In January 2011, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) Commissioner Tom Burack implemented the Commissioner’s Speechcraft, a public speaking course designed by Toastmasters International. Commissioner Burack recognizes that NHDES’s success depends on excellence in customer service and that communication is paramount to customer service. Our employees are the face of NHDES. When our employees are professional and articulate in their interactions, the Department encourages cooperation, conveys the intended message, and leaves a positive impression of NHDES as a whole.
In six weekly two-hour classes, the Commissioner’s Speechcraft teaches basic speaking, evaluation, and leadership skills using the Toastmasters International model of active participation. Educational speeches instruct on fundamental techniques, but this is not a lecture series. It is a multi-faceted, “learning by doing” series founded on practice, observation, coaching, and peer evaluation. Each group is intentionally small (six to eight “Speechcrafters” per class) in order to provide an intimate and supportive setting.
The program pairs each Speechcrafter with a mentor (usually another NHDES employee who has completed the program) who offers one-on-one guidance and feedback. Speechcrafters write and present a new speech each week and engage in impromptu speaking exercises. They craft appropriate, meaningful introductions. They compose oral evaluations for one another’s speeches by providing encouraging yet constructive feedback. They review presentation and meeting protocols. Moreover, Speechcrafters gain confidence in a supportive environment shared with colleagues outside their immediate working environment.
The Commissioner’s Speechcraft program, held once per calendar quarter, is open to any member of the NHDES family, from senior leadership to part-time summer interns. Members of a local Toastmasters club lead the classes with assistance from Speechcraft graduates. Commissioner Burack attends every graduation ceremony to present certificates and deliver a brief speech (complete with moose calls) and invites one graduate to be keynote speaker for the next Speechcraft course.
Results to Date:
Despite the intimidating nature of public speaking, Speechcraft graduates have overwhelmingly expressed a high sense of achievement, advocated the program’s value, and directly applied the skills to their jobs. The following successes highlight how the Commissioner’s Speechcraft program is making a difference in the way NHDES employees communicate with one another and the public:
- Forty-five NHDES employees from the Water, Air, and Waste Divisions and the Commissioner’s Office (approximately 10% of all employees) have participated to date;
- Eighteen NHDES employees have become mentors, coordinators, and evaluators for the program;
- Speechcraft graduates attend and evaluate rehearsals of quarterly agency-wide meetings, and attendees praise the improved quality of the final presentations resulting from those critiques;
- Staff experience noticeably greater self-confidence in presentations and other communications, and the public often recognizes and commends these efforts with special notes, emails, and phone calls;
- Staff members within sections, programs, and bureaus are interacting in ways typical of smaller organizations, with enhanced intra-agency coordination and cooperation.
Our graduates assert the benefits of Speechcraft:
- “I’ve not only seen the improvement in myself but also in others that have gone through the program.”
- “Speechcraft helped me to better plan and organize talks/speeches.”
- “It gave me more confidence to speak to a group with both a prepared speech and being ‘put on the spot.’”
- “This program can help everyone at DES and is a great investment in the quality and professionalism of our staff.”
Supervisor VII, Waste Management Division
New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services