playa del Rey. Contact Diane Martell at (323) 601-7791 or visit meetup.com/Toastmasters-Speakers-by-the-Sea-Club.