Meet Toastmasters' 2010-2011 International President Pat Johnson, DTM

Newly elected International President Pat Johnson brings to her position many skills to help her guide the Toastmasters organization to new heights. She is a seasoned executive who has been a leader in corporate, government, not-for-profit and self-employed business worlds – and she is only the fifth woman to ever serve as Toastmasters International President.

A resident of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Johnson offers the organization more than 25 years of experience in working with policy, career development and strategic planning. She has international experience as a speaker and trainer and is skilled in conflict resolution, negotiation and mediation. In addition, her work experience includes organizational development and delivery and evaluation of programs in adult education. Johnson credits Toastmasters with helping her learn how to support others and become a cheerleader for their projects. She adds, “I am a better community member, parent, employee, leader, friend and manager because of what I have learned in Toastmasters.” 

When did you join Toastmasters?
My original membership certificate says April 6, 1983. And it is hanging on the wall of my home office – signed by the club president. It’s interesting to think back. I actually joined Toastmasters when Eddie Dunn was International President and I still vividly remember some of his Viewpoint articles. It was a life-changing year for me! 

Did you have a specific goal that drove you to join?
No – I didn’t have a specific goal. I lived in a rural community on the Canadian prairies, and I was terrified that my brain was turning to mush. I got involved in a course titled “Practical Politics” where we studied the various levels of Canadian government. During the program, we visited our nation’s capital and I was asked to introduce a senator to our small group.

I was so terrified over that whole incident that somebody suggested I investigate Toastmasters. I had never heard of it. I went searching and the following spring joined the local club in Swan River, Manitoba. I did not join to become a better speaker but to overcome my total lack of confidence. That is what got me there and what has kept me there.

The hardest meeting I ever went to was that first one. Just walking in the door was frightening. I probably never would have gone in, except it was in the basement of the church I attended and I convinced myself that I knew how to open the door and walk down the steps. At the bottom of those steps were friendly faces greeting me. I felt a sense of relief. 

We know that Toastmasters is your avocation, but what is your day job?
I love my paid work. I’m an Assistant Director for Business Education at the British Columbia Pension Corporation in Victoria, British Columbia. We are a corporation that is, interestingly, run by a number of boards. And we administer pension funds for a number of sectors. I work with a great team of curriculum designers who develop training for the employees of the corporation as well as our members and employers outside of the organization.

We develop workshops and seminars, as well as all the handbooks and material that support the clients’ learning. We develop e-learning materials for the employers who actually administer the pension plans in their workplaces. I also get to work with presenters within the corporation. It’s a fascinating day-to-day panorama of work that I get to do. I also have the good fortune of being able to do some classroom training as well as some facilitation work. There is a great deal of challenge and variety in my role – which I love! 

How do you balance your job with your responsibilities as an international leader of our organization?
I do Toastmasters every day. I find that most of my Toastmaster duties are easy to fit in around other daily activities. I belong to a couple of fabulous clubs and the people there inspire and invigorate me. It’s fun and I love to learn. The other part of the equation is, I don’t sleep much!

Who are your role models?
Several of my role models in Toastmasters are past International Presidents. I served on the Board with a number of Presidents who had very diverse styles. One President could take a very long, convoluted discussion and summarize it in two or three sentences. He could be very clear and concise. I looked at that and thought: What a fabulous skill to have – that mental ability and that connection with the message to be able to be so clear and concise. Another President was different in that he very much led and spoke from his heart. That’s a worthy ability to have – to be vulnerable, to open up as a leader and let go of any need to be right all the time. I aspire to have that empathy with the audience and connect with each of our members, to let my “humanness” show.

And of course, I admire the women who have gone before me – I’m the fifth woman to serve in 86 years in this organization, and the first Canadian woman to hold this office. I bow down to these women. I know them, love them and have great respect for what they have accomplished. 

How has Toastmasters helped you achieve your personal and professional goals?
I used to be more of a cerebral speaker; I would write everything out and speak from my head. And then a very good Toastmasters friend challenged me to speak from my heart, which felt very personal for me. I now can feel the difference, and that has been a great learning process.

Professionally, I really discovered who I was in Toastmasters. It happened through people saying, “Oh, you did a great job with that,” and giving me more and more responsibilities and encouragement. Fellow members could see things in me that I couldn’t see in myself. They figuratively held up a mirror, which I am ever-grateful for. As a result, I started doing training in Toastmasters. The next thing I knew, people were saying to me, “You always do this in Toastmasters, and you do a great job. You should get paid for this.” I eventually got enough confidence to get some education and build a career as a trainer. I then trained as a facilitator, which led to management jobs where I started building other skills. So my career really is built on Toastmasters skills. 

