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NORTH TONAWANDA – Dennis Gauda certainly can think – and talk – on his feet.

The North Tonawanda resident bested more than 1,600 participants to win the district-level competition of the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in District 65, which includes all clubs located in Central and Western New York.

Gauda’s win qualified him to advance to the semifinals of the contest, where he will vie for one of nine spots in the World Championship of Public Speaking to be held on Aug. 24 in Cincinnati.

“Third time is the charm,” said Gauda who has been a member of the Northpointe Toastmasters for the past 15 years. He said he has placed second-place two previous times, but this is his first time moving beyond the district level.

Gauda said he served as a district governor from 2009 to 2010 and has traveled to past International Conventions in Palm Desert, Calif., and again in Foxwoods, Conn., but never as a competitor.

“I’m really getting amped up about it,” Gauda said of the four-day convention. “It’s a big opportunity. At the semifinal level on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 22, there will 400 to 600 people in the audience and nine contests. Those nine winners will compete in the finals on Saturday morning, Aug. 24. There will be 2,400 to 2,600 people in the audience – exciting stuff.”

Eighty-eight winners from districts across the world advanced to the semifinal round after a six-month process of elimination through club, area and district competitions. Each five- to seven-minute speech was judged on content, organization, gestures and style.

Gauda’s surpassed the fierce competition to win the hearts of the audience and his judges at the District Level with his speech, “A Mother’s Love.” He said his speech told the story of love and forgiveness – a mother’s unconditional love.

“She let me know that even though I hurt her grievously, she forgave me and I never forgot that,” Gauda said.

Participants present the same speech for competition through the semifinals, but the winners of the semifinals need a new and different speech to compete in the finals.

“You plan on winning,” said Gauda, noting that all the participants have prepared a final speech in advance. “I am preparing my final speech now, because I do plan on winning Thursday.”

“I’ve always had an affinity for speaking and enjoyed being the center of attention, but Toastmasters made me more effective. It’s a great way to learn how to do it right,” said Gauda. “For people who don’t like public speaking, it’s the perfect way to overcome their fear. But a lot of professional speakers are members of Toastmasters to hone their skills and keep them sharp.”

He said Toastmasters is also a “communication of leadership” group that teaches members how to communicate and listen.

Gauda is retired from the Air Force Reserve 914th Airlift Wing in Niagara Falls and is a retired federal civil servant. He used his Toastmasters skills as a training manager, where he was called upon frequently to speak to groups, and as a volunteer in the Lutheran Church, where he was asked to speak in churches.

The Toastmasters International Speech Contest is the world’s largest speech contest involving 30,000 participants from 116 countries.

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. Founded in 1924, the organization currently has more than 280,000 members in 13,500 clubs in 116 countries. Toastmasters helps more than a quarter-million people of every ethnicity, education level and profession build their competence in communication so they gain confidence to lead others. Learn more about Toastmasters and local Toastmasters clubs at www.toastmasters.org.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com