A Quick Q & A
Michael Notaro walked into his first Toastmasters meeting in 1985. A senior at UC Berkeley at the time, Notaro was hoping to pick up pointers on how to deliver a graduation speech. Twenty-seven years later, the Alameda attorney is embarking on a one-year volunteer term as the international president of the organization, which boasts more than 270,000 members in more than 13,000 clubs in 116 countries.
We asked the 49-year-old principal of the Alameda-based Notaro Law Group for a behind-the-scenes peek of Toastmasters, formed in 1924. It’s considered by many to be the original “social network.”
More people are communicating digitally. Has that had an impact on Toastmasters, an organization known to help people hone their public speaking skills?
I don’t believe the need for personal interaction will ever disappear. Some of our fastest growth has been with the Generation X and Y workers. They come to our meetings seeking a real connection and realize how important it is to know how to communicate clearly and openly in order to move forward in their careers. In addition to emphasizing public speaking, we also teach leadership skills, and we have a number of college clubs and even some high school clubs.
According to most studies, fear of public speaking is the number one source of apprehension in the United States. Is it difficult to attract new members to a meeting where they have to face their fears head on?
It’s true that the same thing that brings most people to meetings can also keep them away. We work hard to create a positive, supportive environment, and the experienced members help new members to overcome their fears. It’s a self-paced program that empowers our members to succeed. Our members come from all ages and backgrounds, but they share the common goal of wanting to improve their communication and public speaking skills.
You’ve been involved with Toastmasters for almost three decades. What has motivated you to stay involved with the group?
I think even after all these years, I’m continually learning new ways to be a more effective communicator and to inspire and motivate others. I believe the educational process is a life journey. We have many retirees who enjoy the camaraderie of the group as well as the opportunities to stay engaged and to keep their minds active. Since it’s a volunteer group, there are numerous opportunities to assume many leadership roles. Toastmasters can also be a lot of fun. In addition to being a member of the Oakland City Center Toastmasters club, I often attend the LaughLovers Comedy club in Oakland, a specialty group dedicated to humor, comedy and laughter.