Meet Toastmasters' 2009-2010 International President Gary Schmidt, DTM

One reason Gary Schmidt is so excited about serving Toastmasters International in the coming year is because the organization has played such an important role in his life. He is a prime example of someone whose confidence, communication skills and leadership talents were transformed by Toastmasters.

Schmidt credits his Toastmasters experience not only for leading to his career opportunities, but for enabling him to continue improving and excelling in his profession over the years. He has worked as a key staff member for two United States senators from his home state of Oregon: Senator Mark Hatfield and Senator Gordon Smith. At the same time, Schmidt has enjoyed a rapid ascent through the ranks of Toastmasters, assuming one leadership position after another. He was tapped as the organization’s new International President less than 15 years after he first became a member.

Schmidt lives in Clackamas, Oregon, and attends the Clackamas Stepping Stones club. In an interview with the Toastmaster magazine, he touched on a wide range of topics, including his work in politics, his philosophy about leadership, and his abiding affection for a certain 1970s space movie.

When and why did you join Toastmasters?
I joined Toastmasters in February 1995 because I was an unemployed college graduate. Despite studying communications in college, I simply could not express myself effectively in job interviews. Dr. Joyce Brothers, in one of her books, recommended job seekers join Toastmasters to improve their confidence. Not persuaded, it took a high school friend of mine, Naomi Nabori, to invite me to Toastmasters and she literally dragged me to my first meeting. Once there, I was hooked, and I joined the next week.

Why have you remained a member ever since?
First of all, Toastmasters led to my career. After only six weeks as a member, my confidence and communication skills improved so rapidly that I found my first job out of college working in politics for United States Senator from Oregon Mark Hatfield. I credit Toastmasters for my continued personal growth and development, which has led to job promotions and increased responsibilities at work. I found my best friends in Toastmasters. It is a joy to watch the communication and leadership skills of other members blossom because of Toastmasters.

How has your Toastmasters training benefited your career?
Toastmasters is the reason I found my career in public service in the first place! After working in politics for many years, I found myself looking for work again earlier this year. Once again, Toastmasters came to the rescue. Not only did the skills I learned in Toastmasters help me in the job interview process, but the network of friends I built in the organization directly led to my current position.

Explain why you chose as your theme “Toastmasters: Confidence. Leadership. Service.”
The greatest skill Toastmasters has provided to me is confidence. I’m sure that is true of every member. Once we have improved self-confidence, we develop our talents leading others. We are all leaders! Confidence and leadership culminate in serving others. When we serve others we ultimately serve ourselves. Those three words – confidence, leadership, service – represent to me the outcomes of what Toastmasters really provides each of us. And, in turn, what we provide to others.

What aspect of Toastmasters do you like best?
In the club setting, Table Topics and evaluations are the most beneficial to my continued personal growth. The ability to think quickly and provide effective and helpful feedback to others are skills that are necessary in any profession. In general, I am grateful for the friends I have found in Toastmasters and watching others grow and improve through their Toastmasters involvement.

Tell us about your earlier career working for two United States senators.
I started my political career working as a speechwriter for Senator Hatfield. Writing speeches for others is not the same as writing a speech for yourself! Thankfully, Toastmasters taught me effective listening and rhetorical techniques, both of which are essential to effective speechwriting. After Senator Hatfield retired, I worked for his successor, U.S. Senator Gordon Smith. In fact, I was elected lt. governor marketing the same year I started with Senator Smith. As my leadership skills progressed in Toastmasters, I brought those enhanced skills to Senator Smith’s team and, hopefully, the citizens of Oregon.

You are the Public Affairs Manager for Clackamas County in Oregon. What are your responsibilities?

My responsibilities are to ensure and enhance two- way communication between the elected Board of Commissioners, the county staff and the citizens of the county. Tools I use are media outreach, technology such as Web sites and social media, and citizen outreach. Once again, my professional work closely intersects with the skills I practice and enhance in Toastmasters.

