Like most people, I first walked through the doors of a Toastmasters meeting because I wanted to get better at public speaking. I didn’t have a fear, per se. I just felt that I could become more polished and succinct in my message. I’ve always had a passion for volunteering and as I gave speeches in the community on behalf of nonprofits, I wanted to be the best representative I could be.
Being the mini-hoarder that I am, I still have the agenda from my very first Toastmasters meeting in May of 2010. I was warmly welcomed into the Toastmasters family – greeted by Board members, sat by a seasoned member who explained the parts of the meeting, and invited to participate in Table Topics where I won the best speaker. I joined immediately.
The next week, the club held oﬃcer elections and I was voted in as Vice President Membership. I obviously had no idea what that entailed but I was personable, willing to help, and was assured that there would be plenty of guidance along the way. If they believed I could do it then I was up for the task. And so began my leadership journey with Toastmasters. Although Toastmasters is known for giving people the confidence to overcome public speaking fears, the leadership journey is truly a hidden gem that I wish more people took advantage of. I held the VPM position for three terms in two diﬀerent clubs.
Life’s circumstances forced me to take a long pause soon after that initial year and a half. One of the great things I love about Toastmasters is that you never lose your work. Thankfully, when I did jump back into the program four years ago, I was able to pick up where I left oﬀ. In addition to taking on club leadership roles, I also dipped my foot into the district leadership waters.
In my opinion, one of the most pivotal district leadership roles we have in Toastmasters is that of the Area Director. I try to encourage as many people as possible to step into the role. For many, this is their first time stepping outside the four walls of their club. There are many advantages to broadening your viewpoint. Serving as area director allows you to meet fellow Toastmasters, see how other clubs operate and get a firm handle on the additional leadership opportunities beyond the club.
In my year as area director, I was introduced to corporate clubs in the community and really began to grasp how clubs can have vastly diﬀerent personalities and customs – all while operating under the same structure and education program. The four clubs in my area were diverse and unique.
The best part of the experience was sowing into the growth of fellow members. It is an honor to walk alongside someone’s journey and see the change as they move from nervously giving an icebreaker speech, to later gaining the courage to compete. The same happens on the leadership side as people nervously take on their first board position, and as their confidence grows their leadership skills also flourish. I ended that year with a distinguished area thanks to the hard work of all the club members and oﬃcers in Area C3.
While I served as Area Director, I simultaneously took on the task of serving as a Pathways Guide – helping to roll out Toastmasters’ new education platform in its infancy. Traveling throughout the district to educate clubs on the forthcoming changes presented some challenges, but also provided the opportunity to step out and meet even more members. The demographics of our members run the gamut and provides for incredible networking opportunities and the formation of lifelong friendships.
The following year I served as Logistics Manager to District 33 – a little known role which is essentially Sergeant At Arms at the District level. I worked closely with the District Director and traveled back and forth to California setting up District Meetings and conferences. There aren’t a lot of rules on how to navigate this role so I had carte blanche to make this role my own.
I focused on eﬃciency – keeping meetings and events on time and organized, making sure room set up for every event was executed to specifications. It touched my heart when several people mentioned that they modeled their service as club SAA after the way I served the district. At the end of that year, I was honored to be named the District 33 Toastmaster of the Year.
My service continued the following year as I took on the challenge of the inaugural District 115
Public Relations Manager following our split from D33. My goal was to put our new district on the global stage and introduce ourselves as the newest District in the Toastmasters family. As we saw the world over, this challenge was intensified by a global pandemic. Added to my role was helping to take events and club meetings online.
Our district was fortunate to participate in a 24-hour Toastmasters marathon at the start of the pandemic which brought together people from all over the world. After the feature, many of our clubs began to have international guests that have turned into members.
This pandemic has eternally changed the way many clubs will operate. Taking in international guests opens the door to creativity as clubs explore ways to present a robust hybrid meeting to accommodate out of area members.
By the end of that year, I’d earned the unoﬃcial title of Chat Room Monitor extraordinaire, and was crowned District 115’s first-ever Sparkplug of the Year. In everything I do, I aim to serve to the best of my ability. My focus is always on the member – cultivating an environment for each person to thrive. Receiving the two highest district awards, back to back across two districts, validated that I was doing just that.
This year I’ve decided to take my personal journey back to the basics. Having embraced Pathways from day one, I am close to finishing my second DTM – this one on the Pathways side. I also plan to compete for the first time ever; an opportunity unavailable to those serving in district leadership.
As with many others, it was the public speaking aspect that got me to first walk through a Toastmasters door. Now, as with many other seasoned members, it is the camaraderie that keeps me here. Self improvement should be a lifelong journey and Toastmasters certainly provides for that. But in addition to that, you find a family here.
I encourage anyone looking to improve their speaking skills to give Toastmasters a try. Public speaking is much more than giving a motivational speech as a conference keynote. The landscape of employment and entrepreneurship has changed. Every time you speak you are networking or selling yourself. You need to know how to do that succinctly and with confidence.
A Toastmasters club can get you there. To start your journey, visit toastmasters.org to find a meeting that fits your schedule. Good luck to all of you who embrace personal development continuously strive to better yourselves.