BRATTLEBORO -- Becca Balint is a writer who has worked in education for more than 20 years as a teacher, historian, health educator, tutor, advisor, coach, camp director, counselor, wilderness trip leader, rock climbing instructor, and mentor to wayward adolescents. And now she’s an award-winning public speaker.
Balint, on March 27, prevailed over five other contestants in BrattleMasters’ spring "table topics" contest, impressing a panel of judges who rated her on her ability to hold forth on a surprise topic of a general nature for up to two minutes.
BrattleMasters is the Brattleboro-based chapter of Toastmasters International, the educational nonprofit founded in 1924 devoted to helping millions worldwide meet their goals in public speaking and leadership development.
The club meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Marlboro College Graduate Center, 28 Vernon St. Members attend from the tri-state area of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts and come from all walks of life. Meetings are open to all and free for visitors.
Balint, who writes a weekly op-ed column in the Brattleboro Reformer and works for the workforce development committee for the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies Group, advances to the next round of competition in White River Junction.
She says she first heard about Toastmasters from a speech coach, Deb Sofield, who teaches at the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University. Sofield told Balint that the organization is a great way to get more speech practice and training in front of a supportive audience.
"I have always been comfortable in front of a group, and I have had a lot of practice over the years from my teaching, but I really wanted to fine-tune my speaking skills -- Toastmasters has been a great venue for that," Balint said.
She added that in a table topic challenge speakers "must use their wits and connect with the audience to see them through. It is a great challenge to string together a coherent speech without having a chance to plan out your strategy."
Balint said having been a teacher and a camp director gave her a slight advantage over other contestants, "as in these two jobs you constantly have to change your plan on the spot, and it is usually in front of a rambunctious audience."
Contests are held at the club twice a year. There is no judging at the club’s regular meetings, where the emphasis is on constructive, expert, written and oral evaluation.