I’ve been onstage all my life, making my living as an actress, singer, and producer. Before the pandemic, I was starring in two popular off-Broadway shows in New York City and touring with those shows across North America. In one, Rita Hayworth—The Heat Is On!, I impersonate the legendary 1940s American movie star Rita Hayworth and am backed by an 11-member band, giving tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood. In the other, Burlesque to Broadway, I perform with a troupe of singers and dancers.
People often ask me, “Why did you join Toastmasters, since you perform in front of large audiences all the time?” I joined a local Toastmasters club eight years ago to help me with issues such as interviews, impromptu speaking, and overcoming nerves when in the spotlight. Even veteran performers get stage fright! I have found that focusing on breathing and practicing impromptu speaking are great tools for helping me be present in the moment.
But I have gained more than that in Toastmasters. Since joining the organization, I’ve taken on a series of leadership roles, from serving as Vice President Education and Club President to being Area and Division Director. In addition, in 2020–2021, I helped charter an advanced club, DE Squared, in New York City, serving as its President and navigating a new world of Zoom meetings. My leadership roles gave me visibility within our District and connected me with people I otherwise may not have known. In fact, these opportunities literally changed my life.
In 2014, my partner Paul Horton and I created Burlesque to Broadway, and we needed an investor to help us in our journey. With my Toastmasters friend and then-Club President Mary Cooney, DTM, we attended a casting event for the American TV show Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs pitch new products to a panel of highly successful investors, known collectively as “the Sharks.” We needed a one-to-two-minute pitch for the audition. Mary said, “You’ve got to do this! It’s like Table Topics!”
I joined Toastmasters to help with interviews, impromptu speaking, and overcoming nerves … even veteran performers get stage fright!
Hundreds of entrepreneurs were there to audition. Our pitch was like a great Table Topics® response, with a powerful beginning, middle, and end. Our call to action was a hopeful, energetic request for an investment. Later, the show’s producers asked us to create a five-minute video within 48 hours for the Sharks to review. We said yes!
Our video was styled like a speech. We emerged on the screen in hot pink feather fans, saying “Hello, Sharks … ” I used all the elements learned in Toastmasters—vocal variety, body language, and eye contact. It worked! The producers called, saying we had been chosen for Shark Tank Season 5.
We spent the summer working on our presentation with show producers. During this time, I asked a fellow Toastmaster, Lois Lynn, DTM, to evaluate our presentation. “If the Sharks don’t invest, I’d love to,” she said.
The producers called a day later and told us the Sharks were no longer investing in entertainment-related products. While a disappointment at first, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. Lois became the perfect partner and co-producer for Burlesque to Broadway. It was life-changing. We fluffed our feathers, toured North America, performed at conferences, added performers, recorded a CD, and are ready to get back on the road post-pandemic.
Saying yes to Toastmasters leadership roles gave me the opportunity to work with diverse personalities, with people outside of my line of work. I learned to be strategic, to let go, to trust, and to delegate. Leadership in Toastmasters gave me the tools, the connections, and the edge to become a better performer, producer, director, and entrepreneur.
You never know who you are going to meet in Toastmasters. I do know this—saying yes to leadership will change your life!
Quinn Lemley, DTM is Past President of DE Squared and a member of Douglas Elliman Westside Toasties, both in New York City. She is an entertainer and coach. Learn more at www.quinnlemley.com.