Tell us about your favorite speaking memory.
I have many wonderful speaking memories, but the most vivid is delivering the invocation at the Opening Ceremonies for the International Convention a few years ago. I was a second-year international director. I can still feel myself walking across the stage. It was an opportunity to say something I felt very strongly about; to call attention to the importance of us all coming together, and what we were doing together – it was very powerful for me. It was also a real honor to be given that liberty and trust, to set the tone of the Opening Ceremony. 

How did you select the international theme for 2010-2011, “Toastmasters: Achieving Greatness Together”?
“Achieving” opens the international theme best because it is an active form of the verb, and it confirms what we are doing every day. We are achieving and learning in Toastmasters.

“Greatness” can be defined in many ways. It could be when you take your skills as a communicator, as a leader, to a higher level. It might mean becoming a greater parent, spouse, employee or employer – or simply giving more service as a better community member. And it is ongoing. Greatness this year is different for each of us from what it will be next year as we continue to learn and grow.

“Together” will forever be tied to the first part of the Toastmasters Promise: “Attend club meetings regularly.” We find ourselves achieving greatness in that supportive environment, where our fellow Toastmasters pick us up, dust us off and stand us up in front of the lectern again. They say, “Now, try again.” Or, “Here, see if it will work better this way.” And I think that the togetherness in Toastmasters is what makes it magical. Otherwise, we would be standing in our living rooms, in front of a mirror, practicing and going nowhere quickly. The fact that we meet, support and grow together is what makes Toastmasters work. 

Give us an example of when you were able to work with others to achieve greatness.
I was asked to speak at an event in Vancouver, and I was just blocked. I was really, really busy at work and I felt that I had no creative time. I was starting to panic. I thought, “Oh, my goodness! I have to speak in a couple weeks. And I still have no idea what to speak about.” I went to my Thursday morning club, Rise and Shine, and asked Val and Caroline for help. They looked at me and said, “What do you need help on?” I said, “I’m stuck! I can’t decide what I want to talk about...” Val said, “Come over to my home on Friday night and Carolyn and I will brainstorm ideas with you.” Friday night, I arrived at Val’s. Caroline was there. The three of us sat and filled pages of ideas and talked and laughed. I went home and easily wrote the speech. It was so much more fun than suffering alone. And I felt such a sense of achievement – a small group of Toastmasters supporting one another to be the best we can be. That felt like “greatness.” 

How do you hope members, clubs and districts will fulfill the international theme?
I hope that people look at where they are and acknowledge their personal brand of greatness. And if they’re not able to do that, they can acknowledge the greatness in somebody else and say, “You’re great at this.” Don’t be afraid to let somebody know that they are great at something or that they have great potential. Don’t do a whitewash. Don’t insult the person by saying, “Oh that was fabulous. There’s no way you can improve.” Care enough to express your opinion. Be bold enough to form an opinion. Support one another by seeing the greatness in them and giving them a reputation to live up to by challenging their status quo.

I also hope each member will do their very best to build strong clubs and ensure that their clubs introduce the whole Toastmasters program to their members, not just the communication portion but also the leadership portion of the program. Strong clubs will build strong members and in turn, strong districts. 

If you had a message for every Toastmaster, what would it be?
We’re a learning organization. Never forget that you are here to learn. And that you can become whatever you imagine yourself to be. Take advantage of your club environment where people can help you actually see who and what you can be. I am always amazed at how supportive our club members are.

The other thing is to repeat your CCs and your CLs. When you are working through advanced manuals, always have a CC manual running parallel. This way, if you get bogged down in your Advanced manual or there isn’t sufficient time on the program for your longer speeches, you are able to do a manual speech in your Competent Communication manual. It will amaze you how quickly you complete another review of the basics of communication. It also lets you be a role model for newer members. 

What caused you to seek the International President office?
It was never my goal to become International President. I’ve arrived at this point in my leadership learning as a result of a lot of supportive people around me who believed and encouraged me to take one more step – to take one more step in service within Toastmasters. Now, as I step up to this role, representing this organization, I feel very humble and honored, as well as a great sense of responsibility. And I am ready to learn. 

What do you hope to achieve during your term in office?
I hope that next August I can sit down and say that I did my very best every day and that I honored every Toastmasters member – that I took the time and caring to see the greatness in each one of our members. And that, given the tasks and responsibilities of the position, I leave the organization in a better place than when I started my term. I am not able to define today what “better place” will mean in a year’s time. Perhaps it will be that more people have come to our program than ever before. Perhaps more people have achieved their goals than ever before. But my fervent hope is that more people will have achieved their own personal brand of greatness together with other Toastmasters. And that they will go forward in their lives as more effective leaders.