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Curiosity and the Power of Words

Remarkable senior spent 57 years recruiting club members.

By Cheryl Andrichuk, ACB, CL


Dr. Ralph Yorsh

Dr. Ralph Yorsh, DTM, a member of Cloverleaf Toastmasters in Vancouver, Canada, has been promoting the benefits of Toastmasters since 1959 when he attended his first meeting and thought, Where have you been all my life? This is where I belong.

The retired dentist, now in his mid-90s, is known for his groundbreaking use of hypnosis. He says, “Half the world’s problems can be solved with better communication.” He believes strongly that his goal is to give one Toastmasters recruiting talk per day—something he achieves four or five times a week. “Many people are not good communicators,” he says, “and Toastmasters is practice ground for real life.” 

One of the myriad people he introduced to Toastmasters was a chartered accountant whom he felt needed better presentation skills. It changed her life. He says it was like watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. Yorsh has seen many of his personal recruits flourish but insists that all clubs have success stories. 

In 1979, while Yorsh was a lecturer at the University of British Columbia, he chartered a Toastmasters club after seeing the need for improved communication by staff, faculty and students. He named the club after Walter Gage, a university president whom he admired as a “fabulous communicator.” Yorsh stayed on in the club as a mentor for five years. He emphasizes how clubs benefit from experienced members and reinforces the discipline of Toastmasters to “keep things on the rails” by informing club members of the rules governing proper conduct in meetings.


The Savvy Traveler

The nonagenarian has visited over 90 countries and strives to attend a club meeting wherever he goes. His travels have led to club visits in Mexico, where meetings were held in Spanish, to Ukraine, where he says members spoke “perfect English.” Sometimes a local Toastmaster will pick him up at his hotel to take him to a meeting so he doesn’t get lost on the way.

His hobby is traveling to learn “how things work.” “Curiosity is my middle name,” he says. For example, Yorsh has gained admittance to 1,100-plus mines and factories out of a desire to learn, and credits Table Topics with giving him an edge to get in. Often it’s a cold call when he asks for a tour with no letter of introduction and he must think on his feet to request access or a tour. When he visited the universities in Pyongyang and Shanghai, he brokered a trade: In exchange for delivering a speech at the universities, the dean not only gave him a letter of introduction but also a driver to take him to factories he wanted to visit. He says his approach works 98 percent of the time.  
  

An Early Apprentice

Yorsh was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, in 1921, three years before the first Toastmasters meeting was held. His fascination with the possibilities of effective communication is deeply rooted in his childhood. Yorsh helped out with his parents’ retail business during the Depression, and even as a boy he loved to interact with customers and take their orders. His parents ran the store on the premise that all transactions would be cash or barter—and every sale mattered. His parents instructed him to call them when he believed he was about to lose a sale. But instead of slinking off he stayed to watch how they clinched the deal.

“They were Toastmasters without knowing it,” Yorsh says. “Both were articulate and successful, and I learned a lot about communication from them.”

Another early learning experience for Yorsh was during Canada’s 1930 federal election, when the 9-year-old accompanied his father to hear politicians deliver their messages. Often the only child there, he listened to their addresses and was inspired by the power in their words.


A Path to Success

Yorsh practiced dentistry and trained dentists and patients in relaxation and pain management techniques for decades. His success in his profession can be attributed to the effective communication lessons he learned. As a dentist, he discovered that every case presentation and patient interaction is “show business.” One way that he helped patients relax is through hypnosis. A founding member of the Canadian Society for Clinical Hypnosis and a fellow of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, Yorsh received a Distinguished Service award from the British Columbia Dental Association and was recognized for his application of clinical hypnosis and public speaking in dentistry.

Yorsh describes hypnosis as an altered state of awareness that is a form of induced, focused attention that helps patients relax on demand. Some might call it meditation. Yorsh consciously used his voice to calm patients. Any dentist who has developed a good chairside manner may be using some of his methods, practicing a form of hypnosis without knowing it. That’s why Yorsh encourages dentists to join Toastmasters to make every word, gesture, smile and move count to give the patient confidence.  

Yorsh credits Table Topics with giving him an edge in gaining admittance to more than 1,100 mines and factories during his travels.

Word choice and evaluation are two aspects of Toastmasters that Yorsh considers invaluable. He maintains that using the right words counts—whether in sales, business, relationships or politics. 

Yorsh recalls how, before the age of recording devices, public figures hired “image-makers” as their “evaluators.” They would sit in meetings and critique the politician’s presentation, style and everything else right down to their choice of socks, shoes and barber. Yorsh says members get the same benefit from their Toastmasters club. He asserts that the evaluation is as important as the speech. The evaluator has to learn to listen and the speaker gets valuable feedback.  


Still Going Strong

Today, at age 95, Yorsh is an engaging speaker with a mellifluous voice. In private conversation or at a public presentation, his speaking style is comfortable, clear and organized and he commands the audience without superfluous gestures or antics. Club meetings are Yorsh’s favorite part of the week and members see him as a vital role model. He looks authoritative as he assumes the “Yorsh stance” based on what he learned during his six years in the Canadian Armed Forces—at attention, feet together, hands by his side, fingers slightly curled. From this position, each gesture has an impact. He has mastered the lessons of Toastmasters and applies them with every word, phrase and sentence. He suggests taking advantage of technology to watch yourself on video. That, combined with input from your fellow Toastmasters, is key to improving, he says.

Yorsh says he would probably have been voted “least likely to lead” in his high school days, but adds, “The mere fact that you are speaking publicly gives you leadership qualities.” He credits Toastmasters with helping him be successful in business and in life. He continues to spread the word of Toastmasters.