Eugene Buchanan: Counting 'um's' with the Steamboat Toastmasters |

Eugene Buchanan: Counting ‘um’s’ with the Steamboat Toastmasters

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — “Hi, um, my name, is, uh, Eugene, and, er, I’m here because, well so …”

I’m a perfect candidate to be here. I’m at the bimonthly meeting for Steamboat Toastmasters, part of Toastmasters International, bashfully introducing myself to fellow members.

While Steamboat Springs’ clubs come in all shapes and sizes, from Lyon’s and Rotary to book and chess, this one is solely dedicated to helping you, uh, er, overcome your fear of talking to a crowd. Call it speech teach, debate diatribe what have you; it’s all designed to take the “er” out of Toastmaster.

With that, I settle into my chair next to other orators sitting behind three long tables and ready for the rhetoric.

It’s actually quite formulaic, with a lot of handshaking, thank you’s and clapping. The president thanks everyone for coming and calls the meeting to order, thank you, clap, clap, and then introduces the day’s Toastmaster, handshake, thank you. The Toastmaster then introduces the day’s General Evaluator, Table Topics leader, Timer, Ah-counter and Grammarian, all to even more handshakes and thank you’s and all followed by applause. The Toastmaster, which rotates every meeting, then introduces the day’s Speakers and Evaluators, all to the same fanfare. It’s all rather Emily Postian, with a premium on niceties. And everyone speaking gets evaluated so they can improve.

The first speech is from Kasha, on growing up in Poland. Touching upon everything from growing up on rations and not having color photos to using two-channel TVs and the black market, she does commendably — especially by wrapping it up with the importance of family and your community and being thankful for having what really matters.

It’s pretty good, that is, until the tally comes in from the Grammarian.

“Ten ‘so’s,’ eight ‘um’s’ and six ‘ah’s,’” he reports, looking at his score sheet. The great and powerful Ah’s-counter had spoken. The official Timer also weighs in with better results, saying she kept within 15 seconds of the allotted timeframe.

It feels like we’re starring in an episode of Dance Moms.

Next comes Peter, whose topic is on the benefits of sailing vacations. He’s charismatic, and the subject is interesting. He also posts a good score on the um-ometer — only three, with five “so’s.” A rather impressive showing.

Next comes the impromptu Table Topics led by Courtney, thank you, where you get up and have to talk about a surprise topic. Today’s include why you like green lights, why you can make mistakes and your top five personal values. One by one designated attendees get up and give it a go, under the watchful eye of the omnipresent Evaluator. One poor sap clocks four “so’s” in 30 seconds.

Next, the Toatmaster introduces the General Evaluator, who calls for reports from Evaluators 1 and 2, the Timer and the Ah Counter and Grammarian. The General Evaluator also provides meeting and leader evaluations and evaluates the evaluators, which proves valuable.

It’s all about constructive criticism, from intonations to audience engagement. And it reiterates the slogan at the bottom of today’s syllabus — “I did not say she stole the money” — whose meaning all depends on what words you emphasize.

“Good eye contact,” Evaluator 1 says of the final Table Topic speaker, “but maybe walk a little more. Also, try taking your hands out of your pockets. But you spoke clearly and audibly. I feel I really got to know you.”

The session ends with a chorus of “Here, here’s,” hand clapping and thank you’s.

Finally, the lunchtime lecture on lecturing ends with the word of the day: “auspicious,” which someone tries to deftly work into a speech. (Hint: It shows that future success is likely.)

I auspiciously take that to heart for the next time I have to stand in front of a crowd.

To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email

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