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July 2024
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From City to Gritty to the TEDx Stage

How a move to the mountains and joining Toastmasters prepared me for the talk of a lifetime.

By Rachel Cronin


I live off-grid in the mountains of the Colorado wild, which is something I never thought I’d say. As a mom of two active boys, I enjoy modern luxuries that make life easier, but I also love nature and escaped to the mountains every chance I got.

When my husband and I found a 35-acre mountain property for sale, something clicked for us. We saw an opportunity to blend the conveniences of modern living with the beauty of nature and went “all in,” trading our city life for a live-in recreational vehicle (RV), gritty dirt roads, and the challenge to build our dream in a place no one has built before.

Going all in is a theme for my family. We went all in with swapping lifestyles, building our businesses, and documenting our journey into the wild through blogging and social media.

When a potential speaking opportunity came my way last year, I again decided to go all in with learning how to speak by joining an organization I knew nothing about: Toastmasters.

In just six months I went from being a new Toastmaster in an online club to onstage performing not only my first-ever public speech, but a TEDx Talk—something that most would consider to be the talk of a lifetime.

How on earth did I get there? And so quickly?

This story begins with Downtown Toastmasters, an online club based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I chose this club because as a busy mom, I needed to meet during school hours, and the time they met seemed perfect. Little did I know, this club was also Distinguished, which means they consistently provide their members with a high-quality experience, have active members who regularly progress through the Pathways program, and retain a large club membership. They have maintained this prestigious recognition for almost a decade.

If that wasn’t amazing enough, the Vice President Membership at the time also happened to be an official TEDx speaker coach—all factors that contributed to my rapid growth.

I’m forever grateful I said “yes” to Toastmasters and the impact it has had on my life both personally and professionally.

Because of these things, I noticed and experienced an incredible club culture. The officers and members made the effort during each meeting to encourage participation, welcome guests, and motivate progress in Pathways.

The turning point came when I decided to work in a mastermind group geared toward developing TED speaking skills with Sandy Lamb, the TEDx speaker coach; current Club President Patrick Linfante; and author Laurie Sullivan-Hellman.

This mastermind group, led by Sandy, goes to show that Toastmasters isn’t only about public speaking—it is also about networking and meeting people who will change your life forever.

Part of the mastermind program involved applying to participate in TEDx events. All I wanted was to be prepared for one potential speaking opportunity. I never imagined applying to other events, but of course I did as part of going all in with Toastmasters and this mastermind group.

To my surprise, not long after applying to audition for TEDxBreckenridge, I received the incredible news that my application was accepted. I doubled down my all-in effort and practiced my audition speech for my club members before performing it for the TEDx panel.

The effort was worth it. I walked away from my audition feeling ecstatic that I had gone outside my comfort zone, and was happy with my performance regardless of the outcome.

But again, to my surprise, I was met with the best email of my life telling me that my audition earned me a spot on the official TEDx stage, and I had three months to write and prepare a longer version of my audition for the big event in October 2021.

Group of people meeting onlineRachel credits her fellow members of the Downtown Toastmasters Club for helping her on her journey to the TEDx stage.

During that time, I never missed a Toastmasters meeting and continued to work one-on-one with Sandy to prepare for the TEDx stage. This all-in effort meant everything when I walked onstage in front of the sold-out event and nailed my message despite the obstacles of being a brand-new speaker.

The catalyst for my rapid growth was a combination of joining an established club with members who take growth seriously and my all-in attitude. I’m forever grateful I said yes to Toastmasters and the impact it has had on my life both personally and professionally.


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