Toastmasters Team with Local Students for Grant Prep

By Betsy Judge

Toastmasters is about individuals becoming more effective communicators and leaders. At the Downtown St. Petersburg club, some of the members are using their experience to help a group of young entrepreneurs in the BETA program at Gibbs High School.

The Business, Economics, Technology Academy (BETA) program is a magnet program at Gibbs that focuses on providing students with a college-preparatory education to prepare them for a real-world business environment. For some stu- dents in the BETA pathway that means running Gibbs Bucks, a coffee business within the school. It also means a chance to compete for a Next Generation Entrepreneurs grant for $10,000, $3,500 or $1,500.

This is where Toastmasters comes in. They have been mentoring the students for about six weeks in preparation for the grant presentation using proven Toastmaster methodology.

The students together with their teachers chose the coffee business in hopes of preventing kids from arriving late to school because they stopped to buy coffee.

A Gibbs Bucks entrepreneur pours coffee which has or will be sold to students as part of their in-school business to help prepare them for a real-world business environment. Photo from

“If they are late (or on time) they are still walk- ing in with coffee, so we wanted to solve that problem by providing it on campus,” says Anthony Knox, a member of the BETA pathway faculty. He says their goal is to produce coffee that tastes as good as commercial competitors, but is cheaper. “They’ve evolved so much from the first day till now; they’ve done a great job,” he says about the students. “Now we have the process down.” He says they are seeing results and the option to pre-order and pre-pay helps ensure students show up for their coffee.

When the opportunity to apply for the grant came up, Knox reached out to the Toastmasters. “I knew what they are about; I’ve had people in my life that were Toastmasters. I actually did it in Gulfport, Mississippi.” He wanted to take advantage of the professional way they could teach his students to speak publicly, “which they struggle with, so I gave them a call.”

On a March afternoon, four Toastmasters from St. Petersburg gathered in the lobby of the school then proceeded to the classroom.

Toastmaster volunteers serve as mentors for students who made a pitch for a Next Generation Entrepreneurs grant in late March. The club members worked with the students once a week for seven weeks prior to the competition. TIR staff photo.

Olivia Mansion, a business and mindset coach for women, joined the group in November. She explains what they have been doing.

“The session here is a little bit over an hour, so we divide it into four segments with an education- al portion where we may address giving speeches or talk about business in general, then we break into groups of about 5 to 10 students and ask questions and give prompts.” After that students go to the front of the class individually to answer questions. “The last por- tion is what we call table topics where it’s just random questions, but you’ re in front of the group. You get to feel what it’s like to know the content, but still feel a little nervous.”

She says they were given information about Gibbs Bucks and the grant presentation requirements then took their Toastmasters material and blended the two.

“We critique as we go along and ask them what they did well and what they could have done better.”

On this, their next to last session, they break the routine and Toastmaster Mitchell Rabsatt, a mechanical engineering student who has been with the club about a year, gives a speech he developed for international competition.

“The students will evaluate him, what he did well and where he could improve,” says Mansion. “We want them to see someone who is is dressed up, knows his content and is comfortable.”

“For their last week what we will end up doing,” says 10-year Toastmaster Robert Wilson, “is helping them though the actual presentation they will have to do for the grant. It includes a one minute elevator speech, a five-minute presentation about the pro- gram and then 10 minutes of Q&A.” They intend to get new volunteers the students do not know to serve as a panel. “We will go through the whole thing, give them suggestions and then have them come in and do it again.”

Student Ke’Aisha Singer (left) with Gibbs Bucks talks with attendees at a Ford Next Generation learning event hosted at the Tradewinds about their company and product.
TIR staff photo.

Student Kelci Holloway from Pinellas Park appreciates the Toastmaster effort. “It’s good; and it helps us get ready for the competition and speaking out in the real world.”

Keyon Chance, a 10th grade student from St. Petersburg agrees. “It helps me keep better eye con- tact with everybody. Usually I’d be fidgeting when I speak to people, but now I keep eye contact.” He is also a frequent volunteer to speak.

St. Petersburg student Kayla Egulf serves as the vice president of Gibbs Bucks. “Toastmasters has helped by get- ting me out of my shell, because I’m a very shy person, so it has helped me to be able to present and speak in front of my peers.”

Jennifer Tuazon, a member of the BETA staff serves as Knox’s back-up. She turned to teaching after a successful business career. “I think it’s been great,” she says about theToastmasters’ involvement, “because our kids are little bit younger (than other Next Generation Entrepreneur competitors) and that couple of years makes a difference. To see them progre

Students and teacher Jennifer Tuazon listen as Toastmaster Mitchell Rabsatt gives an emotional speech about how his relationship with his father impacted him while growing up. Afterwards, students asked questions about his preparation process.

ss has been amazing.”

Andy Bustamante with Toastmasters kicks the session off by reminding the students who they are and why they are there. He introduces Rabsatt. “Mitch Rabsatt will give his international speech; a speech he prepared and intended to use in competition. He has spent countless hours practicing, writing, and fine-tuning it and is presenting in full attire. We have talked about the amount of preparation time that goes into creating a speech or preparing to present to a group of people; to control your body movement; to control your intonation and your voice. You’ll see all that today, so this is as authentic as it gets.”

Mitch gives an emotional pitch about the rocky relationship he had with his father before he died and how it impacted him growing up. Then one by one the students were called upon to ask him questions about how he prepared and how it felt to give the speech.

The hour flies by as the Toastmasters direct the activities and the students ask or respond to a variety of questions or critique themselves or others. It ends with the students having an opportunity to ask questions of the Toastmasters.

Toastmasters International is a leader in communication and leadership development with than 345,000 members who improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 15,900 clubs in 142 countries. There are 19 clubs in South Pinellas County. For more information go to