August 5, 2004
For nearly 20 years, Mike DiCerbo has voluntarily helped to enrich Scottsdale students with an important skill — public speaking.
Known by many as "Toastmaster Mike," his efforts reach hundreds of students each year through an eightweek program conceived by Toastmasters International.
Schools where DiCerbo has led the course include Ingleside and Cocopah middle schools, Cheyenne Traditional School, Pima and Kiva elementary schools, Xavier College Preparatory and some home-schooled students.
He’s already booked for the first semester this year. He typically works with six class periods at a different school each day, with about 25 students in each period giving speeches two to four minutes long.
Students pick their own speech topics and receive feedback from peers on how to improve. Top speakers have a chance to participate in "speak-offs."
DiCerbo also guides students by offering tips on overcoming stage fright or strengthening a speech’s opening.
One popular part of DiCerbo’s lessons is the appointment of an "ah counter" who rings a bell each time a speaker says "ah," "um" or "er."
This method works well, he said, and the student who uses "ah" the most receives an award — a tongue depressor printed with the words "Wizard of Ah’s."
"The more you practice, the more confident you feel about what you’re going to say and do in front of an audience," said DiCerbo, a longtime member of Scottsdalians Toastmasters.
Mike Duff, principal at Cheyenne Traditional School, said DiCerbo’s welcomed efforts provide students with a valuable opportunity.
"I think he gives the kids self-confidence to speak in front of other people and selfconfidence in themselves," Duff said.
Many students’ speeches amaze DiCerbo as they tackle topics such as obesity, depression or suicide with depth and understanding.
"I’ve seen kids give speeches and the adults are just taken aback."