Seven years ago, a tongue-tied Mary Jane Ligon joined the Trinity Toastmasters after beginning a new job.

“I would need to make appearances describing and promoting the work that I was doing,” says the Lake Highlands resident, “and I had always run from such possibilities in the past.”

She attended many meetings before finally joining in the group’s series of speeches.

“I took several weeks to say anything more than my name at a meeting. With the kindness of the other members, I finally made my ‘ice breaker’ speech,” she says. “There is something wonderful about facing a fear and getting to the other side.”

Ligon isn’t the first to do so at a Trinity Toastmasters meeting. In fact, hundreds, probably thousands, came before her. The group is one of the longer-lived chapters, begun in 1952 by 20 East Dallas men. Fifty years later, the chapter is thriving and still training neighborhood residents to improve their public speaking skills.

Since her own reluctant beginnings, Ligon has served in numerous leadership capacities for Trinity Toastmasters, holding every officer position, managing five Toastmasters clubs as area governor and conducting youth leadership workshops for teenagers.

Ligon says that all kinds of people attend meetings, from businesspeople to those looking to improve their English skills. And she thinks there’s another group in the community that could benefit from it, as well.

“I’ve been thinking lately of the young mothers in our neighborhood,” Ligon says, “who could learn so much from Toastmasters Clubs and get away from family for an evening that is just for them.”

She’d like to see the group do the same thing for others as it has done for her.

“I consider Toastmasters the single best thing I’ve ever done for my self-confidence. I’ll never be a great public speaker, but wow…I’ve come a long way from being afraid I would choke on saying my name to a room full of people,” Ligon says.

A typical meeting is divided into three parts. First, two members present prepared speeches, then members respond to the evening’s “Table Topic.” Last, members evaluate each other’s speeches.

“Evaluations are not as scary as they sound,” Ligon says. “We look for what’s right more than what’s wrong.”

Trinity Toastmasters meets on Mondays at 6:15 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Select, Cassidy’s Restaurant, Fireside Room at 10650 N. Central Expressway, 214-373-6000. For more information about Trinity Toastmasters, call Ligon at 214-343-5701.