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April 2024
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Member Achievements

Toastmasters put skill sets to work.

Girl in purple coat poses in wheelchair

Jenna Hoff

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Finding My Voice

When I joined Toastmasters several years ago, I expected to find my voice and develop confident and persuasive speaking skills. And I did! What I didn’t foresee was how these skills and the love of public speaking would help in an uncertain future full of struggle.

In the years following my first meeting, I got married, maintained a career and adopted a 10-year-old daughter and then a 20-year-old son. On top of that, I struggled with a host of health issues. Among those are mobility difficulties—I currently use a wheelchair and walker, and am fighting to re-learn to walk—and a condition that makes the physical aspects of speaking increasingly painful and difficult.

About three years ago, my local rehabilitation hospital issued me an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device. It’s a computerized voice machine, similar to the one used by the late Stephen Hawking, with one difference being that I use my hands to type what I want to say into the machine. A mechanical voice speaks out what I’ve typed.

I still retain some speaking abilities, but I mostly use this machine or a simple writing board to communicate when in public, visiting with friends and in a way that may surprise some: public speaking. I love sharing what I’ve learned through my hardships, such as how to continue to choose to live with joy, peace and wonder, even when facing difficult circumstances.

My time in Toastmasters instilled in me a love of connecting with an audience and sharing heartfelt stories. This didn’t change when the way I communicate changed. Instead, it encouraged me to give presentations using my voice machine. And, because of what I learned, I have the confidence to go in front of an audience—wheelchair, voice machine and all—smile brightly and speak up!

Man in white jacket dressed as Mark Twain impersonater

Don McNeill, DTM

Raleigh Talkmasters club
Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.

How I Became Mark Twain

Toastmasters helped me realize my dream of becoming a professional Mark Twain storyteller. I had no retirement plans in 2012 after leaving my 39-year job as a crew chief for American Airlines. Looking for something to do, I decided to attend a Raleigh Talkmasters meeting. Unexpectedly, I quickly made friends and looked forward to the meetings.

After finishing last in the club humorous speech contest, I decided to try again and won the District 37 Humorous Speech Contest in 2014. The following year, I came in second and co-founded Bedford Toastmasters in Raleigh, North Carolina, with Don Steichen, DTM.

Inspired by my contest experience, I began presenting the speeches of Mark Twain to a wide range of audiences: first to my Toastmasters clubs and expanding to civic groups and regional libraries, and now, special Mark Twain events. It was a life-long ambition since I am a native Missourian (like Twain) and studied English with an area of concentrated study on Mark Twain at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

To achieve the distinctive Twain look, I bought a white linen suit. I grew my grey hair to the proper length. For the first time in my life, I grew a mustache! My wife even comes to all my events and dresses as Olivia Twain. I am now a professional Mark Twain impersonator. My second career started because of Toastmasters. My Toastmasters family made my dream of performing as Mark Twain come true.

Man in brown shirt and glasses smiles

Mahmood Thompson

Capitol City Legacy Builders Toastmasters
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.

Bravery Discovered

Contributed by Pauline Mansfield of the Capitol City Legacy Builders club

Mahmood Thompson came to our club meetings to accompany his mother, who considered joining our club. He never spoke or interacted with our members and sometimes seemed preoccupied or distracted. Then Mahmood started to come without his mother, still very quiet but seemingly interested in our club dynamics.

Much to our surprise, Mahmood eventually joined our club, at first just observing and leaving quickly after each meeting. Then bravely, he stepped forward to give his first speech. We discovered from his Ice Breaker that he has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism characterized by difficulties with social interaction, repetitive speech and awkward mannerisms. People with this syndrome often find interacting with others overwhelming, as evidenced in his next couple of speeches. Sometimes Mahmood stood frozen in his thoughts before he could continue with his speeches. But, admirably, he continued to volunteer to give speeches, each time gathering more confidence. Not only did Mahmood raise our awareness about this rare condition, he increased our understanding, patience and tremendous admiration for someone who pushed through his difficulties like no one we had ever seen in our Toastmasters club history.

Amazingly, Mahmood has soared in his participation and interaction with others in our club. He regularly volunteers for roles and recently brought the house down when he delivered a humorous speech. He continues to grow in leaps and bounds, and Capitol City Legacy Builders continues to embrace every challenging moment he encounters on his incredible journey.

We applaud you, Mahmood Thompson, for your bravery and determination to move beyond your fears and challenges.

Woman in black and white striped shirt smiling

Kristine Sultmanis

Readers & Debaters club
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Rising HR Professional Shines

I joined Toastmasters in January 2018 to overcome my fear of public speaking. Within a few weeks I was vice president membership and competing in my first International Speech Contest. By the fall of 2018, I was a member of three clubs: Quorum, Thunderbird, and Readers & Debaters. I developed my leadership skills, refined my public speaking skills and learned to be persuasive and less serious.

This year I put my skills to use and spoke at the Vancouver Human Resources Conference. My speech, titled “A Little Can Go A Long Way,” focused on three important things to consider when developing and executing your action plan to improve yourself or your organization: develop and maintain a positive mindset, take one step at a time and be consistent.

As a Human Resources Professional, I work for the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services. I help educate managers, influence change within my organization and gain trust. My work has resulted in being a Chartered Professionals in Human Resources British Columbia & Yukon Rising Star Award 2019 finalist, which recognizes HR professionals in the beginning of their careers, who are “lighting the HR community on fire.”

Toastmasters helped make my dreams a reality. Prepared speeches and the International Speech Contests helped me develop the skills to successfully deliver speeches under pressure. I gained confidence in myself and my abilities as a leader, a communicator and an educator. I look forward to a lifetime of development and am excited to see what the future holds.

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