Fear of public speaking is often cited as one of the most common phobias. Toastmasters provides a way to confront that fear in a positive, nurturing environment.

The Toast of the Towne Toastmasters Club meets at 6:30 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of every month at Western University of Health Sciences in the Harriet K. and Philip Pumerantz Library, 287 Third St., Pomona, Calif. The club is open to everyone and always welcomes new members.

College of Veterinary Medicine student Danielle Gutierrez, DVM ’14, joined the club about seven months ago. She is expected to make a lot of class presentations, and the college emphasizes communication.

“This helps me gain that comfort level,” she said. “I like the opportunity to improve in a safe environment where you’re not judged but offered constructive criticism. Everybody is really supportive.”

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. The organization has more than 270,000 members in more than 13,000 clubs in 116 countries, according to the Toastmasters International website.

Louise Clark, administrative associate for the Pumerantz Library, helped bring Toastmasters to WesternU five years ago. The club will celebrate its fifth anniversary in September.

“I enjoy the camaraderie. It’s the only place you can get up to speak and everybody has to listen,” Clark joked.

“I don’t think anybody gets over their fear of speaking,” she said. “They get more comfortable getting in front of an audience.”

Gaining confidence in public speaking can be a powerful tool in handling job interviews, giving business presentations and becoming a classroom or office leader.

Frances Chu, associate director of reference and outreach at the Pumerantz Library, joined Toastmasters about a year ago. Her job requires her to make a lot of presentations, and she wanted to improve her public speaking abilities.

“I joined to work on a skill set,” she said. “I was very stiff and I talk very fast, to the point of being unintelligible. After one year, I have a little more vocal variety. When I present to students, I’ve definitely shown more willingness to move away from the podium, use hand gestures and be more demonstrative.”

Experienced toastmasters from 27 Inland Empire Toastmasters clubs will come together at WesternU for the contest, “Capture Your Opportunity,” at 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011. The event is open to the public and will be held in the Banfield Veterinary Clinic Center, 611 E. Second St., Pomona. The $20 admission fee includes a continental breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. For more information about the event or about joining Toast of the Towne Toastmasters, call Vicki Oberhofer at 909-263-1179.