Q & A with Jim Robison

By peter korn
The Portland Tribune, Jun 29, 2007
Original story here

(news photo)
Sarah Toor / Portland tribune
Jim Robison (middle), president of two local Toastmasters clubs, chats with other Toastmaster talents John Sweeney (left) and P. Shane Jackson as they work toward confidence at the lectern - no ifs, ands, buts, uhs or ums about it.

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

For 17 years Jim Robison has been practicing getting to the point. He's become pretty good at it.

Don't expect any long-winded explanations from the 43-year-old Robison - though at a recent meeting he did speak spontaneously for a minute and a half straight on why all life on Earth has arrived from another planet.

Robison, 43, is president of Portland Toastmasters Club 31 and president of Portland Progressives Toastmasters. They are two of what he says are more than 100 Toastmasters clubs in the Portland area.

By day a district administrator for the West Multnomah County Soil and Water Conservation District, in the evenings he and fellow Toastmasters learn to perfect their public speaking and overcome stage fright.

Portland Tribune: You get some nervous people at your meetings?

Jim Robison: There was one person who gave a speech where she talked about how when she first got up to speak at a Toastmasters Club she literally fainted from fear.

One of the things we do is have a grammarian who counts your grammatical errors and your uhs and ums as you're speaking. One member, I would tell him I would count his as the number of uhs per second.

Tribune: Why do people use ums?

Robison: It's because they're forming the thought as they're speaking. They're trying to pause to think about what they're going to say next, but physically they don't want to leave a blank so they make a noise.

Tribune: It's not that ... bad ... to leave ... a bit of silence. Is it?

Robison: And that's something we teach people. It's better to just pause rather than put in a filler.

Tribune: When you started in Toastmasters 17 years ago, what was your speech like?

Robison: I probably had a tough time getting to the point.

Tribune: Well, that was pretty direct. So, no problem anymore?

Robison: Right.

Tribune: What are the worst errors you've heard among public speakers?

Robison: When I watched the presidential debates four years ago between Bush and Kerry I found myself counting the uhs and ums.

Tribune: Who had more?

Robison: Bush had a lot.

Tribune: So that meant he was thinking up answers as he went along?

Robison: Maybe it meant he didn't know exactly what he was saying.

Tribune: Have you noticed differences between men and women speakers at your meetings?

Robison: All speeches are timed. Some people of one gender tend to go long, and some people of (another) gender tend to go too short.

Tribune: Are you saying women are more loquacious?

Robison: There are people who tend to be long with their speeches.

Tribune: Yes, but we were talking about men versus women. Aren't you the guy who is supposed to be good at getting to the point?

Robison: Maybe that is the point. Men try to get to the point faster where women try to explain more.

Tribune: Speaking of points, are there actual toasts at Toastmasters meetings?

Robison: We used to meet at the Portland Rose & Raindrop, but the bar closed so we had to stop meeting there.

Tribune: Meetings less rowdy since?

Robison: We lost a few people.

- Peter Korn