Chester Speaking Club • Chester, England, United Kingdom
Artist Shines on BBC
As a visual artist, I find that expressing myself with words has always been a challenge—speaking is extremely difficult, even overwhelming. My decision to join Toastmasters was mainly to gain confidence to speak in front of people.
Months before I joined Toastmasters, I applied to be on an arts show called “Home is Where the Art Is” for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Artists from Northern England were invited to apply to participate in a national TV broadcasted series. Three artists on each episode had to compete to win a commission requested by a buyer. By the time I was selected for the show I had already joined Toastmasters—such a coincidence!
Throughout the show I had to speak several times, from presenting myself in my studio through talking about my art and my ideas for the pitch day with the buyer. The biggest day for me during the recording of the show was the pitching day. I had to confidently show my work and sell my idea. Toastmasters helped me because through the meetings and participating in Table Topics, I gained the confidence to speak. I also learned from more experienced speakers that to make a speech successful—apart from giving it a clear structure—you need to inspire others, focusing on the audience and not just yourself.
Thanks to my newfound ability to inspire others, I made it to the final show, and created artwork for the buyer! I think art doesn’t differ much from public speaking. You must learn the basics, but after that, it is mainly about throwing yourself out there in order to grow. Growing through the actual experience and above all, not being afraid of being wrong. There is still a lot for me to learn through speaking, but next on my achievement list is to present my art and explain what fuels it in order to inspire others.
Airport Business Center • Healdsburg, California, U.S.
In 2001, while working as a wind turbine technician, I drove off a steep mountainside near Bakersfield, California. The truck rolled, and I was ejected from the vehicle. My partner and I hiked to find help, and the paramedics transported me to the hospital. My brain was swelling from a ruptured carotid artery and blood clots in the artery, giving me an 80% chance of dying and likely brain damage if I even survived. After emergency surgery, where one-third of my skull was removed to relieve the increasing pressure in my brain, I was put in a medically induced coma. Once the pressure normalized, the portion of my skull was replaced, and it grew back into my skull with scarring.
Even after 11 months of neurological rehabilitation, I was unable to work. I started ballroom dance lessons to improve my mental faculties, and it was there that an instructor told me about Toastmasters. I had a noticeable speech impediment and was having difficulty finding and using the right vocabulary to express myself but thought Toastmasters would help me improve that.
As expected, giving speeches was difficult as I struggled to find the words to say. But I really liked the growth environment and kept going. After my first year, I was asked to be sergeant at arms, and though I felt overwhelmed, I knew it would be a good opportunity. I held the position for two years and recently became club president.
Now I have been working in a new career in sales for over a year and a half and am in my second year of my public health bachelor’s degree. I’m also still dancing and seeking out more growth opportunities to continue to increase and improve my ability to think and function. My speech impediment is no longer a problem, and it is much easier for me to find and use fluent vocabulary to express myself. I do not know what I’ll do next in Toastmasters, but becoming an area director sounds appealing.
Golden Gate Toastmasters Club • Washington D.C., U.S.
From Hospital Scrubs to Business Suits
As a veterinarian in San Francisco, California, I joined Toastmasters to speak for my voiceless patients—the animals—because effective communication is critical for all.
Veterinary students spend four years learning veterinary terminology, which feels like learning a new language. We become immersed in it and have to practice our skills for every species on the planet except humans. This new language and my career consumed my life. After years of surrounding myself with medical and veterinary students, I abruptly met the “real world” when speaking to animal owners in the appointment room who didn’t know the medical and clinical terms I was using. Knowing I had to find a better way to relate to my patients’ owners, I joined Toastmasters.
Later, when contemplating a career change from clinical medicine to public policy, I didn’t actively think about using the skills I gained at Toastmasters. However, as I was finishing an interview in Washington, D.C., I realized the Toastmasters’ skills of leadership, active listening, and clear communication have given me an edge on career advancement and on life.
Now, I am representing my profession at the government level in Washington, D.C., and am thrilled with the potential for the future! As a legislative fellow, I work in a congressional office and focus on science policy issues involving One Health—the combination of environmental, animal, and human health. From hospital scrubs to business suits, I am forever a Toastmaster. I look forward to the future lessons, connections, and laughs while in D.C. and beyond!
Testament Toastmasters • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
The Day I Should Have Died, I Found My Voice
By Danie Botha of Testament Toastmasters
While standing next to a high-voltage transformer outside Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, determining the amount of movement in the permafrost, John Hart’s long measuring stick accidently touched an overhead power line, sending a lethal current of 138,000 volts through his body.
It didn’t kill him, but it did set him ablaze. Within days following the September 1994 accident, John’s right arm and leg were amputated, followed by three months in a burn unit, and a further three months of rehabilitation. Nine months later, John was back at work.
In the first 13 years following his accident, John was often asked to speak at burn survivor conventions. He did the best he could but never felt at ease, so he joined Testament Toastmasters in 2007 to gain confidence. Over the years he grew his speaking and communication skills. John has now been the spokesperson for the annual Mamingwey Burn Survivor Conference for several years, served as an emcee at local and national conferences, and given hundreds of health and safety talks for Manitoba Hydro—the electric power and natural gas utility in Manitoba.
People who meet John, at Toastmasters or anywhere, tend to notice his enigmatic smile first, not the fact that he shakes hands using his left hand because his right hand is a prosthesis. He is always cheerful and smiling, despite all the odds stacked against him and all the trauma he’s been through.
John says it best: “I cannot see myself frowning. I’ve always had a smile—even before the accident. While I was lying there next to the transformer, I kept asking myself, ‘Now what am I going to do? I have a wife and four young kids.’ I guess I decided that day, without realizing it then, for the sake of my family, the smile will have to stay, representing my attitude. How else will we survive?”