In her very first meeting as a member of the Sawmill Toastmasters Club, Soumya Vashista had to not only give a speech, but also have it critiqued by other members of the northwest side branch of the 93-year-old organization.

In her very first meeting as a member of the Sawmill Toastmasters Club, Soumya Vashista had to not only give a speech, but also have it critiqued by other members of the northwest side branch of the 93-year-old organization.

For her topic at the club's Oct. 23 meeting, the Delaware resident chose to talk about the marriage her parents arranged for her in India.

Although well-educated and launched on a career, Vashista spoke of finally giving in to societal pressure and telling her father, "It's time to look for a boy for me."

She spoke of having to borrow a sari to appear traditional in photographs and of her parents successfully finding a match, a chemical engineer living in the United States.

Then there was the Oct. 30, 2008, interview with the young man's family, Vashista said, and waiting nervously afterward to see if they thought her worthy of even meeting him.

"It was like I had an SAT exam and I was waiting for the results," she said.

Vashista passed the parent test and a wedding date was set in December.

Six days before they were to be married, Vashista and the young man met for the first time. They were nervous, she said, as it suddenly hit both of them they were going to be marrying strangers.

"It was a big decision, but it was too late to back off," Vashista said.

Things have worked out for the best, and the couple is happy in their home in central Ohio.

"We really believe that marriages are made in heaven," Vashista said.

"It's just fun to hear about other cultures," said Fred Minich, past president of the Sawmill Toastmasters who served as the toastmaster for the meeting.

The club is designed to help improve the speaking abilities of its members and also help them hone leadership skills

After club members conducted chapter business, it was time for other members to offer their thoughts to the newcomer.

President Karen Hatfield said she believed Vashista did a "fantastic job."

"I think she's going to be a great member of our group," said Joe Lotozo, who added that Vashista's speech was a "great icebreaker."

After the meeting concluded, Vashista said she joined the organization in order to help her curb her tendency to talk too rapidly and to figure out better ways to get her points across in her professional role.

The Sawmill Toastmasters Club, which came into existence 33 years ago, used to meet at Sawmill Lanes, and hence the name.

The group -- which met Oct. 23 in a conference room of the Safelite Auto Glass headquarters building, 2400 Farmers Drive in Columbus -- is part of an organization that has 350,000 members in 16,400 chapters spread across 141 countries.

The reasons members of the Sawmill chapter have joined are varied.

"I'm unusual in that this is what I do professionally," said Al Cooper, a resident of Columbus' northwest side.

"I'm a pastor, and that means I should be able to speak well."

Although retired, Cooper said he is willing to serve congregations on an interim basis and currently leads a home Bible study.

Toastmasters members provide evaluations of the speeches given at meetings, Cooper said, as opposed to church members who "smile and tell you how wonderful it was, and you have no idea."

"This is a help to just stay crisp," Cooper said.

Minich, who lives in Upper Arlington, said he signed on to Sawmill Toastmasters a little more than two years ago because he found himself giving presentations at work that were "mediocre at best."

"It's really helped tremendously," Minich said.

"My presentations are much smoother. I found out I'd developed a level of anxiety."

"I was looking for personal development," said Hatfield, who works at Safelite and offered meeting space for the chapter when the bowling alley was no longer available.

Although Hatfield said she always felt capable of being a public speaker, she was never comfortable doing so. After being forced to give an impromptu speech before 250 people at a conference, Hatfield said she got some helpful tips from a friend who belonged to another Toastmasters chapter and she signed on.

More information about the Sawmill Toastmasters organization is available at https://sawmill.toastmastersclubs.org/.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1