Back row, from left: Eric Vaughn, Lisa Dreher and Hope Maltz, Hideo Fujita, Sheri Campbell, Warren Mainard. Front row, from left to right: Jenny Chang, Kendy Sasaki-Ross, Rob Kamihana and Monika Kannadaguli. Photo courtesy Eastgate Expounders

Back row, from left: Eric Vaughn, Lisa Dreher and Hope Maltz, Hideo Fujita, Sheri Campbell, Warren Mainard. Front row, from left to right: Jenny Chang, Kendy Sasaki-Ross, Rob Kamihana and Monika Kannadaguli. Photo courtesy Eastgate Expounders

More than a speaking group: Eastgate Expounders look back at 15 years

Eastgate Expounders is one of many clubs under the overarching Toastmasters International nonprofit.

Bellevue-based club Eastgate Expounders will be celebrating 15 years of existence in January.

The group is one of many clubs nationwide under the aegis of Toastmasters International, an educational nonprofit that works to promote and refine the public speaking and leadership skills of its members. According to the organization’s website, there are about 16,800 clubs across 143 countries.

The Eastgate Expounders branch, which has consistently received the President’s Distinguished Award since its inception, was chartered in 2005 and has maintained a core group of experienced members and new additions over the years.

“People think it’s just a speaking group, but it’s so much more than that,” said Dave Issak, a 20-year Toastmaster and the current president of the Eastgate Expounders unit.

Eastgate Expounders meets from 12:05-1:05 p.m. every Tuesday and attracts a wealth of professionals in the community. The now-retired Isaak, for instance, once worked in the telecommunication industry. Founding member Hideo Fujita has long been involved with the Department of Ecology.

According to Isaak, each meeting typically revolves around public speaking. Each session, one Toastmaster is selected to lead the meeting, with three speakers then giving practice presentations. Each presenter gets three specific evaluators, who provide feedback, while the rest of the room writes down brief constructively critical comments.

Qualifying members compete in area and division speech competitions.

“Professionally or even socially, one of the tools anyone can have for themselves… is to learn about the power of public speaking,” said Fujita, who has represented the organization in competitions like the Toastmasters International Speech Contest. “There’s no organization I have run across that provides a safe environment and a supportive environment, and one that you can continue to go back to and practice and practice and become professional.”

Fujita added that, because of their involvement with Toastmasters and the Eastgate Expounders group, he’s seen people who are terrified to publicly speak blossom, discovering their voice along the way. Some members, Fujita said, have built public-speaking careers based on what they’ve learned through the organization.

“It’s an extra tool that we get,” Isaak said.

To Issak, every get-together is exciting, in part due to the different kinds of people it attracts. Often, people get involved with the organization because English is their second or third language, and they want to become more proficient at it in a professional setting.

“I enjoy the people that are in the meetings,” he said. “They’re so interesting, because people from all over the world come to our meetings.”

For members like Isaak and Fujita, involvement in the club has proven useful. Isaak said he knows he was able to earn more money over the course of his career because of the additional skills inculcated in him through Toastmasters. Fujita said he’s been able to implement what he’s learned into his career, using some of the leadership practices to help cut down meeting lengths, for example.

Fujita noted, though, that something he’d like the Toastmasters and the Eastgate Expounders to work on is how to attain members from younger generations. He said that he’s invited about a dozen colleagues to Expounders meetings over the last 18 months and has seen no 20-somethings come back a second time, with 30-somethings returning on a few occasions but not consistently.

“There needs to be an evolution addressing the people who are part of the community and what their needs are and what is needed,” he said, adding that the increasing mobility of the working world is something that he’d like to see more addressed as well.

Still, the 15th anniversary of the Eastgate Expounders is something worth celebrating to its members.

“I’m really proud of this group… and I hope it continues to grow,” Isaak said.

Fujita wants to see the Eastgate Expounders retain what he thinks makes it great as the next few decades unfold.

“I hope that whether I’m part of the club or not that the vibrancy, the energy and that spark around people wanting to improve their public speaking and their leadership skills is there, and there’s an interest,” he said.

For more information about the Eastgate Expounders group, go to its website (https://bit.ly/2DRD8Nx).

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