My Turn: Healthy Talk

How Toastmasters offers strong medicine.

By Betty Liedtke, DTM

On April 24, 2009, I served as Toastmaster of my district’s Table Topics Speech Contest. Four days later, I was in the hospital having surgery.

Fortunately, the two didn’t have anything to do with each other. I didn’t break a leg tripping on a microphone cord, or suffer a late-night run-in with a contestant who hated the Table Topics question. In fact, the contest itself went quite smoothly. My surgery had to do with cancer prevention. Although I had already dealt with breast cancer years ago, genetic testing indicated that I had a higher-than-normal risk of ovarian cancer. The operation I was having would reduce that risk to nearly zero.

Taking part in the district contest and conference in the middle of dealing with medical issues made me realize something: Your Toastmasters skills can be of enormous benefit and comfort when you’re sick, injured or dealing with a medical crisis. After all, what more critical time could there be for good listening and speaking skills than when you’re sitting in a doctor’s office or a hospital room, discussing what could literally be a matter of life and death? The problem is many people allow the weight of the situation to make things worse. Even routine medical visits and examinations give some people a measurable increase in blood pressure – what’s known as “white-coat hypertension.”

In a recent six-month period, I had surgery twice (the second one was to have a pacemaker implanted) and had to undergo other tests and procedures that included X-rays, a nuclear stress test, an angiogram and physical therapy for lower-back pain. Instead of disappearing into a fog of medical confusion, frustration and self-pity, I took charge of each situation by asking and responding to questions as clearly and attentively as possible, then analyzing and organizing all the new information I was taking in. I stayed calm and confident, even when things weren’t going the way I had planned or wanted. Many of the skills I relied on were exactly what I learned or strengthened during the five years I’ve been a Toastmaster. 

                    “Your Toastmasters skills can be of enormous benefit
                    when you are dealing with a medical crisis."

Another benefit I enjoyed and appreciated was being able to add members of my Toastmasters club to my support system of friends and family members who are interested in my health and well-being. They have expressed their interest and concern through cards, calls, visits and offers of help whenever I – or anyone else in our club – have had to deal with difficult circumstances, medical or otherwise. Their good wishes always lift my spirits.

I am not, of course, recommending that Toastmasters can or should be used as a substitute for traditional medical care. However, I know from personal experience that whenever any health issues or problems arise, Toastmasters can be a powerful and effective supplemental treatment. The meetings and activities can alleviate or distract you from some of the pain and anxiety that often accompany medical problems and procedures.

For example, when I was asked to be Toastmaster of the district Table Topics contest, I already knew I’d be having surgery a few days later. I could have skipped the contest and conference, and instead stayed home to rest and get ready for the operation. But what fun would that be? I would have been beset by worrying. But at the Table Topics contest, I was immersed in positive experiences: The audience laughed at the jokes I told during my opening remarks as Toastmaster, the contestants responded with heart and humor when I asked them to describe their dream jobs, and a number of people approached me after the contest to tell me how much they enjoyed the event.

When it is time to deal with the medical issues, Toastmasters training and skills help us focus and concentrate on our situation, and give us better clarity about what must be done or what our options are. And I’ve discovered one more benefit of Toastmasters: The motivation for good material lessens the sting of difficult times. While overcoming each one of my medical challenges, a single thought kept running through my mind: When I finally get through this, it’s going to make for one terrific speech! 

Betty Liedtke, DTM, is a member of Marsh Winds Toastmasters in Min-netonka, Minnesota, and is the author of “No Place Like Home,” an award-winning newspaper column in the Chanhassen (Minn.) Villager. Contact her at