Tell us about your hobbies and interests outside of Toastmasters.
I love music, reading and movies. I play the trumpet and played from elementary school to just a few years ago. When my Toastmasters travel schedule slows down I will pick up the trumpet again. Many may know of my love for the movie Star Wars. I saw that movie as a young boy and it has made a difference in my life! If you attended the International Convention in August, you heard my story of how I met actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker. Thanks to my parents, I have all the toys from when I was a kid, and hopefully they will increase in value to pay for my retirement someday! 

What are some of your favorite books?

U.S. President Harry Truman once said, “Not all readers become leaders, but all leaders must be readers.” I love to learn and find that reading teaches me about effective leadership. My favorite types of books are biography, history and politics. Favorite authors are David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Covey. Two of my favorite books of all time are The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, about following your dreams, and Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, about the Lewis and Clark journey to the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Tell us about your worst speaking experience.
Before Toastmasters, every speaking experience was painful because I was not confident in my abilities. After I joined, I got better, but I’m still learning! I have so many examples of being in citizen meetings for my prior bosses, Senator Hatfield and Senator Smith, and being asked a question on the spot and having no idea of the answer. I used my Toastmasters training to not panic, pause, ask for a clarification, and then formulate my thoughts for an adequate response. If I truly did not know the answer, I said so, and then contacted the citizen as soon as possible with the answer. 

Do you have any role models when it come to public speaking – if so, who?
As I love politics, my role models are public officials. In my lifetime, the U.S. presidents whom I admire for their outstanding communication skills are Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. If you put aside your political views, you must admit these three know how to deliver a powerful presentation and connect with an audience.

My two recent bosses, Senator Hatfield and Senator Smith, were amazing communicators. Senator Hatfield had a command of facts and figures yet always spoke to the common person, connecting with his audiences. Senator Smith never used notes, always spoke from his heart, and had a wonderful speaking voice. 

How do you hope members, clubs and districts will fulfill your theme?
I hope members will consider what the words confidence, leadership and service mean to them and their Toastmasters journey. I hope members will continue to engage in the Toastmasters education programs; achieve in the Distinguished Club, Area, Division and District programs; bring new members to their clubs, and involve themselves in all the programs and events Toastmasters International offers. With all these tools for the taking, each member will improve his or her own life, the lives of fellow members, and the lives of all those in the world who are touched daily by the power of Toastmasters.

What are your dreams and goals for your term in office?
My dream is first to see that every single member of every club achieves their own personal goals and dreams to be the best communicator and leader they can be. My dream is to see continued retention and growth in our membership and clubs all over the world. My dream is to enhance our leadership track so leaders will have a structured evaluation component to their service and we accommodate the changing needs of volunteer leaders. My dream is that every generation of members finds that Toastmasters meets their expectations. My dream is that our organization continues to thrive and finds creative ways to meet the evolving dreams of all our current and future members around the globe.

What made you want to become International President?

When I joined Toastmasters 14 years ago, my only goal was to be able to give a speech without falling over from nerves! After I became a club officer and saw the leadership opportunities in Toastmasters, I simply kept following the leadership track. The more I learned about leadership in Toastmasters the better employee I became in my profession. My love of learning is what prompted me to become an area governor, division governor, lt. governor, district governor and then a member of the Board of Directors. I’m still learning and hope to learn much more as I serve as International President.

If you had a message for every Toastmaster, what would that be?

My message to every member is this: Follow your own path and believe in yourself. Whatever your reason for joining Toastmasters, remember your goals and dreams. As you achieve those goals and dreams, set new ones! Then help others to achieve their goals and dreams. Remember the words of Toastmasters founder Dr. Ralph Smedley: “We work together to bring out the best in each of us, and then we apply our skills to help others.”

Live your Toastmasters experience with confidence, leadership and service. Enjoy your journey of discovery!