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Courtesy photo

Robert Kittridge speaks at Toastmasters Above the Clouds meeting at Swiss Chalet in Woodland Park in January. The group helps people develop communication skills.

WOODLAND PARK • Generally considered a pathway into being comfortable while speaking before an audience, the international nonprofit Toastmasters, in turn, fosters critical thinking and introspection.

The Woodland Park iteration, Toastmasters Above the Clouds, meets weekly with attendees taking on a new topic each week.

Topics invite self-examination. “Think through some of those important moments, the defining difference-making moments in your life,” said Steve Sato, last week’s master of ceremonies at Toastmasters above the Clouds in Woodland Park. “If someone could guarantee that you’d be successful 100% of the time, would you want to know the secret?”

In a seven-minute speech at last week’s meeting, member Jennisue Jessen talked about the near-fatal illness that contributed to a revision of her life’s purpose. “Life and death hung in the balance. It was the second pulmonary embolism I had endured and it was my 15th day in ICU,” she told the group.

Until experiencing the illness, Jessen said she spent her life constructing a façade. “I was the quintessential people-pleasing performing princess as kid, a straight ‘A’ student, teacher’s pet,” she said. “In high school, I was editor of the yearbook and a cheerleader.”

But Jessen replaced that outer shell with an epiphany. “Here I was on the heels of my 44th birthday and I was being granted an epic do-over,” she said. “I can honestly say that nearly dying offered me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.”

Jessen described her path forward. “I can speak and inspire … earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, appreciate beauty and leave the world a little bit better, whether it be a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition,” she said. “If success is simply living this day fully, authentically and in alignment with our faith and stepping boldly into new works that God prepared in advance for us to do, and we get to choose, and in doing so, success is 100% guaranteed.”

People who come to Toastmasters have to think quickly when presented with another aspect of the organization, a Toastmaster Table Topic. Last week it was, “When does silence convey more meaning than words?” Organizer Paula Levy selected Victor Lebario to respond.

“In my view, silence is most important when you are interacting with another person who is dealing with grief, a loss or having issues that they need help with,” he said. “Sometimes people can resolve issues by just talking. In my experience it has been most effective in those situations to maintain silence, to use hearing most effectively.”

New members of Toastmasters above the Clouds have coaches and mentors in the beginning, “What is it you want to achieve? Why do you want to be a speaker? How can we help you achieve your goals?” said Robert Kittridge, a Colorado Springs resident who is lending support to the group.

Toastmasters above the Clouds meets from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Tuesdays at the Woodland Park Senior Organization, 321 Pine St. Attendance can be in-person or by the online platform Zoom. For information, call Levy at 331-3640.

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