Toastmasters in America helps people learn the art of public speaking. The Toastmasters manuals describe the skills you need, from simple to complex, to become an outstanding public speaker. The simple stuff includes looking confident, making eye contact with your audience, and using effective gestures. The more advanced techniques include storytelling, the effective use of humor and the like.
Toastmasters has been very successful since its launch in Ukraine about seven years ago. There are six clubs in Kiev, one in Lviv and one in Odessa. The membership consist mainly of people in their 20s. it provides an opportunity to practice English, to socialize, to make business contacts, and of course to develop a public presence and public speaking skills.
Native speakers of English are especially popular. We understand from our mothers and the rules of grammar that are extremely difficult for some foreigners. Ukrainian and Russian did not have articles: a, an, and the. They do not have as many subordinating clauses as we do. These are smart and ambitious people, and they look for people who can help them with the language. Travel is difficult for Ukrainians; getting out of the country to see the world is one of the top ambitions for most of them. They also have a lively curiosity about how things work in other cultures.
There are only a handful of native English speakers among all the clubs. To us being called a native speaker is not exactly high praise. We know our countrymen better than the Ukrainians do, and we know the depressingly low standards now in effect in American schooling.
Each of the clubs has a distinct personality. The first club I joined, Dnipro Hills, seemed to be the most successful in the city a year ago. It had four American members, and also a large contingent from Kiev Polytechnic Institute, the leading technical university in the country. A good many of them worked in information processing. The 2009-10 President of the club, Lily Nabochenko, now heads the Ukrainian area of Toastmasters.
Art Talkers' theme is the arts -- visual, music, performance and even cooking. I attended a few meetings to get a feel for how other clubs worked, developed some friendships, and was invited to join them as well. I served last year as President, and remain active after having passed the leadership on to a competent new team.
Dance contest (PS: partner and I won!)