Garden River’s Stepanie Seymour has learned to be a better public speaker thanks to the Lakehead University Storytellers, a Toastmasters group that meets every two weeks on campus.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY—Garden River’s Stephanie Seymour has enjoyed learning more about public speaking as a charter member of Lakehead University Storytellers, a Toastmasters group that meets every two weeks on campus.

“When I first moved to Lakehead and got in touch with the Aboriginal Initiatives department, they were saying they wanted to start a Toastmasters club — perfect,” says Seymour, a PhD in Forest Sciences student. “I was one of the first people to join the club. I’ve done a few speeches, acted in different roles within the club. It’s been a lot of fun — it’s a really good group that comes out.”

Seymour says the Storytellers group has helped with her studies.

“I have to do a series of presentations and defences and exams that are primarily speaking,” Seymour says. “Then on top of that, presentations at conferences and lectures in class. So it’s really given me a lot of tools…for public speaking.”

Seymour says the skills she learns in the Storytellers group will also be a benefit her for future endeavours.

“Regardless of your job, you are going to be talking and communicating with people,” Seymour says. “So whether that’s government, industry, communities, researchers, students, general public, it’s really good to know your audience and to be able to get your message out clearly and effectively.”

The Storytellers group began meeting in 2014 at the Little Dining Room, which is located next to the Faculty Lounge in the University Centre building. Meetings are scheduled for every second Friday from noon to 1 p.m., with upcoming meetings on Jan. 6, and Jan. 20.

“[Interested people] are welcome to come down and sit in on a meeting if you would like to see how it runs,” Seymour says, noting people can sign up online. “There is a small fee associated with joining Toastmasters, but for all the professional development opportunities there are, it is worth the cost. And once you are a member of this Toastmasters club, you are a member of every Toastmasters club.”

Seymour says the Storytellers group membership has fluctuated over the years, from six or seven, to 15 to 18 students depending on exam schedules.

“We’re hoping to expand our membership base,” Seymour says. “Last year we brought in guest speakers, so we had different Anishinaabe speakers who talked about the work that they do and the importance of being good public speakers.”

Seymour says the club is also planning to hold Bring a Friend Day and a draw for members who attend the meetings.

“So we’re really trying to cater to the student audience and get them out,” Seymour says.

In addition to public speaking, the Storytellers group aims to build strong leadership and mentoring skills and teach members to think quickly and clearly on their feet.

“We do have a couple of other [Toastmaster] groups on campus, but we really wanted to form this group and have it run by our office and focus on Aboriginal students,” says Anna Chief, coordinator of Indigenous outreach and recruitment at Lakehead University’s Office of Aboriginal Initiatives. “The other purpose was to be able to offer it to our Aboriginal students in the high schools as well.”

Chief says the Storytellers group has helped her with her public speaking skills.

“I’m not a pro at it, but it has definitely helped me speak a little bit more professionally when I need to,” Chief says. “Students have said with the [Storytellers group’s] non-formal setting, it’s encouraging for them to feel like they have a voice.”